Saturday, May 28, 2005

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2005, 2 Tim 2:1, 3-5

Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2005

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:1, 3-5, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Armed Forces Sunday”

Over the years thousands of men and women have served our country in the military. This weekend is a time to say thank you. Take the time to attend Memorial Day events on Monday, that’s a good start. As for me, to those of you who have served, in case you’ve never heard me say it before, “Thank you.”

Military service is dangerous. Thousands of men and women are injured serving our country. Thousands have been killed and injured in battle. Our country uses the Purple Heart to recognize those who are wounded in battle by the enemy. That medal can’t restore or replace the broken bodies and lives. It is just one way we show these who sacrifice themselves support for what they do. The families that serve, the families that have sacrificed deserve our enduring support. Being a soldier is a difficult job.

St. Paul talks to Pastor Timothy about enduring support, too. Timothy was a young man that God had called to be pastor of a congregation that Paul had founded. Like all Christians, Timothy found that living in the world was a struggle. You and I know what a struggle it can be. So much going on around us is a direct challenge of our faith. So much that goes on around us speaks against the truth of God’s Word. So much of what goes on around us pressures us to compromise the idea that Jesus is the only way of salvation. It is a fight. Thankfully we also have enduring support. We have the enduring support of God himself.

Our enduring support comes directly from God and His promises to us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV) God promises. He has made a connection to us. He has established a relationship to us. So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, ESV) We don’t have to have any doubt about God’s enduring support either. He has made His connection known to you directly. One of the young people in our congregation said it as well as I can say it. Go look at the picture on my door. It says, “Baptism is good for you.” It’s good for you because its God’s promise that what Jesus has done is yours. St. Paul says that through Baptism we are connected to Jesus death and resurrection. Jesus death on the cross is history. It’s our history. St Paul tells us that Jesus death on the cross is our death. He takes the punishment for our sin to the cross and gives to us his perfect life. So that when God looks at us He sees Jesus perfect life instead of a sinner deserving punishment. Because of Jesus, through Baptism, God says to us “You are forgiven!” If we’ve been forgiven because of Jesus death, then we have a new life in Jesus, through Baptism, because of Jesus resurrection. No matter what the struggle we face in life, God promises us eternal life through Jesus. It is God’s enduring support. It’s yours through faith in Jesus and assured to you through the water of Baptism, and God’s promise.

St. Paul told Timothy to not get entangled in civilian pursuits. What he’s really telling him is to make sure that his focus is right. You’ve seen those military reviewing parades? The Plooton commander will shout “Eyes right!” and every soldier will turn their head to face the commander as they pass by. Their focus is on serving the commander. They are pledging obedience to his rule. They pledge it, because they know that they must do that to get the job done. Soldiers in battle will often follow a beloved leader even if it means death. They follow because the leader has earned their respect. Our Christian focus is on our Leader. He has won our respect through His self sacrifice. We know He loves us and cares for us. We know He has our best interest at heart. The object of our faith is Jesus. There’s a beautiful Easter hymn that says:

The strife is o’er, the battle done.
Now is the victor’s triumph won;
Now be the song of praise begun.

When we focus on Jesus we focus on the one who has already won the battle. He has conquered our enemies. It’s not a matter of fighting, it’s only a matter of living in the victory that has already been won.

And yet, while we live in this sinful world there is still struggle. Even though the victory is sure, theirs still a lot of struggle. World War II was a long struggle. When the Allied forces made their bold landing on the beaches of France on D-Day the outcome of the war hung in the balance. Once the landing was successful, once the foot hold was gained the war was really over. Hitler had no more resources to repel the invaders. The Nazi war machine was broken. There was nothing they could do to change the outcome. But many soldiers still died after D-Day. The war dragged on for months more. The mop up after the landing was still bloody and dangerous. We live with the victory at hand. But every day we struggle with our three great enemies. Satan wants us to despair. The World wants us to give up on Jesus. Our sinful flesh wants to be in control.

Satan is the “spy behind the lines.” He knows our weaknesses and he uses them against us. He whispers lies in our ears, and all too often they are things we want to be true. When we listen we cause ourselves more trouble.

The world around is us an enemy to Jesus. It tells us that there are many ways to attain a relationship with God. It tells us we are arrogant if we say we know the only way. It says the struggle to remain faithful to Jesus isn’t worth it.

Our own will, is the most difficult enemy for us to deal with. It doesn’t make sense to us to have to suffer for our own good. We want to avoid pain. We want the easy way.

Jesus assures us that He has defeated these enemies. Satan is judged. His destination is hell. We don’t have accompany him. Jesus has won our release from hell by His death. The world too is judged. When Jesus comes again, the whole world will see that He is God. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Many won’t like it but it will happen. Our sinful flesh has been dealt with by Jesus, too. St. Paul also tells us that it can’t be transformed, reformed or conformed to God’s will. The only thing that can happen is that it be crucified. Jesus has done that for us too. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. The strife is o’er, the battle done.

It was Geo. Washington that created the medal now known as the purple heart. He wanted a medal to reward unusual instances of gallantry. Since 1932 it’s been given to those wounded by the enemy in battle. The lives you and I live this side of heaven are filled with struggle. Think of the song “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We call our struggle in this world the struggle of the church militant. Living the life Jesus would have us live everyday takes courage. There are Christians around the world whose struggles to be followers of Christ are deadly. The struggle to live against our sinful nature is a life long struggle. We can’t be successful. Jesus sustains us in the battle. Jesus is our enduring support. We survive by holding on to His promises.

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery. It is a moving experience. You walk among the headstones row after row. Thousands of them stretch off into the distance. It is a field of white crosses that covers a vast area. Every stone denotes a sacrifice. Not all died in battle. But all served. The price that was paid to keep our nation free is very graphic there. As you walk through that cemetery, in fact as you visit any cemetery you will often come to realization that everyone ends up there. All lives ultimately end in death. No matter how a life is lived, no matter what the sacrifice, no matter how noble, all life ends in death… except one. Jesus Christ has conquered death. He promises eternal life to all who believe in Him. That’s what prompted St. Paul to also write. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21, ESV)

God’s richest blessings to you as you remember the sacrifice of those who serve our country. But even more importantly as you remember the sacrifice God has made to make you His child forever. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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