Friday, October 14, 2005

Pentecost 22, October 16, 2005, Isa 45:1-3, Farewell.


Pentecost 22, October 16, 2005

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Burt, Iowa ~ Our Savior, Swea City, Iowa

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear friends in Christ, members of St. John’s and Our Savior. “This is the last…” that phrase has gone through my head a thousand times over these “last” weeks and days. I’ve thought about “the last” a lot. It’s the last time I’ll read to you God’s Holy Word… It’s the last time I’ll stand here in this spot and preach God’s Word to you. the last bible class… the last religion school and confirmation class… the last hymn… etc. I even had one person come to me this week and say, “This is the last time I’ll bother you… ever.” There’s many “lasts” when a Pastor is called by God to go to a new congregation. I’ll miss very much doing these things with you. Mostly, I’ll miss pronouncing God’s forgiveness to you, as a “called and ordained servant of the Word” and especially God using my hands to put that forgiveness in your mouths. There is so much that could be said about things “coming to an end.” And all that talk about “the last” things can be very sad.

But today, I choose to look at it another way. Instead of things “coming to an end,” this is God’s way of opening doors. God is faithful, very soon God will provide to you a new pastor. I don’t know how long the calling process will take, months or years, but I do know that God will provide. He will provide you with the very pastor you need. And in the mean time He has provided your vacancy pastor, Pastor Fredrick, to serve you until you can call another. These are all doors that God has opened. A time to consider what God has called you to do in this community. A time to prepare for a new pastor to lead you… a different style of preaching and teaching… a different way of emphasizing the work of Jesus in this community… a different way of leading. Each one is an open door… opened by God’s hand. When God opens doors, amazing things happen. I’m confident that amazing things will happen here, too.

Now, since we really need to talk about the text, It occurred that the Old Testament lesson for today (Isaiah 45:1-7) is really talking about God opening doors too. Just listen to the first few verses again:

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (Isaiah 45:1-3, ESV)

Now, if you’ll indulge me just a bit, in order to see God’s open doors we’ll need to talk just a bit about the history around this passage. The King mentioned here in this verse is Cyrus the Great (Actually II). He was the king of Persia 559-529 BC. Actually he the founded the Persian Empire. He did it with an iron hand. He marched his armies from The Mediterranean sea all the way to India, and established footholds in Africa, and Asia making a huge kingdom for himself. There are many stories of his great conquest, but one of my favorite is that one of his adversaries’ horses ran away from the battlefield just at the smell of Cyrus’ camels. I guess that when you smell Cyrus coming you just run away.

Now history tells us that Cyrus was strictly a monotheist (that is he believed in only one god), But as far as we know he didn’t know the One True God, the God of Israel. He was a pagan king. But just listen again to how God describes him here through Isaiah. says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus” and just a few verses before our text God actually calls this King, “my shepherd.” That’s because God was using this guy to do what He wanted done. He was going to use him to release His people from exile in Babylon. Cyrus was God’s hand pick man to get the job done so God opened all the doors necessary for it to be done.

God’s people, the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this mess by ignoring God’s command to give up their worship of other gods. He sent prophet after prophet to tell them that if they didn’t straighten up they would be sent away from the land that God had given them. They didn’t and He did. The kings of Assyria and Babylon conquered the whole land of Israel, took the people, and spread them all over Middle East as servants and slaves to their own people. After a while, it was time for God to rescue His people and send them home. And Cyrus what the man for the job.

Apparently the kings of Babylon were so bad, and so corrupt, and so mismanaged the huge empire that they had, when Cyrus marched his armies up to the gates of the city, the people of the city opened them wide. Cyrus was able to just march right in. The Babylonians weren’t willing to make “Custer’s last stand” for their awful leaders. The city wall was made of hundreds of huge bronze gates. It was one of the ancient world’s most fortified cities. Cyrus took it with firing a single arrow. So, it happened just as God said it would. The gates fell to pieces before the King of Persia. God opened the gates to rescue his people who were stuck in bondage. Cyrus sent the people of Israel home and even paid to have God’s temple in Jerusalem rebuilt.

So that’s the history lesson. What’s really amazing isn’t that Isaiah wrote about this event. It isn’t even that God would use a pagan to get the job done. (Just think of the most famous pagan mentioned in the church, almost every Sunday we speak in the confession… who suffered under Pontius Pilate… He of course was the pagan governor who put our Lord to death), it’s that Isaiah wrote about it 200 years before it happened, and God mentions Cyrus by name.

Now listen carefully again to Isaiah. I want you to hear whose taking credit for the opening doors.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (Isaiah 45:1-3, ESV)

God is the one opened the gates of Babylon. God is the one who opens doors for his people. Jesus said it like this… “And the gates of hell will not prevail…” (Matt 16:18). No gate is too strong when you have God’s anointed one, God’s messiah, led by God’s might. Well, that’s what Cyrus was, selected by God to do God’s purposes. And even if he didn’t know who the true God was, Cyrus had his opening day.

So, what does that have to do with you and me? Yea, it’s amazing that God predicting how he would open those doors all those years ago, but it is all those years ago (about 2500 years!). What’s that got to do with us? Remember what I said, it’s God who opens doors? Well, God is very active in human history. God shaped those events all those years ago to tell us something about Himself. And even more importantly, what God was going to do with another hand picked, Messiah, Anointed One. Jesus Christ is that Messiah. In fact, Christ is Jesus title, not his last name. And Christ means Messiah, anointed one. He is God’s one and only son, selected specifically to do God’s will. What’s the difference between Cyrus and Jesus? Jesus knows God intimately. Cyrus probably didn’t know the true God at all. Cyrus plundered the country side for his own gain. Jesus walked and talked, lived, died and rose again completely for God’s people.

The people of Israel were in bondage, enslaved, to the Babylonian kings. Our bondage isn’t like that, it’s even worse. Listen to what Paul says about our daily lives.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25, ESV)

We are captives of sin. We are slaves. Every day we live in the knowledge that we can’t get it right. Every day we live with the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Every day we labor to do what is right and fail. We want to think that if we just try harder we can break free, but even our good progress comes at a cost. We can straighten out the way other people see us. But, lurking there in the dark recesses of our minds and hearts is the desire to do what we know is wrong. (The Ten Commandments)

Why do you think sex is so popular on television? We’re the ones who make it that way. If we didn’t want to see it… it wouldn’t permeate every program. We might be able to say that we haven’t cheated on our spouse, but it’s easy to linger too long over the magazine ad that shows just a little too much skin.

It’s easy to keep you language clean in church, but what about around the coffee table. What about when that wrench slips and you bust your knuckles?

We might not be the shop lifter, but do you speak up to the manager when you see it happening? Our do you say, that’s none of my business. Are you careful to speak only good things about people? Or do you catch yourself wagging your tongue over the latest tidbit.

Can you hold your attention all through the worship service? Does the sermon get just a little long and your mind wonders? Are you jealous that your neighbor always seems to have the newest farm equipment, or that he’s done with harvest before you’ve even gotten started? Does he always seem to get the best weather and you the worst?

Well that’s our bondage. We can’t stop sinning. We can’t keep the commandment perfectly. And when we look at them in this way all we see is closed doors. All we see is that a perfect God must punish perfectly sinful people. What we need is for God to open doors for us to escape our sinful nature. What we need is what Isaiah talked about:

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7, ESV)

God has sent us a Messiah to do just that. It’s Jesus. Just like Cyrus Jesus had and opening day, too. We hear about Jesus’ opening day right here. He opened the eyes of the blind. He opened the ears of the deaf. He opened doors for sick people by making them well. And he even opened the graves of the dead. Jesus says to us, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17b-18, ESV) He can and does open the doors of death and hell so that we can live again. He sets us free from our slavery to sin. He opens the door for us.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36, ESV)

Do you want to see Jesus opening doors for you? Do you want the picture burned into your memory so that you never forget? So that no matter what trouble pops up in your life you can see it as an open door. So that when guilt binds you to the past thinking that your sin is greater than God’s forgiveness you can know that the sin God really does forgive.

If that’s what you want, look right there (crucifix). Look at Jesus on the cross. See Jesus your messiah, the anointed one of God, the hand picked son who open doors to you through the forgiveness of your sins. Take that image to heart. That’s Jesus opening day. That’s where God dies for your sins and sets you free from sins punishment. That’s where sin’s power over you is broken and you are set free from the slavery of sin.

Now there’s one more door that Jesus wants to open. There’s one more gate that the Anointed one of God longs to open. I wonder what that door could be.

Say it with me, “Oh Lord, open my lips… and my mouth shall show forth thy praise…” Amen.

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

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