Saturday, September 30, 2006

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 1, 2006, Mark 8:28-36


And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:28-36, ESV)

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

Jesus says those very important words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  I know how we most often think about what Jesus means here.  We think he’s talking in general the bad stuff that happens in our lives, on a regular basis.  Like when a friend is troubled by a part of their life they can’t seem to resolve we try to give them comfort by saying, “Well, we all have our crosses to bear.”  Or we say it to try to be of help a Christian who is suffering from a long term illness.  Well, Jesus isn’t talking about the regular every day troubles that we go through here.  He’s not even talking about the things that happen to us because we’ve screwed up and have to suffer the consequences.  The cross he’s talking about here it the cross of being a theologian.  Now I know you don’t usually think of yourselves theologians, but you are, in fact everybody is a theologian.  All a theologian is, is a person who talks (logo~) or thinks about who god (qeo~) is or isn’t, or what he is like.  It’s like the psalm says:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)

Everyone is a theologian, and Jesus is here saying that there are two kinds of theologians in the world, those who carry a cross and those who don’t.  Our name sake, Martin Luther made a fine point on this.  He says people are either Theologians of the Cross (good theologians) or Theologians of Glory (bad theologians).  And as it turns out this difference helps us to understand very well the difference between Christianity and every other religions in the world.  And it also helps us to focus on what is really important in our lives.  And it all comes very clear in this text.

Peter begins by making the wonderful confession of faith.  “You are the Christ.”  Jesus asks about what people are saying about him.  The disciples have a list.  All of them are very complementary of Jesus, placing him in a very high category.  If Jesus had been a sinful man like you and me he would have gotten swelled up with pride, to be considered on par with the prophets that were mentioned.  But of course Jesus doesn’t sin.  In fact, we see him doing something that sounds very strange.  He says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”  We might wonder why he doesn’t want the word spread, but we don’t get to think about it very long.  Right away he gathers his disciples together and begins to tell them about nothing less than the cross.  Do you see it there?  

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, ESV)

And now Peter who made the great and true confession of Jesus shows his true colors.  He shows he doesn’t really understand what Jesus is all about.  He shows he doesn’t know what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross.  He rebukes Jesus.  Now that’s a word we don’t use too much anymore.  But to rebuke means to put in place.  Think of it in terms of the way you and I think.  Someone says something that we don’t agree with and we use our tongue to take them down a peg.  Put them in their place.  That’s what Peter is thinking he’s doing.  “Jesus you don’t know what you are talking about!”  This is you and me.  Peter is doing only what people do naturally.  He’s being a theologian without a cross.  After all that’s what he doesn’t like about what Jesus is saying.  (Mark makes sure we know it’s not just a misunderstanding about what Jesus said. He adds that important detail, “And he said this plainly”).  Peter is perfectly happy with Jesus being “the Christ” unless it means Jesus’ suffering and death.  “Not on my watch!” He says.

It’s hard to blame him either.  Things were just starting to look up.  Lot’s of people were gathering around the numbers looked good.  He was pretty well set as the top of the twelve.  Jesus new kingdom was going to have Peter as a pretty important person in it.  People were going to be looking up to him.  That’s exactly what a Theologian of Glory is.  That is how you and I think, too.  We put ourselves at the center of our god-thinking, our theology.  We think we can figure out stuff about God by how our life is going.  If stuff is going good, if we have all the money we need and even extra for stuff we don’t need, we think that God is blessing us because he’s happy with the way we are behaving.  What we are doing is bringing God down to our level.  We think he works the way everything else in life works.  You know; the American work ethic.  If you work hard you’ll have nice things.  The football hero gets the prom queen.  The good student gets good grades, goes to a good school, gets a good job (that’s no where near Howard), a beautiful wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a house by the lake and one to live in every day. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us.  Or maybe this is a little closer to home.  When the harvest is good, we’re sure God is happy with the way we’ve been doing things.

All of this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about Our Faith in the wrong way.  We go to church to gain God’s favor.  As if sitting our butts in on the pew pad earns us brownie points.  If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will take away my cancer.  Conflict in the church means God isn’t happy with us.  If the church isn’t full like it used to be, we just aren’t the church anymore.  Well, none of that stuff has anything to do with the cross that Jesus says we have to bear, if we “would come after him.”  It’s thinking like Peter.  It’s a Theology of Glory.  It’s putting our thinking, our interests, our sinful hopes and dreams, and our sin stained attitudes at the center instead of Jesus and the cross that he bled and died on.  The definition of sin is man turning in on himself.

If that strikes a little too close to your heart… so did Jesus words to Peter.  “Get behind me Satan!” He said.  You are not setting your hearts on the things of God but on the things of man.  In Martin Luther’s words, “You are being a Theologian of Glory not at Theologian of the Cross.”

As I said before, all human religion is based on a Theology of Glory.  A very basic way to think if that is this:  “do good things for your god and he will do good things for you.”  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other religion you can name.  They are all the same.  Only true Christianity is different.  

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

The foolishness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ; the Theology of the Cross.  What exactly is that theology, that god-talk, all about?  Well, instead of thinking that we can change God’s attitude about us by what we do, we, that is the Theologians of the Cross, see that there’s nothing we can do that changes God’s attitude toward us.  Everything we do is polluted by sin.  Yes, I did say everything.  Remember, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.”  Sinful trees produce sinful fruit.  It’s our sinful nature that only deserves God’s present and eternal punishment, and nothing else.  We can’t work our way into God’s good graces.  He doesn’t work that way.  And more importantly we can’t tell if God is happy with us by the way things look in our lives.  It’s like St. Paul says, God hides himself in weakness and foolishness.  One pastor I know says it like this:

God, Who is all-powerful, hides Himself in weakness. God, Who is all wise, hides Himself in foolishness. God, Who is living, hides Himself in death.  (Rev. Todd Wilken, the new Issues, Etc. Journal - Vol. 2, No. 1; The Theology of the Cross: Cross-Shaped Theology)

Well, that’s just not the way our nature wants God to be.  We’d have had Jesus born in a mansion.  We’d have had him march on Hell’s Doors with his multitudes of armies.  We’d have had him crush Satan’s head in an obvious, glorious way.

Ah, but we are followers of Christ.  We do bear the cross.  Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone because they hadn’t seen the cross yet.  Peter missed it even when Jesus spoke about it plainly.   We Lift High the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Our Beautiful Savior is the one who showed us who God is by His death on the cross.   We don’t have to look at how the world is treating us to see what God thinks about us.  We haven’t and can’t please God by the things we do, but Jesus did please God once and for all.  That’s the foolishness that is so difficult for us to see and understand.  That God would send His only Son, in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again, for me… for you.  God isn’t pleased with us because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did.  If we want to see God’s favor we look the cross.  If you want to know about your relationship to God, you don’t look at your “blessings,” instead you look at God’s promises through the cross of Jesus.

So what does the Theology of the Cross look like in your life?  Not like we’d expect.  Not like we want.  Sometimes it looks like suffering.  We get sidetracked from our hopes and dreams by some unforeseen problem.  We have to depend on other people for help.  We have to trust that God knows what He’s doing and put our lives in His hands.  God’s Word points out our sin, and we know we can’t change our lives for the better.  At the foot of Jesus’ cross we drop the burden of it.  Life is hard and we wonder where God is when we need Him.  We cling to God’s promises made by an adoption of water on our head and His Name received upon our forehead and upon our heart.  We drag our sinful nature to the Lord’s Table and God pours forgiveness into us with Jesus’ body and blood.  People want us to tell them about our faith and we don’t talk about our faith, our experiences, or our testimony, instead we tell them about Jesus.  

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…”

It’s really a matter of getting ourselves out of the picture.  I’ve put on the marquee outside the church, “Cross Centered – Christ Focused.”  That’s who we are as Theologians of the Cross.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Baptism Saves! by Steve Newell @ Extreme Theology

Steve Newell has a nice description of Christian Baptism on one of my favorite blogs, Extreme Theology. It's simple, straight forward, and worth reading.
Nice job Steve.
Read the article Baptism Saves.
Pastor Watt.

Friday, September 22, 2006

News from Nigeria

Pastor Watt's brother and sister-in-law have posted a newsletter on their web page.
Nate and Teri are missionaires in Nigeria. You can check it out

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 24, 2006, Mark:7:31-37

St. John’s, Howard, SD

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 7:31-37 (ESV)

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

Well, this is a familiar story to us. At least we’ve heard it in Sunday School as a child and it seems to come up occasionally in church, at least a couple times a year. It’s a good story about Jesus and the compassion he has for those who are sick. It’s comfort for us to know it, but even more important is a comfort to us to hear it again.

Remember, too, that Mark is a very fast paced book. His favorite word is “immediately.” Some have said that Mark is a Gospel written for our modern attention span. He moves from one account to the next sparing the details as he moves the Gospel along quickly covering mostly just the high points. But here, in this account, Mark breaks with his regular practice and gives a few more details than we expect. And because he does that he makes some important points I’d like us to look at as we read through the text again.

31Then he [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

Tyre and Sidon are in the north part of that area. But what’s really important about these places isn’t where they are located but who lives there. They aren’t areas that are full of Jews but they are the areas that are full of gentiles. The best equivalent I can think of today would be to say “I was traveling in “Little Havanna” the other day.” When you heard that you would know that the people I was among were Cubans. Or if I said I preached at a church in Chinatown, you’d probably expect that the people I was with were from the Far East. That’s what Tyre and Sidon meant to the Jews. Jesus is coming back from that area and moving along the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, to a place called the Decapolis. That means “ten cities” there were ten cities clustered together there. Think again about the “Twin Cities” we know it’s Minnapolis and St. Paul. They knew what the 10 cities were, too. And again the primary thing to remember is that the Decapolis was an area filled with non-Jews. Jesus is traveling and teaching, and doing miracles among gentiles.

32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

Now this is interesting, not because it happened, because people were always bringing their friends and relatives to Jesus to be healed. The interesting thing here is that the “they” are never completely identified. It seems to be purposely ambiguous. We could ask a lot of questions about it but in the end we really don’t know “who” these folks are, or even why they have brought this man. Most likely they have brought this man to Jesus to be healed because they want to see him do something miraculous. They want to find out if Jesus is really who he seems to be. They’ve heard about Jesus and want to see him “do his thing.”

We should also remind ourselves how people of those days viewed deafness, and speaking disorders. If you were deaf or couldn’t speak they believed that it was because of some unforgiven sin. It could be yours or your parents, but the main idea was that God was punishing you for something you or even your parents did wrong. In a way they believed that if you were deaf, or blind or unable to speak you deserved it. So bringing this person to Jesus had some other significance, if Jesus could heal him, it said something about who Jesus was. So the beg Jesus to do it.

33And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.

Jesus takes the man aside. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears. He spits and touches the man’s tongue. Mark doesn’t say why, but I think it easy to understand what Jesus is doing. “Look at me and pay attention.” Jesus says by taking the man aside. He pokes his fingers in the man’s ears, and touches his tongue. “I understand your problem, you’ve got ears that don’t work, and a tongue that doesn’t work. I’m going to do something about it.” And Jesus spits. “I’m going to get rid of the evil in your ears and tongue.”

34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Jesus sighed. It seems like and insignificant detail, just some filler in the middle of the sentence. But I think it’s key to understanding what’s really going on here. Jesus sighed. Look at what sin has done! Look at the pain and separation it causes. Of course this man wasn’t deaf as a direct punishment for sin as those standing there might have thought. But sin in general is the cause. Sin in and among the human race brings sickness, disease, blindness, deafness, cancer, aids, and finally, ultimately, it brings death. When Jesus lets out a sigh we sigh right along with him. We sigh as we see the effects of sin all around us. We sigh with friends and neighbors dealing with their own problems, illness, suffering. And we try to be understanding but in reality we are afraid because we know that we are more than just bystanders. We sigh with Jesus because we know that illness will come, weakness will come, and death will come. And it won’t just come to our neighbors and friends. Death will come to us. That’s where we are just like the “they” in this text; the folks who brought this deaf man to be healed. Remember I said we really don’t know who “they” are. Well, here is why it really doesn’t matter. They sighed with Jesus. We sigh with Jesus. They brought him to be healed for the same reason we hold up our friends and family in prayer and ask for them to be healed. We want it all to end. We want cancer to stop ravaging us. We want the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, we don’t want to be sick anymore. We want our families whole again. We want the picture painted for us by Isaiah.

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. Isaiah 35:5-6a (ESV)

Jesus sighed. He wants that for us, too. In fact that’s exactly what he’s doing with that deaf man, there in that crowd. He’s bringing and end to it all. “Be opened!” he says. “Ephphatha!”

35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

Jesus canceled the effects of sin on that man’s ears and tongue. He ended the separation of that man from his family. He ended the pain and suffering caused by deafness. “Be opened!” and the man was healed. Just like the sign language Jesus used to communicate with the deaf man, Jesus communicates with us in language that we can understand. “This is why I have come,” he tells us, “to end the control of sin in your lives.”

Jesus cried out “Ephphatha!” and opened the man’s tongue and ears. He cried out again “in a loud voice” on the cross when he gave up his life. You see, the two events are connected. Jesus came to end sickness and disease and death. He came to end them by his death on the cross. He shows us that by all that he did among the people that swarmed around him. He healed the deaf and the blind. He cleansed lepers and even brought the dead back to life. He came to end the effects of sin in the world. Jesus tells us that when he says to the man “Ephphatha!”

36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

It’s odd to our hearing. Why not tell everyone what he did? Why not let the whole world know that Jesus is healing deaf people and making people who can’t talk, talk plainly? Who better to tell the story than those who have been personally touched? Isn’t that the message that Jesus wants everyone to know? That he came to heal our sickness and remove the effects of sin? We can see it again in the “them.” We can again relate directly to “them.” They wanted to tell everyone and Jesus’ words didn’t stop them.

Well, remember when I said Jesus calling out Ephphatha was like his crying out on the cross. That’s the part that’s missing. The people there saw the healing but they didn’t have the whole story. Jesus came to make us whole in body and soul, but he came to do it through the cross. In fact, without the cross what Jesus does doesn’t really mean anything at all. The deaf man went back to his regular live, connected again with his family, but he still faced sin there. He still faced illness and danger. And death still waited for him. All that happened for him was temporary restraint of the effects of sin. And Jesus didn’t come to bring temporary relief. He came to make it permanent. In order for pain and suffering, illness and death, to come to a permanent end, sin would have to come to an end. The whole story is really seen when Jesus hangs on the cross and dies. That’s were sin is done away with. That’s were sin has its final word. And Jesus pays the final and complete price for the sins of the world.

21For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

And he nailed that sin to the cross to die. To be done away with forever.

37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

I think that they are saying more here than they really know. Jesus does do all things well. He heals a deaf man, but that’s only part of the picture. What he really does well is seen in his willingness to go to the cross to die for our sins. “This is my beloved son.” The father says of Jesus. And to prove it he raises Jesus from the dead. That’s right. Jesus does all things well. He dies for sins of the world and God raises him again to life. It proves it. The resurrection makes it plain that Jesus did just what he came to do. He came to do away with the affects of sin in the world, and his resurrection show us just how it has been accomplished.

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5(ESV)

The resurrection like his is ours, through baptism. A resurrection that promises no more sin, no more suffering, no more deafness, no more cancer, no more anything but joy! You see, Jesus has done all things well.

And while we may still have to deal with sin, and sickness and yes even death. The days of living with these things are numbered. They will all come to an end when Jesus shows up again on our doorstep. That too he promises and is verified by his resurrection. You see; we have the whole story. The healing that Jesus gave to that deaf man is a healing that is promised to us, too. That promise is sealed in Jesus death on the cross, and his resurrection, is given to us in baptism.

So Jesus doesn’t say to us “don’t tell this to anyone.” In fact he tells us to tell everyone “all nations.” He says. It really is good news to tell. And it goes like this: “Hey everyone! I know we are suffering now with death and pain and sickness. But just look at what Jesus has done. He healed a deaf man, and he’ll heal you, too. Believe in him and what he has done for you in his life death and resurrection. Look to Jesus, he has done all things well.” Amen.

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

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fifteeth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 16, 2006, Deut 4:1-2,6-8

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 16, 2006
St.  John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

1“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.  6Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 6-8 (ESV)

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

“Now listen Sam,” said his father, “you can borrow the car, but I want you to go straight to the game and then come home again.”

“Yea, that’s just what I’ll do… go straight to the game, and then come home again.” Sam had already worked it out in his mind.  He thought it over again to himself.  “Straight to the game” meant exactly that.  He would do that.  But there was some latitude in the phrase “and then come home again.” He didn’t have time to stop anywhere before the games anyway.  But the way home was full of options.  There were lots of routes that he could take.  He could be plenty creative in that respect.  After all one of his friends was bound to need a ride somewhere, they might even leave before the game was over.  After all his dad didn’t say “and then straight home again.”

Dad reluctantly dropped the keys in Sam’s hand, while he looked over his son’s face and expression.  “You heard what I said.”

“Yea, I heard, straight to the game.  And then I’ll come home afterward.”

“Ok, as long as we understand each other.” But Dad was skeptical, as Sam turned on his heel out the door.  

Sam’s Dad was skeptical for good reason.  He’s like any father, remembers what it was like when he was in his son’s shoes.  He remembers how he took advantage and tried to create a loophole in the rules.  In fact, it’s perfectly natural to look over the rules and try to find a loophole.  We do it all the time.  Even the people who received the law of God from Moses had done it.

“2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.” said Moses (speaking for God) to the people.  It’s a little like Dad making sure that Sam understood what he meant.  Moses wanted the people to be sure to know that the law was to be followed perfectly.  There were no exceptions.  There are never exceptions to God’s law.  Don’t add to them, and don’t take anything away.  Do them as they are that you may live.  Because by breaking them you will surely die.  That’s really what’s at stake with the law.  It’s a matter of life and death.  

Understand first, that God’s law in and of itself is very good.  It comes from God, and He is perfect in His will and action.  The law He gives is perfect as well.  St.  Paul talked about it in his letter to the Romans.  12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.  Romans 7:12 (ESV) The law has to be good because it comes from a perfect and holy God.  And He gives His perfect law “that you may live.”

But there is a problem here.  And the problem isn’t with God’s law.  The problem is with those who receive the law.  Instead of looking at God’s law the way God would have us look at it, we see a problem.  We see it as if God is trying to control us and take away our freedom.  Just like Sam trying to get around the intention of what his father said to him.  We want exceptions to the law.  We want to modify it.  

We do it every day, right? We see God’s law as an affront to our freedom.  We tell ourselves that what God really wants is for us to be happy.  “I’m happy just the way I am, the way that I’m living.  God doesn’t really mean the law should apply to me.”  My little white lies aren’t important.  My fudging on my taxes isn’t a big issue.  The Swimsuit issue of Sport’s Illustrated isn’t really pornography (they don’t even put it behind the counter, and they aren’t actually naked!) No one ever got hurt by them.  A few coins in the slots, and a few lottery tickets aren’t anything, even if keeps getting just a few more every month.  The speed limits are really only suggestions, unless the cops are around.  You can insert your own pet sin here.  I could go on and on… we all have them.  We all want our little sins to be exceptions, loopholes we can jump through.  And we’re not exempt from them as a church either.  The church can be so focused on numbers and budgets that we trade off the truth of God’s Word for the sake of filling the pews.  “Pastor, if you were just a little less direct about sin, a little less accusing, it could be like the old days here again when the every pew was full.  If you’d just loosen up a bit on those old stodgy rules we could be a bigger, better church again.”  

God gives us His good law so that we can live.  It gives promises, real promises.  If we could keep the law perfectly we could live forever.  But unfortunately it gives real curses, too.  St. Paul tells us about that, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Romans 7:10 (ESV) That old sinful nature in us would like to live our lives as exceptions to God’s Word.  That sinful nature in us wants to take away from Scripture what ever accuses it of sin.  We make light of the sins we see as harmless, victimless, and personal.  But the law just doesn’t make exceptions.  It is very specific.  It doesn’t ask us to change.  It doesn’t ask us to just do better.  It doesn’t give us hints for getting along better with our neighbor.  It says, “Do this and live.  Don’t do this… and die.”  Adam and Eve were given a command that was just that way.  “You may eat of any tree in the garden… except this one. On the day you do you will surely die.”  Don’t for one minute think that any sin in you isn’t worthy of death, even those ”little harmless ones.”  That’s a heavy burden to bear… it’s easier to overlook them, make them seem less important than they are, and modify that law so that it doesn’t apply.  It’s easier to re-interpret the law so that what we do isn’t wrong.  Like Sam not coming straight home.  But it doesn’t change our guilt.  It doesn’t change the fact that we deserve punishment for breaking it.

But God does offer a solution.  It’s there in the words Moses speaks to the people.  “7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” Here Moses is saying that because the laws are so right and good people from surrounding nations will marvel at God’s presence among them.  In other words, God’s laws show His love by showing His will.  Even when we can’t keep it.  God’s nearness is really the answer to the problem of sin.  “Wretched man that I am,” St.  Paul calls out to God, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer is: Jesus Christ, who saves us from the condemnation of the law.  God gives the law for life, but it condemns us because we can’t keep it.  God gives the Gospel for life, and that is exactly what it brings.  That is where God draws near to us.  He comes to us in Jesus Christ.  Born in a stable in Bethlehem, He is God himself born as a living and breathing human being.  He draws near to us to bring us life.  Jesus tell su 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV) You see, when the law doesn’t suit us we seek to have it changed.  But that’s not possible with God’s perfect law.  It must be kept.  Jesus didn’t come to change the law.  He came to do it right.  He came to keep it perfectly and fully, to the very letter of it, without exception or loophole.  

He became a human being just like you and me and said, “No exceptions for me.  The law applies to me; every word and syllable of it; every ‘do’ and every ‘don’t’.”  That’s what He means when He says He comes to fulfill the law.  He fills it up, without exception.  Jesus Christ, took on human nature so that the law would apply to Him.  He was the only person who ever kept the law perfectly for His whole life.  He kept it perfectly, in the letter and the spirit.  He earned the full promise of the law, life forever.  Now the other thing about Jesus fulfilling the law that’s most important for us to remember when we are talking about our little sins that bring us death.  Jesus came to fulfill the law, all of it.  He even came to fulfill the law’s “no exceptions” demands for punishment and death.  And dear Christians, He didn’t come to fulfill the law for Himself.  He came to do it for you.  After He had done everything perfectly He didn’t just take what He had earned and fly off to where He came from.  Instead He paid the full and complete penalty for your sin.  He faced God’s fierce anger over sin on the cross.  Please note that God’s anger is just as great for those little “exceptions” we like to make as it is for the big sins.  Christ Jesus your Lord hung in your place under God’s punishment, and paid what you earned for the broken laws of God.  That’s how God draws near to you to save you.  You have a God that is indeed that near to you and loves you so much that He died on the cross to take your punishment away from you.  

But don’t think that His nearness to you ended with His death on the cross.  He promises to be with you always, to be near you always.  His love for you didn’t end when He breathed out His last time on the cross.  He didn’t stay dead, but rose again still a living and breathing person.  God and Man together in Jesus Christ, dead and buried, and raised again to life forever.  And that’s the risen Lord Jesus that makes promises to you.  It’s one thing to trust the promises of someone who has died.  It’s quite another thing to trust the One who has risen from death to life.  It’s the risen Lord that you can trust.  Just think, not only did He die to pay the penalty of sin; but He rose again from the dead.  If He can do that He can keep all His promises to you.  And He does.

Ok, so God hates all my sin, even those little ones.  What am I suppose to do about that.  I’ve got to deal with them every day.  Well, the answer is… don’t forget that God is near you.  Martin Luther speaks of the nearness of God in Holy Baptism.  The confirmation students memorize this:

What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" [Rom. 6:4].

And St. Paul tells Pastor Titus in the Epistle:

[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:5-8, ESV)

You live in that renewal every day that you remember the nearness of God to you through Holy Baptism.  With that Old Adam, that Old Sinful nature drowned, God has dealt already with our desire to sin.  The Old Adam doesn’t control our lives.  The law puts him in his place.  We have a new nature a new life created in us.  That new nature always wants to keep God’s law perfectly, and it always does.  No exceptions.

So those “exceptions” that we want…  the old nature is still going to try to tell us that we need them.  When that happens just remind yourself that God is near.  The Holy Spirit is right there with you.  You don’t need exceptions to God’s law to avoid punishment.  Jesus Christ has paid the penalty already.  You have eternal life through Him.  Confess the sin, and the desire to sin to Him.  He forgives.  He removes.  He washes clean.  Amen.

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

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Funeral Sermon, Psalm 23, Leona Feuerborn

Psa.23, Leona Feuerborn

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, ESV)

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

I could tell you a bunch of good things that people told me about Leona, but somehow that seems to me to be just a little bit disingenuous.  I didn’t know Leona.  I never met her.  I don’t know what she was like other than from the correspondence that I received in preparing for this service.  

One thing I’ve learned about funerals is there is no lack of good things that are said about the person who has died.  It’s one thing that we do very well these days.  We speak well of the dead.  This past week you’ve heard great things about Leona.  You’ve laughed about some of them. You’ve cried about some of them.  You’ve begun the process of living the rest of your life without…  The process isn’t over.  That hole in your heart isn’t ever going to be completely gone.  The questions you have in your head aren’t all going to be answered.  The questions like, “Why did she have to die?”  “How am I going to live without her?”  “How long do I have to wait to see her again?”  When my father died I kept saying to myself, “I want him back.”  I’m sure you feel that way too.

I can’t answer your questions, really.  I can’t fill your loss with cleverly crafted words.  I won’t even try.  What I will do today is talk about Jesus.  I’ll do that because He is the only one who makes sense out of suffering.  He’s the only one that takes the sting out of death.  It is Jesus’ death that makes sense out of our sitting together today around this casket.  That’s because of all the things people will talk about today, all the talk about Leona isn’t likely to include the fact that she was indeed a sinful person.  She was born that way, she lived that way and she died that way.  I know it’s true because we are here today looking over her body.  St. Paul calls this the “wages of sin.”  And a part of our mourning today is the idea that someday we’ll all be in Leona’s place.  We might have nothing else in common, we might not know anything at all about each other, but that’s one thing we do.  We know our lives will all end in death, a deserved death for sin.  This is something that our Lord, our Shepherd Jesus Christ, has done something about.

Well, we’ve chosen the Shepherd Psalm to talk about.  We did that because even though Leona lost a lot of things to her memory she remembered this psalm and could say it right up till the very end.  She didn’t know how old she was, she didn’t remember who her husbands were but she knew Jesus her Good Shepherd was leading her in the journey through life.  When she had forgotten almost everything she confessed faith in the crucified Savior for sin, through this psalm.  

It is a journey, you know, this psalm.  A journey with a shepherd that cares for us so that we lack nothing we need; a journey through restful green pastures and beside quite waters; a journey where he leads us even through the deepest darkest shadows of death, like today, but we are not afraid because He is here.  Through his death he has destroyed death.  Through His resurrection He promises life.  Just as Christ was raised from the dead… we too will have new life.  That’s the comfort of the Crucified and Risen Savior.  The destination lies ahead; a banquet hall; a never ending feast were goodness and mercy are ever present.  Where there is no more mourning and tears.  No more separation.  No more forgotten memories. No more death; the house of the Lord, forever.

That’s that part that strikes me today, the banquet hall.  When Leona was asked if she was ready for communion she’d say, “I’m always ready for communion.”  Even when everything else was clouded in doubt and memory loss Leona could see the heavenly banquet laid out before in the body and blood of her Savior.  Sometimes when I read the Psalm I wonder about that “in the presence of my enemies” part.  I’m uncomfortable feasting in the presence of my enemies…  but not today.  If the Leona’s enemies were the cobwebs in her mind that kept taking away precious memory, Jesus clearly set the Lord’s Table in front of them.  She wasn’t going to forget that, the enemy didn’t get that one.  Her Shepherd was there, with her, present for the forgiveness of her sin; to tell her of his love and care; To tell her of His broken body and blood poured out for her; to lead her right through the valley of deep, dark death, right to His table where she sits right now probably displaying that kinky sense of humor I was told about.  And if you think she had a great time at your family gatherings, if you think she smiled when you were all together, you can just imagine the smile that’s on her face right now… and the joy.  And as much as we miss her, she’d not come back for all that the world has to give.  

Is there more to say.  Well Addie as you can see I believe too, that your grandma is in heaven with Jesus.  I believe that he led her on the whole journey of her life right through all the dark shadows, of the death of two husbands, right through the good times of midnight telephone talks with grandchildren, extra double mint gum, bologna white bread and sugared cereal.  Right through to His house where she’ll be happy and complete forever.  

And there is one more thing.  We’re on the journey too.  And it ends in the same place, with Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  We can’t get there on our own.  Our sinful nature doesn’t deserve it.  We don’t live the lives that we should live.  We sin against God in thought, word and deed.  We see it pretty clearly on days like today.  Our sin pokes itself up in our faces and says, “you’ll pay for your sins here.”  But, Jesus whispers in our other ear.  “No, I’ve paid for your sins already.  I took your punishment for them to my cross and grave.  And my resurrection is your promise of a happy destination, at end to the journey.”  To say it another way

In Holy Baptism [you] were clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin.  “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized with Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just a Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to may have new life.  If we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”
Your death, my death, Leona’s death isn’t the end.  Through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin, and the resurrection that He has promised we’ll see each other at a great family reunion called the resurrection of the dead.  As the Psalm says it… the house of the Lord, where our cup overflows.   And so death isn’t the end, it’s just the final leg on the journey home.  Amen.

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

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 10, 2006, Joshua 24:1-18


Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 10, 2006

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, ESV)
“When a choice is no choice at all.”

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

If you’ve talked to anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country one thing you might hear him or her say about visiting a grocery store overseas is how we have so many choices here. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country that offers so much choice in simple matters. How many different kinds of bread are there at the grocery store? Flavors of potato chips? Mustard? That’s one of the things that make our country great. But, it’s also one of the things that makes some people hate us so much. We are used to having choices and lots of them: from 31 flavors of ice cream, to hundreds of choice for breakfast cereal.

Of course not all of our “choices” are the kind we really want to revel in too much. Not all the choices that we have legally are really good choices. Every single day thousands of women chose to end the life of their unborn children. And still others long for the choice to end their own life with physician-assisted suicide. “It’s the woman’s choice!” some say, or “It’s my choice. Don’t push your religious values on me! I want to have control over my own choices!” These days I think we could reasonably say that choice has become the national religion.

But, you know, sometimes our choices are easy, but sometimes your choices are downright impossible. It’s happened to you. You have a choice but none of the options are good ones. No matter how you choose it’s going to be painful. No matter what you do the outcomes isn’t going to be ‘all right.’ Those are the times when you wish the choice would go to someone else.

So what about the easy ones? You know about these, too. They’re the choices that aren’t really choices at all. Sometimes on the football field you see the Ref asking the team about the results of accepting the penalty, in one case the touchdown stands and the other it is called back. You say to yourself, “Of course they’ll decline it, that’s not really a choice at all.” There are lots of times in our life when a choice is so obvious that it’s not really a choice at all. And sometimes a choice isn’t a choice because the decision is really made for us or the decision is really outside of our control. You’ve all voted when you felt it really didn’t make any difference. (Which by the way isn’t a reason not to vote!)

But all in all, we like the idea of choice. We like the idea of having control over our lives, and making decisions by having lots and lots of options, lots and lots of choices. It makes us feel in control of our destiny. You know

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost, the Road Not Taken)
Even if we don’t like the outcome, we like having the choice. And that’s why I think when we heard the OT lesson for today, the words “choose for yourselves,” jump right out at us and stick in our minds. “Yea!” We say. “We have choices even when it comes to God. Even in religion we have choices. What a wonderful country we live in!”

You know though, as I look at this passage I’m not sure it says what we’d really like it to say. If we really look at the passage I think we’ll find out really what choices are being offered.

First we should note that in the bulletin a big chunk of the text is missing (namely verses 3-13). And although you can get the gist of what’s going on here you really need to know about those missing verses to really get the whole sense of it. You need to know what Joshua says in that missing text, before he says “choose for yourselves.”

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out. “ ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:2-13, ESV)
Here the people have gathered before Joshua because they are just about to go into the Promised Land. They’re looking for marching orders, instructions on what to do next. But Joshua doesn’t just do that, he recounts with them what God’s been doing in their lives. He recounts the whole history of God working in the lives of His people. He reminds them exactly how they got to where they were right then. But he doesn’t just go back to recent history he goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He reminds the of God’s protection to Abraham in his travels, Isaac during his life, and how Jacobs family was saved from famine by going into Egypt. Then Joshua tells them again about how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. How Moses came and showed God’s mighty hand to Pharaoh and secured their freedom. He reminded them of the scene of God’s protection at the Red Sea. How God parted the waters for them and closed up the waters on the Pharaoh’s army. And how God protected them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and again how He gave them the Promised Land, the land that they were now ready to occupy. It was a history of God’s protection and love.

After all of that then Joshua says, “Now! Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” You see Joshua doesn’t really ask them to make a choice at all. Joshua is really saying, “Remember all that God has done for you. Now respect Him and serve Him! Get rid of those false gods that your relatives worshipped. After all what did they ever do for you? Is there really any comparison between those idols of wood and stone and the living God whose hand you have actually seen in action? Get rid of them and serve the True God!” Notice that in all that Joshua has said, there hasn’t been any choice at all. “Serve God!” He says. You see, it’s and obvious decision. After seeing what God has done of course they’ll serve God. But Joshua does offer the people of God a choice. It may not be the choice you think it is. And it’s important to note what Joshua has just said (all that part that’s cut out of the reading). “If it is evil in your eyes to serve God (this God whose done all these things for you), then choose for yourselves from these other false gods. If you don’t want to serve the True God, then it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do, it doesn’t matter which false god you choose. Serving the True God isn’t a choice, not a decision you can make. After all just look at what He has done for you. God has already chosen you, and serving God is what God’s people do.” It’s a choice that’s no choice at all. “As for me and my house,” Joshua says, “of course! We will serve the Lord.”

So, even in the world we live in, this “choice paradise” I’m not going to tell you that you’d better choose Jesus. After all that’s not what Joshua told God’s people gathered before him that day. You don’t have to choose because the choice has already been made. You really couldn’t choose to believe in Jesus anyway. Even though we’d like to have something to do with our salvation, some little part in it all, the bible makes in abundantly clear that there is nothing that we do. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9, ESV) You don’t decide to receive a gift; you only take it when and if it’s offered. You can’t “make a decision” for Christ. Not just because it’s impossible but, because you don’t have to. Instead of choosing God, God chooses us. "…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Ro 5:8, ESV) "For God so loved the world, that he gave (that is He chose to give) his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (Jn 3:16, ESV) The choice was His, not ours. He chose to act for us. Jesus was born, lived and died on the cross by choice! He made the decision for us. Whenever we are tempted to think that there’s something that we have to do, whenever we think that God did His part now we have to do our part, we put ourselves in that boasting category by saying that my salvation isn’t complete unless I act. “I know what Jesus did but I have to help Him out and make it complete, through my own choice.” Sounds like boasting to me.

Faith in Christ does feel to us like a choice.  But that choosing comes from faith that is planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit already. It really is just a reaction to faith.  It’s like this.  Let’s say you won the lottery. The Lottery winnings are yours weather you believe it or not. If someone tells you you’ve won but you don’t believe them, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve won. You go to get the prize when you believe that you’ve won. No amount of deciding to win the lottery is ever going to get you the money. You can’t decide to win. First you have to win, and then you have to believe that it’s true. Jesus Christ chose you, not randomly like a lottery, but He chose you by His Word, when you heard it or when it was spoken over you at your baptism. It wasn’t chance it was God’s free grace. His choice for you.

Come to think of it you have a story just like the one that Joshua told the people of God in our OT text for today. It’s the story of God’s great love for you; the story of God’s choosing you. For lots of you it begins at a font just like this one, with parents and congregation gathered around. It begins with God’s Word and water poured on your head in the God’s name. That’s God reaching out and choosing you to be His; changing you from His enemy to His child; giving you the salvation won on the cross by Jesus. He has brought you to a land of God’s promises though a wilderness of dangers. You are here completely because of God care and protection. You are here completely because God provides for you every day in every way. Not just in a worldly physical sense either. He provides for your spiritual need, too, in this Promised Land. He gives you His Word full of promises that are true for you right now, and will be even more true in the future, when you and He spend eternity together. And just so you don’t forget He finds lots of ways to remind you. Lot’s of ways to tell you of His great love for you again and again. Just look around in this place, it’s full of those reminders.

So, serve the Lord, Jesus Christ right now. Remember all that He has done for you. When you do that, of course you’ll serve Him. You see, it’s a choice that’s really no choice at all. Amen.

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

Friday, September 01, 2006

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 3, 2006, Psalm 34:9-14

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 3, 2006
St. John's Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:9-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There's phrase in this Psalm that comes up several times. It's "fear the Lord." Of course I'm sure that just like me you learned that this isn't really "fear" as in to be afraid but fear as in respect. I remember being taught that when I was in Confirmation class. "You don't have to be afraid of God because of Jesus." I was told. Now I don't want you to get me wrong, I had a wonderful pastor who confirmed me and taught me the truth of God's Word, but maybe you and I have kind of put the cart before the horse. When I study this Psalm and how this word is used in other places it definatly has a part of it that means "fear" to be afraid. Maybe we've just forgotten why we should be afraid of God. I like to tell it to my confirmation students this way. This fear is like what you have for your father when your mother says, "Just wait till your father gets home!" It's the fear of punishment. You're guilty, you've been caught doing something wrong and punishment is coming. And even though you may love your father you on that day you don't want him to come home, you can wait. The normal happy return of Dad isn't going to be so happy this time. When he comes home, he's going to be angry because things aren't the way they should be. You've broken the rules and father is going to punish you because of it. There is no way to describe that feeling except as fear. Fear of punishment. (Movie Ex. A Christmas Story: Ralphy gets into a fight and lets out a stream of curse words. His mother sends him to his room. He waits in tears for his father to return. The anticipation is of the pending wrath and punishment is terrible) Maybe we've just forgotten how terrible God's punishment can be. Maybe we've just forgotten how God's anger burns against sin. Well, it's not hard to see that, is it? Just look at what is called religion out side of these doors. God is some kind of eternal gray haired grandfather who overlooks our mistakes. We sit on his lap and he whispers in our ears, "It's OK, I know you've done the best you could do. Nobodies perfect. I don't expect you to be perfect." That is, in fact the majority opinion out there. And I think we all have a tendency to think that that's the way God is. He takes our sins, lifts up the carpeting and sweeps it under. "Oh, don't worry about that icky old sin. You can't help yourself. I'll just ignore it." I did a search on the Internet and found such profound quotes as:
  • God doesn't expect us to be perfect, as He knows we're sinners and we're always going to sin. But yes, He does expect us to strive for all those [good] things
  • nobody is perfect..the only perfect person was Jesus , so God doesn't expect us to be perfect (because its impossible) but he does expect us to be good.
  • Now having a friendship with Jesus does require us to do several things: ¢ Being honest with God about our faults and feelings. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but God does expect us to be honest. ¢ Choosing to obey God in faith, whether we completely understand where God is leading or not, we are to obey and be faithful.
  • Isn't it a comfort to know that God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just loves us: weaknesses, warts, secrets, and all.
  • in my opinion God doesn't expect us to be perfect. In my opinion God wants us to simply try and be a good person, which is really the whole point of just about every major religion in existence. Perfect? No. Good people? Yes.
  • Honestly, I don't know, but it seems to me that truly confessing and professing Him must mean that the professing manifests itself in some tangible evidence. Are you really a new creation in Christ? Are you keeping His commandments? Do you love one another? I'm not trying to scare you; God doesn't expect us to be perfect yet, and I know He'll stand for a few spots and blemishes, sins of commission, and sins of omission. I'm only asking you to examine yourself and your profession of faith. If you understand the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection, and if your life generally shows the fruits of the Spirit - even with a few wrinkles and dark places - than I think you're okay. If you don't feel you're okay, God is still ready to make things right. If you are okay, then get to work. I plan to."
Well these examples don't just match up with the God of the bible. God does indeed require perfection! He demands perfection in thought, word and deed. First, all you have to do is look at the 10 commandments. They cover every aspect of life. The first three talk about our relationship to God, and four through ten have to do with our relationship with others. And just in case you think that the commandments are suggestions and not God demand the humans be perfect, Jesus and St. Paul makes it very clear when they speak:
Thought: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
Word: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (Matthew 12:36, ESV)
Deed: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5, ESV)
And how about Jesus words here in Matthew:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
Those are only a few of the verses that I could list to show that God does indeed expect human beings to be perfect. He created us that way. We should have stayed that way. Now our imperfection deserves God's anger and wrath and punishment.
And what about you and me. Well, I think we do a lot to build up the perception that God just sweeps sin aside as if it didn't matter. Lots of the time we live our lives as if God doesn't require us to keep His commandments. We live and work and play and pretend that God doesn't hate my sin and your sin. What we usually like to do is give the impression that what God really hates is the ills of society, you know, what goes on out there, the injustice of the world. We like pointing the finger out there in general but we don't like it when it lands on us. Just because Jesus died to take the punishment of our sin, doesn't mean we should just continue to do it. St. Paul talks about this a lot. In his letter to the Romans he ask them if Jesus death on the cross means the should intentionally sin so that God can give mercy. "By no means!" he says, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2, ESV) And yet here we are continuing in our sin. And we're not talking about the big stuff here either. Sin is sin in God's eyes. For example, some of you have spoken to me about other members of the congregation in less than glowing terms. You have muttered "you fool" or worse under your breath about that person you just don't like. Lots of you have opened your mouths in the coffee shop and said what you know you shouldn't have said. You know when it happens, but you also know that once you speak something you can't take it back. And you've seen how much destruction it can do. And you know how you have wanted what other people have, and turned green with envy wondering why they should have it so good when you have to work so hard for what you have. And don't think I'm letting myself off the hook either. Whatever sins you are guilty of I am guilty of, a not just a Pastor, I'm a sinful person, too. We are all the same we are all sinful people. And if you think that's not a reason to "fear" God remember what He says.
The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20, ESV)
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Now, when you hear all this you understand what it means to "fear" God. You understand why we should be afraid of God and His just punishment. It's because God is good and just and holy. Justice isn't sweeping sin away and ignoring the punishment that is due. God is perfect and just that means that He must punish sin. That's what we deserve. The worst part is that we can't do anything about, we can't change ourselves, we can't stop sinning. We deserve what God has for us when we sin... punishment, eternal punishment.
Still think God isn't serious about sin? Still think he just shoves it under the rug or simply ignores it? I've got the best example of all that God is serious about sin. I've got the best example of all that we should be afraid of God's punishment. Just look at what He did to Jesus.
He was turned over to a brutal bunch of men who whipped him to next to death. He was forced to drag his own execution device up a high hill. He hung naked up there on the cross with nails driven through his hands and feet. And that's just the physical part of what he got. He shouted out in terror and pain, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" God, the Father, let it all happen. God wanted it to happen. He ignored Jesus. He turned his head away. Not to ignore sin, but to allow the full punishment for it to be done completely and fully and eternally. Jesus takes what sin deserves. Jesus suffers God's just anger. Jesus suffers God's just punishment. He suffers eternal rejection from God. That's exactly what those passages mean when they say "the wages of sin" and "the soul that sins." That's exactly what we should be afraid of. The punishment that we see given to Jesus is the punishment that we should have.
But the Psalm says something else about "the fear of the Lord." It's illustrated very nicely on the cover of the bulletin. It says Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! There's a little boy intently studying God's Word. That's what the Psalm is talking about. Did you notice it says fear the Lord, you his saints. It's talking to those who have faith, the saints of God, the ones who have faith in Jesus perfect sacrifice for their sin. The fear of the Lord in this Psalm is talking about more than just terror over sin, it's also talking about the faith that clings to the promise that that sin has been washed away with the blood of Jesus. That's why it can say the those who fear have no lack. Luther makes this point in the Small Catechism when he gives this meaning for the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. That's the big picture that the Psalm is talking about. Lacking nothing starts where we started earlier this morning. We confess our sins to God, knowing exactly what they deserve. "We are not perfect... We are sinful and unclean... We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone..." (LW, p. 158) Our Godly fear comes in when we tell God what He says we deserve for that sin, "Your present and eternal punishment." (LW, p. 158) But God doesn't dole out to us what we deserve. Instead He gives us forgiveness. It is the best news we could ever hear. God has endured the punishment of hell for us. He's bled and died on the cross so that we don't have to face that terrible punishment for our sin. He speaks the words right into your ears so that you are in no doubt about it. Your Pastor speaks the very words of Jesus for you, "I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In the Lord's Supper that God will give to us next week, we'll have that forgiveness put right into us through the very body and blood of Jesus, in, with, and under the bread and wine. This God that forgives in this way can be fully loved. This God that forgives for the sake of His sacrifice on the cross can be fully trusted.
Now for that "have no lack" part. God's forgiveness opens the door to much much more. It sets the stage for a new full and rich life, lacking nothing. Of course we still have sin. But God gives us a way to really take care of it, not by sweeping it under the rug so that it has to be dealt with later, but putting it on Jesus on the cross and really getting rid of it. So when the Psalm says Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it, we really do want to do just that. Becuase it's what God wants of us.
The God who has done everything for you so that you don't have to depend on yourself for salvation gives everything. Those who fear, love and trust in God lack no good thing. The Psalm says. My fellow Christians, you have a God who gives you that much and more. He has given Jesus perfect life for you. What more could you possibly need that He wouldn't be happy to give? In fact, in faith, that is fear, love and trust in God, means that even when He allows stuff into your life that doesn't seem so good, like illness, suffering and even death, you can be sure that it part of the good things that we have. Jesus, your God, your Savior, has bled and died and rose again for you. He promises only good things for you now. You can be sure that no matter what you recieve from him is exactly what you truly need. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.