Saturday, August 18, 2007

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15), August 19, 2007, Heb.11.17-12.3

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By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 11:17-12:3, ESV)
(Thanks to Pr. Mark Anderson, CPR, Vol 17, Part 3)

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

This text continues on with the theme of faith spoken about by pastor Sattgast last week at our anniversary, although it has a little bit different twist. This text focuses a bit on the pain that was suffered by God’s faithful people. Now there’s a subject we’d really like to avoid pain. There are lots of kids of pain. Pain from an injury. Pain from surgery. Pain from the death of a loved one. Pain from broken relationships. Pain from the loss of anything precious or important. You and I have suffered all these kinds of pain in our lifetime. There is one thing for sure, you have all had it, and you will all have it again. It is as sure as death and taxes.

We all handle pain very differently. There are those who use drugs and alcohol to cover up their pain. Pain can be ignored or buried for long periods of time, in hopes that it will go away. It never does. Something that is buried alive will eventually dig its way to the surface again. I see a lot of this one, lots of people try to pretend that hurts between people will go away if they are ignored. You won’t have to think long to come up with and example of this one either. Lots of people turn to God with their pain, or rather churches. Flip through the channels on Sunday morning and you’ll hear tons of preachers addressing pain. The problem with most of them is they make promises that they can’t deliver on, promises that God doesn’t make. People are attracted to them because it’s exactly what they want to hear. “Give your life to God and He’ll make you prosperous.” “Use this prayer rug and God will make your life easy.” “Live your life with purpose and God will make you fruitful” “Say the prayer of Jabez and God will give you whatever you desire.” It seems so right, but none of those promises are found in God’s Word.

Pain is here to stay. Becoming a Christian doesn’t take it away. We still have trouble in our lives. We still have broken families. We still have broken relationships. Our friends and families still die. You could add your own most painful moment here. For me, in recent time it was the death of my father, or how about the loss of something important. Last week we were reminded again of the history of this congregation, the largest congregation in the South Dakota District, a Sunday school of 200 children. “Why can’t it be that way again?” that loss has caused congregational pain.

Well, it doesn’t matter what pain you name… pain is all the result of sin. God’s creation was created with out sin without pain. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10b, ESV) Once the world was corrupted by sin, its effects are shown in human lives through pain. It’s not the way it should be. We can ignore pain. We can shift the blame to someone else. We can come up with a thousand ways to push it aside. But eventually the root of the problem has to be dealt with. Sin has to be dealt with. And only God can deal with sin.

So what about you? What’s your favorite avenue to avoid pain in your life? For quite awhile the people of this congregation have played the blame game. For quite awhile the people of this congregation have done whatever is necessary to avoid pain. We avoid conflict even at the expense of God’s Word. If you do whatever they ask for we can be at peace again. What about you personally? Do you open God’s Word for answers? Do you blame someone else? Do you ignore it hoping it will go away? Do you compromise on God’s Word to avoid pain?

Maybe you even joined this church looking for relief from pain. If I’m a good Christian God will take it all away and I’ll be happy, healthy and full of good fortune. Well, that’s not God’s promise to you. In fact, when you became a Christian you signed up, not for less trouble and pain, but actually more of it.

That’s what the text for today shows us. Just look at Abraham. Think of what it was like to leave everything you had behind and wander off to an unknown place. Think of the pain involved in being told to kill you son like and animal on an altar for sacrifice.

How did Abraham deal with it? Our text says, He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:19, ESV) Even when everything seemed hopeless, Abraham focused on God and the promises that were made to him.

Moses is also an example given here. Just look at the change in Moses life. He was a big shot, who became a sheep herder in a little out of the way place. Well that almost sounds like us doesn’t it? Moses suffered because he believed and trusted God more than he loved his high position. He believed in God’s promises, rather than focusing on the pain of the current situation.

And then there are the unnamed prophets and patriarchs.

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36-38, ESV)

That’s quite a list of pain and suffering. Anyone here want to step up to the plate and volunteer for any of these things? These faithful people of God didn’t choose these things but God allowed them to happen for His own purposes. The made it through them by believing in God’s promises in spite of how it looked.

There is that saying we are all familiar with, “No pain / no gain” Lot’s of people seem to live by that motto. People spend painful hours in preparation for what’s important to them. Athletes lift weights and go through intensive training programs. Marathon runners beat the pavement every day. Professional actors and singers take small unimportant bit parts. Farmers go over the fields one more time to get rid of as many weeds as possible. Doctors study to keep up with the latest advances. All these go through the pain because they have a goal in mind. They are focused on the end, the goal.

For you and me, the question isn’t if we will suffer pain. The question is when. The question is how.

How do you make it through your pain and suffering? As Christians we keep in mind one simple thing. We hold one thing as more important than any other. When ever we see suffering, we see it in light of our Savior on the cross. Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. Jesus Christ crucified for you and me!

Those great examples that we talked about... They have some things in common with us. They were sinful people too. They knew about their sin. They knew they only deserved God eternal wrath an punishment. But just like I said, they place their faith in the promises of God. We have and advantage that they didn’t have though. They looked forward to a promised Savior to come. We have Jesus Christ on the cross. They knew the Messiah was coming. We have the account of His coming written in words we can understand.

God’s Word tells us that God himself came to earth to deal with pain and suffering. He became a human being to deal with sin. In Jesus Christ, the wholeness of God dwells, we are told. He suffered and died for the sins of the whole world. He bore the punishment for all sin on the cross. No matter how great your suffering is, it will never compare to what Jesus suffered for you. He didn’t just suffer physical pain, nails in his hands, bruises and cuts, and harassment. He suffered spiritual death and separation from God. Jesus suffered the pain of hell on the cross.

How do you endure pain? I’ve heard it a hundred times. “I don’t know how I’d survive if I didn’t have faith.” “How do people go through things like this without Jesus?” Those statements say just what the writer of the book of Hebrews says. How do we endure? We endure through the cross of Christ. We focus on him. We look to Him. We hold tight to His promises.

Oh yeah. How do you know God’s promises are for you? Well, you don’t have to rely on your feelings. You don’t have to rely on anything you’ve done. You don’t have to point to yourself and say that I’ve accepted Jesus. All that kind of talk is not placing faith in Jesus but faith in you. You can’t do it without Jesus. God makes sure you know that His promises are for you. Look again to the font. Remember how God put His name on you. It doesn’t matter which of those pastors picture in the narthex did it, or even if someone else did it. God’s promises go with His Name, His Word and water. You are baptized child of God. It’s not a onetime event but a lifetime of living in God’s promises. And now, here at St. John’s, you have another chance every month to have your faith in God’s promises strengthened. Only moments from now God will give you the body and blood of Jesus Christ for you to eat and drink. The very same Jesus who suffered and died for you is going to go right into you. As you eat the bread and wine, God is saying to you that His promises of forgiveness are true for you. He promises that He has taken care of the thing that causes pain in your life.

Here’s the thing. Jesus died for you and he rose again from death, for you. Packed together with his promise of forgiveness is his promise of resurrection. That’s the goal. That’s the prize. New life forever with Jesus. New life forever with no pain and no suffering… no sin! God has done it all, taken care of it all, and promised it all to you. Suffer as you will, and you will suffer, it doesn’t compare to the promises God has made for you in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

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