Sunday, September 30, 2012

Deuteronomy 34:1-12; September 30, 2012;

Trinity evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

1Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended. 9And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (ESV)

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

The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” Recently we’ve begun to view some emergency workers, like firemen and paramedics, as heroes. At first, I was going to start this sermon by saying, “Everyone needs a hero.” But, as I was doing some research I found out the really, here in America, we don’t have any heroes any more. James Patterson and Peter Kim say in their book The Day America Told the Truth that 70 percent of Americans have no living heroes. So, that kind of killed my first premise. It’s sad, in a way, because one of the important things about heroes is the desire to be like them. The desire to do what they do and do it well. Call it inspiration, or leadership.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not that we don’t need heroes, maybe we just don’t have them. Well, the bible is full of heroes. If you’re looking for a hero maybe, you could go there. Just look at Samson, who was so strong he brought down a whole building with his bare hands. Or Isaiah who preached, and preached, and preached, even though almost everyone ignored everything he said. Job who endured more suffering in his single life than most collections of a hundred people. Or St. Paul, who went from God’s enemy to His greatest preacher, and endured beatings and imprisonment for bringing God’s message.

What makes a hero a hero? Is it merely a matter of timing, a matter of 5 minutes as Emerson says? How do these heroes of the bible become such strong heroes? And since we do have so many, and heroes are to be emulated, how is it that we do that?

Well, let’s consider a biblical example. Really the first and arguably one of the most important biblical heroes is Moses. That’s what our text is about: And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses…

Moses was a hero. Maybe we don’t think of that at first but certainly the people of Israel always viewed him that way. And for good reason, just look at his list of qualifications. He knew God face to face. He talked directly to God, spoke his mind and even changed God’s mind about punishing the people. He had God’s trust, too. God spoke to him directly and clearly. And he actually saw God’s glory. Now that’s heroic, considering every one else in the world would have dropped down dead on the spot. Now on top of all of that there was 11none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. That’s clearly hero status.

But there’s another side to this hero, too. First, remember his beginning, that crying baby floating helplessly in a raft / bassinet. And he was nursed by a hired hand. That’s a very unsure beginning for a hero. And look at this passage that is written in Numbers 12:3: 3Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3, ESV) And in case you are wondering what the word “meek” means Webster says it means “soft”; “deficient in spirit and courage : submissive” and “not violent or strong : moderate” And in the end, God didn’t even let him into the land he promised the people because Moses had gotten angry and sinned against God. That doesn’t sound much like a hero, does it?

Actually, it looks like Moses was a pretty ordinary man. Actually that first quote by Emerson, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer,” might seem to fit Moses pretty well. Really, in Moses’ case, the difference isn’t time but the difference is God. God is the one who enabled this ordinary man named Moses to do such great things. God chose him, selected him out for God’s own purposes. And don’t forget the sin. Moses was a sinful man just like you and me. His sin prevented him from entering the Promised Land. Moses was both an ordinary man and also a sinful man. And yet, God used him in big ways, to accomplish what God wanted done. God’s power and purpose made Moses a hero of faith.

Are you and I “hero material?” Well, just like Moses we are pretty ordinary people. Some of us are meek, quiet and reserved. Some of us are bold and assertive. But we are all human beings with varied gifts and varied strengths and varied weaknesses. And most important to remember, we have all sinned against God in many ways (and often!). I’m sure you’ve heard the prayer:

Dear Lord, So Far Today God, I've Done Alright. I Haven't Gossiped, Lost My Temper, Been Greedy, Grumpy, Nasty, Selfish Or Over-Indulged. I'm Very Thankful For That, But In A Few Minutes I'm Going To Get Out Of Bed, And Then I Really going to Need Your Help. Amen.

We laugh because it’s true. But really we even sin in our sleep, we can’t help it because sin is a part of our nature. The question for us today is, “if we are so ordinary and so sinful can God use us like He used Moses?” and the rational answer is “No! of course not!” Who among us sitting here could ever possibly live up to a hero like Moses? But the real answer has nothing to do with logic or rational thought. The real point is not who we are but who God is. The real point is not our abilities, but God’s power. God is the one who rises up people to do His will. He chooses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But even when we are raised up we still miss the mark that He requires, we still fall far short of His expectations.

There is someone we are told about in the bible who is a real hero. Jesus did what no human being could ever do. He lived up to God’s every expectation perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that because of His perfect life, you and I are forgiven of our imperfections. Because He took our sin to the cross and was punished there for us, and He is even a hero over death. He beat it by rising again. It is the life, death and resurrection of our Hero, Jesus that gives us life and salvation! In Jesus, we actually see God face to face, just like Moses did. We see Him right here in His Word and in His very presence in Body and Blood in Holy Communion. In Christ we can bear God’s presence, He is with us in this place just as He promised to be whenever we gather in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus Christ we, even though we live in sin every day, even though we regularly miss the mark, we are brought to God in clean and transfigured robes of perfection. It’s not our perfection but the perfection of Jesus, given to us in Baptism.

So, to that list of Heroes of Faith that I made earlier, you know, David, Samson, Job, Isaiah, you may as well add your name to that list. Because you and I are heroes of the faith. Hey, it’s not because of our own strength or power, it’s not because of anything in here. It’s because of the Real Hero. It’s because of Jesus who stood on the mountain shining like the sun and took His road to the cross to remove our sin. He was transfigured in glory, and leaves that mountain to complete His work for us. When we fall, He picks us up. When our strength fades, He gives His to us. When we fail, He forgives and embraces us.

That means that no matter what, in everything you do, you can be a hero. But you’re a hero not because you’ve got the strength to do it but because Jesus has chosen you and works in you in the things you do every day.

Heroes of the Faith are heroes because of Jesus has done His work and gives us His power through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

James.3.13-4:10; 17th Sunday after Pentecost; September 23, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
clip_image002Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 3:13–4:10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In your bulletin is a color copy of the painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedema titled "the Death of the First Born" (1872). I want you to look at the painting carefully. This famous painting is set in Egypt after the 10th plague sent by God to release his people from slavery in Egypt. The first thing that strikes you about the painting is Pharaoh's eyes. Here's a man who thought he was wise. In fact he thought he was God. Moses and Aaron stand in the upper right-hand corner of the painting looking over the dreadful scene. Pharaoh holds in his arms his dead son, the firstborn. His stare is vacant. Gone are the days when he believed he was stronger than the God of the Hebrews. Gone is the laughter of his son. Gone is his relationship with his queen. Gone is his pride. This is a defeated man. One could hope that at this moment, when all was lost, Pharaoh would bend his knee to the one true God and humble himself. But it is not to be. We know how the story ends. Pharaoh's army's drowned in the depth of the Red Sea. Death upon death has Pharaoh's pride brought upon his family and his nation. The Bible simply says "and Pharaoh's heart was hardened". In fact I think in the empty gaze of Pharaoh's eyes you can see the anger welling up. He's about to order his armies out to destroy the Hebrews. This is where pride ends.
In our text, St. James addresses no less a problem to the Christians in his letter. What he sees is fellow Christians quarreling and fighting, all because of their pride. He sees Christians choosing their own desires over God's will for their communion. Their sin is no less than Pharaoh's. Their sin is the same sin that led Adam and Eve to eat the fruit forbidden by God. Pride is the oldest sin in the world.
James does not speak delicately. God opposes the proud. Pride before God will be judged. It destroys relationships. It destroys communities. It destroys trust. St. James in fact calls it "demonic". From the pit of hell you may say. He says also, "for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."
We see it everywhere. Everywhere people are caught up in their own desires, their own pride. They hold themselves and their standing above their neighbors. They forget that God calls us to care for those nearest to us. So often it is pride that prevents it. We have what we have because we have earned it. They don't have because they are lazy and deserve what they don't have.
And yet here, James stabs the Word into our own hearts. We are guilty of pride ourselves. We marvel at Pharaoh after all that he had seen and yet thought that he could wrestle with God and win. With each plague worse than the previous, leading to the death of his son. But when we look honestly we understand that in our life over and over again pride leads us to the place where Pharaoh is. Pride leads to despair. Pride leads to loss. Pride leads to death. That is the result of our sin.
All we need do is paint our faces around Pharaoh's eyes. We see there our pride. Our pride that leads to murder. Oh, not actual bloodshed, but the pride that places our wants above the needs of our neighbor. And therefore breaks the commandment that says,
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
Our pride that leads to quarreling because our pride can never be wrong. We would rather destroy our relationships than admit our shortcomings. And our pride that says all we have is for our own pleasure.
And James says to us, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (4:6) and so our pride convicts us. We stand before God sinful creatures deserving his full condemnation.
And what are we to do? Is there anything that can save us from this body of death?
Look again at Pharaoh. Look again at his eyes. This time look at him as a different Father. This Father mourns the death of his only Son, His first born. Notice how the dead son is painted in a very Christlike pose. The Father holds in his arms his Son slaughtered by human pride. This Father, the God of the universe, can turn this death into something more. This Father raises His Son from death to new life. Now look into the eyes of a Heavenly Father. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… Forgive us our trespasses", we say. Forgive us our pride. Forgive us our selfishness. And this Father does. He sent his only Son to the cross. And there he bears our sinful pride. And there the Father sees it all. There the Father punishes it all. He separates himself from Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus suffers the hell of pride's punishment. And it is ours that he suffers. It is for us. And also for us, he rises from the dead.
"Draw near to God…" St. James says. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded." Don't make the mistake of Pharaoh, humble yourselves before God. See yourself as a prideful sinful human being in need of his Grace, his forgiveness. This is the prayer of repentance. Listen to Psalm 119
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.” (Psalm 119:169–170, ESV)
Forgiveness follows repentance. Not because of repentance but because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin is forgiven at the cross and delivered to you through God's word. It is received by the repentant heart. In the repentant heart lives anew in the joy of that forgiveness. And puts away pride and selfishness. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

James 2:1 – 10, 14 – 18; the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 9, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:1–10, ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:14–18, ESV)

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

St. James does two things here. First it is a clear example of God's expectations for those who are called into Christ's "honorable name". Quite literally there he says "the good name which has been called upon you." One of the things it so easy for us to do is show partiality. You can see it happening here. How much easier it is to pay attention to the new Dr. who is coming to town income among us, then the shaggy person off the street, or the person who struggles with English. You would not mean to do it, it's just that is so much easier to speak to a well-dressed well-kept person than it is to speak to someone who struggles with our language or doesn't have the same standard for acceptable human behavior. It is a part of our sinful human nature to pay more attention to the person who has wealth because we desire to have wealth like him.

This is clearly not God's way. God shows no partiality. He calls all people to faith in Christ. He gives the same gifts to rich and poor. Notice how Holy Baptism treats all people the same. God's name is "called out" upon them and water is poured over their head. God adopts using his name. He washes away sin for the sake of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It's all the same for rich or poor, socially acceptable or not. The name of God cuts across language and cultural barriers and does exactly what God calls it out to do. Listen again to Luther's Small Catechism: (Lutheran Service Book, p. 325)

What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

So in our dealings with all people God would have us treat all people as ones for whom our Lord died.

But while God shows no partiality, we often do. Furthermore we know that it's wrong. We ourselves would not want to be treated the way we often find ourselves treating the poor, suffering, and those outside of our own cultural understanding. We simply do not "fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures." It's Jesus himself who tells us about The Second Table of the Law, that Commandments four through 10, are summed up in "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) And in case you think it's no big deal, James says

"but if you show partiality you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

And here's where we fall into the real problem, isn't it? We look at our own sins and try to lightly set them aside. It's easy to look at others and convict them of breaking the law. But when we look at ourselves we excuse our "minor" sins. James is very clear. To show partiality is to break the law completely and to be liable for judgment. The section that's been cut out of our reading for this morning reads like this:

For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:11–13, ESV)

Here it tells us that people who break the law by not showing mercy can expect no mercy. When we speak in terms of breaking God's commandments "to expect no mercy" from God means to be condemned to eternal punishment. God created hell specifically for those who show no mercy and refuse to keep his commandments.

So what are we, condemned by own partiality, to do? James tells us that also.

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

We are to be judged under the law of liberty. What does this mean? Listen to St. Paul, St. Peter, and our Lord himself:

  • For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
  • Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16, ESV)
  • So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31–32, ESV)

The "truth" that Jesus speaks about here is himself. The truth of his life death and resurrection for your sin. The truth of his suffering your hell on the cross. The truth of him taking your judgment, that is your guilt, to death and the grave. So you're not be judged by your good works which would lead you only to hell, instead you are judged through Christ. In Holy Baptism your sins are washed away because God's name was called out upon you. And all that Jesus did in his life death and resurrection are yours, especially the judgment that was called down upon him instead of you. So you are free. This is the "law of liberty". You are free from God's eternal punishment. You are free from the sin that plagues you, even your sin of partiality. And since you are free from it you can do is St. Peter says, live as a servant of Christ instead of a servant of yourself.

This leads us to the second point that St. James is making. None of this makes sense without faith in Christ. Faith in Christ means faith in his work for the forgiveness of our sins. Trust that he has done all it is necessary for us. This faith is active in good works because this faith works for the benefit of those being served. In the absence of this faith good works are done for ourselves. We do them in the vain hope that God will count these works in our salvation. These works are our "filthy rags" in God's sight. (Isa 64:6) To do our good works and hold them up in place of Christ is to say I don't need Jesus. There is no greater rejection of God than to say I don't need Jesus.

Active faith in Jesus cannot be separated from the works that faith displays. It is just as much of an error to say faith exists without works as it is to say works save us. It is faith alone, sola fide, that saves us, faith in the good work of Jesus Christ for us. You cannot see faith. It presides in the heart and the head. His confessed on the lips. It is shown in action. This is exactly what St. James says.

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Here I would like to make a minor adjustment in the translation. St. James is not talking about the faith he has but the Christian faith in general. A better way to read this would be "show me your faith apart from the works, and I will show you the faith by my works." He's not talking about faith that you can't see inside him he's talking about the Christian faith. Faith in a living Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again from the dead. A tangible real faith. "The Faith". A denial of one's own sin. A real clinging to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. And not just a faith that knows of Jesus but one that lives Jesus. When the confesses sin and forgiveness. The demons know about Jesus and all that he did but they live opposed to all that he is. They are destined for hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ our faith is real and living an active. It is not a head faith only but a heart faith as well. Those who cling to Jesus in faith for their forgiveness live as if that forgiveness makes a difference. This is what the Christian faith is. This is the faith that you and I confess. Amen.

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

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9; Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 2, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

“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. You 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.” Keep 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.’ For 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? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6–9, ESV)

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

Okay, this text says "O Israel, listen to the statutes and rules that I'm teaching you." So what in the world does this have to do with us? In fact, why should we spend any time at all listening to the moldy rules that God set up for the people of Israel? Hey, if you spend very much time arguing about the question of homosexuality you get this very question. They always want to compare the Old Testament laws about foods and other things with God's requirement for marriage to be between a man and woman. The question you always hear is: "If laws for bidding homosexual behavior are still binding, then so is every obscure Old Testament law (stoning of adulterers, not mixing seed in the field, etc.)" It seems like a very logical question. But it flatly ignores the biblical distinction between ceremonial, civil, and moral laws in the Old Testament. Ceremonial laws were binding on Israel as part of God's covenant with them. The civil laws only applied to the nation of Israel at the time. Only the moral laws including those about homosexual behavior carry over into the new covenant era. This is because God's moral nature never changes. His requirements for human behavior in the moral sphere are permanent. I usually like to pointed out this way. Can you give me a list of 10 things that describe God's requirements for human behavior in a way that's easy to understand? Of course this is the 10 Commandments. This is the very reason we study these first in confirmation classes. If you asked the question "Does Jesus want us to keep the 10 Commandments" the only valid answer is yes. Jesus and St. Paul uphold God's moral requirement for people. For example St. Paul referring to Jesus' words:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9–10, ESV)

And the example of that is the Gospel reading for today is about what defiles people not being what they eat but what's in the heart.

God is deadly serious about his moral requirements for human beings. His requirements are for all people for all time. Sometimes we Christians fall into the trap of thinking that God does not require us to be morally pure. But if you look over the 10 Commandments and especially Martin Luther's explanations you can't come away with the idea that God expects anything less than perfect obedience. Anytime Christians say in relation to the 10 Commandments something like "I do the best I can, and let God worry about the rest" we are making light of God's moral requirements for human beings. God clearly requires perfection when it comes to moral behavior. If you think any different you only have to listen to a few interchanges between God and his people regarding his moral requirements. Listen to Deuteronomy 4:

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23–24, ESV)

Or just look at what you memorized for confirmation class, used as part of Dr. Martin Luther's explanation of all the commandments:

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5–6, ESV)

And will God makes these threats of his wrath very clear, his people know that God is always ready to forgive.

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” (Numbers 14:18, ESV)

God goes to great lengths to remind his people in the Old Testament that he is indeed their God. From our text today, "For 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?" Over and over again he speaks of his love for them, his nearness to them. He is their God and they are his people. He is the one who brought them out of Egypt and save them from Pharaoh's bondage. He is the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. He continues to love them and he is always near them.

God is near to his people for their benefit. He heals broken hearts. He forgives sins and gives comfort. He protects from those who are their enemies. And… He promises to save them by coming himself as their Messiah, called Immanuel, which means "God with us". The ultimate coming "near" of God. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV) This promise is fulfilled in Jesus. He is God and man together in human flesh. The ultimate expression of God with us, God "near" us. This is God very "near". Through trust in him we have salvation, that is reconciliation with God. Punishment we deserve, for our imperfect obedience, is laid on Jesus on the cross. He is our great deliverer and Savior. Those who have "met" Jesus through faith, love him. Listen to the apostle John:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:15-16, 19, ESV)

This is God near not only to his Old Testament people but to you and me. In Galatians 3 St. Paul makes the connection between us, God's children through faith, and the children of Abraham.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:7–9, ESV)

So in the face of our inability to keep God's commandments perfectly, as he demands, we have God's promises to his people. The promises given to Israel for deliverance from sin and God's love and nearness. God near his people is a reality for us.

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,” (2 Corinthians 6:16–17, ESV)

This is God's nearness to us. Here in this place. He comes in his Word and Sacraments. He comes to us in the gathered "body of Christ". Those of faith who are gathered all around us. In Holy Baptism he gives us access to this family through his adoption as sons (and daughters). In the Lord's supper we are near to God as he comes to us in his body and blood, "with Angels archangels and all the company of heaven". And he comes near to forgive. All of this is our connection to Immanuel, "God with us", who comes to save. Jesus Christ our Savior whose life death and resurrection reconciles us to God.

How does this "nearness of God" play out in our lives. Through the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness that Jesus gives, his nearness to us means that we can joyfully bear the fruit of obedience: The Apostle John:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:5–11, ESV)

This is "good news" that we have to share. God commanded his people, Israel, to make known his nearness to their children and their children's children. And this is also hours to give to our children and our children's children. Amen.

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