Monday, October 29, 2018

John 8.31-36; Festival of the Reformation; October 28, 2018;

John 8.31-36; Festival of the Reformation; October 28, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31–36, ESV) 
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Every text comes with a context.  I've told you many times that you can't just take a text plop it out on the table and say what it means.  You have to read it in its context.  Today's text is a great example.  When you look at the part we have here it looks quite simple.  Jesus is encouraging believers to remain in his Word.  It's true.  That's exactly what he's doing.  But the text is so much more complicated than that.  What we don't read before and after this text is Jesus' conflict with these believers.  In fact, just prior to this the same crowd (of believers) tries to kill him but he escapes because, John says, it was not yet his time.  And following this text he tells these believers that they are doing the works of their father, the devil.  They are plotting to kill him.  It just seems a bit out of sorts.  Why would believers do these things?  But I think this conflict is pushing toward the very point of what the Evangelist is saying.  Jesus is talking about being set free from sin, and not being slaves to it.  And this struggle against sin isn't easy.  In fact, it is the most difficult struggle in which a believer will ever engage.    
It happens for these Jews, who believe in Jesus.  They are here listening to Jesus, and believing in him.  They have been hanging around and they like Jesus and they have begun to believe in what he does and says.  They are starting to think that he is who he says he is.  But Jesus won't leave it at that.  He pushes their buttons.  It's like he's saying,  "Listen to what I'm saying.  It is the truth.  Cling to my words and set aside the things that conflict with the truth I tell you.  Then you will be set free. "  These believers do just what you and I do.  We hear Jesus' words and we push them aside and say they don't apply to us.  They answered Jesus, "We've never been slaves to anyone.  We are perfectly free already.  We don't need this."  They are proving Jesus' exact point.  They want to be easy believers.  They want to be disciples and keep their previous assumptions.  They want to work and live just like the rest of the world and still hold on to Jesus.  "We are the seed of Abraham!"  They are not talking about their blood line.  They are talking about their place before God.  We are free because we are who we are.  We don't need to saved because we are God's people already.   If we put it in terms of Jesus' words (Mark 2:17), "We are not sick, so we don't need a doctor.  We are not slaves, we don't need to be liberated."  They push back hard against Jesus and what he says.  It's an echo of what they are going to do.  They are going to kill Jesus.  They want to believe but they want to believe on their own terms.   
Now that sounds like us.  Jesus is ok for Sunday morning, but I'm not going to take what he says out there.  After all what he says makes me look foolish, out there.  He says God created the world in six days.  If I agree with that, out there, my friends will laugh at me because, out there, science says that it took millions of years.  He says homosexuality is an abomination.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll be called a bigot and homophobe.  He says sex is for marriage.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll never get married, because out there, they say you have to have sex to see if you're compatible, then you get married.  He says women can't be pastors... he says the table of his supper is closed to those who don't believe the same things...  And on and on the list goes of the things that we hold in reserve, and still want to believe in Jesus.
And there's more.  It's not just morality.  It's economics.  Out there, self-fulfillment comes with stuff.  The marketplace teases us with the latest bit of technology that claims it will make us smarter, better and more popular.  And we buy in, literally.  The new car, the new computer, the latest gadget have more meaning to me and you than Jesus warning, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  We want to be believers because we think that if we believe, if we trust in God, he'll make us healthy, wealthy and wise.  We believe in Jesus because we believe that God's greatest desire is to make us happy.  We want to believe just in case cancer strikes and we need a miracle.  God is like our great concierge.  We believe in him and he gets us what we want.  Jesus says Love your neighbor as yourself.  We love ourselves over our neighbor.  Our belief in God is just the means to loving ourselves.  Out there, after all, you have to take care of yourself because no one else will.  
And even with all this we think that we are free.  Jesus pushes our buttons.  
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It's easy to believe, until belief lays its demands on us.  Being a disciple doesn't mean a life of ease.  It means to hold what Jesus says is the truth through cross and suffering.  And make no mistake, if you hold to what Jesus says, you will have cross and suffering.
But let's be very clear.  I'm not saying that doing any of these things will save you.  I'm saying that we place these things, the things out there, the way they think out there in the place of Christ.  We think that doing or saying those things, and following those people, out there, will make us free.  Free from trouble and pain and persecution and worry.  Free to be ourselves.  But in reality, the truth is (as Jesus says), these things enslave us.  These things are sin.  And anyone who sins is a slave to sin.  And not only that but the doing of sin actively enslaves.  Human beings are slaves to moral failure.  All of it is an active rebellion against the God who created us, in favor of the god of ourselves.   That which we think would set us free doesn't The Scottish preacher, George McDonald said,
A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.
Martin Luther says it like this:
For anything that is not God’s Son will not make me free.
That is exactly what Jesus is telling the Jews in this text.  He is the way to freedom.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to freedom (to the Father, into a relationship with God) except through him.  Jesus offers the only way to be free people.  Know the truth, that is know Jesus, and the truth will set you free.
What does the freedom that Jesus gives look like.   Well, it starts with the freedom from the punishment that we deserve.  Sin, rebellion from God, selfishness and self worship, deserves punishment.  Like the murderer waiting on death row for the guards to carry him to the hangman.  The death sentence hangs over us.  We are guilty.  We deserve to die.  But Jesus Christ brings freedom:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4, ESV) 
To be in Christ is to be free.  Jesus hangs on the cross as punishment for your sin, for my sin.  Again Luther makes this very personal.  He says the most important words in the bible are "for you."  Jesus does this for you.  He dies for you.  He dies for your sin.  You have no punishment due.  The Chaplin has come to the prison cell and let the murderer go, he has received a pardon, he is free.  You are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You receive the pardon you are free.
This freedom also means, not only are we free from sin and its punishment, but we are free NOT to sin.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The problem with sin is its effects.  The spiritual effects of sin are our broken relationship with God that deserves hell.  Jesus mends that.  The worldly effects of sin are the things we see it do to us every day.  It damages our relationships.  It muddles our thinking.  It breaks our hearts.  It separates people.  It hurts the helpless.  Those damages will continue until our Savior returns and sets all things right.  But free people, people in Christ, have opportunities that slaves to sin do not have.   They are free to serve.  St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV) 
 and a bit later in the same letter:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:13–14, ESV) 
We have freedom to serve.  Just as Jesus served us and gave us what we need, the forgiveness of our sins that means freedom from punishment, we are free to serve the people around us and give them what they need.  Instead of being selfish we are free to be unselfish.  When our neighbor is suffering we are free to comfort him.  When our neighbor is hit with the effects of sin we are free to tell him the Good News about the One who sets us all free from slavery to sin.  When our relationships are breaking we are free to do what is necessary to restore them.  When the world professes lies, we are free to proclaim the truth.
This is the Reformation.  
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–21, ESV) 
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Isaiah 55:6-8; THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY; October 14, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN;
NIV Isaiah 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Seek the Lord… It’s a great idea. This is a great text. It’s hard to read this one and think that God is far away, isn’t it? It’s hard to read this text and think that God isn’t ready to be found! It falls right on the heels of another great one. Only a few verses before this one is that great invitation… “Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come buy and eat…” What an invitation. To come and get what you need without money. Com to God, he has what you need. “Seek the Lord…” That’s a pretty sweet invitation.
But, wait a second. Is it really that sweet? Do we really want to seek this Lord? … This God? After all, the last thing this text says is that his ways aren’t like ours. It says that he thinks differently than we do.
For example…  we like things to be easy. We like things to go smoothly. When the car breaks down, or the house isn’t quite clean enough we get pretty difficult to live with.  We are impatient, and crabby, when things get tough, we’re not happy. I don’t think “this God” thinks that way. The way God thinks was made pretty clear to me one day when I visited the nursing home.
“Linda,” is said quietly, really hoping not to disturb the fragile looking woman lying in front of me. “I’m awake,” she said without opening her eyes. It was and odd scene… I was standing beside the bed, which looked freshly made. Her tiny body was hardly even visible… it didn’t even seem to make a lump in the blankets… almost as if she wasn’t there at all. Her eyes were sunken and dark, her skin was pink, paper thin, and her hair practically non-existent. She lay there still and quiet, waiting for me to speak again. “How are you?” I asked timidly. “Tired.” She stated, as I knew she would. “I’m patient,” she added, “I only wish I knew how much longer I will have to wait. But, right now… I have to wait. His way is best.” These were the same words she spoke, every time we met. … the same words of hope and faith.
She opened her eyes, even though they almost seemed clear they were still full of life. No amount of wishing would wish that away. “What shall we pray for today?” I asked, already knowing what she would say. It would be the same as last time, and the time before that. Her strongest desire was that the waiting would be over, that she would finally be “with Jesus.” “I don’t know why I’m still here,” she would say, “I keep telling myself that his ways are better than mine. I just have to wait.”
I’m not sure I could wait as long as Linda did. Her husband died twenty years before. Her friends were gone. Before she was at the home, she sat alone in her house. Her children were far away… old, weak and tired. Hadn’t she lived long enough? Hadn’t she seen enough? What was God waiting for? It wasn’t like she wanted to be rich or healthy or beautiful or anything like that… She just wanted to be with here Lord. Yet that’s the way this God thinks. We want it easy. He allows us to develop patience through hardship. We want things to go smoothly. He gives us strength in trouble. We want it all to go well, right now. He wants us to go his way. Do we want to see a God like this?
Yet, here we are, gathered together, seeking the Lord. Why? Because we know he’ll have problems. We know will not always have it easy. So we seek his strength, his patience, his way, even when we don’t always like his way.
But that’s not the only reason we ‘seek the Lord.’ Remember the text, right there in the middle of it. It says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. It says turn to God and he will have mercy. That isn’t the way we think either! We know how we feel when people sin against us. Think about when your children delay, or forget to visit you. Or when a friend stabs you in the back or people deliberately hurt you. You become angry. That’s what we expect from God, too. That he won’t forgive those who disobey him. That he will punish them somehow.
Thank God, he doesn’t think the way we do. Thank God, his ways aren’t our ways. Remember the text, it says, “He will abundantly pardon.” It isn’t that he just forgets about sin. He’s deadly serious about it. It’s just that his way isn’t ours. Thankfully when it comes to sin, he took care of it. That abundant pardon comes to us because of Jesus. He didn’t think like we do either. He went to the cross so we could be pardoned. He was treated as a wicked and unrighteous man deserves, even though he was perfect. He was punished instead of the ones who are wicked and unrighteous… hey! That was us! But that’s why we can turn to God, and like the text says, “He pardons us for Jesus sake, even though we didn’t deserve it. That’s what makes this invitation so great. That’s why we seek him.
You know what? That’s not all that it means to seek the Lord. It says to seek him while he may be found. What’s that all about? When can he be found? Where can he be found? Mary and the other women were asking those same questions when they went to Jesus tomb. Instead of finding him in it, it was empty. An angel told them, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” He was alive! Again God’s ways aren’t our ways. We expect dead people to stay dead. That’s what those women expected. We don’t visit the graves of our friend and family expecting to find them empty. God’s way… is that graves are empty. God’s way of raising people begins with raising Jesus. God’s way is a promise that our graves will be empty.
When can Jesus be found? … This Jesus who now lives? Where can Jesus be found? Right now! Right here! He has made it easy to find him.
Look He’s here in this house. We are gathered together in His name, brothers and sisters in Christ. Together we speak and sing about what He has done for us. We have been given his name in Baptism. Our lives together reflect the love He has given us. Think about all the things we do for one another from prayer to visits during illness.
Look, he’s here in his word. His word is where we find out about who he is, and what he has done. We hear about his life, death and resurrection. We hear about what he said, and learn about who he is. And we learn that he did it all for us, and we respond in faith.
Look he’s here in His Supper. Really, truly present… in, with and under the bread and wine, offering us forgiveness, life and salvation. Here he comes to us to touch us and strengthen our faith. Isn’t it just like our Lord, to know what we need and make it easy to find him? But, that’s just the way he thinks.
So… seek the Lord, while he may be found… right now, right here. Don’t worry that it seems strange, don’t worry that it isn’t what you expect. Remember He doesn’t think the way we do. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Mark.8.27-36; The 17th Sunday after Trinity; September 16, 2018;

Mark.8.27-36; The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; September 16, 2018;
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 (Logos) or thinks about who god (Theos) 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 religion 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.  It’s not God’s glory that’s in focus. It’s self glory.  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, and gets a good job (that’s no where near Northrup), a beautiful wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a weekend house by the lake and one to live in every other day. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us.  Or maybe this is a little closer to home.  If the church is working the way we want it to work, if there’s no conflict, if the budget is balanced, if there’s a bunch of new members looking to come in, if everyone feels good about what’s going on here, then God is blessing our congregation.  
All of this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about 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, just isn’t 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.  It even affects Christian churches and preachers like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren.  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 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.  And sometimes not even 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 and putting Christ Crucified at the center.  When I came here I had that passage from 1 Corinthians read at my installation.  That was no idle threat.  This is who we are going to be.  Christians who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.  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.

Psalm 34:9-14; The 18th Sunday after Trinity; September 30, 2018;

Psalm 34:9-14; The 18th Sunday after Trinity; September 30, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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 definitely 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, 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. 
But that isn’t the way the world looks at God. Look at what is called religion outside 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’s demand that humans be perfect, Jesus and St. Paul make 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 you’re 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.
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.  You know what I’m talking about.  I could begin listing the issues in the air these days, like abortion, gay marriage, divorce, etc.  Part of the problem is that we have associated our country, our society with God’s Promised Land.  And we expect our government to behave… well Christian.  As Christian citizens of this country we have an obligation to speak out about wrong and right and to do what we can about these kinds of issues, but the purpose of the church isn’t to change society.  God didn’t place this church (Life in Christ, Grand Marais,MN) here to solve the abortion problem or end gay marriage.  While God certainly hates these open sins in our society, the church is here for sinful people to receive God’s gift of eternal life through Word and Sacrament.  We get the church wrong when we get our focus wrong.  Well frankly, 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 they 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, you may speak 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, I am 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."  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. Jesus 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 gives to us week after 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.  Because 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 receive 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.
I have moved to Grand Marias, MN to be Pastor of Life in Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS).

I was installed September 23, 2018.