Sunday, February 24, 2019

Genesis.45.3-15; The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; February 24, 2019

Genesis.45.3-15; The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany; February 24, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, Minnesota;
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.” (Genesis 45:3–15, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that forgiveness is at the center of our faith. All the creeds, the Athanasian, the Apostles, and the Nicene, place forgiveness at the very center. And our Lutheran confessions do the same. The Augsburg Confession Article IV states very clearly:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5]). (AC: I, art. iv, par. 2)
Because of the Work of Jesus Christ for us, his active and passive obedience, his life death and resurrection, his keeping all God’s commands perfectly, we have forgiveness. It is forgiveness won for all people and given freely through faith.
St. Paul especially tells us that forgiveness is needed within the family of Christ.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)
Our issue as sinful human beings is that we often want to hold God’s forgiveness hostage to our own feelings and desires. We want to be in control of who is forgiven and who is not forgiven. While God has indeed given the responsibility to bind and forgive sins to the church, he expects Christians to forgive one another freely. And to speak that forgiveness out loud. The church has the responsibility to speak about forgiveness connected to faith. It effectively says, because of your public actions your faith is in question and forgiveness is connected to faith (But that’s a discussion for another time). For us, Christians, forgiveness is a way of life. You’re not allowed to say things like, “I can’t forgive you now, maybe later.” …as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. So just as we have been freely justified, we are to forgive not based on the strength, merits, or works of those who sin against us.
Let’s look at the case of Joseph. If anyone had a reason or a right to withhold forgiveness it was Joseph. He was a dreamer, and he told his dreams to his brothers and parents. His brothers hated him for his dreams that told them that he would rule over them. That hatred went so far as to plot his murder. But his oldest brother, Ruben, saved his life by suggesting that they sell him to a caravan heading for Egypt. Joseph suffered many things because of his brothers. In Potiphar’s house he was put in charge of the household. But Potiphar’s wife had eyes for him and tried to seduce him. When he refused her, she accused him of attempted rape and Potiphar through him in prison. In prison Joseph was housed with the Baker and the cupbearer of the King of Egypt. When they had dreams they couldn’t interpret, Joseph told them what the dreams meant. The baker would be hanged, and the cupbearer would be returned to Pharaoh’s service. The cupbearer promptly forgot Joseph’s interpretation. Joseph spent two more years in prison, before the cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him. When Pharaoh had a dream he couldn’t interpret the cupbearer brought Joseph’s gift to the attention of Pharaoh. Joseph was brought before him and interpreted the dream. Its meaning was that there would be seven years of feast, and seven years of famine. Pharaoh believe Joseph and put him in charge of preparing for the famine. All these things showed God’s hand in Joseph’s slavery. And yet, he was still a slave sold by his brothers. Of course, they thought he was dead. So, when they came to Egypt in search of food during the famine, they didn’t expect to find Joseph in charge.
Now the dreams that Joseph told to his brothers before they sold him had come to be true. He was in control of all that would happen to them. He could have had them killed. But instead he vows to take care of them during the famine. They would come to Egypt and be protected under his authority. Their families would be protected and live in the best land of Egypt. Joseph’s words tell of his forgiveness:
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:5–8, ESV)
But even more telling is what happens later when Jacob died. All the time that they were in Egypt the brothers feared Joseph’s retaliation. They believed Joseph’s anger was still, while their father was still alive. They come before Joseph pleading forgiveness.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19–21, ESV)
“… Am I in the place of God?” Joseph reveals his understanding of forgiveness.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37, ESV)
He forgives his brothers great sin of plotting his death and selling him into slavery. Just as he was forgiven his great sin. His arrogance and pride when he told his brothers and his parents how he would be ruler over them and is great many sins since. God had forgiven him, he could do no less for them.
Joseph understood that forgiveness came from God. He was forgiven freely through faith. Forgiveness flowed freely from God through him freely to his brothers. He did not deserve forgiveness neither did they. But that is the nature of God’s forgiveness. He gives it freely without any merit or worthiness on our part.
For our part, we are required to do the same. Our forgiveness flows freely from Christ on the cross. Our sin is that we want to withhold that forgiveness from other people. We want to receive forgiveness but withhold that same forgiveness from those who sin against us until they show their repentance. We want them to be worthy of the forgiveness we offer. In this, we show our lack of understanding of what forgiveness is. We measure our sin as small and forgivable, but the forgiveness of those who sin against us as large and unforgivable. We place ourselves in the place of God by judging faith. But it is God alone who judges faith in the heart. We go by public confession of faith. We offer forgiveness freely to those who confess faith in Christ.
So, what do we do when we don’t feel forgiving? Well, we don’t go to, “I can’t forgive you now, maybe later.” Instead we offer the peace that comes with forgiveness. We declared God’s forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross to our fellow Christians. It might go like this, “God forgives you your sin on the cross. I’m having trouble with that forgiveness but that is my sin.” And then we turn to Christ, confessing our sin to him. And the Holy Spirit will bring us comfort that that sin also is forgiven. And over time our feelings of unforgiveness will fade and evaporate. And we too will know the peace that comes from forgiveness. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Psalm.1.1-6; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 17, 2019

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That is the opening paragraph from what many consider to be a great classic work of literature.  The book is called “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens.  I don’t know if you’ve read the story or not, but it’s a book about contrasts.  The whole story takes place during the upheaval of the French Revolution and is centered on two characters that look alike but are actually quite different.  One exhibits the best qualities of the time, the other the worst; one is wise, the other foolish, etc.  Dickens uses the contrast between these two men to build a story life and death, darkness and light, and good and evil. 
The psalm for today also talks about the same kind of contrasts.  It paints for us a very vivid picture of two ways of life; two ways that humans can live.  The way of wisdom, the way of the person who is blessed by God, and the way of wickedness, the way that perishes. 
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6, ESV)
The author of the Psalm paints these pictures with two strong images.  The first is the image of a strong tree flourishing by a stream.  This tree has great leafy green branches that spread into the sky.  Each leaf receives the moisture it needs from the stream, they “never wither” the poet says.  The tree is a fruit-bearing tree.  In season the fruit is heavy on the branches, a good crop at the proper time.  “And all that he does prospers,” the Psalm says, in conclusion, that is it grows and bears fruit just as a tree should do.  Oh how blessed is the tree that has been so planted that it can grow and prosper in the way that tress should grow and prosper. 
Oh, how blessed is the man… The picture of the tree is a picture of a righteous person.  You can see the contrast set up again by the psalm.  A person grows and prospers by the instruction of God, not by the counsel or wisdom of the wicked.  A righteous person meditates “day and night” on the things of God not living the way that wicked people live, not by sitting with them to learn from their foolishness.  Instead the blessed person goes to God with the questions of life.  He listens to the wisdom of God and considers what it means for the way he lives.
That isn’t the way with the wicked people described by the psalm.  They are like the chaff the wind blows away.  In contrast to the planted tree, the chaff is the throw away part of the harvest.  The newly harvested stalks of grain are stacked on the threshing floor.  Oxen trample them to release the grain.  When evening comes and the gentle breeze begins to blow, the farmer tosses the mixture in the air.  The wind picks up the chaff and carries it away, but the heavy grain falls back to the ground.  The grain is collected and moved to storage.  The chaff isn’t given any further thought, the wind has disposed of it, and it has no value anymore.  The way of the wicked person is just as the chaff.  It ends in nothing, accomplishes nothing and easily disappears in the breeze.
The best of times, the worst of times, foolishness and wisdom, light and darkness, these are two ways of life.
It’s easy for us to think that we are the ones who are blessed ones.  Look around you at all that is here around us: A wonderful property, a wonderful congregation that God has been preserving.  For years his congregation has gathered together every Sunday to sing beautiful music, and hear God’s Word proclaimed.  Children are born and baptized and bring life and hope.  We have watched as they confessed their faith and become responsible adults.  We have wonderful places to live and food enough.  And our community that often helps and nurtures those who are hurting.  We are truly very blessed people. 
But are our leaves always green?  Do we bear fruit when we should?  I must admit for myself, when trouble comes into my family, when I face the prospect of death and pain, I don’t feel very green.  I’m sure it’s the same for you.  There are struggles we all face every single day; insecurity at work, struggles with people you don’t like, questions about the future of the church and community; the future of the economy; the future of our country.  Often what we see in the future more feels like what’s blowing away in the wind than anything else.  And our fruit always seem to be tainted.  Oh, we want to do the right thing, but issues always seem to come down to money and time.  We don’t want to be selfish, but we’ve got to take care of ourselves first.  At least that’s the advice you get from television, and movies.  At least that’s the word we get from self help books and our friends and family and our own sinful hearts.  We do have fruit, but lots of time it seems kind of wormy and quite a bit rotten.  And that’s the problem with rotten fruit.  You can’t eat it.  It’s just no good.
It seems that Psalm 1 describes our lives very well.  We are blessed and yet we do things that wicked people do.  So where does that leave our future?  Is God going to watch over us or shall we blow away like so much straw?
The truth is that the Psalm isn’t just talking about us.  We really fit in the wicked category better than with the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night.  An hour a week seems to be our limit.  A little to long on Pastor’s sermon and we’ll threaten to drop off to sleep.  No, the good part of the Psalm really describes Someone else a lot better than it describes us.  It describes Someone who’s fruit is never tainted.  It describes Someone who always got that green leaf thing going on.  It describes Someone who has God’s Word as the very nature and center of His life.  He walks in God’s ways not ours.  He does whatever He sets out to do.  There’s that contrast again, it’s very strong in this Psalm.  There’s us and there’s Him… and the Him is Jesus.
Everything Jesus did was blessed.  God watched over Him and protected Him.  When King Herod wanted to kill Him, God sent Jesus family to Egypt.  After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and helped Him.  Jesus didn’t take the counsel of wicked people; He stood up to their lies and confronted their hypocrisy.  Jesus was caring and compassionate.  Everywhere He went people walked away different.  He ended suffering from disease, and weakness.  Just remember the reading from Mark.  He cast out an unclean spirit.  He gave people hope for their future, and He even gave them food when they needed that.  Remember how He fed 5000 people in the wilderness with 5 loaves and 2 fish?  It’s easy to see Jesus as the strong tree, His arms heavy with good fruit stretched out for the people that flocked to be with Him.  He was green and growing, bearing fruit and prospering.  He was blessed and watched over by God.  He was everything we should be and can’t be. 
And yet, there’s another part of that Psalm that describes Jesus, too.  He wasn’t a wicked person.  He lived His life perfectly in the will of God, He never sinned, but still He suffered the death of a wicked person.  Everything He did was right and yet He suffered and died, as a wicked person deserves.  What happened to God watching over Him then?  God was watching, in fact, Jesus whole life lived for that very moment.  Someone had to be punished for the wickedness of people, someone had to be punished for the evil things that you and I do.  Someone had to die for our rotten fruit.   And that’s just what Jesus did.  He bled and died for the wickedness of the whole world.  He willingly gave His perfect life to satisfy the need for punishment… to perish for wicked people.  And God was watching and approved of it and accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for you and me and all the wicked people of the whole world.  And all that He did prospered.  When the payment was paid in full, Jesus Christ rose from the dead again, in victory over all evil.
“Pastor,” you say, “I know what Jesus did, but my life still seems a lot more like the chaff in the wind.  I don’t feel like the tree by the water.”
Look right here at this font.  That’s your stream of water.  That’s the one you’ve been planted by.  It was at your baptism that God made promises to you to watch over you, and to make you a blessed person.  It was there that you were “clothed with Christ.” You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  (Galatians 3:26-27) That means that everything Jesus Christ did He did for you.  Everything from the punishment He paid, to the good things that He did.  The green leaves and the abundant fruit that He grew are yours.  That’s what the passage means when it says, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephesians 2:8, ESV) That gift of God is faith in the good works of Christ.  Not trusting the “good things” you’ve done to impress God, because we know that no matter how good they are they just don’t measure up.  Listen again to the familiar words of Isaiah: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (we could replace those words with “rotten fruit”!)  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV) Sound familiar?  Sure, that’s just like the Psalm.  Well then if all our “righteous deeds” are “rotten fruit” what are we to do?  That’s what our faith is all about we trust in the good fruit of Someone else.  The good works of Jesus are yours.  That’s as true for you as the fact that right here at the “stream of living water” your head got wet.  You have been transplanted by (by means of) streams of water, from the way of wicked people to the way of the blessed.  You don’t need any good works, to make yourself right with God.  But do you know who needs those good things you do?  Your neighbors!  Your family!  You co-workers!  Your community!  Your school!  That’s what changes everything.  Instead of trying to impress God with our good works (they don’t anyway… remember) we can do them to serve others.  We don’t need them, but they do!  And that too is what the Psalm is talking about.
We are blessed people, planted by streams of living water, to bear good and abundant fruit, in season.  Serving the people God has placed right before us to serve.  The future for us isn’t like chaff in the wind.  Our future is a blessed future just as God has promised through Jesus Christ.  For us it is the best of times.  Time to grow and flourish where God has planted us.  Time to bear fruit right here in the ways God has given us to bear it.  And just as he promises, in Jesus Christ all that we do will prosper.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8; The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 10, 2019;

Isaiah 6:1-8; The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”” (Isaiah 6:1–8, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
With Uzziah dead, a change was coming to God’s people in Israel. Uzziah was a good and powerful king. He held the Assyrians a bay. He helped the people prosper. The new king Ahaz was not good or powerful. He was controlled by his wife Jezebel. God gives Isaiah the prophet a vision and updates his call. He has been preaching and teaching already. Now things will be different. The security of the people is threatened. But they aren’t going to listen. The prophet’s words will go unheeded. And not just evil king Ahaz but the people, too. Isaiah’s updated calling will be difficult.
So we have God’s vision to Isaiah. He is high and exalted on a throne. Seraphim and Cherubim call out praises to God. “Holy, Holy, Holy! YHWH Sabbath.” Everything shakes. There is smoke that fills the house of God. The angels are addressing God in Trinity and Unity. Three persons, thrice holy. God of Armies.
There is nothing for Isaiah to do but die. No one can see God and live. Even Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock, just to survive God passing by. Isaiah sees God in his holiness, the angels that swarm around him. Isaiah knows his place. He has been given job of speaking for God and yet he recognizes his own sin and failure. He sees his sin clearly. He sees the sin of the people he preaches to also. A sinner in the hands of an angry God is doomed. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!
God is mercy. He forgives. He gives his own righteousness. God sends forgiveness in with a burning coal. The messenger touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and restores them. “Your guilt is taken was; your sin is atoned for.”
Isaiah responds to God’s call and forgiveness. Forgiveness has refreshed and revitalized him. He is restored as God’s mouthpiece. He is strengthened to face Ahaz with the message of God’s coming discipline. “Here I am. Send me!”
God calls, not just prophets, but all his people. He calls them to live and work and play in particular places among particular people. Isaiah didn’t deserve to be called by God. He was a man of unclean lips, who had failed in his calling many times. We do not deserve God’s calling either. We have not chosen God, but he has instead, chosen us. He chooses because he chooses, “without any merit or worthiness in me.” He chooses and places us in places to serve; bankers, teachers, farmers, parents, students, missionaries, and even pastors. Chosen and placed, called and given tasks to do in our calling. And like Isaiah called to speak, called to give the Good News of forgiveness found in Jesus Christ alone.
We are unworthy. We are sinners. We deserve God’s anger and punishment. Woe is us! We are people of unclean lips. We see God’s holiness and our sin.
I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.
We come before God’s throne pleading repentance, remembering that we have been made God’s very children in Holy Baptism. God puts his very name YHWH on us. And where God’s name is there is forgiveness. And we receive forgiveness by the touching of Christ’s body and blood to our lips (a far sight better than a burning coal!). We are given the righteousness of God. Clothed in the white robe of Christ. All that he did for us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Your punishment done. Hell is not to be your destination. God declares to you and me “Your guilt is taken away; your sin atoned for.”
“Here I am, send me!” is our response. We are called in our baptism. Forgiveness refreshes and revitalizes us. We are restored as God’s mouthpiece. We are strengthened to face a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. And we are called as who we are. We all have unique talents and abilities to serve. Some serve as missionaries. Some serve as teachers. Some serve as friends and family. All called and placed to serve, placed to show God’s love and mercy. You are called to be God’s children in the world exactly right now where he has placed you. Each one of you uniquely placed in a family, a job, next to a friend, to serve. To be the best husband, wife, father, teacher, student, government worker, mechanic, builder that you can be.
For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
God calls you to this work. He may not call with burning coals or bushes, visions of glory in the temple or even voices in the night. But he does speak to you in his Holy Word. He does come to you in Word and Water and Bread and Wine in a real presence that you can see and feel and taste and touch. We see our sin clearly proclaimed to us. We confess it and receive God’s pronounce forgiveness. And we are touched directly by God with forgiveness, individually. The Holy Spirit works in us faith in Jesus as the one who has brought that forgiveness through his death on the cross and resurrection. He enables us to live as God’s people among a world of people with unclean lips among a people who will be slow to believe. And the Spirit draws us close to Jesus, the Word of Life himself.  He provides direction and purpose, and changes in our callings.
Job changes place us among new people. Marriage and children give opportunities to teach a new generation directly. Grandparents can show God’s love in ways that parents are unable. Some are called to change their lives and move to a foreign mission field. Some are given the means to support them. Some are called to serve simply in work of service. Wherever we are, whenever things change, we follow God’s leading with the humble response, “Here am I, send me!”
In all of it we are called in our baptism to be God’s children. He has placed us in the world, specifically where and when we are. Each one of us is called to be in this world as God’s children, loving, helping and serving those he puts before us. And in that service we also bring the Word of comfort and hope. Jesus Christ has died on the cross for all your sins. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:8-13; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 3, 2019;

1 Corinthians 13:8-13; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–13, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we are doing things the way we always to them. We are singing hymns about what God has done for us. And today the text urges us to talk a lot about God’s great love. We are, just like usual, hearing God’s word read to us today. In a few moments we’ll be praying, just like usual, giving our gifts to our Lord in response to his great love for us, and  we’ll be celebrating Holy Communion. It is all the things we expect to do on any typical given Sunday, in this place. We do them because that’s what Children of God do when we gather together. We sing to, and about God. We pray about our problems. We listen to God’s voice in his word. And we respond with our gifts. Today will also respond with our gifts through the collection plate. So this is an ordinary Sunday at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr.
But, there is one thing that we do, that I haven’t mentioned yet. And according to Paul, (according to God), it’s the greatest thing we can do. Of course I’m talking about Love.
“Look,” Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “Love it the key thing. What you do that’s built on love will last, because love never ends.” Paul is drawing a strong comparison here to what God said to Isaiah,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)
It does what is promised. Just as God’s Word never falls to the ground ineffective, Christian love will remain in its important place for all time. “I know you’ve been given some important gifts,” Paul continues, “prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. And right now these are important. But, remember that these are only for ‘right now.’ When Jesus comes again, when we see him face to face, these things will be unnecessary. God’s love for us and our love for him will take over everything.”
I remember when I was little. I had a lot of ideas. Ideas about the world and how things worked. In the same way that I chuckled when my kids were little and they said something ‘cute’. I’m sure both of my parents had quite a few chuckles over me. But, to me they were pretty important ideas. Ideas like, cats were female dogs, and horses were female cows. I don’t remember when I realized that that wasn’t true, but it was a life changing event. When I was young I knew that my parents loved me, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I learned what kind of love it really is. St. Paul is talking about that kind of a change here in the First Letter to the Corinthians. He says,
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV)
Paul isn’t saying that prophecy, and knowledge weren’t important. On the contrary he is saying that they were very important to the building up of the church. But, he says, when the last day dawns, these things, will be no longer necessary. “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished.” (K. Barth) Similarly, I’m not saying that what we do here isn’t important. It’s vital to our Christian growth. But, to use Paul’s words, they are only part. Like the things of a child’s understanding. As great a Christ’s Holy Supper is, it is only a foretaste of the feast to come. The difference between what we have now and what we shall have is unimaginable.
Of all of the things we do, God says, through Paul, that love is the greatest. We can sing about God all day long, but if we do it without love, it is a terrible noise indeed. We can pray for people all over the world, but without love, its just noise in our ears. You see love is the most important gift that God gives us, and no matter what we do, at work, at home, at school, and even at church… if we do it without love, it is nothing.
Paul wants the Corinthian church, and us, to stay focused on what is important, on the things that endure, eagerly anticipating what is coming for all Christians. “When that which is complete comes,” he says, “that which is partial will be superseded.” When Jesus returns again even the most important things in life will lack any value because the all lack permanence. Even the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
But, love endures. We see it especially the love given to us in Jesus. It is the perfect explanation of enduring love. From eternity, God made a plan to save us from our sins. His love for us was so great that Jesus was given to be our Savior, even though it meant his death. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. And Jesus demonstrated the greatest love of all, when he laid down his life on the cross for us. It is love that endures the test of time, love that reaches right down to us here in this place. Because of what Jesus did for us, we have in our hearts the greatest thing in the world—love.  We love, because he first loved us.
And now, dear Christian friends, it is time to show our love for Jesus Christ. I’m not talking only about singing, praying and talking about what Jesus did for us. I’m talking about showing it, acting it, and living it. I’m not just talking about giving cash to help meet the church budget, although that is important. I’m talking about inviting our neighbors and friends to hear about the love of God in Christ. Do you realize that 50% of the people who live in Iowa are un-churched? It is even true of our little corner of the Minnesota Arrowhead here. Weather you realize it our not; you mingle with people every day who are going to hell. You talk with them, you laugh with them, and you even eat with them. Maybe you’ve told yourself that everyone around here belongs to a church, but the truth is, that it just isn’t so. There are people living in this very town who don’t know about the love of God. There are people very near to us who don’t know about Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that we need to walk down main street here with a sandwich board that says, “Repent! The end is near!” What is important is that we show them the love of God. It’s also important to find ways of telling them about the love of God for them.
We have a wonderful thing going here at Life in Christ Lutheran Church. Every week we come here and experience the love of God. A love that was so great for Jesus, that it meant his death on the cross. Always remember that it’s because of his love, that love is the greatest thing for us. Jesus lives in us, and he shows his love through us. That’s what makes everything different, especially on a special day, like today. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.