Sunday, August 25, 2019

Luke.13.22-30; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 25, 2019;

Luke.13.22-30; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 25, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve heard a lot about how God opens doors.  Here Jesus talks about an open door and how it is going to be closed.  Not everyone will be inside when it does.  The man on the road asks if only a few will be saved?  Jesus changes the question to ask, “Are you inside?”  The door to God kingdom is open today, but someday it will be closed.  It will be locked and there will be people who are locked out!  Now of all the things we hear in church this is one we wish we didn’t.  But Jesus makes it very clear.  Not everyone will be saved.  There will be a time when God closes the door of his grace.  You and I know people who are going to hell, not because of the things they do, but because of what they believe.  Faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins is necessary for salvation, nothing else will do.  Believe in Jesus Christ alone and be inside, believe in another way of salvation, including the multitude of ways of earning your own salvation, and you’ll be outside when the door is shut.  A worldwide “Christian” organization stated that Christians needed to reconsider the claims of exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ alone for the sake of “cooperation with other non-Christian religions.”  Jesus will have none of that.  If you are inclined in that direction, repent of that sin.  It is sinful and unloving to mislead people by neglecting to tell them of the only way of salvation in Jesus. 
Right now, Jesus makes it very clear that the door is still open.  It is open wherever Christians speak up and tell people about Jesus and what he has done.  But it is open right now and especially right here where his Word is preached, and his Sacraments given according to his command.  We can see the open door here.  We see it and feel it as water together with God’s name washes away our sins and makes us a member of his God’s family.  We are pulled through the open door by God’s action, brought where his family is and given his very name.  Inside we sit at table with him, in his very presence, and eat the food that we need to grow in faith.  We hear his words that are spoken to us to keep our focus on what’s important.  And yet there is a danger even here where God so clearly has the door open. There is a danger because the open door will not always be open as it is today, as Jesus tells us.  Many of those inside will walk out the door.
Sometime in our future, maybe sooner than any of us know, the door of God’s grace and patience will come slamming shut.  Jesus tells us clearly what that moment will be like.  The most difficult part is the fact that not everyone will be inside.  Jesus makes it very personal, too.  He speaks to his hearers, and us, just like we are the ones left outside, wanting to get in.  He says, When the master closes the door you will be outside and start knocking…  For the people left outside there won’t be anything they can do to change the judgment, but they will try anyway.  It is like Jesus is saying, “You will pathetically knock on the locked door, hoping to gain entrance through persistence; Hoping that the door will be opened again so you can escape the judgment that has come.  But the door was open before, the there was plenty of opportunity, God’s promises to save were heard everywhere.  You have foolishly ignored the chance to come in.”  The words are harsh.  They reach out and twist our hearts.  Jesus means them.  But the protest of the condemned will not be heard.  It will be spoken by many people who mistakenly think that having their names on the church membership roles, means they should be let in.  The protest will even be made by some who spent a great deal of time in church and gave money to cover their fair share of the budget.  Jesus tells us without a doubt; it isn’t spending time with Jesus that makes a difference.  “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence!  We heard you teaching!  We spent time around you!  Our families have always belonged to this church.”  Those words and that pleading won’t have any meaning for Jesus when the door is closed.  “I don’t know you.” He will say from behind the closed door.
It may shock you to think that Jesus is talking to you as if you are outside.  Jesus wants you to think about that possibility.  He wants you to consider what it means to not be known by him.  Jesus says salvation is found in Jesus knowing you.  He doesn’t call for us only to spend time with him.  Time doesn’t equal a relationship.  These days it is very popular to speak of the difference between quality time and quantity time.  Jesus doesn’t make a distinction.  God does not want meaningless hours from you, and he doesn’t even want meaningful minutes.  If the time you spend with God is empty, the length of time you spend is totally irreverent.  Empty worship is empty worship.  God wants you to hear his Word every time he offers it to you.  If you despise his word by failing to worship and failing to study his word you are walking toward the door.  You are on your way outside.
You can serve and help other people all you want.  But unless your heart is completely focused on them and their needs you’ve missed the boat.  We have difficulty even listening to other people without getting distracted and thinking about ourselves.  In fact, we most often use people to get what we want.  We manipulate people for our own best advantage.  That’s the primary sin of living together without being married; wanting the benefits of a relationship with someone else without the commitment.  Sex outside of marriage is deeply selfish and can be no other way.  When you pretend that this sin isn’t a sin by ignoring it or participating in it yourself you are walking toward the door, headed outside. 
You can give very large amounts of money to very important church activities.  But God despises self serving gifts.  Unless your heart is in the right place, giving gifts so that you look good to others or so you can get your name recognized is sinful.  When you let pride guide your giving to the church instead of thankfulness for God’s gifts to you, when the primary purpose you want more people in church, isn’t because they need God’s word, but rather to help pay expenses, you are walking toward the door to the outside.
One thing that’s also common among us is the comparisons we make between ourselves and other people.  In this church, in this community, we value people by their class status.  This sin is stronger in our community and church than many other places I’ve lived.  We tend to judge where only God can judge, and we fail to judge where we should be judging.  Like Jesus story of the tax collector and the Pharisee.  You know the story Jesus told.  The tax collector prayed, “Oh God I’m a sinful person.  I don’t deserve anything you would give.”  While the Pharisee says, “Thank God I’m not like him.”  The tax collector was inside.  The Pharisee was out.  We look at the Pharisee and say, “Thank God, I’m not like him.  I’m not like them.  I go to church.  I pay my fair share of the budget.  I’m better than they are.  I deserve to be inside.  I think they should be outside.”  But our actions betray our motives.  We are much more like the Pharisee.  You can’t put someone else in the middle of sin.  The word is even spelled that way.  S-I-N.  “I” am in the middle of sin.  Sin has a hold on me and you that we can’t break.  “I am sinful in thought world and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.”  Jesus gives us his word today so that we know for sure, that we should be outside.  Our sin makes it so.  So much of what we do sets us heading toward the door to the outside.  We don’t deserve to be inside.  The moment we think we do, the moment we try to do anything to make ourselves fit inside, the second we try to earn our own way in, we headed for the door. 
Scripture is full of examples of Jesus commending people who were inside and condemning those who are outside.  Like the woman who came to Jesus with perfume in hand, knelt to wash his feet by wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair.  Jesus condemns the owner of the house, the one who invited Jesus to eat with him at his house.  He is condemned because he ignores Jesus.  He doesn’t even the basic courtesies that a host would offer.  He doesn’t really know why Jesus has come.  To him Jesus is just one more traveling preacher.  He is using Jesus to boost his own status in the community.  Even though he spends time listening to Jesus he doesn’t know Jesus.  He doesn’t think that he needs anything that Jesus has to give.  He certainly doesn’t think he needs forgiveness.  He has no relationship to Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t know him.  He doesn’t know Jesus.  He’s outside.  The woman is different.  She clearly knows who Jesus is and why he has come.  She demonstrates it by her actions.  She cries tears of joy on Jesus feet, and uses her hair as a towel.  She comes to Jesus with her sins in her hands and she places them at Jesus feet.  She comes to Jesus asking for forgiveness.  Her action is the purest form of worship, not because of her actions, not because she washes Jesus feet, but because she comes to Jesus for forgiveness.  She knows she is helpless without him.  There is nothing she can do about her sin.  She knows Jesus can and will forgive her.  Her worship is true worship because she knows where to go to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness.  She knows who Jesus is and why he has come.  That’s why Jesus says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you.”  Jesus says he knows who she is she has a right relationship to him.  She is inside.
Inside or outside, that’s what it is all about.  Thousands of Christians before us have come to God for the forgiveness of sins he offers.  They have done it in the same way we do.  From beginning to end, we worship God inside this place, through Jesus Christ, by confessing our faith just like that woman did. 
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9, ESV) 
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, ESV)
True worship of God is to receive from him the forgiveness that he so freely gives through Jesus.  We do receive it because the door is open.  It is been opened by Jesus.  That’s what he tells us today.  There is no reason to be outside when the door is closed.  Jesus has opened the door for you.  He has opened the door for me.  It has been opened by his blood, by his sacrifice, by the perfect life he lived, by the horrible death he died, and his resurrection from the grave.  When he lived here on earth as a human being, he walked a journey straight to Jerusalem where he knew death was waiting for him.  He did it because his greatest desire is to have you with him inside the door and not be shut out.  On that trip a man asked Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  Well, Jesus opens the door to all.  Jesus is the one who opens the door and brings you in.  Every day sin is a burden we bear.  It tears up our relationships; it pollutes even the good things we’d like to do.  Every day our sin makes our lives difficult.  We’d like to push the blame for them away.  But we know all to well that the fault with our broken lives lies squarely on our own shoulders.  We know that the harder we try to make it good the worse it gets.  We know we can do nothing about it.  That’s exactly where the woman who washed Jesus feet was.  She came to Jesus’ open door for forgiveness.  We come to the open door too.  With our sins in our hands we offer them to Jesus, and he forgives.  He brings us inside.  He does it through Word and Sacrament.  He does it through the gift of faith given by the work of the Holy Spirit. 
When Jesus says “Strive to enter…” he’s not talking about you doing anything, except dropping all our own self confidence.  He’s not talking about showing him our good works, our calculated time in worship, our monthly tax statement as proof that we deserve entry.  None of that will do, it is covered and corrupted by our sin.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)
He’s talking about taking our sin to him because he forgives.  He’s talking about how he brings us in by what he has does and has done.  “Strive to enter?” He says.  That means to do what he’s given us to do.  Confess our sins and receive forgiveness.  Live in the promises he has given in word and water, remember your baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Take his body and his blood in our mouths and receive that same gift of life that he made for us through the very same crucified body that he puts into our mouths.  You see, by God’s grace the door is open now and you are inside.  Worship him rightly, serve him without fear, receive the gifts he gives.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Luke 12:49-53; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 18, 2013;

Luke 12:49-53; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 18, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hold up your hand in front of you.  Let your fingers illustrate your family, or the people you gather with regularly at work or morning coffee, or your household, or your neighborhood.  That’s the kind of group that Jesus is talking about here.  Five people, a typical Galilean family.  Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, and Brother’s wife all are living under one roof.  It’s a close gathering of people who spend time together, people who love one another or at least understand each other.  Jesus says that because of him, because of the “fire” he has come to bring, groups just like that will be divided.  Groups like that, which you are a part of, are divided because of Jesus.  You all know the two topics that you should avoid if you want to have a pleasant conversation.  What are they?  Yep, religion and politics.  Well, you can blame that in part on Jesus.  That's because of the fire.  The old saying goes, put three Germans in a room and you’ll have four different opinions.  It’s true for politics (but we won’t discuss politics today), and it true also for religion.
Really, talk about religion is talk about God.  What is it that people don’t want to hear about when there is God talk?  What is it about God that makes for uncomfortable conversation?  Well, everyone wants to hear about a god who loves and forgives; a god who takes people for what they are.  But no one wants to be held accountable to a god.  No one wants to hear about a god that punishes because of sin.  But, whenever we talk about the real God, the God that the Bible tells us about, the God that Jesus speaks about, we always come to the reality that we are sinful people.  Whenever we talk about a perfectly holy God, people get uncomfortable.  That’s the fire.  God himself; who He is in comparison to us and what He expects of people.  We call it the Law.
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, ESV)
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 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 20:1-6, ESV)
No one wants to be accountable for their actions against a God who promises to punish sin.  In fact, people love a god that they can work their way out of sin.  They love a god who just sweeps sin under the carpet and forgets that it exists.  They love a god who is the picture of a forgetful old grandfather who overlooks what he doesn’t like.  But, you see, that’s just not the God that Jesus tells us about.  And although Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17, ESV) he did come to bring God’s fire, and that fire brings with it, division.  That’s because no one can understand the true nature of the forgiveness Jesus brings without experiencing the fire of the law of God.  That fire of God’s Law tells us that because of sin we deserve nothing but punishment.
We don't do anyone any favors by bringing the law "lite". There is no lite version of the law that is easier to swallow like some lite beer.  Many of you know exactly the division that the law brings. We do not want to tell our family members that belonging to a church that teaches and believes things that are not taught in the Bible is wrong. It's not necessarily better to go to any church the no church. And then it comes up when they want to commune at this altar. We have the responsibility of turning them away. Because God tells us that to commune at this altar is to say we believe, teach, and confess the same things. Membership in a church is saying that you believe what that church teaches. It is especially pronounced these days when so many churches are drinking the Kool-Aid of the current culture.
Others of you know this division when you have family members who are living outside of what God says is right. We don't want to be the one to tell them that their activity pushes them away from God and can lead them to hell. You don't want to tell them because were afraid of the division.
Others know the division because God's word cuts you right to the heart. God says you shall not commit adultery. But he doesn't just mean sleeping around. He means looking around and thinking about sleeping around. His law is firm. It is sinful and deserving of hell. It's never been easier to deserve God's wrath and punishment then so-called soft porn on the Internet. (Matthew 5:27ff)
And you feel the division when you speak about your neighbor and less than favorable terms. It is a breaking of the fifth commandment, you shall not kill. But of course, you don't have to actually kill. Jesus says the words do well enough. When you talk about your neighbor in any way that reduces his reputation to anyone else you have killed him. Jesus says clearly that this kind of activity deserves nothing but hell. (Matt 5)
This is the bare edge of God's law. It's the wrath of God come down on sinful human beings. There is no way for you or me or your family members to work out our own escape. The law means punishment, death, and eternal separation from God. This is the division that Jesus comes to bring. It is the full force wrath of God against a sinful race. And so, the reaction that you see in people is perfectly understandable.
“If that’s what God does we don’t what to have anything to do with him.”
“If that’s the kind of god you’re talking about we don’t want to talk about him at all…”
So, sin and God's threat of punishment for that sin divides families. Jesus is responsible for that division.
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
There's something else to the fire that Jesus brings. Something unique about the one who brings the fire to earth. Jesus is not the picture of God tromping through the vineyard trampling the grapes with lightning coming out of his hands striking dead all those who sin against his law. And he talks about it when he says:
I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Jesus isn't just speaking in hyperbole. He's talking about a real baptism. He's talking about a real fire and anger and God's wrath. Right away in the Gospel of St. Luke after the wonderful account of Jesus birth in the proclamation that Jesus brings peace, we have John the Baptizer telling everyone that God's wrath is coming. And then Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus doesn't come to dispense God's wrath. That is, he doesn't come to condemn sinful human beings. But instead he comes to bear God's wrath. The fire that he comes to bring is the fire that he himself will hang in. And it begins with him going into the water of the Jordan River and being baptized by John. In Jesus Christ, God becomes the human sin bearer. In Jesus Christ, God becomes for all people the bearer of God's wrath over sin. When Jesus comes out of the water wet from his own baptism, he heads straight for the cross. The years that he walks the earth he walks it as a sinless human being yet bearing the sins of the whole world. And he walks in distress until the feat is accomplished. Jesus baptism is a baptism of fire and blood. On the cross, suspended between earth and God, Jesus bears the full punishment of God's anger over our sin. This is the baptism that Jesus is distressed about. This is the baptism that he has come to bring. It is the division he comes to bear. He is divided from and forsaken by God, suffering eternal hell for you and your family.  Nothing shows God's displeasure over sin more clearly than the bleeding and dying of Jesus Christ, his only son, on the cross in your place.
There is no way to bring this Word to people without offense. The law must offend. God is perfect and holy and just. He cannot set aside what he has declared to be good and right and true. The law has its purpose. It must be proclaimed in its full force. We must see Jesus bleeding and dying and suffering on the cross as being our just punishment. We must know that that is what we deserve for our sin. Without it we would never crawl to the cross begging for forgiveness from the one who offers it to us freely. Without the law in its full force the sweetness of the gospel cannot be received in its full force.
And the full force of the gospel is this. The baptism that Jesus bears he bears in our place. The punishment he receives he receives in our place. The wrath of God that is poured out on him is poured out on him in our place. It is a baptism of fire. It is a baptism of blood. It is a baptism of water…
There's the font. It stands out here in front of us. It's not just here because it's a piece of furniture we cherish. It's here to show us the baptism that Jesus brings. The water in the bowl and the words spoken over that water when it is poured on our heads is our connection to Jesus on the cross. He is baptized in the river. We are baptized in the bowl. The water is the same. Our sin goes in the water. Jesus is in the water and he comes up and carries it to the cross. There is no simpler picture of grace. God makes promises and makes your head wet. The promises are given in the sin is taken. Jesus bears that baptism and the water with all your sin. He walks up out of the water and hangs on the cross and suffers God's just punishment. And you are declared by the word and the water to be righteous in God's sight.
There is nothing other to be done than to live according to the promises that you have been given: To reject sin; To speak against it especially within your own family; to take the division Jesus brings and use it to proclaim God's anger over sin.  Then point people to the place where God pours out that anger and punishment and Jesus. It's the cross. It's the cross with Jesus on it. It is forgiveness won there and given to you and your family freely by God's grace. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”” (Luke 12:35–40, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well… what are you looking forward to? What happened to you last year? Was it good for you? I’ll have to admit there’s a good bunch of last few years that I might just as well skip. Some times of our lives are like that. Good and bad. It is difficult to live in the world the way it is, but don’t think you are alone. This has how it has always been, since Adam and Eve decided it should be this way. And that’s exactly what they did.
“We should know better than God what’s good for us,” Eve thought as she plunged her teeth into the fruit God told them to stay away from.
“We should know better than God how our relationship should be,” thought Adam as he watched his wife.
There is no way around it. He should have listened to God and protected both of them from death. He wanted to have what God didn’t give them to have. And so, we have it. Sin and death and all the trouble that leads up to it; selfishness, greed, pride, deceit, coveting, false religion, and plague, war, bad government, failing economies and divorce, child abuse, abortion, murder, and cancer, heart disease and… the list goes on. We’ve seen them all, and we will see them all again. They lead to the big one, the mother of all trouble… anxiety. What is going to happen to me? How will I protect my family? What happens if I get cancer? Is my job secure? There’s a quote that a pastor I know uses:
"Anxiety is the liturgy with which we serve our idols." Unknown
That’s exactly what anxiety is, worshipping and serving our idols. Our work, our families, our money, our security, and then there is the biggest one, our big god is ourselves. Me. I wonder what’s going to happen to me. I worry, how I will feel if that bad thing I’m worried about actually happens. Anxiety is not placing our trust in the hands of God where it belongs.
And then we have our text for this today. “Stay dressed for action…” The original expression is “gird up your loins.” ( You see, in the days when Jesus said these words, men wore long tunics that inhibited free movement. You ladies know about these things. Long narrow skirts and dresses. You can’t run. You can’t squat down to pay attention to something on the ground. To gird up your loins was a very specific thing for men in those days. You had to hike up your tunic above your knees, gather all the excess in front, push it between your knees like a diaper, separate it in back and tie the two ends together at the front. It was the only way to free up your legs for movement, to be prepared for battle or serious work. “Gird up your loins…” Jesus says. Be prepared.
I have a good friend that uses the term “Cowboy up!” or “Man up.” He means you’ve got this stuff to deal with, just do it! Jesus isn’t exactly saying that to us. But he is saying, be prepared for what’s coming. Specifically, be prepared because He is coming, and you don’t know when. It could be before we meet again for another Sunday. But whenever it happens, all of this trouble, all that you are anxious about, will come to an end. But Jesus isn’t saying, look into yourself and find your own strength to deal. It’s in the section right before the words “Gird up your loins”, back in verse 22.
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:22–31, ESV)
Seek the Kingdom of God, Jesus says. Don’t be anxious about anything. You can’t change the length of your life. You have no control over so many of these things you worry about. Instead focus on God’s Kingdom. He’ll take care of the rest. And then he says, “Gird up your loins.” Be prepared for action. Be prepared for battle. Do what needs to be done in light of the fact that God is taking care of you, and not just you but the whole world. Jesus’ Kingdom is coming. His death on the cross is the fix, and his resurrection is the proof. Your sin is forgiven. Your neighbor’s sin is forgiven. That’s a whole new light to live in. Jesus takes care of your great need, forgiveness. He, in a sense, girded up his loins, and did the necessary work. His life, death and resurrection are that work for you. You have no worries about what is coming in the end. You’ve read the last page of the book; you know how it comes out. Jesus goes to prepare a place for you. He returns in glory to take you there. You have no real worries about tomorrow. God provides everything you need. You know it because he has taken care of your greatest need. And in the end, you will see it.
Now, the world itself is looking forward to its own redemption. From Romans 8:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20–23, ESV)
It is going to happen, the fix is in, be ready, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is coming, soon…
So, what do we do? What actions do we take? How do we gird up our loins? What to do whilst we wait for our master to return? Scripture is full of action:
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” (Proverbs 25:21, ESV)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18, ESV)
…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Hebrews 13:1–5, ESV) 
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good. Titus 3:1
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior. 1 Tim. 2:1–3
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:18–24, ESV)
The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rom. 13:9
Gird up your loins. Be ready. Do the work you have been given to do while you wait. Serve in your many vocations. Do what you have been given to do in the place you have been given to do it, for the people God has given you to serve. Be prepared because he is coming soon. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26; August 4, 2019; The 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26; August 4, 2019; The 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, ESV)
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:12–14, ESV)
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18–26, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Meaningless! Meaningless!  Like vapor, wind.  Like the little breeze that blows around in the desert.  Everything is meaningless, says the writer of Ecclesiastes.  In fact, the theme of the book could easily be summed up with that one word, “meaningless.”  What’s going on here?  What in the world is a book like this doing in the bible anyway?  Isn’t the world full of enough pessimism?  I don’t really think we need anymore here in the bible, do you?  Over the years there has been a great deal of discussion on that very point.  Even the ancient Rabbis, discussed whether this book should truly be a part of the canon.  It just doesn’t seem to fit the general character of so much of the bible, let alone the Old Testament itself.
And it’s an interesting selection for this text to be read here at this time of year too!  I mean I don’t think with school starting soon, that this is a great time for our children to hear that ‘life is meaningless.’  We have enough trouble motivating them for school in the first place.  I don’t think they need to hear right now that work is meaningless, vapor, and dust in the wind.  I don’t really think it will be helpful to tell them that no matter how hard they work in life, it all amounts to nothing, like a puff of air, or the breath of a fly.  Joshua would you please take out the trash, oh by the way, it’s meaningless.  Miciah please do your homework even though it’s meaningless.  I don’t think that’s going to rate high on the motivational chart, do you?
OK, well maybe it isn’t the best thing to tell our children at night before they go to bed, but the truth of the matter is that the text is right.  When life is focused on all that we can gain by our hard work, it is meaningless.  The real problem is this…  we don’t act like we believe it.  As a matter of fact a person might be hard pressed to see how we … who are suppose to be the ones who “please God,” and to whom he “gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,” are any different from those who the text calls “sinners.”
We are, just like everyone around us, can be very possession centered.  Our lives at times seem to revolve around what we can get for ourselves.  We are just as guilty of “keeping ahead of the Jones” as anyone.  The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.  Cell phones, computers, table saws, and big screen TVs…  etc. He who dies with the most toys, wins! The popular bumper sticker says.  We want all these things…  and many more.  And we know that hard work pays for them. 
The author of our text today is also in our shoes.  “… all the things I toiled for, under the sun,” he calls them.  He had worked hard to gain what he had, and yet he calls it all “meaningless.”  In fact, he says he hated all the things he had worked for.  After all the work, after all the toil to gain them, he only was left to worry about them.  The new car meant higher insurance, a new garage to protect it, and worry about what would happen to it when he left on vacation.  Just like the commercial, “I can finally relax!” says the man, who is placing his trust in a home alarm system. 
What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22, ESV)
All that he has accomplished with his hard work is worry and more hard work. 
But ultimately, when all is said and done, the one thing that places all our hard work in meaningless category is… death.  All that we work for, all that we gain in our lives, is lost at the very moment our heart stops beating.  Ecclesiastes talks about how all the things we gain by our hard work are given to others who haven’t worked for them.  Another bumper sticker put it this way, “He who dies with the most toys… still dies.”  All our toil, all our work is rendered meaningless, and evaporates just like the escaping air of our final breath. 
Don’t get this message wrong…  I’m not advocating laziness.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard.  What I am saying is that we sometimes work for the wrong reasons.  We often work to get things, and when we get them, we work to maintain them, and then to replace them…  Ecclesiastes understands the problem very well.  And it doesn’t advocate not working either.  Look back at the line
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, ESV)
It doesn’t say, work is meaningless so don’t do it.  Possessions are meaningless so don’t get them.  What it does say is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in our work.  It would be good to remember that work is a blessing.  Work was not the result of sin, Genesis 2:15 says
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV)
Adam was given work to do as a blessing.  His work became hard work, and toil after he sinned.  What the text does say is that no one can find satisfaction in their work without God.
There is a lot packed in the words “without God,” here.  The text asks, “Without God, who can eat or find enjoyment?” and the answer is an emphatic, “No one!”  In fact, without God, all there is in life is the things that one works for.  All that there is the nest egg that can be built, or the security found in a theft deterrent system.  Without God, all there is, is a life that a person can build for himself.  A life that is over in an instant, a life that is fleeting and unsure.  Without God, all that a person accomplishes is for the benefit of someone else…  death comes and all of it is left to someone who didn’t earn it.  To be “Without God” is to be hopeless, breath, vapor… meaningless. 
But God does not want our lives to be meaningless.  He doesn’t want our lives to be lived without him, without hope.   And so, he sent Jesus Christ who changes meaningless into meaningful.  Since death is what takes meaning from life, Jesus Christ came to destroy death.   He took away death’s power over us by dying and rising again.  He showed us that his power over death is greater than our fear of it.  His power over death is so great that what was once an end, eternal separation from God, became instead a beginning.  To die with Jesus Christ is to be with him forever.  So, the question of death is no longer, “What do we lose?” but, “What do we gain?”
But it isn’t only by our death that we gain Jesus Christ.  He promises to be with us always.  “… I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Through faith in him we are truly with him and his presence changes everything.  The Epistle lesson today says this. 
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4, ESV)
To set your mind on earthly things it the meaninglessness of Ecclesiastes.  But Christ comes to you and me, and through him we can set our minds on the things above. 
To set our mind on things above is to remember what Jesus Christ did for us.  That by his death he set us free from death.  Its treat no longer hangs over our heads, threatening to take all that we have gained away.  When we set our minds on things above, we are focused on Jesus Christ, faithfully trusting that he will give us whatever we need.  When those gifts come, we realize that they are not the purpose in life but only good gifts that God wishes us to have and enjoy. 
God created this world, this physical world, for us.  He intends for us to have good gifts from it.  It isn’t wrong to work hard to provide for your family or even to enjoy the blessings that God provides you through your hard work.  All of that is what God intended it to be… but, it all becomes meaningless when the things we can gain from hard work become the purpose of our lives. 
You know what.  We aren’t always going to set our minds on the things above.  There will be days when our lives will be filled with meaningless struggle, focused on our own material gain.  But God has done something about that too!  Remember Paul’s words. 
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above… For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1–2, ESV) 
Paul is talking about baptism.  To die and be raised with Christ is to be baptized into his death and life.  To be baptized into Christ’s death and life is to change meaningless into meaningful.  To be changed from a life that is bound only for death, to a life that has been rescued from death by Jesus Christ himself.  With death defeated all those meaningless things, and even the hard work isn’t meaningless any longer.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.