Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ruth.1.1-19a; 18th Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2019;

Ruth.1.1-19a; 18th Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ru 1:1-19, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Two men were traveling in a deep wood.  All at once they were confronted with a huge bear.  One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree.  The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body. 
It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be.  When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!” 
“He did,” answered the other.  “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.”  The story is one of Aesop’s fables.
There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued “Ruthlessly.”   Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize.  You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion” so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.”  But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.”  It’s actually what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us.  In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word.  She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old. 
The story is a particularly wonderful one.  It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born.  There was a man named Elimelech.  He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  When a famine struck the area, they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea).  Moab was a well-watered highland, so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there.  While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband.  We don’t know why he died there is no reason given.  Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women.  Their names were Orpah and Ruth.  Then tragedy struck again, and the two sons also died.  Again, we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter.  Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves.  Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home. 
At first the two women joined her.  But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again.  Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked.  Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth. 
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)
These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty.  Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion and comfort.
Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like.  Like the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins.  Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship.  For some it is in marriage.  Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown.  Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.
These people are people you trust.  You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them.  You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together.  Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions.  There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship.  They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us. 
But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement.  Imagine two people standing in a rowboat.  If both leaned over the same side of the boat, they’d both end up in deep water.  Sometimes friends, too, must disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both.  None of our earthly relationships are trouble free.  When we expect that we usually end up alone. 
Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too.  You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have.  It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now.  And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way.  And our troubles persist.  What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle.  And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own.  It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.
But God is more than just our good friend.  His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding.  He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand.  Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble.  Because he is more than only our friend, He doesn’t always allow us to take the easy road.
It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi.  There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law.  In fact, quite the opposite was true.  When she said where you die, I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon.  Such was the fate of widowed women in those days.  Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman.  It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself.  Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation.  For Ruth it all paid off in the end.  She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children and lived a full new life.  But it was no accident.  Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior.  She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you. 
God’s love for you is no accident either.  In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson.  God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice.  We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words… “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”  That’s what Jesus did.  God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate and slept where people ate slept.  And most importantly died as people die and was buried.  That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely.  That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being.  It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have.  Jesus death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me.  It is Jesus bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world.  It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone.  We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that.  But Jesus is.  He is because His love compels him to be. 
Ruth said to Naomi.  “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.”  Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship.  And he seals his promise in his own blood.  One way to look at it is this.  Ruth could have died for Naomi.  If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice.  But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help.  Jesus isn’t dead.  That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us.  He died but didn’t stay dead.  He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb.  That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for us;  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV) 
Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us.  But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives.  He does something no human begin could ever do.
It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way.  He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble.  But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort.  He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering.  And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi.  He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end.  And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb…  Jesus empty tomb… and yours.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 17th Sunday after Pentecost; October 6, 2019;

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 17th Sunday after Pentecost; October 6, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:1–4, ESV)
I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:1–4, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is easy to get down about what’s going on in the world these days. This last week an LCMS pastor I knew in Iowa was beat to death in his own church parking lot. The confirmation class was waiting for him to come in and teach. The whole community of Fort Dodge Iowa is reeling at the loss. He was very involved in his community, as a police and first responder’s chaplain. This senseless crime seems to be related to a robbery. It is easy to agree with Habakkuk’s complaint. “Destruction and violence are before; strife and contention arise.”  There’s a definite uptick also in Christian persecution in our country. To say nothing of the persecution of Christians around the world, which is higher now than it’s ever been. As Habakkuk says, “For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” God’s plan for marriage is under brutal attack. The LGBT agenda is rampant everywhere. And their aim is not to coexist with, but to destroy traditional marriage. Babies are dying in the womb thousands a day. And politics… I don’t even have to say how crazy that is. And again, we echo Habakkuk, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”
Habakkuk was facing the same kinds of issues. Although the violence he was speaking of was done by those who claimed to be God’s people. He was sent with a warning, as God often does with the prophets. But Habakkuk complains that the more he preaches the less effect it seems to have. “I call them back from violence and injustice, but everything I do is for nothing. They just don’t listen. The law is corrupt. The courts are for those who have the money to get the judgment they want. Judgment is not equal for all.”
Now, a critical part of the opening of the book of Habakkuk is missing between the two sections we have in our text today. The exchange goes something like this:
Habakkuk:    God how long are you going to let this violence go on? How long is my preaching going to have no effect? How long will you let the law be impotent?
God:               Don’t worry, I’ve got everything under control. And you wouldn’t believe it if I told you anyway. I am raising up the Chaldeans. They are bitter and nasty. They wreak havoc everywhere they go. Even their horses are mean. And their horsemen are like eagles. And they come with swift violence. They laugh at city walls. And they will sweep away all those guilty people who depend on themselves. They will punish the evildoers.
It was not the answer Habakkuk was looking for.
Habbakuk:    O Lord! I know you see all things. But, don’t you think that the righteous will suffer with the evil? Do you have to send such and evil people to punish? And what about those evil people? When will they get their comeuppance?
And then Habakkuk, does something amazing. He says, “I will look out to see your justice.” And God answers. “Write this down and make it plain. So that all will understand. So that the reader may announce it to all they see. It will all come to pass in my own time. The proud will suffer, but the righteous shall live by faith.”
God was saying two things. First, the people who were to be led away into captivity, would return to their land. And Second, that the Chaldeans would also be punished for their evil.  Wait for it…
Wait for it… a lot like that feather in Forrest Gump, floating here and there seemingly undirected but under God’s control. God’s vengeance would happen in his perfect timing. Let it blow in the wind.
Now, I’m not saying, necessarily, that God is going to send a foreign power to punish us. But it could happen. We, as the church, should be on our knees in continual repentance. God’s justice comes in His own time, and falls upon all, even those he loves. Discipline is never pleasant, but it is necessary. We are to leave that to our faithful God.
With the Festival of the Reformation coming, it is timely that our text ends with “the righteous shall live by his faith.” Despite what it looks like God is in control of all things. It is the righteous one who puts his faith where it belongs. And it isn’t just accepting correction. It is placing our faith in the one who has done and is doing all things for our good.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
It isn’t just a vague notion of faith either, not a faith that just thinks that everything will work out. It is faith in the one who promises to make it work out. Jesus Christ our savior is that one. He has promised it. He does battle with the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. He defeats Satan with his perfect life lived in our place. He gives us that life and declares us to be righteous ones. Then he gives us faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. We, the righteous ones have confidence in Jesus by remembering our Baptism. Satan’s accusations against us have no effect. He can howl and bellow all he wants. He can stir up the world against us, but Jesus has defeated them all.
He took on the world, in all its evil, and defeated it. And not in a way that is expected or understood by the world. To all the world it looked like defeat and weakness. But Jesus’ strength is evident in his willingness to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. He defeated the power of death through his resurrection. That resurrection is ours as well, through faith in Jesus’ promises. The evil of the world has no response to Jesus and his death and resurrection. They simply deny the truth and curse it.
And most of all, he defeats our sinful nature. The sinful nature that we harbor and protect. The sinful nature that looks at what is happening around us and falls into despair. That is impatient for God’s justice. Jesus has defeated our sinful nature. He calls us to recognize what he as done and put away our sinfulness.
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh [our sinful nature], to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:12–15, ESV)
He calls us to put our faith again, in his promises. We are sons of God, in Christ Jesus. Our sinful nature has no chance against him.
It is, in fact, true that nothing Satan, the world, or our sinful flesh can conjure up is stronger than the Resurrection One. We are to look at all that happens around us, the violence, the hate for him, the agendas of those who have both feet in the world and put our faith in Jesus. We are closer today than yesterday to his coming again in victory. We can see the signs all around us. We see then and rejoice because his justice is coming soon. When we face these fearful things, we say with him, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.