Sunday, July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 12, 2020;

Matthew 13:1-9; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 12, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:1-9, ESV)

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

Wow this is such a familiar text…  in some ways that makes it really hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!”  That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.

You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment, but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text…  Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.

Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils.  Now both of these have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings and they react differently depending on their soil type.  Originally, I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church, you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So, you must in some sense be “good soil.”  We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off of us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter. God doesn’t mind, he just wants you to be happy.”  We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, which should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.”  And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five-minute devotion from Portals of Prayer (a friend once called them “portable-Prayers”.  And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.

Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem, we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, in light of the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”

We don’t have many farmers in the congregation, but we have a few. Can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course, it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. Where I used to live in Creston, the soil was good by it flooded. Landowners hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.

But I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing, you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So, what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.

Actually, what Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land (I like this picture… see the sower, he’s not even looking!). His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it.  You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him.  His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.

How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.”  Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.”  No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…”  I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So, look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.

I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11)  When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need.  He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.

And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.”  You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So, take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  And when take the offering you can put one of those kernels in with your gift. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.

Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.

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


Sunday, July 05, 2020

Romans 7:15-25a; the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 5, 2020;

Romans 7:15-25a; the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 5, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15–25a, ESV)

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

It is a persistent problem in the Christian church. Christians don’t seem to be any different from anyone else. We have the same temptations, same problems, and especially, the same sins. You hear people say, “You Christians are no different than anyone else. You are just hypocrites.” Well in one way it is true, we are no different from anyone else. We are sinners. Luther has it right in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Fifth Petition.

… we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. (http://sites.cph.org/catechism/lords-prayer.asp)

St. Paul has it right doesn’t he? “I do the very thing I hate.” “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I keep on doing.” You and I, as Christians, understand these statements. We live them every day.

And what’s worse, we who believe the Bible to be God’s very word, have to hold sin is very serious.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a, ESV)

The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20b, ESV)

And so our struggle with sin is a serious one, with serious consequences. Sinners, the Bible says, deserved death and hell. And that means you and me. We seem we deserve to die and go to hell. So why is it that we have this struggle? If we were truly Christians, wouldn’t we be passed sinning? If Christians sin, then what good is it to be a Christian?

Paul is explaining the issue. He says there is a struggle between “mind” and “flesh.” He says, in his mind, he wants to do what is right. But, in his flesh, he continues to do what is wrong. It’s almost as if it’s a struggle between two people, a good person and a bad person. And they’re both living in the same body. It is the reality of what life is like as a Christian. We want to do what God wants, but we continually sin and follow our own sinful desires.

As I’ve told you before, in the church when something is important, we give it a Latin name. The Christian church long recognized this struggle. It is called Simul Justus et Peccator. The word simul is where we get our word simultaneous. It means “at the same time” Justus you can see looks like the word justice. It means “righteous.” Et means “and.” And peccator is the Latin word for sinner. In other words, Simul Justus et Peccator means “at the same time saint and sinner.”

It means that Christians are two things, both sinful and forgiven. It’s not a contradiction but a paradox. These two things are simultaneously true. It’s not a half-and-half, as if we are half sinner and half saint. We are completely saved and made righteous through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are still the same old sinner we have always been.

Let’s try it this way. We sin so we are sinners. But through faith in Jesus Christ God imputes, that is transfers to us, Jesus’ perfect life. God sees us now as completely righteous. St. Paul says in Colossians that through Holy Baptism (the declaration of your connection to Christ) … you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV) and in Galatians:

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Or another way to think of it is to ask this question: Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I am judged by my own righteousness, everything is lost and I will spend eternity in hell. Because it is clear that, my life is filled with sin. But if I am judged by Jesus’ righteousness, everything good has been done for me. The righteousness that is mine is the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And can you see what good news that is? I am reconciled to God, which is forgiven of all of my sin, not because of anything that I have done or will do or can do, but solely on what has been accomplished by Christ.

Punishment for my sin, and my sin itself, is imputed or transferred to Christ. And on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the punishment in full for my sin. God does not negotiate sin. He doesn’t compromise his integrity. My sin is fully punished. I am saved by this double transaction. And it is all the work of God through Jesus Christ. And it is yours and mine through faith that what God has done is done for me and for you.

So even though I am forgiven in God’s sight my sinful flesh remains. So as God’s child, I want to do right but struggle to do it. I know what God has done for me, in Jesus Christ, and I want to please him by doing good, but my heart is full of sin and leads me astray and away from God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

It’s not like the old saying where if you teach a man to fish you feed him forever. We Christians realize that we need a new fish to be given to us every day. That’s what God does for us. Every day our old sinful nature, Martin Luther called it the Old Adam, is drowned to death. That’s what holy baptism is, a drowning of the old sinful nature. But we don’t believe baptism is a single event that happened in our past. It is an ongoing life lived. Luther again from Small Catechism

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Or as he said, the old Adam needs to be drowned every day because he’s a good swimmer. There is no trying to live a better life that will accomplish anything. There is only living in Holy Baptism. Living in forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing else.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

We don’t focus on doing good, we focus on the good that Jesus has done for us. By faith, we look to the God-man Jesus Christ who gave his life for us on the cross. We don’t go out looking for good works to do; we do the good works that God has placed before us. And when we find sin in the good works we do, and we always will, we drowned them in repentance and receive forgiveness and the good work stands.

The struggle is there. It will exist in you until the day you die when you’re Old Adam is finally put to death permanently. Then your new creation will stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. The struggle will be over. Sin will be gone. And you rejoice in the salvation given to you as a free gift by God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:34-42; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 28, 2020;

Matthew 10:34-42; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 28, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

 34"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  (Matt 10:34-42, ESV)

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

You know, life would be much easier if Jesus hadn’t said things like, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”  It really doesn’t sound much like “good news” does it? To you and me and our everyday lives “good news” would be an end to conflict, and an end to trouble. An end to conflict in our cities, and end to racially charged riots, and end to conflict over COVID lockdowns. That's what we think of when we think of peace. But just try to explain Jesus' words to those skeptical relatives that we all have. You know; those people who would just love to point a verse like this and tell you Jesus is advocating violence, just like any other religion trying to get power. What are you going to say?

After all when I read it, it sure sounds like Jesus, the “prince of peace,” says that he’s come to bring strife and trouble into our lives and not only that but to break up our families too… Listen again; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  …to set children against their parents, parents against their children. He’s come to make enemies inside of families. It’s a difficult verse for us to swallow. Jesus can’t mean what he’s saying, can he? Does Jesus, the baby in the manger sleeping in “heavenly peace” surrounded by angels singing about peace on earth, bring peace or strife?

Well, many people believe that Jesus comes to bring peace, in spite of what he says. In fact, in general people, even those who don’t call themselves Christian think highly of Jesus. One of the leaders of today’s unrest said, “Jesus was the greatest racial radical of his day!”  They love Jesus when He tells stories about how to get along with each other, and to care for those who are less fortunate than we are. They love Jesus when He says, “love your enemies.”  They love Jesus when He tells a good story about how we should care for other people, like the “Good Samaritan.”  But they don’t want to hear from Jesus when He says that without Him, without His death on the cross, they are lost. They don’t want to hear Jesus when He says that without Him, they face an eternity of God’s punishment in hell. They don't want the Jesus who says with him life will be full of conflict. The don’t want to hear about a Jesus who violently drives the money changers out of the temple. And when he says, “And people will want to kill you if you follow me.” People don’t want to hear Jesus when he says stuff like that.

Think about the family that peacefully co-exists with one another, until one of them begins to say what they believe about Jesus. Suddenly the family is in conflict. Those who don’t know Jesus don’t want to hear about Him as their only Savior. They don’t want to hear about sin and repentance. They don’t want to hear about changing their lives to conform to God’s will. Those who have ideas about Jesus that don't come from scripture don't want to hear that what they believe is wrong. From the outside, from the world’s point of view this family was better off before the “good news” came to them. The members of the family will push toward compromise, “for the sake of peace.”  “You keep your Jesus to yourself.”  "We all believe the same things anyway."  The only real thing that is true about all religion is that they are all incompatible with each other. The problem is Jesus calls us all to be witnesses of what He has done and speak the truth about what he teaches. He calls us all to bring the life saving Word of Jesus to those who are around us. He doesn't promise that it will be easy. He does call us to be faithful.

June 25 is the anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg confession (1530). That's the document that Luther and the princes in Germany stood in the face of certain death to testify about Jesus and say that the church had forgotten what Jesus really taught. They stood before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and risked everything and said this:

Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by there 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 3:21-26; 4:5)

And don't think this confession of faith brought peace! It put them in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic church and the Holy Roman Emperor. They had decided ahead of time they would rather die than compromise the truth. It would have been easier, more peaceful, to compromise their confession. Instead they confessed what the bible teaches about Jesus clearly and strongly. They did it because they knew that Jesus was at stake. They did it because they knew that real life, true life is only found in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross. And that forgiveness only comes through faith in Jesus.

And it happens for us too. We are daily under pressure to keep silent at work and not speak about Jesus. We are under pressure to not point out the errors in other churches for the sake of community togetherness. We are under pressure in our families when we are told just to keep quiet, keep Jesus to ourselves for the sake of peace in the family. We are under pressure when we are scolded for not taking communion with them in their churches and not letting them commune in ours. When Jesus talks about bearing your cross, this is exactly what he is talking about.

The consequences of failure to confess Jesus is dire. There is no middle ground when it comes what Jesus teaches. We may not face death for our confession, but we are often tempted to give in to family pressure. The problem is, to give up Jesus is to give up the only real life there is.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (v39)

When we accept the sword, carry the cross and suffer the loss of family or community relationships, or even the loss of our physical life, we find what Jesus offers is worth more than all. We find real life forever with him.

Our confession is this:  You and I are sinful people we fail all the time. That’s why we need a Savior. That’s why Jesus lived a life that was always headed for the cross. He didn’t just die on the cross; He died on the cross on purpose. When He was pinned up there on the wood, He had you in His heart and your sins on His shoulders. He died to take your sins away and give you a new life a real life free from the effects of sin. Through faith in Jesus Baptism makes you dead to sin. Dead as Jesus was in the tomb. Dead as all sin deserves. That’s how you were with Jesus on the cross, dying to sin. That’s how He is with you now living a life that isn’t controlled by sin. You are alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:1-11)

So, you know what? You’re going to see some conflict when you say these things about Jesus, when you dare to confess the truth about Him. That’s ok, that’s to be expected. In a way it means that you’re on the right track. Martin Luther once said that when everything was going smoothly in his life, he worried that he wasn’t doing anything to get Satan’s notice. There will be conflict when you speak the truth about Jesus, it is to be expected. But there is nothing more important then the message of new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Jeremiah 23:3-8; Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2020;

Jeremiah 23:3-8; Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:3-8, ESV)

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

Jeremiah had gained a reputation, and it wasn’t good. “The complainer,” he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d invite to one of your summer bonfires. Beside the fact that he never attended social events, (he said God forbid him to attend any at all, no matter what the reason) whenever you found him in a group of people he was always shouting out his doom and gloom. It was a real downer for any gathering when Jeremiah showed up. He also had other ‘social deficiencies.’  He had no family, he was well of marrying age and yet, no wife, no children. According to Jewish custom that just made him weird. Even his own relatives refused to claim him, and his friends’ made a plot to have him killed. He was more than the black sheep from his hometown of Anathoth. He sat in prison for a lengthy time because he had the gall to tell the King to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who were pounding at the gate demanding tribute. “It was God’s will!” he said. For much of the time in his ministry, Jeremiah’s words were ignored. He didn’t have popular things to say.

Jeremiah didn’t like his role as prophet ‘against’ Israel. He pleaded with God not to be given the burden he was carrying. He himself mourned for his beloved Jerusalem, at the fate that was coming to it because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. But he continued to speak what God wanted him to say. Weather it was popular or not. But, always tucked in Jeremiah’s message of God’s displeasure at Israel, was a little fragment of hope, a ray of light that shown through, that told of God’s great love, and God’s plan to save his people from the problem they’d gotten themselves into. Today’s text is one of those little fragments. Right before this text he condemns the Kings of Israel, as the ones who have led the people astray. “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  They had allowed the people to slip away from the true worship of YHWH, and some had even promoted worship of false gods. And now God’s people were now going to pay the consequences. They would be scattered over the whole world, separated from their land and separated from each other, just as they were already separated from God. But God’s warning was ignored, and so was His promise…  The promise is what we really want to concentrate on today.

God’s promise to the people, who weren’t listening, was that, even though they would be scattered, God himself would gather them again. It would be such a significant thing in the lives of His people that they wouldn’t talk about the Exodus from Egypt anymore, but they would remember their return from being scattered. It would be a ‘new’ exodus, a new event to remember God’s salvation of His people. And Jeremiah tells them this Good News in wonderful, easy to understand terms. Even though they would be scattered, God would be their shepherd and gather them together again. The people that Jeremiah was talking to, they understood what a shepherd was, this was a picture they could understand and relate to. There were shepherds all around them all the time. A simple walk outside the city walls would find shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. And don’t forget one of our favorite passages of scripture was also very likely one of theirs. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...” They already had a beautiful example of God as their good shepherd. The Psalm told them how he would lead them, take care of them, and bring them home. And Jeremiah explained that that is exactly what God is going to do… again. He was going to lead them home from exile, back to their beloved city. He would supply them with new shepherds that would care for them properly. Then they would not be afraid anymore. Even though there would be the exile, God, their good shepherd, would gather them together again, and lead them home.

But Jeremiah’s beautiful words went unheeded. In fact, at one point in time they were burned line by line by the king. As he tore each line from the page…  First, it seemed, the people would have to face the exile, then they would understand and appreciate God’s good news for them.

So what does all this have to do with us? What does something that happened nearly 3000 years ago have to do with us… sitting here Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN at the cusp of the 21st Century?

“‘The days are coming,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah wrote. Right in the middle of his proclamation to the people of Israel. “The days are coming…” it was like an exclamation point, or a neon pointer. “Pay attention to this! It’s about more than just returning from exile. It’s about more than replacing bad kings with good ones. It’s about the time when God himself will come.” Right in the middle of telling the people about how God was going to deliver them from exile, how he was going to return them home, he tells them about how God himself is coming.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

You see all of the sudden Jeremiah was talking about more that a regular king, more than a regular shepherd. He was talking about the promised Savior, the ‘righteous branch’ from David. The King who was greater than any of the kings they had previously known. This king would make it possible for them to live in safety. He would bring them righteousness, that is, he would make it possible for them to be counted right in God’s eyes.

What Jeremiah told the people of God was more than good news following bad news. It was more than telling them that even though they would have to go into exile, they would eventually be able to return. He was telling them about the promised Advent of God. He was telling them about the coming day when God himself would come and save them from their sin. Jeremiah was sharing with them the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ. That is the very heart of Advent.

Today, we have gathered to tell the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ. The Righteous Branch has come. We have seen the Shepherd / King. The story is impressed in our minds; Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, the Angels, and the Shepherds; the baby lying in a manger. The adult Jesus walking, talking, breathing, dying and rising again. The days have truly come, just as God said they would through Jeremiah! And it is Good News. The Good Shepherd came for a reason. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15, ESV) The baby whose coming we remember, whose coming we look forward to celebrating, is the Lord our Righteousness. His purpose, his plan was to save the people of God.

 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)

Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, the Suffering Servant from Isaiah, the Good Shepherd in the 23 Psalm, the True King of Israel laid down his very life, to bring to us the righteousness of God. The cross and the cradle are forever linked…  He came to us in the cradle. He saved us through his death on the cross.

That’s the Good News Jeremiah was telling the people who weren’t listening to him. It’s the Good News the he’s telling us. Amen.

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


Sunday, June 14, 2020

John 3.1-17; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 14, 2020;

John 3.1-17; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 14, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ” (John 3:1–17, ESV)

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

Everyone wants to make sense out of life. As we live and work and play we want there to be meaning. The problem is it isn’t always clear; meaning isn’t all that easy to find. It’s difficult to find meaning in watching people swept away with their houses by a giant wave. It’s difficult to find meaning in a struggle against nuclear power gone haywire. There just isn’t an easy answer. No one can say they know exactly how the death of those thousands of people fits into the over all plan for life on earth.

Gas prices continue to climb as revolution erupts in the Middle East and Africa. Are the rebels good guys seeking democracy or are they bad guys looking for an in for Sharia Law? Why can’t world leaders take a stand while hundreds die? What does all this unrest in that eternally unstable part of the world mean for us? It’s difficult not to be frightened and confused when with all this going on all over the world. What is it all about? No one can really answer the question. But many people try.

With all these questions about why floating around, this entire struggle, it’s easy to feel lost and in the dark. If only I could find the key to understanding these problems… If I watch just one more hour news coverage, I’ll understand what it’s all about. Just one more expose about mad dictator … Just one more interview with Japanese woman who saw her whole life swept away in angry muddy water… then I’d be able to make sense out of it all. And everything would fall into place. But it never happens. It’s like wandering around in the dark hoping to find the path. It is very danger dangerous to bump around in the dark. We so easily stumble into dangerous places. But we can’t see where we are going; the way is hidden from us. The key to understand the whole thing is hidden from us in the darkness.

There was another man who felt this way. He was trying to understand the struggles that were going on around him. Something unexpected was happening and he was in the dark, groping for answers. Nicodemus wanted to know who Jesus really was. He was looking for the key to understanding Him. We hear about him in the verses immediately preceding the Gospel for today, in fact Chapter 3 is all about a discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus.

Nicodemus came to Jesus, at night, in the dark, to talk, to understand, to shine light on the darkness in his mind. “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who comes from God, no one does the things you have done without having God with him.” What he was asking, what he dare not really say was, “Jesus, who are you really? What makes you tick? What makes you do things like driving all the sacrifices out of the temple? What makes you say things like ‘destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it in three days’? I’m in the dark and I want to know what all of this means.”

But, Jesus gives and interesting answer. He tells Nicodemus that it is not that he lacks the key to understanding. “If you are not born again you can’t understand the things of God.” It’s not a matter of knowledge; it’s not figuring out the puzzle, it’s not finding the light switch. What is born of the flesh is flesh.” The flesh only gives birth to evil things. Human beings are sinful. You feel like you are lost because you are lost. You feel in the dark and dead because you are dead.”

That’s were we find ourselves, too. The bible tells us that we are evil. It’s not just criminals and the mad dictators. There’s more than enough evil and sin in even our hearts. We can try all we want to shield ourselves from the light God’s law and hide our evil from Him, but it penetrates us and shows our most secret sins… the lust, the greed, the self-service… It sends us cowering back into the cover of darkness.

We don’t need just some secret knowledge to help us. It isn’t knowing some key to life that brings light to our darkness. The key is looking to the one who is the Light. All the knowledge in the world won’t help us make sense out of the darkness, and trouble in our nature and war torn world. If we are missing the foundation, the One and True Light, we will stumble around in the darkness all our lives.

Light has come into the world.

That’s what Jesus told Nicodemus. “Light has come into the world.” He said. That’s the Good News. We blindly search for meaning, and God has provided what we need to survive, to avoid the dangers in the darkness. We don’t have to crawl up a high mountain to get knowledge from some guru, to find the secret to life. Jesus was lifted up for us to plainly see.

Just like Moses lifted up the snake for the Israelites to be saved from their snake venom. Jesus saves us from the darkness in our hearts. He is lifted up on the cross for our sins. He dies our death there, he dies because of sin, the evil in us goes into the darkness of death with him, and when he comes to life again darkness is changed into light.

Our attempts to make sense of life find completion in Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the way the truth and the life. We have seen Jesus lifted up, we have seen God’s answer to all the questions of sin, death and destruction in life. God gave us this light not by taking us out of it but by coming into the darkness himself. He came, in Jesus, and was enveloped in the darkness of our death. He was oppressed by the darkness of our evil, and lived among the darkness of our ignorance.

We look to Jesus Christ, lifted up and crucified. He shines the light of forgiveness from the cross into your dark heart and makes it light again. He dies for you, goes into death’s darkness where you should go, but don’t have go to anymore. When the light of day, shined into the dark tomb on Easter morning, Jesus ended the reign of death in your life. The brightness of Easter, the Light of the promise of life is yours, through Baptism, in the name of Jesus.

We don’t live in the darkness anymore. The light of Jesus, lifted up, still shines on us to bring light to our darkness. Even though darkness is all around us, even though we struggle to understand what’s going on in the world. What does it mean that there is war in Iraq? Why do people want to kill us? All of that darkness threatens us every day, but we live as “children of the light.” We know the answer for a world that is still groping around in darkness, looking for meaning. We have seen the Way. We have seen the Light. It is Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, June 07, 2020

Romans 11:33; Festival of the Holy Trinity; June 7, 2020;

Romans 11:33; Festival of the Holy Trinity; June 7, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33, ESV)

(Thanks to Norman Nagel)

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

What is God like? You probably don’t get asked that question very much. But if you did I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you wouldn’t answer the question with the Athanasian Creed. In some ways it feels more like the “Athanasian Confusion” rather than a statement of what we believe. And yet again I guess we shouldn’t expect it to be all that easy to understand it is after all speaking about God. God is well beyond our understanding. To attempt to describe Him in human language is to attempt the impossible. God is farther above us then we are above insects. The author of The Letter to the Romans says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 33:34, ESV). So, any creed that tries to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity is going to be tricky. And yet, it is a confession of what we believe. Its purpose is to state what the Bible tells us about God in as clear a fashion as possible. To say a creed is to say what God’s Word says. To confess what God tells us about himself. To “Same-Say.”  We say what we say about God because it is what He tells us about Himself.

I said God was far beyond our understanding. It’s true. Our brains can’t do it. They just don’t have the ability since sin has corrupted us. We can’t understand “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.”  In Isaiah it tells of God looking down on the earth and the people are like grasshoppers. Think about holding a grasshopper in your hand. What would it think of you? It probably only understands that it can’t escape as you hold it, but it will try to escape to preserve its life, because it fears being crushed. There is nothing else it can understand about you. It can’t understand anything about who you are, or what you are like. Its brain isn’t big enough to understand. It can’t fathom the depth of your knowledge. Its reaction to you is based on its fear and desire to preserve its life. If grasshoppers had a language, how would that language be able to describe you?

If you want to know what humans think about God, you only have to look at the world religions outside of Christianity. You’ll see that same kind of fear. Without God’s Word nature is our only information about who God is and nature is a dangerous place. If it is God’s creation and human beings are routinely swept away in tsunamis and swallowed up by earthquakes what language can be used to describe Him? Consider the billions of people on the earth and the insignificance of a single person among billions. The human reaction to the God of nature is to do whatever it can to appease Him. We must live the best life we can to keep His anger away from us. We must make something of our lives to be noticed in the right way. Or even more common today, deny the obvious and ignore the Creator so as to not be accountable to Him.

Human beings who fear God do so naturally. We have been given a conscience that tells us what is right and wrong, what pleases God and what makes Him angry. Human beings have every right to be afraid of God. You know what He expects of you, and when you look at yourself you know you don’t live up to it. It is remarkably similar to the fear the grasshopper in your hand feels. You have the power to destroy. God could just as easily destroy you.

How could that grasshopper come to understand who you are? Well there is no way it for you to communicate with it except to become a grasshopper yourself. As one of his own you could tell him about you in grasshopper language.

When we want to know what God is like, we only have to look to Jesus who did that very thing for us. Jesus is God become man, to tell us what God is like in human language. He tells us that He is God. He does things only God can do. He says things that only God can say. He is worshipped by people who see Him for who He is. There are people who don’t believe He is God. They call Him crazy. And it’s true, Jesus is either God or He is insane. You can’t just make Jesus a great moral teacher. If what He says is true, then He is either crazy, or He is God.

Jesus is God, expressed in human person, language, and action. Jesus is God speaking to human beings about who He is and what He wants for us. St. John even says that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God speaking about Himself in a living and breathing way. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is God that can be heard, and seen and touched and most importantly, understood.

Jesus says to us, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) He’s telling us something about God that we can’t know any other way. He shows us of God’s love for us at the cross. The cross is what God thinks of us, we are His friends. But friends just doesn’t quite cover it does it. Jesus laying down His life is even more than we expect. It isn’t what we would do. In Jesus, God becomes human and suffers the eternal agony of hell’s punishment. He dies for everyone, not just the ones who say they love Him. God’s love is expressed even for those who reject Him and wish Him out of existence. His love is for those who hide from Him in fear. It is for those who know what God expects and know they can’t do it. Let me say it very clearly. The love of God you see in the death of Jesus Christ is for you.

There is no greater love. God loves the un-lovable. God loves sinful people. He loves you. He loves me, even in the depth of our sin. That is what God is like. God dies to set aside our sin, to bring us forgiveness instead of punishment. When punishment is set aside fear of the Judge is gone. Because of Jesus’ paying the punishment for our sins we no longer need to be afraid of God. In fact, we now call God our Father.

“Our Father…” we pray in the prayer that Jesus gives us. “I believe in God the Father…” we confess in the other creeds of the church. We have that relationship with God, the Father, because of Jesus. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)  Faith believes in the forgiveness that Jesus has made. With that forgiveness in hand we can approach God, the Father, as Martin Luther put it: With these words [Our Father Who art in Heaven] God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Without faith is to be without forgiveness. God is no longer Our Father, but only Our Creator and Righteous Judge. When the cross of Jesus is rejected, Jesus is rejected, and forgiveness is rejected. A Jesus without the cross is not the true Jesus. Where there is no forgiveness there is only God’s inescapable wrath and punishment.

So, Jesus shows us God the Father, and our relationship to Him through the forgiveness of sins, blood bought by His death on the cross. He also shows us the Holy Spirit. It’s important to know about the Holy Spirit because if it weren’t for Him we’d have no faith. No human being can believe that Jesus is God any more than we could believe that a person could become a grasshopper. Jesus Christ completely God and completely man is nonsense. It’s not something that we can believe on our own. Lot’s of people out there say that Christianity is right because it makes sense. The truth is that Christianity is the most non-sense-ical religion there is. You can’t prove it with science. You can’t convince people its true by arguing with them. God become man to die a criminal’s death, to take punishment he doesn’t deserve, is foolishness. You can’t believe it without God giving you faith.

Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter confessed it clearly. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  (Matthew 16:16, ESV) Jesus reply tells us of the work of the Spirit. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:17, ESV) It isn’t specifically the work of the Father that Jesus is talking about; St. Paul clarifies it for us. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV)  The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, faith to see that Jesus is God’s son sent to be the sacrifice for our sin and restore our relationship to God the Father.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, which is all about Jesus. The Spirit never points to Himself; He’s only interested that we see Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus enters our ears and hearts and the Spirit turns us to Jesus so that we can see who He really is. When the Holy Spirit works in us, He points to us He points at our sinful hearts. Then He shows us Jesus, our only hope for freedom from sin’s punishment. He shows us Jesus, our only way to the Father. Since you can never quote Martin Luther too much:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Apostle’s Creed, The Second Article: On Redemption)

The Holy Spirit enlightens me with His gifts, Luther says. The gifts he’s talking about are God’s Word, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit has confined himself to those means of working. He doesn’t work outside of those ways. That’s God, doing what God does, active in our lives bringing us Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins.

What is God like? Did you notice that in answer to that question we talk about what God does?  God is a living and active being. He is best known for what He does, most clearly in what He has done in Jesus. God’s action shows us that He is a unity in trinity, three persons in one God. We speak most clearly about The Trinity when we speak about God and say what He does.

Look at the Apostle’s Creed. God creates. God saves. God makes us holy. God is three persons, unified in action, unified in purpose, unified in love for you and me. Amen.

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


Sunday, May 31, 2020


John 7:37-39; The Festival of Pentecost; May 31, 2020;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39, ESV)
(Thanks to Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Journal, June 12, 2011)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been in an airplane flying over one of those states that is mostly desert? You know, states like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. There’s a reason they’re called “fly-over lands.” We fly over them to get somewhere else more important, places that have more interest. A few years ago, a politician called the Midwest “fly-over.” He seemed to indicate that our values are not as important and far less interesting, as those on either coast. Those of us in Iowa would disagree. We don’t believe we live in “fly-over land.”
You may not live in “fly-over land,” but we all have “fly-over lands” as part of our lives. We have bad memories, broken relationships, and regrets that we try to put in the back of our minds. We put them there because they are our failures brought about by our own sin. We don’t want to live in them. They are dry desolate places without hope. We don’t want to be reminded. We want to fly-over. After all, they are parched desert lands. Remembering them only makes you thirsty for things to be different.
Jesus says if you thirst you can come to him and he will quench you. What he means is that it’s time to quit denying our sinfulness. It’s time to acknowledge our pain. It’s time to acknowledge our dry thirsty “fly-over lands” and bring our sin to the one who can quench our thirst with living water. Jesus is the one who has living water to quench the thirst of our sin.
Jesus is no stranger to water. The gospel of John is full of him using it. In fact, his first miracle is changing water into wine (John 2:1–11). He heals a lame man in the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). He walks on water showing his authority over the elements (John 6:19). He uses the Pool of Siloam (John 9) to bring about site in a blind man. And, Jesus even washes the disciples’ feet with water (John 13:1-15, 15:3).
“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8, ESV)
And here in our text for today, John links Jesus’ use of water to the ultimate gift of salvation at our Lord’s death. How does he do that? It begins with the last day of the feast, the seventh day. It’s the Feast of Tabernacles. This Jewish holiday has a very special connection to water. Each morning of the seven days of the festival, a priest fills a golden pitcher with water as the choir sings the words,
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3, ESV)
That water is poured on the base of the altar. On the last day, the seventh day, the water is poured seven times into silver funnels surrounding the altar. The altar is drowned in water. This last day is the day that Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me for drink.” The prayers of the people, water for salvation, are answered in Jesus. He is the one who gives living water for thirsty sinners. It is from his side that the water of salvation flows.
It is out of Jesus living water flows. On the cross, the spear pierces Jesus’ heart and outflows life-giving blood and water. It is also the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of the Lamb of God as John describes it in Revelation.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:1–4, ESV)
Back in Exodus, the people complained about being thirsty. God instructed Moses to touch the rock with his staff. The rock split open and water poured out for the thirst of God’s people (Exodus 17:1-7). The hymn Rock of Ages is about this. Rock of Ages cleft (that means split open) for me. The Rock of Ages is Jesus. St. Paul makes that very connection in 1 Corinthians (10:4). He calls this split open rock, Jesus himself. It’s a picture of Jesus split open on the cross.
On the cross, Jesus suffers all the pain of human history. All the sins, regrets, and failures tucked away in our dry desert “fly-over lands.” The horror of it all, the punishment received, the hanging suspended between earth and heaven in God’s righteous wrath, is expressed clearly in Jesus own words, “I thirst.” This is the most ironic twist in all of human history. The one from whom flows the river of the water of life hangs suffering thirst. He dies. The Roman spear splits him open and outflows blood and water. Here is Jesus crushed and cursed and cleft by the sin of your life and mine. Here is the result of all the things we tuck away in our minds in those “fly-over zones.” Here is where we see the horrible cost of our sin. Here is where we see the seriousness of our sin. It cannot be overlooked. Sin must be dealt with. Just like the witnesses of the crucifixion, we may want to fly-over this scene. We can’t even bear to see Jesus on the cross. We want to skip the punishment and run straight to the resurrection.
The cross is necessary. We preach Jesus Christ crucified. His suffering and death are your suffering and death. His suffering and death make it possible for your thirst to be quenched. And Jesus says, “Come to me! I have living water for thirsty people.” This Jesus is crushed and killed but made alive for you. On the cross, he has earned forgiveness for you by taking the punishment you deserve for your sin. In his grave, he carries your sin into his death, your death. In his resurrection, he promises that forgiveness is yours. Look at the thirst-quenching water in your baptismal font. Here is where Jesus connects you to him through his living water. It washes you clean. It floods away your filth. It defeats your death. Jesus is here, from him flows living water to quench your thirst. He floods your “fly-over lands” with forgiveness. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 24, 2020


Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 17, 2015;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:1–11, ESV)
{From a Sermon by Rev. Nabil Nour}
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Life changes in an instant. A flash of lightning, a tornado siren, an ambulance ride. Everything that was in front of you instantly vanishes. Everything that seemed so firmly set on a foundation is changed and shaky. This is life in our fallen world.
But today we celebrate and observe the Ascension of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, we can take to heart His Word of promise. There is nothing in this world that will be able to separate us from His pierced and loving hands.
The disciples were in their last earthly moments with their Savior. They know who he is. They know what he has done. They know why he has done it. They have seen his love, compassion, forgiveness, healing and anger. They have been with him through it all, in spite of denying and abandoning him. Even though they didn’t stick with him, he stuck with them. He forgave them and restored them. He even appeared to them and gave them words that helped them be steadfast— “שלום עליך.” “Peace be with you.” This is what Christ came to give us and even more…to reconcile us to God.
The ascension is Jesus crowning in glory. His returning to the Father with the job done, finished. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is no set place in heaven, but God power to do what God intends and promises. He intercedes for us. This is why our prayers are heard before God. Jesus hears them. This is why we can be sure that all that happens is in our best interest, even painful things. Jesus, our Savior and Advocate is in control of all things.
And he did not leave the disciples alone, or us either. He sent the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate that sending next week at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence among us. The Holy Spirit is God in, and with us, for us. He comes to us in Word, and Water, Bread and Wine. We are washed in the water, connected to Jesus. We have God with us in the Holy Spirit. He keeps us looking at Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.
But instead of looking to Jesus, we look to our own welfare. We want things, and stuff, and money. We strive but seldom get what we strive for. When we suffer we turn in on ourselves and mourn the loss of things we think we deserve.
Think of the farmer who plants the field. He looks ahead at a fixed point, not a moving one. He doesn’t look back. If he doesn’t he won’t get straight rows. If the point is fixed you will reach it, but if it is a moving target you will never get it. That is why it is so important to look up to see what is ahead.
Jesus told the disciples to do that. He tells us to do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus, no matter what. But we turn back on what was, rather than what IS…often we look down rather than up. We always think we know better. We always try to help God out. We even try to figure out a way without letting the Savior lead and guide us.
Jesus’ ascension is important because of what it reminds us. It is the day when he took back all that was his, all his power, all his glory, all his everything that belonged to him, that he set aside when he took on human flesh.
Remember! Even though everything in this world will be taken away from us and or left behind when we die; we need not be consumed with worry. Jesus calls us to look up to him and put our hope and trust in him alone. Jesus is able and he will, supply all of our needs. He is faithful!
Life can be full of trouble and worry. It would be even worse if didn’t know that God was in control, working out His plan for the nations and us His baptized children.  Instead, He has told us that when these things begin to take place, to “lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Listen to Psalm 121
      I lift up my eyes to the hills.
            From where does my help come?
      My help comes from the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.
      He will not let your foot be moved;
             he who keeps you will not slumber.
      Behold, he who keeps Israel
            will neither slumber nor sleep.
      The LORD is your keeper;
            the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
      The sun shall not strike you by day,
             nor the moon by night.
      The LORD will keep you from all evil;
            he will keep your life.
      The LORD will keep
            your going out and your coming in
            from this time forth and forevermore.
Our help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. Though all these be shaken. We have the promises of the crucified one, the ascended one. He sits at God’s right hand able to everything that is necessary.
So we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is coming back soon. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.