Sunday, December 27, 2020

Isaiah 63:7-14; First Sunday after Christmas; December 27, 2020;

Isaiah 63:7-14; First Sunday after Christmas; December 27, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:7–14, ESV) (from and outline by Joel Biermann, Concordia Journal Fall 2013) Grace and peace to you from our Savior Jesus Christ. Well, it'll be nice to get back to normal won’t it? Christmas is nice, New Years can be fun (if you don't overdo it!), but normal is nice. But who knows when normal will return? What's with this text anyway? It doesn't seem very Christmasy. God giving extraordinary loving kindness to Israel and their response is rebellion. And then returning to the Lord once again and he forgives. It's an endless refrain. A familiar story. But it seems out of season. Let's hear something more about the Baby of Bethlehem. Yes, let's not forget that the Baby was born. Let's also not forget that once the baby arrives there's no going back. Any couple can tell you the baby changes everything. There's a new routine. A new emphasis. This week we still want the baby. But next week when we take down the tree, we might rather pack the baby back in the box with the rest of the Nativity scene and let him stay there till next year. But, this baby, this Christmas baby, won't be packed away. Because this baby is no ordinary baby. The changes he brings are not the same as midnight feedings and new bills. This Baby brings something much more. He has come to stay. And he comes on his own terms. He comes with an agenda. He is the King. He comes to bring his kingdom. A kingdom can only have one King. That's the problem the children of Israel had. They rebelled against their one King. It's an old story. God acts to bring salvation. Human beings rebel. There actually is no choice. It is a consequence of our fallen, sinful nature. Without the baby, we are blind, dead, enemies of God and we want to be our own King, and the new King born in the manger is a threat. We think we can make it on our own. We think we are self-reliant. We think we have charge over our lives. It's an illusion. It's an illusion that began in the garden when Adam and Eve thought they knew what was better for them than God. What they wanted was not theirs to have. They thought they wanted what they didn't actually need. The illusion is brought full force to our eyes and ears through cultural inputs. Movies and television and music assure us that we are the master of our own destiny. And the illusion is so strong that in spite of the evidence, our broken relationships, our inability to do what we know we should do, our lack of care for our neighbors, and our insistence on our own way, that we think we have everything in control. But we fail daily in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone. We fail to love God with our whole heart. And so, we resist the new King is strongly as Herod who sought to kill him, too. Herod is the great evil man in the Christmas story who would dare to strike out and kill a helpless child. He strikes out in a violent attack against the one who would be king in his place. There we stand. In Bethlehem, the baby comes with an agenda. He is the Lord. He is the King. There can be only one. We cannot rule ourselves and bow before the true King. The true King will not be content until he rules all, even every aspect of our own lives. He comes to remove sin from your life and mine. Even the sin I don't want to get rid of. If you think about it, Herod's reaction isn't really that surprising. This baby King changes everything. This baby comes, and makes demands, and someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to die. There's no getting around it. This baby King threatens to kill my rule over my own kingdom. Actually, this baby King, threatens to kill me. And I won't have it. But maybe I will. Because I need a Savior. I am unable to rule over my own kingdom. My rule leaves my life in shambles. My failures are stacked up. My relationship with God is shattered by sin. Someone is going to get hurt. And if not me than the baby. And he does. In fact, it's why he was born. What Herod tried to do by force, the baby does willingly. He gives himself into death on the cross. In the fight to reign over my own life God will win. He will do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing himself. My sin and rebellion are punished by God in the baby on the cross. And I will die. In Holy Baptism, my old sinful nature is drowned to death. My rebellious nature is killed. And the baby's claim on my life is set forever. I am beat by the baby. All that happened with Israel is repeated. I am raised from death to new life. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 20, 20208

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 20, 20208 Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” (2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Surprise” You know as I think about how God works in our lives it seems to me that God surprises us all the time. We get settled into our way of doing things and then all of the sudden God hops in and says “Surprise! It’s not going to be that way anymore.” I’ll bet many of you could come up with many more stories of that kind of surprise, than I can. Ask my wife about the surprise of Hannah. She tells the story much better than I ever could tell it. It gets better every time I hear it. Surprise is a part of life, and very often it’s God who’s on the giving end of it. The bible too, is full of folks who were surprised by God. St. Paul is one. He was a deeply religious man, the student of one of the most important Rabbis of the first century. He was sure that he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. He very zealously sought out, and arrested members of a new “cult” that was causing divisions in the church. He had papers from the highest church officials that allowed him to travel wherever he needed to go to find them and root them out. And he was good at it too. Paul, his name was Saul then found Christians wherever they were. He was even present and approved of the execution of an incredibly famous Christian named Stephen. Saul was certain he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. But, one day on the road to Damascus Jesus, the one who’s church he was attacking, knocked him off his horse and said “Surprise! You think you’re doing God’s will? Well, you’re not. You’re not persecuting a bunch of religious fanatics you’re persecuting me! It’s time to stop. I’ve chosen you to be my voice and my servant. And not only that; now your going to be called Paul. Surprise!” Paul was indeed surprised. It was a life-changing event for him, and a life changing even for the Church of Jesus Christ. Just imagine the surprise for that young girl in the Gospel for today: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27, ESV) “Greetings,” the angel said to Mary. “Surprise! Things are going to be quite different for you now!” Mary had plans of her own. She was soon to be married to a local businessman. She was young, but that was normal for her day. She soon expected to have children; it was expected of all married couples to have children as soon as possible. “You are a very favored woman.” The angel said to her. “And God himself is with you.” The text says that Mary was troubled at the greeting. Surprised, I’d say, and afraid of what was going to happen to her. But the angel insisted that everything would be ok. “Don’t be afraid… but… Surprise! You’re going to have a son, and he’s not going to be your husband’s son, he’s going to be God’s son. God’s going to give him the throne of David. Surprise! Your son, God’s son, is going to be King!” Of course, Mary didn’t know how this was all going to come about, because although she was engaged, she wasn’t married yet. “Remember what I said, Mary, this child is going to be God’s son. He will be placed into your womb by the Holy Spirit.” Mary was surprised but she allowed her plans to be changed. And the world was changed because of the surprise that God planned for Mary. Another king in Israel was surprised, too. This king was a distant relative of the Surprise King born to Mary. He too, was God’s man. He wasn’t perfect but he lived in God’s forgiveness and God called him a man after His own heart. King David was settled in his palace after God had done everything, he promised to make David king. He was at rest from his enemies, the text says. As he looked around at all that God had done for him, he made some plans of his own. “I live in a great palace that God has given me. It’s time to give something back to God. I’m going to build a house for God. Nathan, God’s prophet, agreed, “Hey,” he might have said, “that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it!” But that night God said to Nathan, “Surprise! That’s not what’s going to happen. Go tell the king, Surprise!” It wasn’t that what David was planning wasn’t a good thing. It was proper for him to want to give back to God from what he had been given. It was proper to want a beautiful place to worship God. It’s just that God had a different surprise in mind. “Remember David,” Said God though Nathan. “Remember where you came from. You were a shepherd. I took you out of the pasture and made you king. That was big a surprise! Kings don’t come from shepherds, but I made you king anyway. I’ve led you to take care of my people and your descendants will take care of my people forever! You want to make a house for me, well I’m going to make a really great house for you. It’s all going to start with your son Solomon. He’s going to be the one to actually build the temple you’re talking about.” But the surprise wasn’t over. “What’s more, David, the house I build for you is going to be more than just a house of wood and stone. Surprise! Your house is going to last forever.” David may have been a little disappointed, but he listened to God. And God did build a house from David’s son. Solomon builds a beautiful temple, but David’ Greater Son, Jesus Christ built the house of God’s Church. The shepherds sitting on the hillside outside of Jerusalem were surprised, the night that David’s greatest son was born. We know the story well. “Greetings, Surprise!” the angel said. “I bring to you, shepherds (yes you!), good news of great joy. The King and Savior of the world is born for you tonight!” They were surprised and terrified and joyful. And when the sky was filled with the surprise of a “host” of angels. Surprise probably isn’t the word that best describes what the shepherds felt. When it was all over one of the shepherds said, “Hey guys, to you think we ought to go and see this King?” I’m sure the others looked at him with a funny look, of course they were going to go. They were surprised, but they went and found everything just as the angel said they would. But that wasn’t the end of it all for them. When they told other people about everything that had happened to them “everyone” was surprised. “Surprise! God told us shepherds first!” So, God surprises us with Jesus. He was born where no other king would have been born. And he was going to do what no other king could do, build an everlasting kingdom. That kingdom is the church. It’s not liked any other kingdom. God’s people aren’t the “cream of the crop.” We are sinful people. God’s kingdom, in Jesus, is built on the forgiveness of sins. That’s the biggest surprise of Jesus. Our sin should be our death and punishment. Jesus, our king, doesn’t punish us, instead he takes it to the cross. When we gather here on Sunday morning we expect to hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” But it really is a surprise. David’s surprise, Paul’s surprise, the Shepherd’s surprise, and Mary’s surprise are all about this surprise of forgiveness for you and me, in Jesus. But really, I wonder… is it really a surprise? I don’t think so. We really shouldn’t be surprised that God keeps his promises. What should really surprise us is that when human beings broke their relationship with God in the garden, he didn’t kill them on the spot. Instead, he said, “Surprise! I’m going to fix everything. Satan, who tempted you and who will continue to torment you, will be crushed once and for all. I’m going to send a Savior and he’s going to rebuild your relationship with me.” That’s the promise that was fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus in the dirty stable that first Christmas night. It really isn’t a surprise at all. It really wasn’t a surprise that God chose to make the announcement to the shepherds first. God was really fulfilling the promise he made to bless all the world through the Seed of Eve. He just wanted the shepherds to remember (and us too!) that the promise of Jesus Christ is for all people, even those who aren’t very lovable. It wasn’t really a surprise that David wouldn’t build God’s house, either. God was really just trying to show David that he was in charge. He wanted David to remember that even though his son Solomon would bring peace, (that is what Solomon’s name means after all), but that there was going to be an even greater prince, and even greater son who would bring peace. In fact, he would be called the Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace who sets right what human beings set wrong. He wins the peace by his suffering and death on the cross. Even Mary’s surprise wasn’t really a surprise at all. All along God promised that he would take care of sin. All along God was promising that he would take care of the “wages of sin.” Every time a sacrifice was made in the temple, it reminded the people that the spilling of blood was necessary to pay the awful price of breaking God’s law. And from the very beginning God promised to come and pay the price himself. It was in God’s promise to another woman, Eve, that God said his own heel would be bruised. When Mary looked at the baby lying in her arms, she was looking at the flesh of God that would pay that price. And as for Paul; no real surprise there either. It was just God making sure his promise went exactly as he planned. That plan included you and me, and Paul was the man who would bring the Good News of God in the flesh, the Good News that God and man are reconciled, to the gentiles. In case you’ve forgotten, we are gentiles. The Good News that Paul preached is for you and me. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020;

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I, the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Some things seem almost inevitable. If you don’t take care of your body, you’ll pay the price… stop eating for a few days and you get hungry… stop sleeping and you get run down and probably sick… too much of anything good has its effect on our waistline… But there are good things that are generally predictable too. If you do a good job on a project, you’ll probably feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you work hard at work, you’ll generally get along with your employer. It happens again and again in life. A certain consequence seems to follow a cause, so naturally and regularly that we even take them for granted. But, once in a while we are surprised by a totally unexpected result, either pleasantly or unpleasantly. We watch out diet carefully and still get sick. We make mistakes raising our children and yet, they seem to turn out all right. Things in life don’t always turn out how we expect them to. Spiritual things are no exception. Some results seem inescapable. Violate God’s law and you must pay the price. When you are guilty in God’s eyes, you must suffer punishment and death. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV) But in the face of those terrible threats, the Gospel promises something totally unexpected. We receive an undeserved blessing because of Jesus Christ. That Gospel makes it know to all who will listen, that the Good News is that salvation and rescue are available for all people. In this text for today, God speaks to us through Isaiah, about this very thing; we call it the Great Reversal. This text in Isaiah is one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah uses this image over and over again in his book. He talks about one who is sent, and anointed by God to do a wonderful, and very unexpected thing. This Servant would deliver God’s people from their suffering. But amazingly he will do it by suffering himself. The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. (v. 1) Says the Servant. He is anointed by God to preach this good news. The surprise comes several hundred years later, when Jesus reads these very words in his hometown synagogue. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV) Calmly Jesus rolled up the scroll and returned it to its proper place. And he sat down. Then, as was the Jewish custom after reading a scroll, he began to speak about it. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, ESV) Those around Jesus were shocked, to say the least. “Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son?” Jesus responded, And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. (Luke 4:24, ESV) “How can he say that?” they shouted and ran him out to the crest of a hill to throw him down and kill him. But Jesus simply walked through them. Things weren’t as the people in Nazareth expected them to be. They couldn’t accept that God would not just for them, but for all people. The unexpected is found in Jesus Christ. God comes to earth as a human being to be, not a great earthly king, to rule over people with his armies. He comes as a lowly baby in a manger. He comes to poor parents in a poorer city. He comes as a servant. He but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV) He doesn’t come to destroy he comes to suffer himself, even death on a cross. It just isn’t what is expected from God. What God accomplishes through Jesus Christ is a Great Reversal. He comes to change around everything for us. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah says he comes to preach to the poor. He isn’t just talking about earthy poverty. He’s talking about spiritual poverty. He is talking about people who would by nature deserve nothing from God but his punishment. Isaiah says in another part of his book: For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, (Isaiah 26:21a, ESV) We don’t want to see ourselves as poor. Especially at this time of year, we pride ourselves in giving something to the poor. We puff up with pride when we think that we’ve made a difference in someone else’s Christmas. When we’ve given them something they didn’t have? But God’s Word tells us that that’s who we are. We don’t possess anything that can help us face up to God when he comes to punish. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV) In God’s eyes all of the things that we try to do to please him fall well short. When we come to see this, we are indeed poor and alone, bruised and broken hearted. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56, ESV) But Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal he comes to bind up the broken heart. We are the poor ones, but he became poor for us. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV) He stood in our position as one having no right to anything good. And as a matter of fact, he became sin for us! For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV) He willingly took on himself the punishment of our sin. He, who had no sin of his own, took ours. He suffered our death and punishment on the cross. And in exchange he gives to us his righteousness. It’s as if we had never sinned at all. That’s the unexpected. The perfect one is punished, and the sinful ones are made perfect. When Jesus himself proclaims that to us our hearts are soothed. Jesus Christ comes to proclaim freedom to captives. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:21, ESV) Again, we are the captives. We are bound to sin. It entangles us in its web of Death. We think that we have free will, but our free will is bound to sin. “Our sins have snatch us like thieves.” Said Martin Luther. And our final destination is death. We know very well what we deserve. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV) Our lives are continually tied up in it. In fact, our whole lives are really lived out beside the grave. No matter how successful we are, no matter how much money we make, or how many bushels per acre we raise, it all ends the same. We can’t effect a change in our day of judgment. Death comes to take us even if we have given our entire fortune to feed the hungry. It would leave us in a state of grief and despair, if it were not for the Great Reversal brought by Jesus Christ. But the web of sin and death are not stronger than he is. When he lay in the tomb cold and dead, he only seemed to be permanently entangled and defeated. He reverses death for us. Through death he makes us alive. He crushes death by dying and by rising again. It is our death that he dies, and his life that we receive, life forever. Isaiah says it like this, “to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (v.3) Life doesn’t end in death instead death ends in life. Jesus Christ has turned everything around. He brings to us the unexpected. So, here we are in Advent. We are sitting here remembering and thinking about what happened in Bethlehem, some 2000 years ago. It was an unexpected thing. Mary was surprised, Joseph was surprised, and the shepherds were certainly surprised. God, himself came in human flesh to do the unexpected. He came to preach Good News to the poor, to bind up broken hearts, and to free captives. That baby born in an unexpected place changed everything around. He came to do a Great Reversal for you and me. Let’s rejoice in that today, as we look forward to Christmas day. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

2 Peter 3:8-14; The Second Sunday in Advent; December 6, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This waiting thing during Advent is a difficult thing, especially these days. Usually, Christmas runs full bore beginning with Black Friday through 9am Christmas morning. But this year, with COVID, things are at a standstill. After that we move into bleak winter, more of the same for this year. The time of "Peace on earth" is over, let's get on to the next thing. But, here in Church we have it all backwards. There's the yearly struggle between Pastor and the Christmas decorations. He says we should wait till the week before Christmas, we need to get it done while people are still in the mood to decorate for Christmas. Pastors can be such Scrooges when it comes to Christmas time. When we talk about waiting, we are trying to swim up stream, kicking against the goads, as Jesus said to Paul. (By the way, a goad is a cattle prod). Waiting is the last thing we want to do these days. We want what we want, and we want it now! Hey, I'm not just talking about you here. I'm talking about me. It's easy to click that little button on the web order to get the package in 2 days rather than 5 days, the heck with how much it costs. So, when we talk about waiting... When God tells us that we should be waiting, that's hard for us, all of us. Well, the waiting at Advent isn't about killing the joy of Christmas or fighting against the culture. It's about reminding ourselves what we are really waiting for and what that waiting is to look like. What St. Peter wrote in his letter he wrote to us, he could have just as well said, "to the church at Grand Marais.". He reminds us, those who have obtained faith... by our Lord Jesus Christ (1:1), why we are waiting. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:8–14, ESV) So, talking about all this burning up and destroying doesn't sound very Christmassy does it. But it is good to remember, that this life that we live is heading somewhere, and that somewhere is the return of Jesus, our Savior. The judgment of the whole world. The setting of all wrongs right. A new heavens and a new earth where there is no more waiting, or pain, or sorrow, or trouble, or death. If we keep our eye on the ball, that is looking toward Jesus return, the ultimate goal of Christians, then everything will make sense. So that's exactly what we are doing during Advent. Christmas Day is a day full of Joy to the World. We have every right to celebrate. God became man in Jesus Christ. The account of his coming is something special. The whole world recognizes that. But we push off the joy just a bit during Advent, just as we are right now waiting for the joy of his coming again. And so, St. Peter helps us keep our eye on the ball. Everything he says here could be summed up like this: While you are waiting for the coming of Jesus, live lives of holiness and godliness. Well, talk about kicking against the goads. Living a life of holiness isn't exactly in vogue. Just a quick example. We all pretend that the great deals we are looking for on Black Friday are for Christmas gifts. But most of the mountain of purchases that packed on already full credit cards this year were not Christmas gifts. They were opened at home right away. We pretend to be in a giving mode but our favorite giftee is us. How quickly the giving season becomes self-centered when there are shiny things to be had. Well that's certainly not being holy, is it? Let's make sure we understand exactly what the Bible means when it tells us live in holiness. First, we usually think that holy means to be good, or sinless, or perfect. And while that's a part of the meaning, there really isn't an English word that gets it all. In Bible the word holy most often means "set apart for God." The opposite of holy isn't sinful, the opposite of holy is common. That is able to be used by anyone, for anything. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. It means to set aside the Sabbath day for God's use. That's why we come together here, isn't it? We receive the things God promises to give us here, on this day. We set aside this time for God to do what God wants to do. This day, this time, is holy, that is set apart for God's use. And so, St. Peter says that while we wait the coming of the Lord, we are to live lives of holiness, to be holy. So, he means, lives set apart for God. You have already been set apart for God, you are already holy. Another way to say this is to say that you are a 'saint'. Now you know that you are not perfect, or sinless, or better than anyone else. You are a saint because God says you are. You were made a saint, who is holy, in Holy Baptism. There God declares you his holy, forgiven child because Jesus' life, death and resurrection are yours. God removes sin from you and sets you apart as his. In his other letter St. Peter describes you like this: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV) There we have it. You are holy, that is set apart for God, to "proclaim the excellencies" of God. You are set aside for God, to proclaim the great things that God has done. You have received mercy, forgiveness, life forever, salvation, through God's work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You do this by living life as God directs. Because you are set aside for God, you do as God would want. Now that's quite a bit different from what's going on in life around you. People live for themselves. You live for others. People sleep in on Sunday morning. You make Sunday holy to God, set aside for him. People do whatever they think is right. You do what God says is right. It's because you are holy, set aside for God. Ah, but there it is, isn't it? You don't think you are holy because you don't live up to any of these expectations. You find yourself being selfish. You find yourself skipping church. You find yourself influenced by what the world says is right. You know it isn't as God would have you live. If only you could live a perfectly holy life. Now we go back again to what St. Peter said. [God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. God is not patient because he tolerates sin. He is patient because he sent Jesus to suffer the punishment for your sin. He doesn't just push sin under the carpet, he pushes sin onto his son, Jesus on the cross. And repentance is just that. Seeing our sin, and pushing it on Jesus on the cross, and receiving forgiveness through faith that Jesus death is my death. His punishment for sin, is my punishment for sin. Because of Jesus I have received mercy! So, I am set aside for God, to do what God would have me do, to be holy as God is holy. And so, we look forward to a time when we won't have sin to give to Jesus. A time when everything will be perfect and holy. A time when there will be no more waiting and everything that God promises will come to completeness. Until then we wait. And so, we wait at Advent. Looking forward to the coming of Jesus, and the joy of the stable. The joy of the stable, the baby Jesus, is the joy of sins forgiven at the cross. The joy of Christmas is the promise that all things will be made new again, and that Jesus is coming again at any time, in a day or a thousand years. And when he does there will be such joy. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; November 29, 2020;

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; November 29, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1–9, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Isaiah has a dream, and it is a big one. God’s people are mired in sin. They are ignoring him, but more importantly they are ignoring God. His dream? That God would show himself in power and fix everything. He knows already that judgment is coming. He is afraid for the people. You do not trifle with God’s anger over sin. When the one who made the heavens and the earth displays his anger, there are earthquakes and lightning and fire and darkness and the rivers boil. A little of that would go a long way to the people seeing their sin and confessing. Isaiah makes no bones about it; the people are sinful. Even the good stuff they do is polluted like a bloody rag. Their sins make them dead and dry like a leaf that will just blow away in a breeze. But the people don’t see it, at least they won’t confess it. They refuse to call upon God’s name for mercy. Their sin has blinded them to their need for forgiveness. Isaiah confesses for them and then begs God to be the merciful God that Isaiah knows he is. There is no other god who acts in mercy toward those who wait for him. What that means it that those who stand in faith, those who wait for God to act in mercy toward them, those who see their great need for forgiveness, are given mercy and forgiveness. Isaiah reminds God that his people are his children. They were created by him, just as he created everything in the very beginning. Please temper your anger, Lord. He says. Lord, have mercy! He says. Look at us in mercy and forgive. What could be better at Advent? We get a bit confused because we think Advent is all about the little baby in the manger. But it really is about waiting for God to act. Isaiah was waiting for God to act in mercy, to come and fix everything. He wanted God to come in person. And he did. He came in the manger in Bethlehem, the little baby that the song says doesn’t cry. But Advent is about his coming for a purpose, it is Isaiah’s dream. Jesus comes to bring mercy for those who are caught in sin. But Jesus also comes to bring God’s wrath against sin, lighting and thunder and earthquakes. Jesus is God who acts. The baby goes to the cross. There is the full anger of God played out. God, the Father, turns his face away from Jesus, his Son. Jesus quotes Psalm 22. His words on the cross are haunting. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV) The Psalm continues to make the point. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV) It is so much like what Isaiah wrote. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7, ESV) It is God, coming in Jesus. It is Isaiah’s dream, only better. Isaiah wanted the law to convict the people. Jesus comes and stand convicted for the people. He takes on God’s wrath in full. God executes justice on the cross, all justice for all time, for all people. It is the awesome thing that we didn’t look for. Forgiveness of sins when we were not calling upon his name, but enemies of God instead. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV) God does it, he pours out his great wrath on Jesus so that his people can have Isaiah’s dream, so that he can: Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9, ESV) We are God’s people. Made so by God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Made so through faith in the baby made sacrifice for us. And yet we are sinners, too. Isaiah’s dream needs to be re-read again. We live our lives not calling upon God’s name but trying our best to get along without him. We do our good deeds for our own benefit. Sin spoils everything. Even the good things we do are polluted by false motives. We need God, himself to come and be present and fix everything. We need Isaiah’s dream again. And Jesus comes. Word, water, bread and wine. He is here. He is present here just as he promises to be. And he comes for forgiveness. We confess our sin along with Isaiah. Please temper your anger, Lord. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Look at us in mercy and forgive. … in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. … take eat this is my body … take drink this is my blood… for the forgiveness of all your sins. God present in an awesome way we would never expect. Forgiving our sin through his very presence. And that’s not all. Advent is about God coming to fix everything. He is coming yet again. He will fix everything then, by first destroying all that is corrupted by sin. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13, ESV) It is God acting in mercy for those who wait on him. Sin and suffering, death and disease, done in. So, we wait for God to act for us. And while we wait, we act in holiness and godliness. That means serving the world as it needs to be served. Doing our daily work for the sake of our neighbor. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who forgives sins through his cross and resurrection and return. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

1.Thess.5.1–11; Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; November 14, 2020;

1.Thess.5.1–11; Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; November 14, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11, ESV) From a Sermon by Rev. Jeff Gibbs; Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. You've probably heard someone say it, that St. Paul believed that Jesus was going to return before he and the disciples died. That he probably went to his death surprised that he hadn't see Jesus' return. Well, disappointed maybe but not surprised. After all if you look at the end of our text today you see Paul saying, " through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him" or if you look at Romans 14:8 he says For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8, ESV) Paul clearly allowed for his own death. Weather we live or die. Now if you ask the question in this way, "Did Paul expect the Lord's return at any time?" You have to answer with an emphatic "Yes!" Paul expected that the day of the Lord, the day that Jesus would return, would be soon, tonight, today, tomorrow, without warning. Dear Christians, this is what you confess here every Sunday. You confess that you are expecting for the day of the Lord at any time. It’s there in the creed. "I look for the resurrection of the dead..." You are looking for the day when your Savior will return to set all things right. When all evil will be put down. When all sin and death will end. The day when everything will be forever as it should be, exactly as God created it to be. Now since you are looking for such a time as this, today's reading, today's text is for you. St. Paul put pen to paper to write these words for your encouragement. I'd like you to open your bulletin and look at the text. It is really divided into three parts, like three steps. First, he says, since you are expecting the day of the Lord, remember who you are. He writes. Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. Here he sets a very strong contrast between those who reject God's son and those who look for his return. It will surprise them with "sudden destruction" like the agony of "birth pangs." Those who think nothing of Jesus will be caught unaware. They will not escape. They are living in the darkness. But not you, St. Paul says. Because you are not in darkness. You are the baptized children of light. You expect his return at any time. As you wait for the day of the Lord, you are children of the day. Now isn't that interesting. As you wait for the day you are children of the day. How can that be? Well that's because for you the day has already happened. The day of the Lord was a day of darkness and agony and day of death and forsakenness. Jesus, your Savior, hung between heaven and earth in darkness, suffering the agony of the punishment of your sin, your rebellion. He was forsaken by God for you. "My God, my God why have you forsaken me." That was the day of the Lord. Do not be afraid, St. Paul says. He is risen. He is not here. You are baptized into his death and his resurrection you are children of the day as you expect the day. You expect him to come soon. Do not be afraid. Remember who you are you are children of the day. Now about halfway through the text Paul says, "So then” Because you are expecting his return remember who you are, so then live let us not sleep. That is, live as who you are. Those ready for his coming. Those who are baptized into Christ. Paul uses these important words. Be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. It probably shows the influence on us by the world around us, but we probably think of these two references to being sober as a bit of a downer. Don't be drunk, be sober sounds to us as if he means, be serious, don't have any fun. This isn't what he means. You know what it is to be drunk. To be drunk is to be foolish. When you are drunk you don't even know or care if people are mocking you. When you are drunk you stager and fall, you can't get up. You can't find your way. When you are drunk you are helpless and defenseless. You can't see danger coming. To be drunk is to forget who you are. Paul applies this image to people in both the physical sense of drunkenness and the spiritual state of drunkenness, which is to be without Christ. He says to you, don't forget who you are, be sober. To be sober is to see clearly. To see truth and beauty and be open to real joy. To be sober is to be strong. To be sober is to walk toward your neighbor in love and mercy. To be sober is to be wise, to live well. To be sober is to have your wits about you to avoid danger. To be ready for the day that is coming and not caught unawares. To be sober is to be dressed well, "having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." Have faith in God and love for your neighbor. Having hope that Jesus is indeed coming soon. The hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. To be sober is the only way to live for those who are waiting for Jesus to return. Since you know who you are you will live it out. Finally, St. Paul, says, encourage one another. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. You see, you are not alone. We are all together by our own confession, waiting for the Lord's return. We are aware of who we are, and we desire to live it out, together. So, as encouragement to each other we are going to confess as we so often do. Open your hymnal to the back cover. Find the Nicene Creed. Find the fourth line from the bottom that begins "And I believe in one Holy and apostolic Church." That' us, the church of those baptized into the day of the Lord. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life T of the world to come. Amen. Children of the day, encourage one another, speak to one another about the day to come. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Isaiah.25.6-9; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9, ESV) Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It will happen. Sooner or later we’ll have to deal with it. Death will visit Life in Christ, Grand Marais, sticking its bony fingers into our business. Members of this congregation will have to gather, with friends, and family around a loved one who has died. Death will come, and we will be left, sad, afraid and lonely. We don’t like the intrusion. We would just as soon be left to go about our regular business without having that visitor. We don’t want to suffer the separation from our loved ones; we don’t want to have to deal with the pain, and the loneliness. Most of all we don’t want to take the time to deal with our own mortality. Sooner or later, and we all hope later, that ugly visitor will be knocking on my door. And sooner or later, he’ll be at your door too. It doesn’t console us at all to know that death only comes to those who deserve it. We only need to look at ourselves to see that each and every one of us deserves it. “The wages of sin is death.” The bible shouts at us. The more we look at ourselves the more sin we see. From that little white lie that we told last week to the selfish lustful desires that come and invade our thoughts. The sin is present, unavoidably, unmistakably present. Yes, we see it and we know that when death comes, we deserve it. But, hey, we each come from a long line of deserving people. Deserving parents give birth to deserving children. When those cute little babies are born, we press our noses to the nursery glass, hoping to see ourselves in their features. We hope our best traits have been passed on. “Oh, look at that adorable little baby, she has her father’s eyes. Oh look; she has her mother’s nose...” The comment we never hear or say is “Eck, she has her parent’s sin.” But parents deserving death always pass on their least attractive trait. She has her parent’s sin. She deserves death too. She will live her whole life in that dark shadow. The dark shadow of death cast by her unavoidable inheritance. She takes her place in a very long line of deserving people. “Oh, Pastor.” You are saying, “I thought today’s theme was party, party, party. You sure know how to kill a party. What happened to the party?” Well, the truth is this, Death has crashed the party, and he’s out there, rattling around in our lives, stalking us at work and lurking about in our house. Death is a real part of our everyday lives and that’s exactly why we are here today. It’s exactly because God had done something about Death’s shadowy intrusion that we have a reason to have a party. In a sense, all the things we do here are a party. Worship is a party. Each time we gather here on Sunday we have a victory celebration. We revel in Christ’s victory over Death on Easter Sunday. We sing joyful songs of praise, and gather around party food, a feast of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Today is a party to remind us, that even when Death seems to have the victory, Jesus Christ is the true victor. Death doesn’t stand a chance before the one who faced death, a brutal, horrible, bloody death, but broke through death and rose again to live again. Isaiah is a true artist; he paints us a picture of a party. He calls it a “feast of fat things.” He didn’t worry about cholesterol. Isaiah knew the best parts of the meat were the fatty parts and the marrow, where all the flavor is. “… the stakes were this thick!” He might say today. “and the wine…” Isaiah says rolling his eyes for effect, “it’s the best wine that there is. It’s the oldest and clearest; it’s the stuff that’s left on the dregs (the stuff in the fermenting vat), extra long. It’s the wine that has the most flavor. Every drop was to be savored. The feast, the party that Isaiah is describing is the kind that was reserved for only the most special occasions: Marriage and other very important events in a family or victory over enemies. “This party,” Isaiah says, “is because the LORD has done something about death! There is a mountain,” Isaiah says still painting a picture for us, “and on it he is going to destroy the thing that we all live in fear of; the burial shroud that covers us, death itself, is going to be destroyed. The Lord will remove it tear it to pieces and it will not bother us any longer! Then on that mountain we are all going to have a party!” Where is the mountain that Isaiah was talking about? It’s a mountain that we all know about, is a “green hill far away.” It’s the mountain where Jesus Christ destroyed the shroud of death that covered us. He took that shroud from our sin burdened shoulders and placed it upon his own sinless body. He wore it for us, wrapped up in it as he bled and died on the cross. It clung to him for three days, tying to hold him. But Jesus Christ is the master of that shroud, he his more powerful than death, and he broke free from its power removing it from us forever. That is the victory celebrated that Isaiah was celebrating, that is the victory that we are celebrating today again. It’s Jesus victory that removes the curse and the power that death holds over us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin causes death, death is out there but the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves his victory over it… proves its powerlessness in our lives as well, because God has promised us that same victory when he called us his own, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s our promise that we too will be raised. Death will take us, but just like Jesus, it cannot and will not hold us, because our Savior has proven that he is stronger than death. And some day soon, our strong Savior will return, he has promised that, too. When he does, death won’t even be able to stalk us any longer. It has now already lost its power. It is now already nothing to fear. On that great day, it will be no more. There will be no death to bring separation from our loved ones. There will be no death to cause pain and loneliness. There will be no more death, period… its cold dark shadow will be obliterated by the Light of the Living Son of God. Now picture the party again, the feast on that day. There are long tables as far as the eye can see. They are stacked with food. There are huge dark crusty loafs of hot bread. The steam rises off each one, fresh from the oven. The smell is more than you can stand. The tables are so crowded with serving dishes, the plates hang off the edge… if you try to push them so they don’t; everything else moves. There are giant goblets, full of dark red wine; the tablecloth has pink spots from the great red drops that have fallen from each and every one. You are sitting there, elbow to elbow, with your family and friends; your plate has never been empty. And is seems as if there are children everywhere… well you all feel like children anyway. That pain in your back doesn’t bother you anymore; you don’t even remember what it felt like. It is noisy and happy. There is singing… you join in from time to time, because you know each and every word, they just come flowing out of you as natural as breath. And the center of it all is Jesus standing, arms open wide. You’ve already been with him, leaned upon his breast and cried tears of joy. You saw the marks in his hands and feet and side. He is the reason you are there. His love lights the whole feast. It will never end… the joy, the singing, and the feasting… with the resurrected Savior. That is what our worship is all about. It is a little party to remind us that the great party, the mother-of-all parties that is coming. Today we sing praises to the host of the party; at the great party there will be unending songs of praise. Today we feast on bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood; these are the seal of the promise of the great feast to come. Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ, they’ll be seated around you at that party, too. I can’t wait! Yes, death is still out there. It still claims its victims, one by one, and it will claim each of us. Today’s feast… this great party… is a reminder that death’s visit is not a cause for fear. Death’s sting is gone. Jesus, our Savior, has swallowed up death and destroyed it forever. Today, at our little party, we repeat the wonderful words of Isaiah, and we will say them again at the great feast, “This is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020;

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1–8, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. There’s a vine in here. Maybe you can’t see it, but I assure you it’s here. It’s wound around the rafters, it’s clinging to the organ, and it’s hanging of the altar. It’s got leaves springing out of it all over. And it snakes right through all the chairs; if you would try to walk around, you’d probably trip over it. You might have guessed that it’s not necessarily your average vine. Actually, you know the vine very well because you’re attached to it. So, you see this vine that’s all around us is no ordinary vine, because you are its branches. That’s right you’re connected to the vine that’s all around here, even if you can’t see it. You might wonder how you got to be a part of this vine that we are all sticking to. Well, you were grafted onto this vine. For many of you it happened on a day that you can’t even remember, only a few days after you were born. There’s one more very important thing I forgot to tell you about the vine, it wanders all over this room, it’s attached to each of you, and even spreads out into the narthex, but I didn’t tell you where it begins. Maybe you can tell me? Yes, of course, the vine begins right here in this font. It starts here where the branches get the necessary water to grow and thrive. Here is where you became attached to this vine. Here is where you were made “clean” (καθαρός katharos) and “pruned clean” (καθαίρω kathairō ) that is made ready to bear fruit. And guess what. You are bearing fruit. Well, you can’t help it really. You see you’re a branch connected to the vine. “It is no longer I who live but ‘the vine’ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) You can say. Branches that are connected to the vine bear fruit because of their connection. If you look around here at the other branches around you, you know you’ve seen the fruit in them. What is the fruit of this vine? The Fruit of this vine is things like “…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV) You’ve seen these branches in action. They’ve cared for you when you were sick, they’ve given of themselves and sacrificed for others. They’ve been a support for other ‘branches’ even ones not connected to the vine. Some of the branches here are even scrawny looking and seem to be weak. But you’ve seen fruit there, too. In fact, amazing things come from the thinnest sickliest looking ones, words of comfort, and actions that don’t seem possible. It’s funny how good things are expected from branches that look healthy and act healthy, but around here, connected to this vine, fruit doesn’t have anything to do with the branches. The fruit on these branches all comes from the vine. But what about all those times when you look at yourself and the fruit you see doesn’t look like particularly good fruit at all. Like: angry words spoken to people you love; or missed opportunities to be supportive. You look at your own fruit and instead of looking good, it’s full of rotten spots that just need to be cut out, because even though you did a good thing you did it for selfish reasons. After all you have reputation to keep up. Well that is the struggle for branches of this vine. We look at the things we’ve done, and don’t seem very good. We look at the things we should have done and realize how we’ve missed a perfect opportunity to bear fruit. We can’t see the good fruit that is there, and the fruit that is, is always tainted by selfish thoughts and motives. Well, your struggle isn’t unusual for branches of this vine. One branch once said, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, ESV) The only thing worse than the fruit we seem to bear, would be not being attached to the vine at all. “Apart from me you can do nothing!” It says. If we were not attached at all nothing we could do is of any lasting value. There’s a little poem that goes something like this. “One life it will soon be past, only what’s done for ‘the vine’ will last.” The better way to put it would be, “only what’s done in ‘the vine’ will last.” It’s only in Him that our fruit amounts to anything at all. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” That’s what the vine says, not a “little” fruit, but “much” fruit. That’s what happens to branches attached to the vine. "…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)," (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV) All that is good and right and true is fruit. Have you done anything that is good and right and true this week? Of course, you have. You’ve done good things for your family, in spite of fighting with them, you’ve done good things at work, even if you didn’t want to be there, you’ve done good things here at church, by the work you’ve done to keep the building up, or even things you’ll put in the collection plate, even if your motives are sometimes selfish. You see, that’s good fruit, and you do bear it every day of your life. All these things you do every day are good fruit because you are attached to the vine. The vine enables you to do them because he through you, just like the sap that flows through the trees enables the tree branches grow leaves. And we know what happens to branches of trees that break off the tree. We gather up the broken branches from our yard after a storm. We throw them in a pile and burn them up. Branches that are not attached to the vine have the same fate. They are thrown in the fire and burned. But that’s not what’s ahead for us, because we’ve been attached to the vine already. But what is it that makes it so that we stay attached to the vine? We certainly don’t always look like healthy branches. The fruit we do grow is far from perfect. We know that when we look closely at our lives we should be cut off, like branches that don’t bear any fruit at all. When the Vinedresser looks over the vine why in the world would he choose to let us grow. We do bear fruit and lots of it, we already said. But it’s hardly perfect fruit. We are not cut off, because of the vine. It’s not that we do enough good stuff; it’s not that we deserve to be left attached. But we are left attached for the sake of the vine. The vine is Jesus Christ. He was planted in the world and grew up bearing perfect fruit. It wasn’t simply good fruit, it was perfect, the best fruit that could ever be grown. He loved everyone perfectly; he healed the sick, and gave food to the hungry, all with a perfect selfless motive. In fact, all of those things we wish we would do, Jesus actually did. All those things we wish we didn’t do, Jesus never did. He was the perfect vine with perfect branches, bearing the perfect fruit. But the God the Father, the Vinedresser, cut him off and threw him away into the grave of death anyway. Jesus Christ was cut off and cast in to the grave. But because he was perfect, because he didn’t deserve to die, God raised him to life again. He was firmly replanted, the perfect, and true, one and only vine. And you, dear branches, were grafted onto him, in baptism. And it’s not because the fruit made you worthy of him, not even because he knew you’d bear fruit, but simply because he loves you so much that he was willing to be cut off in your place. His life, his death and his resurrection are the perfect replacement for our rotten fruit. And now Vinedresser looks at us and sees fruit, he sees it as the fruit of the vine. "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4, ESV) We said it before, the vine starts right here. It grows out of the water of baptism. You are attached to the one true vine in baptism. First, buried with Jesus Christ, cut off, as an unfruitful branch, with him, and then raised from death, grafted onto the perfect vine to live in newness of life. That is, to bear good fruit… because of the vine, through the vine, attached to the vine, Jesus Christ. And there’s another important part of what Jesus, the vine, is saying to you right here and now. He’s giving you a wonderful invitation. That invitation comes in a single word. “Remain.” Remain in me. Jesus says. “Know who I am. Know who you are.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” You are already attached to me. I have provided everything necessary for you to remain. “Remain!” Remember your baptism. Remember that you have been grafted to the one true vine and there is nothing that can separate you from him. “Remain!” Listen to my words, Jesus says. They are words of life. If you remain in them, you will continue to bear “much” fruit. “Remain!” and take nourishment from the vine himself, “Take and eat this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all yours sins.” Remain and grow. Remain and bear much fruit, as a branch of the one true vine. Jesus Christ. So, we’re part of the vine. Maybe you couldn’t see it clearly before. Look again. If you can’t see the vine itself, I know you can see the branches. Strong ones, weak ones, thin ones and curly ones, they are all around us. And I know you can see the fruit. You can see it on each and every branch if you just look. The problem is that sometimes we get used to looking for only a certain kind of fruit, but remember that every branch connected to this vine, bears fruit. Look again and you’ll see it everywhere. Remain and grow, together branches of the true vine, bear much fruit. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Matthew 21: 28-32; The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020;

Matthew 21: 28-32; The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So, I wonder, which “son” you are? That is what Jesus is getting at here isn’t it? To ask the question that Jesus asks. “What do you think?” Are you like the son who insults his father, refusing to do what he is obligated to do, but has a change of heart and goes out and works? Or are you more like the son who eagerly answers his father saying he’ll go, but then changes his mind blows off the work and does something different? Isn’t that after all what Jesus is asking us? Isn’t he asking us to choose which of the two sons is the best one? Wouldn’t he like us to be more like the “better” one? So even more importantly than that doesn’t Jesus use this parable to tell us how to live? Let’s look at it a little closer: The father didn’t ask his first son to do something difficult. He simply asked him to do what he was obligated to do. “Go work in the field today.” He said. It was like any other chore a father would ask, take out the garbage, wash the car, or walk the dog. It was a request just like you received from your father. It was perfectly within the bounds of fatherhood to ask the work to be done. But the son answered, “I will not! I don’t want any chores. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it! and to heck with you, Dad.” Later on, this son thought better of his words, changed his mind and went out and worked as his father asked. Now the old German in us will quickly point out that at least the work got done, because we Germans are ultimately practical. And that’d be fine, but God our Father never just wants the work done. He wants us to have the right attitude. He says for things to be good, for good works to be acceptable to him, our heart has to be in it, we can’t just go through the motions. The folks standing around Jesus understood the boy wasn’t living up to expectation. There’s nothing good in what the son says to his father. He may as well have said “Father I want you dead!” So, what if he changed his mind and went. The parable doesn’t say anything about being sorry for the way he treated his father. It says nothing about doing the work because he had a sense of obligation, or even that he felt guilty. Jesus asked, “who did the father’s will?” not “who got the work done?” Well, not this guy. It’s true he got the work done but it doesn’t look like his heart was in it. Well, doesn’t that put us in our place as well? At work we often find ourselves doing just what we have to do to get paid. We spend little time on the tasks we dislike not doing them well; tell the little white lie about getting stuff done; take advantage of our employers and co-workers only for our own benefit; and on and on it goes. God give us work to serve others; we serve but our hearts are focused on ourselves. And how many times do we end up working for God out of guilt? How often do we grudgingly drop the envelope in the collection plate? God loves a cheerful giver, He tells us. But what if you can’t be cheerful? God demands more of us than going through the motions of worship. He wants our whole heart. This father didn’t have his son’s whole heart. That is where we often fall short of God’s will, too. So very often our bodies are here but our hearts are out in the bean field… The second son was also asked to go and work. The father’s request was the same. And this son answered right away that he’d do what his father asked. I’m sure the father was happy with the answer. At least one of his sons was listening, and obeying. Later on, though, this son also changed his mind. He didn’t go out to work as he said he would. He found something more important to do. I don’t know if the boy really wanted to help his father or not. I don’t know if he was feeding him a line. But the fact is he didn’t do what his father asked. Either he lied, or he was lazy. It really doesn’t matter. At the heart of it is not obeying his father. Now it’s extremely hard not to see we are doing that very thing, too. We push our work on to others. We enthusiastically make promises we know we can’t keep. And we do the same for God our Father. He asks us to defend all life, especially helpless children, like those who have yet to be born. God asks us to feed the poor without regard to how we’ll be repaid. God asks us to visit the sick and the lonely, even the ones who are not members of our families. God asks us to speak about Jesus at every opportunity. We gladly say we will. We brightly make promises. But often we just don’t follow through. Other things crowd out our willingness. Things like fear, and pride, or plain laziness. And the work our Father has asked us to do goes without being done. Well, now you’ve done it pastor. You’ve taken away both choices. Jesus asked which one did the will of the father. You’ve made it so that neither one is any good. You’ve made them both out to be scoundrels. You’ve taken away our real lesson for today. Doesn’t Jesus want us to be like the son show actually gets the work done? Isn’t that what he’s getting at, actually getting the work done? Well, as important as getting everything done is, that’s not Jesus point. What he wants is for people to see the real problem of sin. He tells us parables like this one, so we find ourselves painted into the corner. The best answer to Jesus question is neither. Jesus paints people into corners where they can’t see any way out but him. He first spoke this parable to the chief priests and elders. He gave them a question that they couldn’t answer. He had done the same thing before. When Jesus was preaching and healing in the temple, they questioned his authority to do all the things he was doing. “Who says you can do the things you are doing, and say the things you are saying?” And Jesus confronted them. He asked them a question to answer their question. Speaking about John the Baptist, Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So, they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV) Since they had answered, “I don’t know” in front of everyone before they didn’t dare not give an answer to Jesus’ question about the sons. But to be sure, they were hardly happy with the answer they gave. And Jesus sharply turns their answer against them. He pronounced God’s law and convicted them of their sin by comparing them to the second son. The very one they said was the worst of the two. They claimed to be living in God’s will, but they refused to listen to John the Baptizer’s words about God coming into the world in Jesus. They refused to admit their sin. They refused to believe. They changed their minds about God and turned away from His Word and the promises given in Jesus. And then as if to pour salt on the wound, Jesus told them that the people chief priest and elders considered lost forever because of their sin, were closer to God than they were. The sinful hearts of tax collectors and prostitutes were changed by John’s preaching, and they believed. They repented their sin, believed in Jesus and found forgiveness with their Father. This text, this parable of Jesus isn’t about how we should live at all, but it does tell us about how we do live. We make bad decisions. We hide our true motives. We fall short just like both sons. The will of God is not to do what either son did, but to say, “Yes, I will,” and then actually carry out what we say we’ll do. Anything less is sin. Anything less is not God the Father’s will. Anything less deserves punishment. But I wonder if you’ve seen the third Son in the parable. (to quote Yoda) “There is another.” There’s a Son who isn’t like either of the other sons. He obeyed the His Father’s will. He says He’ll go and do the work, and He actually goes. And not only that, He does the work fully and completely, perfectly. The Third Son is the one telling the parable. There’s a hymn by Martin Luther that tells it so clearly (LSB 556, Dear Christians, One and All) God said to his beloved Son: "It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of my crown, And bring to all salvation; From sin and sorrow set them free; Slay bitter death for them that they May live with you forever." The Son obeyed his Father’s will, Was born of virgin mother; And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother. His royal power disguised he bore, A servant’s form, like mine, he wore To lead the devil captive. "Though he will shed my precious blood, Of life me thus bereaving, All this I suffer for your good; Be steadfast and believing. Life will from death the victory win; My innocence shall bear your sin; And you are blest forever. That’s what this parable of Jesus is about; Jesus doing God’s will; Jesus coming in human flesh to take away the sins of the world; Jesus removing the guilt of God’s sons and daughters with poor attitudes and lazy hearts; Jesus taking the punishment for forgetful and prideful sons and daughters. That’s just it, too. Sin backs us into corners. We find ourselves painted in with nowhere to go. God plucks us out of the corner and saves us. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament, He gives us new lives and hearts that want to do His will. Through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives He makes good on our promise to do what He has asked, and get the job done. And most importantly through His Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to offer us forgiveness when we fall short. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020;

Matt.20.1-16; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Thanks to Rev. Edward O. Grimenstein (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 15, part 4) 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Bob was an unemployed man. He had a terrible time finding work. It really wasn’t his fault the economy was tough. But he had children to feed, house payments to make, and living expenses. But work was hard to come by, so he hung around the employment offices every day hoping to get lucky. He went early, the early bird, tying to be hired for a full day’s work. But there was no who would hire him. As the day dragged on hour by hour, he felt that full day’s work slips away. At noon hope faded, and by late after noon he was so sure that there would be no work for him, he sat down in despair. Today would be an unproductive day. His children would be hungry tonight. Then a man came and hurriedly called out for workers. “It couldn’t be much,” the Bob thought, “but an hour or two would be better than nothing at all.” So, he went. When he got to the field, he was shown what to do, but he had hardly worked at all when the foreman told them all it was quitting time. What a waste of time, Bob thought. The little bit I’ve earned won’t even buy bread for the table. But even with his down spirits he lined up for his pay. And then the most amazing thing happened. Instead of pennies, Bob received a full day’s wage. “This can’t be right,” he meekly protested. “I’ve only worked a few minutes. I don’t deserve this wage.” “That’s right,” the owner answered him, “You don’t deserve it, but I want to give it to you anyway. It’s my gift to you. I want to be generous. Take it. Go home. Feed your family. Sleep well.” The puzzled worker quietly said, “thank you” and left for home. Well, that’s not the kind of story you hear everyday, is it? That’s not the way things work in the real world. This kind of naive boss isn’t going to stay in business exceptionally long. His generosity isn’t very smart, that kind of thing goes against the nature of the world. It even goes against what how we think bosses should act. In fact, we probably think the owner is rather foolish. People should be paid fairly. The should get a check just for what they earn and not a penny more. A full day’s pay should come after a full day’s work. This kind of charity just makes for lazy people. Just think about how angry you’d be if you were among the people who had slaved all day and gotten the same wage as the slacker. At least the full day people earned what they got. That’s why God invented time clocks. Everything in life should be fair. Your employer shouldn’t short you. And he should dole out cash to people who don’t earn it. The next guy should pay for what he works. Everyone should get paid what they deserve to get paid. Once again Jesus parable tells us something different. It stands up in our face and tells us that God doesn’t work the way we think He should work. It says that God’s ways aren’t our ways. It was in the first reading for today, God spoke to his people through Isaiah: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Jesus says the same thing in the parable about the workers. It doesn’t seem fair that people should receive a full day’s wage for a short day’s work. But Jesus tells us that that’s the kind of God we have. And if we don’t listen to what He says carefully, if we don’t understand what He’s talking about it will certainly rub us the wrong way. In this parable we usually put on the all-day-worker’s work boots. We stand in the place of the “good guy, hard worker.” “That’s me!” We say. They deserved the pay. We think somehow that we deserve the things we receive from God. We’re faithful lifelong members of the church. We sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday even if we don’t like the preacher. We’ve sat on boards, and faithfully maintained the church property. We’ve slaved and sacrificed just trying to make sure the doors stay open. Isn’t that worth something? Isn’t that a fair day’s work? We sit down and calculate it all out and think we’ve got a pretty full timecard. And after all that good work, isn’t God obligated to pay us something? If I’m faithful, God has to be faithful, too. And it must be working too, because I’ve got lots of good things going in my life. Well, if we balance out the timecard with the rest of our life, we’ll see that we don’t deserve anything at all from God. As far as God is concerned, we’ve blown it. We’ve left God’s Word out of our lives. Our bibles set on the bookshelf collecting dust. God asks us to live our lives by His Word, we are lazy enough to think Sunday morning is enough. We’ve dropped the ball when it comes to helping our neighbor. We are selective with our help, looking for those who seem to deserve it. Or those who will appreciate help. And if we’ve missed one opportunity to tell the good news about Jesus, we’ve missed a thousand. We speak more about what we really believe in a few seconds of silence, than if we spoke an hour. We are far from that. We hold on to what we think is important, trying to balance the church books, instead of caring for the lost and hurting people who live in this very town. You see, our works, the things we are so proud of are not much in God’s eyes. They are corrupted by our selfishness, pride and laziness. And worse than that God demands that we be perfect. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48, ESV). If we set our hearts against all that we think we’ve done, we see very clearly that we don’t deserve any wages at all from God, let alone a full day’s wage. Fortunately! God doesn’t use our timecard. He doesn’t compare our thoughts and our deeds and our actions. He doesn’t do a yearly employee evaluation. God gives us exactly what we don’t deserve. God’s gifts to us are just that, gifts. And we receive them they are a surprise. When God gives and we compare His gifts with our sinful lives, we stand before God with our mouths hanging open. “God, I don’t deserve the life you’ve given me. I’ve sinned in thought word and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone… I’ve done terrible things in my life. I’ve been poorest example of a Christian, especially for the people who know me. I haven’t treated my husband, as I should. I’ve cheated my boss. I’ve horded the money you given me instead of caring for the people nearest to me who need it. I’ve really blown it… I don’t deserve anything from you…” We hold out our timecard to God with a shaky hand. Knowing that the balance what we’ve done is nothing worth any kind of payment, except punishment. But God takes your timecard and says, “This time card is unacceptable,” and he tears it up in little pieces. And then, instead of giving you what you deserve, punishment for your sinful life, anger at offering your meager and corrupted works to Him, he gives you what exactly what you don’t deserve. And it’s more than a day’s wage. He pays you with something you could never afford, something you could never earn. It’s not just life that ends in death, either. He gives eternal life instead of eternal punishment. It is a completely full life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) that abundant life begins in faith in Jesus Christ. Faith given with the pouring of water and the placing of His Name on you. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God says, “New life begins with the giving of my name and it goes on and on forever. God gives us his very life. Jesus says, “Here is my life for yours. You didn’t earn it. I did! You don’t deserve it. I do! It’s my gift to you because I love you.” And He points to the bloody cross, where He died to cancel out all the lousy work that you and I have done. He points to His perfect life, all the good and perfect things He did; His complete love for his neighbors; His perfect compassion for the sick; His over abundant feeding the hungry; His perfectly even and fair treatment of all people regardless of social status and gratefulness; His speaking the truth clearly when it needed to be spoken; His condemning of sin and error; and His love for his enemies even those who killed him; His whole life lived in complete perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, even though it meant the cross. God shows you Jesus’ timecard. It’s full of good work and overflowing. “This is what I’ll use to determine what you deserve. Jesus worked out this timecard for you. Your wages are not death, but eternal life.” Wow! Just think how Bob the worker in the parable felt, blessed. That’s you and me, blessed beyond our deserving. Well, does that mean we don’t have to do anything? Should we resign our boards, quit sending money to the Food Pantry? No! God says clearly that faith goes hand in hand with works. Think about the passage I read to you a couple of weeks ago: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:15-18, ESV) Notice that the passage doesn’t say that we give the good stuff we do to God. We can’t earn the gifts He gives us by helping our neighbor. The point of doing good works, the point of punching the timecard, is helping our neighbor. We don’t need to impress God by working hard. We work hard to show our neighbor the wonderful God, who supplies them with what they need. God blesses us with wonderful earthly gifts, so that we can be a blessing to others. We do it through faith, that God has given us all that we need and more, eternal life through Jesus death on the cross. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020;

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September, 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15–21, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a lot of water under the bridge! Joseph’s brothers were quite nasty. Not that they didn’t have some cause. Joseph was, after all, daddy’s favorite. It was Joseph against his eleven brothers. Israel, father of all twelve, kept Joseph near, and gave him special gifts, like the special long tunic (probably NOT a coat of many colors). Joseph must have continually rubbed it in his brother’s faces, (kind of like the Smother’s brothers, “mom always liked you best”). As the bible tells us Joseph had his father’s ear and brought a bad report to him about his brothers. They, for their part, could not speak kindly to him. And then there was Joseph’s dreams. The first was about the sheaves of wheat. “Hey brothers! Listen to my dream. We were harvesting wheat and my sheave stood up straight and yours bowed down to mine!” The brothers didn’t take it kindly. “Are you going to be our king? Are we going to be your servants?” It was another nail in the coffin of jealousy. But again, Joseph wasn’t just prideful to his brothers. He told them all about another dream where the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowed down to him. Even his father was displeased. “Am I going to bow down to you?” Such was Joseph’s relationship with his family. Sometime later, Israel sent Joseph to check up on his brothers when they had the flocks in the fields. While he was a long way off the brother’s hatred was sparked by the opportunity to get rid of the “favorite son.” “Let’s kill him and tell father that it was a wild animal that got him.” Such was their hatred for him. This was not your normal dysfunctional family. The oldest brother, though, had a different idea. “Don’t kill him, just throw him into one of the pits around here.” I don’t think that Ruben was really having pangs of guilt. I think he was thinking if he rescued Joseph he would move up in his father’s eyes and be (at least) the 2nd favorite. The brother’s carried out their plot against their brother and threw him into a waterless pit. While Ruben was gone away the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt and took the opportunity to make some cash. They sold the dreamer to them for the price of a slave. When Ruben found out, he wasn’t worried about Joseph but instead wailed, “Now what am I going to do?” The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to a wealthy man in Egypt, named Potiphar. The whole thing with his brothers seems to have mellowed the boy a bit, because he became a very hard worker and was soon over seeing all of his master’s household. The bible says that God caused all he did to succeed. After some time, Potiphar’s wife had eyes for the attractive young boy and tried to seduce him. But Joseph would have no part of it. Finally, she cornered him in the empty house and grabbed ahold of his tunic. He stripped it off and went out of the house without it. Potiphar believed his wife’s story that Joseph was the one who was the offender. He had Joseph thrown into prison. But God was faithful to Joseph still. He was also successful there. Soon he found favor with the jailer and was the head trustee. He took care of everything in the prison. While he was there Pharaoh became unhappy with his cupbearer and his head baker and they ended up in jail. They each had dreams that Joseph interpreted. The cupbearer would be restored by Pharaoh, but the baker hanged. It happened just as Joseph said. But the cupbearer didn’t think about telling Pharaoh about his dream interpreter until two years later when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream that he didn’t understand. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and he was brought to listen to the dream and tell what it meant. “In my dream,” the king began, “I was standing by the Nile river and out came 7 nice looking, healthy cows. But right after were 7 ugly, gaunt cows. The ugly ones ate up the good ones and looked like they were still starving. I had a second dream,” Pharaoh continued, “7 plump ears of corn sprang from the ground followed by 7 thin ones. The thin ones swallowed up the plump ones.” God gave the interpretation to Joseph. There would be 7 good years of great harvest followed by 7 years of terrible famine. The famine would be so great that people all over would completely forget about the good. He advised the king to prepare during the 7 good years by setting someone over the land to collect grain over the first so that it could be used during the second. And Pharaoh agreed. In fact, he picked Joseph for the job. Joseph did so well that he was placed 2nd only to the king himself. Now the famine was as bad as Joseph had said, it even effected the land that his family lived on. Israel sent his 10 oldest sons to buy grain in Egypt as did people from everywhere. When the brothers arrived, they didn’t recognize their brother but he knew exactly who they were. He accused them of lying to him and being spies. He said they could prove themselves if they went home and brought their youngest brother who had stayed behind. Simeon stayed behind and they went home. When the grain ran out, against their father’s protest, Benjamin was taken back. Joseph treated them all well, gave them grain and sent them on their way. Secretly he put a cup from Pharaoh’s table in Ben’s bag. He sent his servants to intercept the caravan and brought them back accusing them of theft. Ruben offered his own life for his younger brother proving that they had changed. Joseph revealed himself to them and invited them to come and live in Egypt through the famine. That brings us to our reading for today. Israel dies and the brothers are worried that Joseph has been waiting to carry out his vengeance against them. They were filled with fear. Their father could no longer protect them from their brother’s anger. They had come face-to-face with the temporal / worldly consequences of their sin. They are repentant and Joseph assures them of their forgiveness. Sin was confessed and absolved. Despite the evil they had done, God had taken it and used it for their good, in fact the good of the whole world. God enabled Joseph to forgive because Joseph himself had been forgiven. The devil has a way of using our guilt against us. He wants us to live in fear. He doesn’t want us to receive God’s free and full forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus Christ as our savior from sin. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus as the one who took God’s punishment for our sin into the grave and rose from the dead victorious. He works extremely hard to get us to live in fear and doubt God’s forgiveness. He sets us up to fear just like he did with Joseph’s brothers. God must be out to get us, punish us, and kill us. He couldn’t possibly forgive me. Satan has us right where he wants us when we are scrambling about in fear with nowhere to turn, trying to protect ourselves. What Satan doesn’t want us to see, is Jesus. He is God’s answer to our sin. In love, God, the Father, takes our sin and heaps it on his own Son, Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to a cross, of his own free will. There hanging suspended between heaven and earth, he suffers God’s punishment for the sin of Joseph and his brothers, and for yours and mine. Jesus’ death is what we deserve, rejection by God and the eternal punishment of hell. But miraculously, after three days dead and in the grave, Jesus lives again. Not just some spiritual resurrection either, a real, physical, bodily resurrection. It is proof that God has vanquished sin, and death, and most important Satan. What Jesus has done, is promise us new life again after our death. Satan no longer has the threat of God’s punishment in hell for you and me. Jesus has removed that. Our death no longer leads to punishment but a waking to new life forever. Joseph’s pit of despair was turned into salvation for his family. Jesus’ cross, his pit of despair, is our salvation. That’s the good news that God wants for you today. Jesus is your savior from sin, death and hell. He tells you that you have no need to fear. He promises you full and free forgiveness. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.