Sunday, January 24, 2021

Jonah.3; Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021;

Jonah.3; Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Get ready to hear the shortest sermon on record… don’t get your hopes up; it’s not the one I’m preaching right now. The short sermon I’m talking about is the one found here in the book of Jonah. It’s right in the middle of Chapter three. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3, ESV) You all know the story of Jonah the reluctant prophet. The guy who ran away from God and got swallowed by a big fish for his efforts. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah,” is how the story starts. Jonah was a prophet; his job was to take the Word of God to the people God told him to go to. And God gave him the task of taking that Word to Nineveh. Now Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. It wasn’t a nice town; in fact, it was very evil. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what they were doing that was so bad; it just says that their “wickedness” had come up before God. But there’s more to it than that. You see Nineveh was the enemy. They had threatened the people of Israel before. They had a reputation of going around, sacking cities, and killing all the people that lived in them. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because they were the enemy. Now it’s not exactly the same thing, I’m not saying that they are evil over there in Iowa City, but It would be a little like sending a died in the wool ISU fan to Iowa City to preach about the virtues of the Cyclones. Jonah didn’t want to go, and he was willing to do just about anything to avoid it. So, he went to the coast and chartered a boat for the farthest place he could thin. f “Tarshish.” We don’t really know where Tarshish is but there is good reason to believe it is Spain, which as far as the Jonah was concerned was the end of the world. The most important part of Tarshish’s location for Jonah was that it was in the opposite direction of Nineveh. So that’s where he headed. But God of course, was determined in his plan for Nineveh so he sent a storm and a fish. Jonah gets thrown overboard and into the fish’s belly, where he spends three awfully long days. Finally, after he should have died, Jonah got spit up on the shore. And God said to Jonah a second time, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim to it what I asked you to proclaim.” And Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord. You’ve gotta love the bible here for its understatement. After being chased down by a storm and spending three days in the fish; of course, Jonah went to Nineveh. He knew he couldn’t run again. Who knew what God had in mind if he decided to run again? So, Jonah went to Nineveh, but he was still the reluctant prophet. And this is where that short sermon comes in. Jonah preached as little as he could preach. Apparently just enough to satisfy what God told him to say. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” At first you might be tempted to think that that’s just the content of his message. But if you look, you’ll see that those are very the words he used. It was eight simple words (actually on five in Hebrew), but a complete sermon. Jonah, it seems, still wasn’t very anxious to do what God had asked him to do. Kinda like the child who’s supposed to go up and clean his room, and shoves everything under the bed. The room looks clean, but it isn’t. Jonah delivers the message, but only in the most minimal way he can deliver it. But God’s Word always has its way. In spite of Jonah, the people of Nineveh believe what he says. the people of Nineveh believed God. It’s important to notice that they believe God, not Jonah. They take the message they hear as if it comes from God. And not only do they believe but they put their money where their mouth is. Everyone, even the sheep and cattle, fast and sit in sackcloth and ashes as a way to show God that they are truly repentant. And God changes his course of action against them. God’s threat was taken seriously, and he doesn’t have to carry it out, because the people had believed. And Jonah, well he gets mad. “I knew it!” He spoke. “That’s why I didn’t want to come here. I knew you’d wimp out and not destroy the city. And if any city needs to be destroyed it’s this one. These people are not your people, they’re Gentiles, they’re Ninevites! Aren’t they outside you plan? No… You… God are ‘gracious and compassionate.’ You let them off too easy.” Jonah, it seems had a lot yet to learn, and the book leaves us hanging and never tells us if he did. And so, what about that short sermon? “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Well, I don’t think I can ever use it here, but it is good message. You see, it has law and gospel in it. Nineveh is going to be ‘overturned.’ Jonah says. Well, what he means is that Nineveh is on the fire and brimstone schedule, just like Sodom and Gomorrah. “Annihilate” is probably a word that better describes what God had in mind than just “overturn.” It fit pretty well in Jonah’s way of thinking, too. God was planning the total destruction of Nineveh because of her “wickedness.” You do know that we all fit into that category. Our wickedness comes up before God on a daily basis. No, we aren’t out there destroying cities and killing the inhabitants. We aren’t out there committing great big, huge sins. But the truth is that we too are wicked in God’s eyes. We can’t even keep any one of God’s laws perfectly let alone all ten. Jesus clearly tells us that it’s not just a matter of doing and not doing what the commandments say. It’s a matter of the heart. He said that you don’t have to kill someone to be guilty of murder. All you have to do is call them a ‘fool’ or think bad things about them. He says that you don’t have to have an affair to commit adultery. It happens when your eyes wander. And in case you think that that’s not the wickedness that Jesus is talking, about he says that people who break the least of the commandments aren’t worthy of the kingdom of God. Sin begins in the heart. The bible says, “the wages of sin is death.” The wages of sin is overturning, annihilation. And not only that we easily find ourselves standing in Jonah’s shoes, with Jonah’s attitudes about people. “I’m not as bad as they are,” we say, “after all I’m a member of a church and there are lots of people who don’t belong anywhere. Surely God looks at them differently than he does me. And what about the members of our church who never come? They’ve got to be further down on the favor scale that I am. Maybe they deserve punishment, but not me. I’ve always got my checkbook out. I’m regular in attendance; whenever work needs to be done here, I’m first on the list to volunteer.” Jonah too, expected God to be gracious to him. He was thankful when God saved him from the fish; it didn’t bite him in half. It didn’t swim to the bottom of the sea and stay there. Let’s face it that’s what Jonah deserved. He had been given as specific task to do; there was no doubt about it. He was running away from God. God could have struck him dead. But God was gracious to him and let him live. Jonah’s problem isn’t a lack of thankfulness for what God had done; it was a failure to see that God’s grace is for other people too. The people in Nineveh needed God’s word. They needed to hear God’s plans for them, but Jonah didn’t want them to have it. He wanted to keep it for himself, and the people who he saw as the people of God. That simply wasn’t God’s plan. Think about how we would treat the doctor who walked through those doors compared to the smelly bum. Think about our desire to get people to come back to church for the sake of the budget instead of their benefit in hearing God’s Word and receiving forgiveness here. There was Gospel in Jonah’s message, in spite of Jonah’s wish. “Forty more days…” he said. There was yet a chance for the people of Nineveh to repent. There was time before the destruction to get things right with God again. Just the fact that God sent Jonah in the first place was an act of God’s grace. He could have destroyed them without any warning at all. God’s plan for the Ninevites wasn’t destruction but restoration. God is ‘gracious and compassionate’ as Jonah said. He didn’t kill Jonah. He didn’t destroy Nineveh when they repented, either. God is gracious he gives us a time and a place to repent of our sin. He gives us his word that convicts us of our sin. And he tells us of our Savior, Jesus. Who bled and died on the cross for our forgiveness instead of our destruction? Well so, what’s this text really all about? It’s not about Jonah getting swallowed and spit up by a big fish. It’s not about how wicked the people Nineveh were. And it’s not even about us and our sin. It’s really about God, His grace, His forgiveness, and His Word. He is gracious and compassionate. Peter, Jesus disciple says it this way: 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. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV) That message about God’s grace is the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to us in our Nineveh, even though we were the enemies of God and deserved punishment, overturning and annihilation. Jesus wasn’t reluctant, like Jonah, to come to us; he did it of his own free will, because it was part of God’s plan to save the whole world. Jesus preached an equally simple message. “Repent the Kingdom of God is here!” Now is the time to act. Now is the time to repent and set things right with God. God could have just destroyed the world without warning, but instead he sent Jesus to save you and me. That punishment that we deserved, that overturning and annihilation, Jesus Christ took it on himself on the cross. He was overturned and killed instead of us. He died and spent his three days, not in the belly of a fish, but in the darkness of death. And God changed his deserved action against us. Jesus died instead. Just like the fish spit Jonah on the shore, Jesus broke free from death. And we are free from the punishment of our sin. God’s Word had its effect on the people of Nineveh. They repented of their sins. They turned from their evil. God was gracious to them. God is gracious to us. He has forgiven us, because of Jesus. We hear God’s Word that tells us to turn to Him for forgiveness. And we have faith in him, so we do repent, and God forgives. The power for the people of Nineveh was in the Word of God, that great little sermon from the reluctant prophet. The power for us today is also in the Word of God. It says confess because I forgive. Think about what it means to have the Word of God in this place. You can come here Sunday after Sunday and hear about the forgiveness won for you by Jesus. You can come here and see that forgiveness given to God’s people in Baptism, and Holy Communion. And remember that that Word of forgiveness isn’t just for you, it’s for the whole world, even the Ninevites. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

1 Peter 3:18-22; The Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 17, 2021;

1 Peter 3:18-22; The Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 17, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s a saying we’ve probably all learned in school. And we probably all would agree. We’ve seen people in power. We know how they get there. And is seems that the more power someone has the more they want. Worst of all the longer someone stays “in power” the more likely they are to be corrupted by it. The more likely they are to do something self-centered and self-indulgent. We all want power, don’t we? Whether it is power to tell our boss that the project that is being done is stupid, or the power to make it rain on our own beans. We’d like the power to change the way our children act, or even the power to bring ‘peace’ to the world. But we know how we use power when we do get it. As someone once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Today we are going to look at God’s power, especially God’s power in Jesus Christ. God’s power is different from the power we are used to. In fact, God’s power looks like weakness to the world. If there is one thing that we can say about Americans, it’s that we really appreciate power. Just look at our army. It is the most powerful military force ever assembled. We are proud of the men and women who make it what it is. We are proud of their ability to do whatever is needed for our safety. We also appreciate financial power (maybe even more that military power!). Every year we look over the top ten richest people in the world and envy those who are there (probably wanting just a tiny fraction of their wealth!) And there is power in numbers… King David was a powerful man also. Even though he was surrounded by hostile nations, he became a powerful king. Even if you don’t remember much about the stories of the bible, you probably remember King David. We usually remember him for his power. The truth of the matter is that David wasn’t chosen to be the king of Israel because he was a powerful man. In fact, he was a lowly shepherd boy. He was the youngest son in a large family with a bunch of stronger older brothers. When the brothers of Jesse lined up to be considered by Samuel, David wasn’t even a contender. God had already chosen David. He was the very unlikely choice, the one no one else would consider. David was the king of Jesse’s Stem. Jesus Christ is called the “rod of Jesse.” That’s a reminder that He too wasn’t the obvious choice for the Messiah. He wasn’t born the way kings should be born. His family didn’t have any power. Joseph, Jesus stepfather, was a regular blue-collar worker. He didn’t rule with an iron hand from a jewel-encrusted throne. Instead, His reign is from a cross. Instead of the kind of power people expect in a king, Jesus power is shown to us by His suffering and death. Jesus was selected by God for a specific task, just as David was. That’s why we call him the rod of Jesse, instead of the rod of David. Clement of Rome, one of the churches early preachers said it this way: The scepter of the majesty of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared not with pomp of pride or arrogance, though well he might, but in humility (Clement of Rome, 16.2). God’s power doesn’t work the way we expect power to work. It doesn’t even work the way we experience power, armies, money, or prestige. God’s power does something the world’s power can never do; it destroyed our greatest enemy, Death. Worldly power, in reality, doesn’t get us too much that is of any real value. Think about the rogue nations of the world. They strut around showing force trying to project power. What has their show of power really do? Threats of war; People starving because the rulers of the country spend so much on the military. Greater division among the countries of the world. All that show of power doesn’t really gain anything. Worldly power rarely makes things better. King David learned that lesson the hard way. He let his power go to his head. He thought he was above the law. Even though God said that David was a “man after God’s own heart” David let the temptation of power control him. He used his position to sleep with another man’s wife and then had her husband killed to cover up his sin. David’s heart was stained with sin, just like you and me. There were lots of good that he did as king; he worshipped God faithfully; and built a strong kingdom for his people. But just like any human, power corrupts. Really, in David’s case, just as it would be for any of us, power goes to our hearts when we are able to act on the sin that lives there. David misused even the power given to him by God’s choice, the power given to him for God’s purposes. Is there anyone who could really use God’s power for only good? It is only God who can do it selflessly. Jesus Christ is the true Key of David. He succeeds where David fails. If we had God’s power, what would we have done with it? There’s a movie called “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carey. That’s exactly what Bruce finds out when he gets to play God for a time. The power corrupts him. You and I would do the same. We’d take revenge on our enemies. We’d work out things to benefit only ourselves. But that is not Jesus. He even allowed himself to be put to death. We would have called down the angels to save us. But Jesus did not. He used God’s power perfectly. He used God’s power in peace. He used God’s power in love. That’s why He has now “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” according to St. Peter. And he goes on to write “angels, authorities, and powers [have] been subjected to Him.” That means that heaven is now open to Him and it is open to us. Every one of us! Jesus is the perfect key of David. He used God’s power to open heaven to us and undo the power of death for us. In his cross, Jesus Christ brings to us the forgiveness we need for sinful use of power. So, we thank God for Jesus Christ, the Rod of Jesse and the Key of David. He used God’s power for us. He defeated death for us and opened up for heaven’s door. Amen. The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Mark.1.4-11; Baptism of Our Lord; January 10, 2021;

Mark.1.4-11; Baptism of Our Lord; January 10, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Mark 1:4–11, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve been reading this text over and over again wondering what it's really talking about. Is it about who John the Baptist is? Yep, it surely talks about him, camel’s hair coat and all. We’ve usually talked about him before Christmas… It’s interesting that he shows up again here so close after. Is it about the people who came to John, confessing their sins? Sure, it’s important to see that these people came to be baptized, but first they confessed their sins. They knew their place before God. They knew they were sinners needing forgiveness. Is it about the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry? Yea, this is the turning point for Jesus, up until now we’ve heard precious little from the gospel writers about Jesus was doing from the time he was 12 years old. But now everything is different. Jesus Baptism is where the story really gets going. I’d have to say that this text is surely about that too. This text about Jesus coming to John to be baptized is about all those things. And it’s about something else too. It’s about relationships. There are lots of relationships described here and they’re not as confusing as this is: 76-year-old Bill Baker of London married Edna Harvey. She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother. That’s where the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter, Lynn. “My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.” From this experience, Lynn should gain profound insight into the theory of relativity. Our text today speaks about several much simpler relationships. There’s the relationship between John and Jesus. They’re cousins, and yet John knows something more about Jesus, the one whose “sandals he’s not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows that God has sent Jesus and that he is the one who will deliver God’s people from their sin. “He will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” says John. And yet Jesus comes to John to be baptized. We read earlier that John’s baptism had to do with repentance and forgiveness. So why is Jesus there to be baptized? According to the writer of Hebrews Jesus is without sin: he was “…tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (4:15) Clearly, he doesn’t need to confess his sin and be baptized. So just what does John think he’s doing? Well, he isn’t giving Jesus forgiveness he doesn’t need. Jesus is acting in accordance with God’s plan, and John is simply helping Jesus to do just that. Jesus baptism has everything to do with his relationship to God the Father… and to us. And that’s the relationship we want to look at next… Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, but we do. Jesus is acting on our behalf. He came to be a God’s servant to people. He didn’t come to be served by people. Jesus said it himself; “… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 That was his mission. Just like John served Jesus by baptizing him, Jesus serves us by being baptized. You see, no way can God look at us and say, “with this one I am well pleased.” We are sinful people, born into sin because of the sin that came to us from our parents. As soon as we were conceived, we were out of relationship with God, and actually object of his wrath. … among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:3, ESV) Very often don’t want to follow God’s will for our lives. We want to be in control ourselves. How many of you guys have a hard time letting your wife drive? You may think it’s with good reason… even your wife knows she’s a better driver. But that’s kind of the way it is with our relationship with God. Most of the time we want him along as we speed through life. We want him to call out and tell us what’s ahead to keep us from having an accident. We want to know what’s over the next hill, and where to find the smoothest road. But most of all we want to decide where the car should go. We want to have a hold of the wheel. If God’s way gets a little rough, we start looking for that little red button that says, “ejection seat,” so we can get back on a smother road. It is God’s will bent to our own, instead of our will following God’s. “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased,” said the Father of Jesus. Jesus followed God’s will, even though His road was going to be very rough. Jesus followed God’s will even though it meant that people would hate him and try to kill him. Jesus followed God’s will even when it meant that He would have to suffer… even when it meant he would have to die. Instead of going the way that we often do, Jesus went the way of God. He was the perfect servant to you and me. He lived the life that we cannot live, and he died the death that we dare not die. He was perfect but died for our disobedience. We are disobedient but we receive forgiveness because He earned it for us. He earned it by living his life perfectly in the will of God the Father. He let God drive. He also earned it by dying in our place and suffering the punishment that we should have suffered. And God was so pleased with his son that after he had died, He gave him life again, and Jesus rose from the dead. That’s what Jesus relationship is to us. That’s what his baptism was all about, taking our place and being our servant. You know, that’s what your baptism is about too. It’s about what Jesus Christ did for you. It’s about what Jesus Christ did for your relationship to God the Father. St. Paul wrote that: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 To be baptized is to become a “son” that God loves. It is to be once again in a relationship with God. To be clothed with Christ is to be seen by God as the Father saw Jesus, a beloved son in whom he is well pleased. That means that God looks at us differently. We are wearing Jesus’ clothes. God sees us like he sees Jesus. So, what exactly does that mean? Well, it’s like this. We’ve been driving along minding our own business. Everything seems to be going very well. Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a bump in the road. It’s more than a flat tire; it is actually deep muddy path. At first, we think we can get through it. So, we press on the gas a little bit more. But the mud cakes up the front end and we can’t steer. Finally, the car comes to a halt buried half up the door in a muddy mess. We’ve made a wrong turn somewhere and gotten into a big mess. We’re buried deep in the mud and there is no way out. That’s when we realize that we’ve left God out all together. We’ve been driving ourselves. We’ve been ignoring his direction because the road seemed to be much easier this way. “God!” we say. “I’ve done it again! I’m stuck in the mud again and I can’t get out. I should have listened to you.” God doesn’t look at you and say, “It serves you right for not listening to me. I ought to just leave you there to suffer on your own.” Instead, he says. “You are my beloved child, whom I love. I forgive you. I’ll help you.” He does it because of Jesus. You see, our relationship, the one that was made by Jesus, means that when we sin, we can turn to God for forgiveness and he will forgive. Not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because Jesus earned forgiveness for us, and he has given it to us in our baptism. There’s one more relationship we should talk about today. It’s the relationship we have with everyone else. It has to do with being baptized into Christ Jesus and being clothed with Christ. Remember how John was a servant to Jesus? And Jesus is a servant to us? Well, being a child of God means that we too are to be servants. We can be servants to others because Jesus Christ is a servant to us. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that we aren’t servants of others already. We do lots of great things right now. Because of Jesus, we are servants to people right here, where God has placed us. Time and time again this church has proved it can do anything it decides to do. I’d like to challenge you to do something special for this community. Something new! Not something to gain new members. But something to show people the love of Jesus Christ, weather they know him or not. “You are my beloved Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The Father said to Jesus. Jesus had seen the sign, and now he heard it. He knew what God’s will was for his life, and he followed it. That was his relationship to God, the Father. Everything Jesus did he did for us: his life, death and resurrection. He did it all to make us God’s children, too. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.