Sunday, December 11, 2022

James 5:7-11; The Third Sunday in Advent; December 11, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:7–11, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is very hard to be patient. With all that is going on in the world that stand directly against God’s Word. One of the primary examples is the “Respect for Marriage Act” that was passed by the Senate and House just recently. Our president will sign it soon. It codifies same sex marriage in law. 12 Republican senators and 39 House members voted for the legislation, that puts the Church in the cross hairs. It is evidence that “Government is not the solution to a problem; it is the problem.” And Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (Psalm 146:3, ESV) At times like these it is good to remember God is in control, he calls us to remain faithful to what he teaches, and he calls for patience. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it. There is a lot that we are troubled by in the world. There is a lot we would like God to fix right now. But God says, “Be patient.”

My other churches were primarily rural farming communities. Those communities understand patients. It is the example that James gives. Patients is required to put a seed into the ground and then wait… wait for it to sprout, break the surface of the ground, grow to its full height and bear fruit. There is very little for the farmer to do. Oh sure, he can weed the field, and fertilize it. He can fret over the growth. But none of that will make it sprout and grow. That is in the hands of the Creator. It is the spark of life created in all living things that makes them reproduce. Plants bear seeds that will grow. Humans have children that have other children. Dogs have puppies, cats have little monsters. It is creation, and God himself that put it into action, and he continues to cause it to happen. Planting season is busy for farmers, harvest is busy for farmers, in between there is lots of waiting and patience. God says, “Be patient, like the farmer.” It isn’t easy for the farmer. You should not expect it to be easy for you either.

James goes on to say, “Establish your hearts.” Another way to say that is “Strengthen your hearts or fortify your hearts.” It is confidence in Jesus, your Lord. Trust that what he says is true, beyond all that you see. James tells us why, “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Jesus coming in judgement of the world is closer today than yesterday, closer than when James penned these words. Trust in his Word from Revelation:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV)
What Jesus says is a warning and a comfort. When he comes, he comes in judgment. The whole world will stand before him. He will show each one every sin that they have done. And as the Athanasian Creed confesses:
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
Evil here being defined as “all that is against God’s Word and will.” Those who reject it, will suffer punishment forever in hell. It is a terrifying thing for sinners to be placed “in the hands of an angry God.” God’s judgment is far worse than “throw the bums out!” or “Wait for your father to get home.” Those who go against God’s Word face eternal punishment. Hell was created for Satan and his angels, but sinners who reject God, will be placed there forever. It is just punishment. To reject the creator is to want to be away from him. Hell is the only place that can happen. We should not be so quick to say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” when we find people fighting against the church. We would not wish hell on anyone.

James continues,
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9, ESV)
Also, it is terrifying that it could (and should) be you and me, simply because we grumble. We so often go against God’s Word and will. Will we be judged and condemned with the rest of the world? Will the good we do be good enough to save us? If we put our “good works” on a scale with our “evil works” the scale will break by pounding down on the evil side. It is very common for people to say, “I hope I’ve done enough good to outweigh the evil.” But it is a pipe dream. It only takes a bit of inner search to see that that is true. And Jesus confirms it:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, ESV)
He echoes Isaiah:
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)
Just to be clear, that’s the good things we’ve done, “our righteous deeds”. It is true because God judges the heart, not the actions.
And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:20–22, ESV)
The Judge is at the door, ready to enter the courtroom. When we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are praying for all human hearts to be opened and judged. It is a terrifying thought.

And yet, the church has always prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” How can it when it knows, above everyone else, what the world faces when he comes?

It’s what James finishes with in the text,
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10–11, ESV)
It’s that last phrase, “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That’s the God we know, and the world does not. It is the God we confess. He is compassionate and merciful. He does not desire the death and punishment of sinners. It is what his righteous judgment demands. But he has done what is necessary to save sinners.

So, why here in Advent to we say so fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Well, it is all about Jesus coming. Both times. First, when he came to save sinners. When he took on human flesh and was born in a stable. Fully human, he did everything humans should do. As a squirming baby he was unlike any baby before. He cried when he was hungry, he needed his diapers changed, he cooed at his mother. The difference is he did it all without sin. When he as found in the temple by his parents, talking to the priests, that too was without sin. When he was baptized in the Jordan river and preached repentance saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” When he healed myriad of sick that came to him. When he raised dead Lazarus. When he confronted the Pharisees and the Sadducees calling them “You brood of vipers”; When he drove the money changers out of the temple. When he stood before Pilate as “the Man”. When he was fastened to the cross. When he spoke words of comfort to his mother as he died. When he gave up his spirit. All was without sin. It was confirmed when he walked out of death to life. His resurrection is proof that God, the Father, the judge of all humankind, judged this single person righteous.

Most importantly, for his first coming, he showed God’s compassion and mercy. Because all that he did, without sin, was done for everyone, even those who hate him and disregard his Word. He sacrificed himself, in the place of sinners. He “became sin”, our sin. Taking punishment to the cross and death, and suffering hell.

So, when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is a prayer for our judgment to be place on Jesus. All that we have done outwardly, and even inwardly in our hearts, we pray is given to Jesus. “Come to me Lord Jesus! Take my sin. Take my guilt. Take my imperfect life as yours.” And in faith, God, the Judge does just that.
For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)
We are not/will not be finally judged by our works or accomplishments. Be we become the righteousness of God. We are/will be judged on Jesus works and accomplishments. This transaction of the cross is based on faith. Sinners cling to Jesus for it, and only sinners. Our faith in all of this is faith in the promise of God, given in Jesus. If we find him to be faithful to his promise, compassionate and merciful.

Will you stand before the creator of the universe on the last day in judgement? It must be so. Because then, and only then, when you see the shambles you have made of your life, standing there in your filthy rags; your sin; your selfishness; your failure to heed God’s Word; your failure to help those in need; the sins you know, and those you don’t; your laziness; your lack of action for those who can’t protect themselves; and the total depravity of your sin; only then when you are declared guilty deserving eternal hell; and Jesus says to the Judge, “This one is mine, he has been gifted faith in all that I have done.” And he says to you,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
Only then will you understand what it fully means to be saved by grace. Only then will you be able to have full joy at what God has done for you. Only then will you revel in the presence of Christ, your savior, forever. “Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Matthew 3:1-11; Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:1–11, ESV)
Listen to the voice in the wilderness

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

He wasn’t what you’d expect in a voice of authority. His clergy vestments weren’t elaborate. Instead of a long flowing white gown he wore camels’ hair and as simple leather belt. His baptismal font wasn’t gold incrusted, or even wood, like ours. It was the muddy Jordan River, a shallow spot close to the main crossing place between the east and west sides. His church wasn’t a beautiful man-made building, lined with stained glass, and beautiful decorations. His was a place, outdoors, near a major thoroughfare. The rocky, un-cultivated area around the river. Because of his setting he was called the “voice in the wilderness.”

But, despite the setting, in spite of his appearance, his message was one of critical importance to the kingdom of God. So important, in fact, is John’s message, that the Gospel lesson for today and next Sunday are about him. Two out of the four Gospel lessons in Advent are about John. I think that means we should pay attention to what he is saying, if we want to prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus. So, the question for us is this: What does John have to say to us, today, here in Grand Marais, MN, the second year in a century 20 centuries removed from the sound of his voice? Why should we “Listen to the Voice in the Wilderness?”

John the Baptist was a fearless preacher. He didn’t hesitate to confront people with their sin. He didn’t mince words. Can you imagine walking up to a group of people today and calling them, “You brood of Vipers!” That is just what John did. He screamed it at the Pharisees. They were hypocritical, meaning they acted one way but underneath they were quite different. They had turned the religion of the Jews away from true worship of God, the one who had delivered them from Egypt to a meaningless performance of rituals, and countless rules and regulations. And he shouted at the Sadducees that denied the words of God himself by saying that there would be no resurrection of the dead. In today’s climate it isn’t considered proper to tell other people they’re wrong. But John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches. The sins that he pointed out were worthy of such warning from this voice in the wilderness.

But sin, of course, isn’t limited to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. If it where we wouldn’t need to gather here today. Sin is a fact of our everyday lives. We encounter it in others, and we see it in ourselves. But all too often we want to block out the voice in the wilderness when it speaks about sin, especially when it strikes a little too close to home. We would rather concentrate on the little baby to come. But God speaks to us in warning whenever we would turn away from his declaration of our sin. “The axe is laid at the root of the tree,” he says. Judgment is due, sin has its consequences, and you cannot go on sinning forever. Sin is serious business. Without a recognition of that, a right relationship with God can never begin. Listen to the warning of the voice in the wilderness.

John’s voice was more than just a voice crying out a warning. He had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation. He was the great prophet who was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Savior. He was the final voice in a long line of voices beginning with God himself, who spoke of the one who would crush the serpent’s head. John’s voice was also a prophetic voice. He was preparing the way for Jesus to come. He was preparing for the baby that would lie in swaddling clothes, and sleep in Mary’s loving arms. But John’s words don’t quite seem to fit that little baby.

“He is coming,” said John, “don’t be caught un-repentant! When the Messiah comes, he will come as a judge and separate the wheat from the chaff. Just like a man harvesting grain, the chaff must be burned. To be un-repentant is to be destined for the fire.” John’s message carried with it strong judgment. We have a difficult time seeing the little baby as bringing with him strong judgment. But that little baby is the same one who used John’s words to speak out against those who didn’t repent. As surly as Jesus was born in the quiet darkness of Bethlehem, he also brought God’s judgment to the world.

But judgment and destruction aren’t God’s delight. John also said the coming Savior would gather his own wheat into his barn. There they would be safe and protected for all eternity. And Jesus does gather his own, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me,” he said. “I am the Good Shepherd, I will do what is necessary for my sheep, even though it means my own death.” Like wheat gathered in the barn, Jesus will gather his own. These are the words that John gives for the comfort of those who belong to the Savior. These are the words of peace and hope from the voice in the wilderness.

And there is even more in John’s message to listen to. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” St. Paul would say it like this, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) John’s says that Jesus brings with him the Holy Spirit and fire. Just as fire refines, so does the Holy Spirit. When he comes into our lives, he continually points us to Jesus. He continually reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that that Savior is Jesus Christ. When he does faith in Jesus grows, and we draw closer and closer to Him. John speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit… Listen to the voice of promise in the wilderness.

And John’s voice, that voice in the wilderness, is a voice of invitation. You see, his message centers on Christ. Wherever Christ Jesus is proclaimed there is always and invitation, a very gracious invitation from God himself. Maybe we hear it more clearly when John calls out to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “Look,” he says, “Here he is. The promised one from God, who will make everything that has been wrong since Adam and Eve right again. Believe in Him!” In this message today, the invitation sound like this; “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Maybe we don’t quite see it because maybe we don’t quite understand what John means by the word ‘repent’. We know that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for our sins, but it doesn’t just mean that. That is a part of it, a very important initial part. But true repentance doesn’t stop there. In its fullest sense it includes being turning around. It means to reach out and grasp a hold with the hand of faith the healing for sin that God offers through Jesus Christ. It involves a new attitude of the heart, a new outlook on life. For sinners who repent, they have a new Lord and Master. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, they are ruled by Jesus Christ, the newborn King. That’s us, we have been declared members of the Kingdom of God, in Holy Baptism, the kingdom has come to us. By faith, through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us making us a new creation. Wherever God is in Jesus Christ there is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot to listen to in this voice in the wilderness. It cries out a warning to us. “Repent! Turn from your sin. Get right with God.” It’s a warning all of us should listen to. It also cries out to us with a promise. “Jesus is coming! He is the promised one who makes all things right with God again.” And that voice in the wilderness invites. “Look here at Jesus. He is the King. He comes to bring the kingdom of God to you.” Amen.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Psalm 46; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 20, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, ESV)
Herb had never felt this kind of fear before… He had walked this way home a thousand times, but this time was different… this time he was afraid. Maybe it was because his hip hurt more than ever… maybe it was because his cane felt heavier than usual… or that the ally was darker, there was surely someone there waiting to jump out and hurt him like before. Everything tonight reminded him of the night when someone did jump out at him, and knock him down and hurt him. That was the night he wanted to forget, but it was too much like tonight. “Give me your money, Old Man!” said the young man towering over him as Herb lay in pain on the ground. “I know you’ve got it…” Herb obeyed without a word. When he gave it to him the mugger just looked at it in disgust… “Is that all you got, you stupid old man?” he said kicking him in the hip for emphasis. Then he was gone, and Herb was left lying there on the sidewalk, alone. Now tonight, he passed by the very spot where it had happened. Herb walked as quickly as possible, whatever his hip would take. He looked down the street, he could see his own front door, the light there above it was on for him. That was where he wanted to be, that was where he was safe… that was his refuge.
Psalm 46:1–3 (ESV) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Like Herb, we need a refuge, because the world is a dangerous place. There is trouble out there. The Psalm paints a picture of violence, the earth falling apart, mountains crumbling and oceans coming out of their banks sweep over everything in their path. It shows us dangers we can’t avoid… dangers that are too big to run away from. God is our refuge, it says, even in the face of these kinds of dangers.

God is our refuge… our safe place… when I was younger, I remember walking through our neighborhood and seeing a sign on some house, “Block Home.”

“Dad, what’s a block home?” I asked. I sure I had in mind the block heads that some of you might remember on the Gumby television show, the one’s that troubled him all the time, or maybe a place where you go and play with blocks…

“That’s a place you can go if you are in trouble.” He said, “It’s a safe place to run if someone is chasing you.”

In some places fire stations have signs up that say… “Safe Place” It is a refuge. Somewhere to go in time of trouble.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when we are threatened by sickness, that lurks in the darkness to catch us when we least expect it. …threatens to jump out and knock us down… to take away our ability to take care of ourselves, our independence, and self-reliance. But, in sickness we turn to God, who is our refuge. Like the woman who came to Jesus crying, “heal my daughter!” Just like her we come to our Refuge for healing. We come to this altar in prayer.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when other people threaten us. People we don’t understand… people who don’t understand us. It isn’t just thieves and muggers… People who are willing to kill to satisfy their own ideals. People who have very different ideologies… very different theologies that threaten us. Herb was beaten on a dark street; Christians are often ridiculed on primetime. Positive portrayals of people of faith are hard to come by on television. And it’s getting worse. People of faith are under attack in the legal system… and the school system. And when it happens, we run to our Refuge. “Help us, Father!” we cry.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. The ultimate trouble that faces us, the one that has been pushed into the forefront of our minds this week… is death. The old hymn “I walk in trouble all the way,” speaks of death ‘pursuing us.’
Death doth pursue me all the way Nowhere I rest securely He comes by night- he comes by day, And takes his prey most surely A failing breath, and I I death’s strong grasp may lie To face eternity for aye. Death doth pursue me all the way. (LSB 716)
Only a breath lies between life and death. A misstep… a mistake… during a trip to the grocery store, or home from work. Death walks along with us down the dark street… but God is our refuge, we turn to him when death threatens. “I walk with Jesus all the way,” the Hymn comforts. In Him we find refuge.

Martin Luther understood what it meant for God to be our Refuge. The hymn we will sing as our communion hymn is based on our text for today, Psalm 46. Luther saw God as a “Mighty Fortress,” a place to run in danger, a place to be safe. Just like the “block home,” or the “blue star,” or the fire station.

God is our fortress where evil things that are pursuing us can’t reach us. God was a refuge for Luther. God is our refuge… we have run to him today… right here in this place. This is one of my favorite passages in scripture. It echoes Psalm 46 and Luther.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)
It uses God’s name that he gave to the people in the Exodus. “LORD” in all caps is “YHWH” God’s name given as a protection in the time of their danger. Even though this church might seem like a tiny speck of pepper in a vast ocean… whose waves threaten to drown it… we have come here to seek refuge. We come here because this is the place that God tells us about his greatest rescue. Here is the place where we hear how he saved us from our great enemies. How he sent his own Son… how He endured pain and death. “Crucified dead and buried,” we say every Sunday. Jesus Christ died, but just when death seemed to have its victory, God reached out a saving hand and raised him from death. Rescued him from the grave…

But we couldn’t turn to God as our refuge if Jesus’ rescue was only for Jesus himself. The rescue of Jesus is our rescue, too. His death is ours; his resurrection is ours. It becomes our when God poured water on us… and “baptized us into Christ.” The promises are for you and your children, the baptismal liturgy says, and “baptism now saves you.” Because of Jesus rescue and God’s promises found in His word and given to us through Baptism, we have a refuge in God.

Primary in those promises is your resurrection from death. When Jesus comes again, your body will rise and be perfect. All the dangers of the world will be gone forever. It is the ultimate rescue for you and me, to live in glory with Christ forever, away from danger, hardship, and trouble. With that in your future, what can the dangerous world do to you.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:13–15, ESV)
The hope that is in you, is the hope of the resurrection. It isn’t a hope like the hope of the world, hoping it will happen, but a sure hope. Based on God’s promises of rescue. God’s promises are sure. It is his nature to keep his promises.

The world is a dangerous place, but we have a Refuge, God is our Refuge, through Jesus Christ. So even if illness overtakes us, he is our refuge… we look to him for healing, but even if the illness ends in death we find refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. Even though there are people out there who hate us and threaten us, we turn to God for refuge. Even if they kill us, we find our refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. And when death does finally catch us, when the pursuit is over, when darkness is closing in on us… we look to God, our refuge and remember the rescue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in him we find refuge. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Psalm.149; All Saints Day; November 6, 2022

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a | new song,*
his praise in the assembly of the | godly!
Let Israel be glad in his | Maker;*
let the children of Zion rejoice | in their King!
Let them praise his name with | dancing,*
making melody to him with tambou- | rine and lyre!
For the LORD takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let the godly exult in | glory;*
let them sing for joy | on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the | nations*
and punishments on the | peoples,
to bind their | kings with chains*
and their nobles with fet- | ters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment | written!*
This is honor for all his godly ones. |
Praise the LORD!
Glory be to the Father and | to the Son*
and to the Holy | Spirit;
as it was in the be- | ginning,*
is now, and will be forever. | Amen.

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

Now let's be honest. This psalm makes you a bit uncomfortable, doesn't it? I mean, you agree with it at first, then toward the middle it gets a bit rough. I mean praising God with a two-edged sword isn't quite the image we have of church. I forgot my saber at home, what about you? And that "executing vengeance" and “punishments on the peoples" is a bit strong. Does God really mean to slap kings in irons? All of that just doesn't seem to fit with "Sing to the LORD a new song". Well, at the very least it's not a NEW song. It sounds like this is one of those things in the bible that's just a bit outdated, one of those embarrassing things we push under the carpet with a broom when no one is looking. I guess pastor wasn't paying attention when this one was picked for today’s sermon... maybe we should have stopped it with "Let the godly exult in glory let them sing for joy on their beds."

There are lots of ways to understand this psalm. First, in its historical context it made perfect sense for God's people to rejoice in God doing just what the psalm is talking about. They had enemies all around them that we bent on their destruction. God's promise of a Savior extended to his protection of the people from where the Savior would come. They rejoiced in God's protection. And it was right for them to do so. But why in the world do WE read and sing this psalm? Maybe it would be better just to cut it off in the middle.

Well before we get to that point, I think it’s a good time to review a bit about the Book of Psalms. First, I want you to remember that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church for all time. In them you'll find every aspect of Christian life described, every emotion, every evil called out, every claim and promise of God. Martin Luther thought very highly of them and used them every day in his daily devotions. The Psalter is a book of poetry. But it is much more than that. It is a prayer book, the prayer book of the church. It you want ample proof that it's ok to pray pre-written prayers you have an example here of 150 of them. The way to understand what the psalms are saying is to understand two things about them. First, they are poetry, Hebrew poetry. They have a specific structure. Each verse (usually) contains one thought. The thought is expressed in the first half of the verse (called a strophe, marked by the *). Then in the second half the thought is repeated and expanded or explained. And so, the psalms are written to sing antiphonally. That is, back and forth, person to person. Each thought is sung and then repeated by the other person. That's why we speak / chant them the way we do on Sunday morning.

Hebrew poetry is also known for its compactness. In Hebrew the psalms don't often rhyme, but they do have a meter, and lots of alliteration (that is words that have complementary sounds). It's like a conversation about God, from God. It's confessing (same saying) what God tells us about himself.

But the important thing to remember about the Psalms, and the best way to get meaning out of them is to read them as World War II Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:
“the Psalter is the prayer of Christ for his church in which he stands in for us and prays in our behalf…In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s own prayer [and] as such is the great school of prayer.”
“In the first place, we learn here what it means to pray on the basis of the word of God, to pray on the basis of promises…In the second place, we learn by praying the Psalter what we should pray for just as surely as the range of the prayers of the Psalms goes far beyond the experience of any individual, we still pray the whole prayer of Christ in faith, the prayer of the one who was the truly human being and who alone has taken into his life the full range of the experiences of this prayer…In the third place, praying the psalms teaches us to pray as a community…the deeper we penetrate into the Psalms and the more often we ourselves have prayed them, the simpler and richer our own prayer will become.”
Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God. In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray this prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man. (The Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

A simple way to remember it is to "put the psalms on the lips of Jesus." He did that all the time in his ministry. He quoted them. He prayed them. All at the most important times in his ministry. The psalms are Jesus’ prayer book.

The best example is Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22. It tells us exactly what's going on in Jesus, as he hangs there.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1–2 (ESV)

Jesus means for us to see him speaking the whole Psalm there. And there He wants us to understand that there on the cross he is suffering the eternal punishment of our sin. That is, he was abandoned by God. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell. Eternal separation from God. It is what you and I earn for our lives of sin. It is what you and I could not avoid because we are "by nature sinful and unclean." Had it not been for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross there; all we could look forward to is dying in our sin and eternity separated from God, in the eternal punishment of hell. You see, if it were not for Jesus, there would indeed be no "new song" to sing. There would be no reason for "dancing" and "melody" to God. In Jesus this psalm rings out in praise to God for saving us from our enemies, from sin, death, and hell.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

So, the Old Testament saints sang this psalm in praise for God's deliverance from their enemies, and in light of the Savior who would do the same. And so, we sing it, too, because we have been delivered from our enemies.

And what about those saints whose names we'll read in a moment? Well, they are singing this psalm right now. For them the words of salvation are most poignant. They have passed through death to life.
For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let it be so also for us!

And... there's always one more thing. It's that sword thing:
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't make the connection here to Jesus himself.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)

Our message is this Word of God, and it does just what the psalm says. It executes judgment, it binds kings (and all people) to their sin. And that is our proclamation of the Law. Remember the S O S? The Law shows us our sin. It is a necessary part of our message to ourselves and the whole world. So that people see their true place before a holy God, deserving only God's wrath and punishment. Without the proclamation of the Law no one would see their need for Jesus on the cross. But the Sword of Word is also the S O S of the Gospel. It shows us our Savior. Jesus saves us by his life, death and resurrection. The Book of Hebrews continues:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

This is our two-edged sword. The Good News of a Savior from sin. And is it ours to wield in the world. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Genesis 32:22-30; Ninetheenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 16, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:22-30, ESV)

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

What do you do when God is your enemy? Life is full of moments like that when you are at odds with God; when it feels like He’s against you; and you are against Him. When there is a death in the family, trouble with your neighbors, illness that won’t / can’t be healed, rejection by the community, conflict in the church, and unfair treatment on the job. When things like these happen God just doesn’t seem to be doing his job. Instead of being there to help you and make things go better, go your way, God seems to be the problem, ignoring you and your prayers, or even blocking the way of progress. I don’t deserve this! You pray. You feel like Jacob, alone in the desert, wrestling with God.

Jacob spent his whole life wrestling with God, his family and himself. He fought with his brother, Esau, over who should receive the family blessing from their father. You might remember how he plotted with his mother to steal it. Isaac, their father, sent Esau out to hunt for food, bring it back to him and receive the family blessing. He was the older son; he was entitled to it. While he was out Jacob’s mother prepared a sheep in a way to fool the old man. She dressed Jacob up in lamb’s skin so he would feel and smell like his older brother (apparently a hairy man!). Jacob took the food to his father, deceived him into thinking he was his brother, and received the blessing. He had to flee for his life. Esau pledged to kill him as soon as their father’s funeral and mourning time were over. Jacob wrestled. His place in the family wasn’t to his liking. He took matters into his own hands to receive the blessing. It cost him his home.

And that’s not the end of Jacob’s story, or struggles. When he left his father’s house, he went his live with his uncle Laban. He agreed to work for him and in return, after seven years, he would marry Laban’s younger daughter Rachel. When the seven years were up, Laban fooled him and when the wedding night was over, Jacob discovered he had married the wrong girl, Leah the old sister. So, Jacob was forced to work another seven years to marry Rachel. Jacob wrestled. He wanted one girl and, just as he had deceived, he was deceived. Another seven years and he had his “preferred” wife. But Jacob’s wrestling had just begun. Leah, the older, less attractive woman was very fertile. She had four boys. This didn’t set very well with Rachel, since she couldn’t seem to have any, she offered Jacob a servant girl. She had two sons for Jacob. Leah wasn’t to be out done. In response she gave Jacob her servant and she had two more sons. Leah had two more and a daughter. And finally, Rachel was remembered by God and had a son of her own, his name was Joseph. Jacob wrestled. While his wives had a birthing battle to prove who was the favorite wife, Jacob was caught in between.

But that’s not all. After working so many years for Laban, Jacob felt he hadn’t earned enough just by having productive wives and servants. He made a scheme to relieve Laban of a portion of his flocks. Under the agreement, Jacob’s flocks grew until Laban wasn’t happy with the arrangement anymore. Jacob was forced to flee again. Jacob wrestled. He had gained wealth and a huge family, but now he was homeless again. All he had spend his whole life struggling with his family.

That brings us to our reading for today. Jacob returns home to the brother who swore to kill him. He sent everything he had on ahead to meet Esau first as a buffer against his brother’s anger. Then all alone, he wrestled with a stranger all night. It is a very mysterious account. Jacob not giving up and the stranger touching his thigh putting it out of joint. Still Jacob refuses to give up the struggle. “I will not let go until you bless me!” The stranger changes his name from Jacob to Israel. “Because you have wrestled with God and with men and have prevailed.” “Please tell me your name,” Jacob insisted. He receives a blessing. Oh, by the way, do you know what Israel means. “He struggles with God.” And just so you don’t miss the point, Jacob names the place where this all happened, Penuel. Penuel means “The face of God.” So, in some mysterious, miraculous way, Jacob wrestled again. This time it was with God who was a man. And he limped away with a blessing and a new name. What was the blessing? We’ll talk about that in a moment.

So here we are, also wrestlers with God. Sometimes we wrestle with him because of our own sinfulness. His Word enters our ears while we sit in the pew and strikes our hearts hard. We want to grab hold of God and try to wrestle Him into submission. We want God to conform to our standards of living. If God would just bend the law a bit for me, so I can do what I want to do and have a blessing and religion, too. We struggle with God over things we want. We want wealth and power and things, and we are not above bribing God to get it. If I win the lottery, I’ll give a big gift to the church. God give me what I want, and I’ll come to church more. Heal my sickness and I’ll tell everyone you did it. Put my family back together and we’ll spend our time serving the church.

Sometimes we wrestle with God because He just seems so absent. We pray and it seems we receive no answer. We are lonely and God doesn’t send anyone to visit. We are sick and God doesn’t heal us. We struggle with finances and God doesn’t give us what we need. We fight in our families and God doesn’t give us peace. We wrestle with God over what seems to be so right, and yet God does what God does. A lot of the time, God seems to be the enemy. He seems to want only suffering and pain for us. He seems to want us to disagree with our neighbors about what the bible teaches. He seems to want us to struggle. We don’t think we deserve this kind of treatment from God.

The truth is that God is involved in the very smallest details of our lives. He’s present even when we think He is not. He wrestles with us in our struggles. That’s when we see most clearly our need for God to intervene, for God to be in control. God engages us in the midst of a world that struggles because of sin, every day.

God comes down to be in the midst of us. God came to Jacob in human form and wrestled with him. Jesus, God in human flesh, does the same. He is God’s gift, God’s promise to Jacob. Through Jacob’s children’s children’s children God was made man in Jesus Christ. That’s the blessing that was given to him. It is the blessing given to us, through him. Jesus wrestled with the sin and brokenness of the world. He set things right. He made them new again through His death on the cross and His victory, His resurrection from the dead. God gives us a new name. He gives us His name, and a blessing. That’s what Holy Baptism does. We are connected to Jesus and His struggle with sin, death, and hell. We come out victorious because Jesus won the victory for us. Jacob was far from the end of his wrestling. We wrestle every day too. But every day again God renews our connection to Jesus. In the face of discouragement, and loneliness, and hardship and pain and failure, He reminds us of our membership in His family, our belonging to Him.

I like this picture of Jacob clinging to the stranger. He’s in pain. He frightened. And yet he is determined, clinging to God because he knows only God can save him. That’s faith; clinging to Jesus, no matter what. That’s hard in the face of trouble. That’s hard when it feels like God is a million miles away. That’s hard when we are in pain. It’s hard when God himself seems to be the problem, wrestling with us putting our hip out of joint. But it’s God’s promise that is important here. He doesn’t bless us because we hang onto him. We hang on to Him because He is the only source of our blessing. Jesus is the fulfillment of our promise, God in the flesh, who lived and died and rose again to rebuild our relationship to God. To assure us that no matter what happens in life, God is on our side. To promise us a resurrection after death. A new perfect world no more wrestling.

Jacob limped away from his encounter with God. When God wrestles with us, we often are left with an injury. We limp away but God goes with us. He calls us by name. He uses us, wounded though we may be to get done what he wants done. That’s what He did with Jacob. That’s what He does with you and me. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Ruth.1.1-19a; 18th Sunday after Pentecost; October 9, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. (Ru 1:1-19a, ESV)

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

Two men were traveling in a deep wood. All at once they were confronted with a huge bear. One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree. The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body.

It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be. When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!”

“He did,” answered the other. “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.” The story is one of Aesop’s fables.

There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued “Ruthlessly.” Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize. You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion”, so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.” But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.” It’s what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us. In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word. She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old.

The story is a particularly wonderful one. It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born. There was a man named Elimelech. He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. When a famine struck the area, they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea). Moab was a well-watered highland, so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there. While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband. We don’t know why he died there is no reason given. Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women. Their names were Orpah and Ruth. Then tragedy struck again, and the two sons also died. Again, we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves. Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home.

At first the two women joined her. But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again. Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked. Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth.
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)

These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty. Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion, and comfort.

Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like. Like the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins. Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship. For some it is in marriage. Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown. Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.

These people are people you trust. You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them. You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together. Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions. There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship. They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us.

But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement. Imagine two people standing in a rowboat. If both leaned over the same side of the boat, they’d both end up in deep water. Sometimes friends, too, must disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both. None of our earthly relationships are trouble free. When we expect that we usually end up alone.

Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too. You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have. It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now. And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way. And our troubles persist. What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle. And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own. It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.

But God is more than just our good friend. His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding. He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand. Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble. Because he is more than only our friend, He doesn’t always allow us to take the easy road.

It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi. There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law. In fact, quite the opposite was true. When she said where you die, I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon. Such was the fate of widowed women in those days. Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman. It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself. Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation. For Ruth it all paid off in the end. She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children, and lived a full new life. But it was no accident. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior. She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you.

God’s love for you is no accident either. In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson. God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice. We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words…
“For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”

That’s what Jesus did. God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate, and slept where people ate slept. And most importantly died as people die and was buried. That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely. That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being. It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have. Jesus’ death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me. It is Jesus’ bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world. It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone. And mostly he rose from death to promise you life, eternal life, resurrected just like he is. We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that. But Jesus is. He is because His love compels him to be.
Ruth said to Naomi. “May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.” Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship. And he seals his promise in his own blood. One way to look at it is this. Ruth could have died for Naomi. If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice. But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help. Jesus isn’t dead. That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us. He died but didn’t stay dead. He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb. That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV)

Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us. But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives. And makes promises to you about your resurrection. He does something no human begin could ever do.

It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way. He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble. But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort. He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering. And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi. He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end. And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb… Jesus empty tomb… and yours. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Luke 17:1-10; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 2, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”” (Luke 17:1–10, ESV)

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

The cartoon Agnus Day pictures Ted and Rick. Rick is standing with his cup of coffee, watching Ted frantically searching through his pockets. "What's the matter?" Rick says. "I think I lost my mustard seed!"

"I think I lost my mustard seed!" The disciples are saying that to Jesus. Jesus has tweaked them with the law. He's given them some examples where their faith falls short of God's expectations. He tells them that they will be tempted to sin. He tells them that if they are careless and cause their brothers in the faith to sin it would be better for them to be drowned in the sea. He tells them that they are to forgive seven times a day when their brother sins against them and asks for forgiveness. And they instantly see in themselves small faith. A faith unable to handle the temptations that are coming. A faith that could easily cause others to stumble. A faith that refuses to forgive. "Jesus! Increase our faith! We think we've lost our mustard seeds"

Jesus uses the comparison of faith and the mustard seed. But I want you to look at the text very closely. And listen while I read it again.
If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

What is it that you heard that I didn't read? It's likely that you heard "if you had faith as small as a grain of mustard." But that's not what Jesus says. He's referring to the parable he told earlier. Listen to it from St. Matthew's Gospel:
[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”” (Matthew 13:31–32, ESV)

Notice the point of the parable of the mustard seed. It's not that the seed is small. It's that the seed starts small and grows very large. Jesus says the kingdom of God starts very small: a baby born to poor parents in a tiny stable in a tiny town. 12 disciples following an itinerant preacher. The dead Jew bleeding on the cross. Tiny churches dotted all over the Mideast. But it grows to incorporate all those who are called by God to faith, numbering thousands of thousands, a number no one can count, according to the book of Revelation.

So, when the disciples say, "Our faith is so small, increase our faith!" Jesus answers with the parable of the mustard seed. In other words, Jesus is saying faith is like a mustard seed. It starts small and grows. No one starts with "big" faith. Jesus is not saying small faith moves mountains. He's not saying small faith uproots trees. In fact, it's the point of comparison. The disciples are expecting that their faith should be able to avoid temptation and forgive. Jesus says it grows to that. No one with a small faith can uprooted tree and cause it to be replanted in the sea. That's big faith. It comes through the work of God in us.

At first you may think that the last part of today's reading is not really connected to the rest. Jesus is continuing the point. Jesus is saying, do what you been given to do. Faith grows through the work of God in us. As we practice that faith, we will see it grow. There will be temptations. We are given to resist them. We will be given opportunities not to harm the faith of others but to help it to grow. We are given to help each other grow in faith. We will be given opportunities to forgive. We are given to forgive.

Jesus is describing this community of faith. Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais. Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament. Christians caring for each other as we see each other's needs. Christians forgiving one another as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ on the cross. Christians growing together in faith as we receive from God strengthening of our faith through the means that he has given us. Christians doing what we have been given to do in this time and place.

So, what have we been given to do in the face of temptation? St. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, ESV)

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17, ESV)

It is the Word of God that resists temptation. In this community of faith, we have been given to hear the word of God and apply it to our lives. We resist temptation when we focus on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection forgive our sins. The gospel is the power of God for those who believe.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)

A regular dose of God's word put into our ears is the means of resisting temptation.

What do we do to keep us from causing others to stumble? Practice forgiveness! Forgive as we have been forgiven. Don't give sin the opportunity to fester. The greatest thing a community of faith can do for one another is to forgive each other. We will sin against one another. That's what sinful people do. Jesus commands us to forgive. Don't expect that forgiving is easy. It comes with practicing what Jesus says to do. It comes with doing what is our duty to do. It comes with focusing on the forgiveness that we have received, instead of the sin that we have received. The whole armor of God is the Word of God. In that word, we receive forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, by hearing again and again that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins. When we see the depth of our sin and the greatness of the gift of forgiveness for us, we cannot help but want to give that forgiveness to those who sin against us. And in terms of sin, our sin against God is great, and the sins of others against us are small.

Our mustard seed faith is faith that grows. Our prayer to our Lord is this: Lord, make my faith like a mustard seed. It's small now. Make it grow. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Luke 16:19-31; The 25th Sunday after Pentecost; September 25, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Who wants to be a millionaire?”

Just try to imagine this scene; the room is dark except for the bright lights shining on the game show host, the electronic video terminal, and the empty “hot seat.” Then there is a sudden roll of sound and flashing lights… The room is filled with sound and light as a voice shouts, “It’s time to play, ‘who wants to be a millionaire?'” But much to the host’s surprise there is an un-characteristic silence from the audience. So, he asks the question again. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” but the silence holds. There are no volunteers. No one, it seems, wants the money… no one it seems wants the responsibility that comes with it… Is it a bad dream… or have people just been reading the bible? After all, doesn’t this parable of Jesus say that if you have it rich in this life you’ll be going to hell, and if you have it rough in this life you’ll be at Abraham’s side? Remember Abraham’s words, “you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner, bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” These words of Abraham are difficult to hear.

When we think of money, we think of what it brings. If I had $1 million, I'd quit working. If I had $1 million, I buy a yacht and sail around the world. If I had $1 million, I could do whatever I wanted to do, wear whatever I wanted to wear, and live wherever I wanted to live. Oh, and of course, pastor, if I had $1 million, I'd write a big check to the church. And then of course the church would spend it exactly how I want it spent, do exactly what I want it to do, and say exactly what I want it to say. For us, in American culture, money is security, independence, and control. If we have money, we don't depend on anyone else. And we can control other people.

And here we can listen to the warning that St. Paul writes to pastor Timothy:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)

We think about what money brings, but we often forget the warning that Scripture gives. Money brings self-reliance, but it also brings responsibility. The rich man had a responsibility to take care of Lazarus who was put at his door by God for him to care. He ignored him day after day. There was not even any way for him to come and go from his house without seeing Lazarus. He was without excuse. God had given him riches and Lazarus. But he fell into the temptation, the snare, the harmful desires. He partied every day. He had more than enough to eat. He could afford it. And yet Lazarus lay at is door, starving to death.
Dear Ann Landers: The letter from the woman married to the tightwad -- she couldn't get an extra quarter out of him -- reminded me of my wonderful aunt who was beautifully warmhearted and had a great sense of humor. Aunt "Emma" was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn't trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age. When "Uncle Ollie" was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie's brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked. The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket four days later. This is a true story and our family has laughed about it ever since.

Can't take it with you. Even if you could, it wouldn't do you any good anyway. The rich man who ignored Lazarus died and end up in hell. It wasn't only the money. He ignored what God would have him do. He confirmed his relationship with God is broken, because he didn't care for his nearest neighbor who is in great need. He did not love his neighbor as himself, because he did not love God with his whole heart soul and mind. The text makes it very clear that it wasn't just a one-time deal with Lazarus. He made a regular habit of living the way he lived. And even in hell he doesn't change. He expects that Lazarus will serve him. "Send Lazarus…" He still can only see Lazarus as someone who is less deserving than him. But even all his money couldn't reach across the chasm to bring the smallest drop of water to cool his tongue. The rich man had money. He trusted his money. He ignored God and did not trust in God to save him.

Let's make this very clear. You are rich. I know, it goes against the old German/Norwegian virtue of being poor. And at the very least not admitting to having what is needed. But, you have enough to eat. You have a place to live. In fact, you have more than your need. You may have heard it said that if you have more than one pair of shoes you are rich. Most people in the world have one or fewer pair of shoes. Many people in the world go hungry daily and do not know where the next meal is coming from. And the law is very clear. We have a responsibility to feed them, clothe them, and care for them. God has given them to us to care for them. For you and me we work very hard at keeping those in need away from our doorstep. Out of sight and out of mind. And so, we stand condemned by God's perfect law, of not loving our neighbors as ourselves. We live in a broken relationship with God and deserve only hell where we would desire a tiny drop of water to wet our tongue.

It does seem that there's very little gospel in this text. The rich die and go to hell. And yet look at what happens next. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, so they won't end in his fate. "If someone rises from the dead they will believe!" "But no," Abraham says, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

The context for this parable is everything. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. A few verses before this it says, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him." And then Jesus speaks this parable to them. The Pharisees were lovers of money. They should have been lovers of God. It gets at the heart of their sin. And so, Jesus pushes the law before them, law that they well know. The Word of God is standing before them in the flesh. He is telling them who he is and why he has come. God the Father's voice came from the cloud at Jesus baptism and told them to listen to him. Every day he taught in the synagogue. But they love money. Their love of money is standing in their way of loving their Savior. Their love of money is about to pierce them with many pangs. They demand that Jesus give them a sign of who he is. When he stands before their court when they are about to turn him over to the Romans to be crucified, they asked him plainly who he is. When he tells them they do not believe. Willingly, but sadly, Jesus Christ goes to the cross for their sins. Willingly and cheerfully the Pharisees send him so as not to lose their place in society and their money. And they stand at the cross and mock him, "if you are the son of God…" And Jesus hangs between heaven and earth nailed to the wood, suffering the whole world's punishment for rejection of God. He suffers and dies for the forgiveness of sins, even the sins of those who will not listen. And then remember the parable, "neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

Indeed, Jesus has risen from the dead. And his word is clearly spoken here to you today. And his word is this: Repent! Repent and believe the good news! The good news is that you have a Savior from sin. When you love money more than your neighbor. When you care for yourself more than you care for the ones that God has placed at your doorstep. When you make a habit of not caring. Jesus' word pierces your heart. The law shows you your sin. The good news is that Jesus did go to the cross for your sin. He suffered and died for you. And he rose from the dead. You have the word on which to base your hope. The word of promise from the one who rose from the dead. It is the word that the Pharisees rejected. It is the word that you receive, in faith. It is the word that is connected to water in Holy Baptism. Where God's promises were poured over you. It is the word that is connected to bread and wine and Holy Communion. Where God's promises are poured into you. It is the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, and raised again to new life on the third day. It is the word that promises forgiveness of all your sin. Repent, your sin is great. You love yourself more than your neighbor. You do not love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. But your Savior is greater. He suffers and dies for you on the cross. Repent and believe. Believe the word. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2022

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 18, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I would like to visit with the Pres. of the United States. There are just a few issues I would like to discuss with him. But imagine, if I walked up to the front gate and asked for an audience with him. I don't think I get too far. The truth is there's just too many layers of security between me and the president for that to happen. I don't have any political connections. The president doesn't have any compelling reason to see me. But let's be honest. What is true for me is most likely true also for you. There are far too many barriers between you and the president. The gates are locked. The Secret Service won’t let you in. The staff doesn't know your name. Far too often you don't have the right connections, know the right people at the right time to accomplish all the right things that are needed to see him.

Now let's even be more honest. There are many barriers between you and the president, but as many as there are, there are even more between you and God. Just why is that? Well, we St. Paul said it last week. Paul is not the only one who is "chief of sinners". The barrier between God and human beings comes down to that simple word "sin".

In Scripture, we find over and over again the primary sin of human beings is pride. Adam and Eve pridefully ate the fruit God told them not to eat. They thought they deserved to know good and evil. They thought they knew best what was good for them. They didn't listen to God. When the people at Babylon wanted to reach up to God, they built a tower. The thought they had the ability to get to God by their own cunning. King David thought he was better than his soldiers and stayed home from the war and had an affair with a bathing beauty on the roof. Over and over again in Scripture pride is the most deadly sin. Medieval art pictures pride is a peacock walking around arrogantly. In Paradise Lost, Milton, portrays pride in these words "Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in heaven."

But you don't have to go to the Bible to see examples of this sin. Turn your head side to side and see your friends and neighbors. There's pride there. But you can go even closer. Your own pride, makes the three hardest words to say in the English language, "I was wrong." And the four hardest words, "I am not perfect." And the five hardest words, "I guess you are right." The six hardest ones, "I think I need some help." These are a reflection of the sin of pride that is deep seated in our hearts. It's the same pride that wants to solve our sin problem with God through our own good deeds. It is the same sin of pride that wants to earn God's favor instead of receiving his grace. It's the same pride that rejects God's free gift of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of the things that I do. All pride leads to the same place. We place ourselves in the place of God. We make ourselves self-sufficient. We don't need anyone, and especially God. In the sin is clear. The sin of pride actually gets in our way of our access to God. But it's not just that sin. All sin ultimately pushes us away from a holy and perfect God. All sin is a rejection of God. Those who reject God in any way deserve to be separated from him forever.

Back at the White House, your poor pastor still hasn't gotten in to see the president. But what if the president would lookup window and see? What if the president would give the command and the security detail would escort you right into the Oval Office? What if the president attentively listens and makes all the changes you want? Well, that would be too good to be true.

But we do have access with God the Father. This is exactly why St. Paul tells young pastor Timothy to pray for all people. Look at how many times he uses the word "all" in the first sentence of the text. We are to pray to God because we have access. We pray for all people because we have access. And we have access because we have a mediator in Jesus Christ. Jesus bridges the gap from sinful people to Holy God. On the cross Jesus does what only God can do – offers a sinless life of perfection. On the cross Jesus does what only man can do – bleed, suffer, and die. He is the bridge. Our sin, pride and all the others, pushes separation between us and God. Our sin deserves God's anger in punishment. Jesus is the bridge, the gap filler. He suffers our punishment. He is the propitiation. That is the atoning sacrifice. All the weight of our sin and guilt is piled on Jesus on the cross and he bears it all as God and man together. Has St. Paul said to the Romans:
and [we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24–25a, ESV)
Jesus Christ is the ransom paid for our sins.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the father Almighty. We have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish the right things. And you are not outside looking in hoping to get an audience. You have access. You are on the list. God has bridged the gap to you from himself through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Philemon; Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 4, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It's a personal letter. Paul to Philemon. One of the shortest in the Bible. The length hardly makes it unimportant. This letter of St. Paul to Philemon is about faith in action. Onesimus the slave has run away and likely stole something from his master Philemon in the process. In desperation he has come to Paul who is imprisoned. Paul had preached at his master's house. Philemon and his family became Christians and the church at Colossae met in his house. Onesimus, the slave, had heard the good news about Jesus Christ. Onesimus, in desperation, goes to Paul with his sin. And Paul pleads for him for the sake of the Gospel.

Now, we would side with Onesimus, the runaway slave. But this is not Uncle Tom's Cabin. We cannot automatically press our view of slavery onto the ancient world. We, in fact, have no idea what the actual relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was. We have no idea of the conditions of Onesimus' service to Philemon. In the ancient world slavery was varied as employment. And, in fact, in some cases slavery was equivalent to it. Many slaves were freed by their masters for their hard dedicated and faithful service. And on the other hand, many slaves were brutally treated by their masters. The human heart certainly doesn't need an institution like slavery to show its true nature. And in some ways slavery was a necessary social construct. Many slaves depended on the institution for their welfare. Many masters depended on their slaves to provide services and products for the community. In the ancient world, there were good masters and bad masters. They were slaves who were faithful and those who were not. Jesus, in his parables, encourages those who are caught in the institution of slavery to be faithful to their masters, and for masters to treat their slaves fairly. But the matter covered here in the letter is not about the institution of slavery, whether it is right or wrong. Paul's letter to Philemon is a letter of appeal for Philemon to remember who he is in Christ. To remember what Jesus has done for him. And to act according to the grace that God has given him.

Remember it is a personal letter. A personal pastoral letter. Pastor Paul appeals to Philemon for the sake of Onesimus. Paul has a relationship with these men. He has preached the gospel to Philemon and Philemon is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. He has also preached the gospel to Onesimus and Onesimus is a baptized believer in Jesus Christ. What is understood between them is the forgiveness that Jesus has won for them on the cross. For whatever reason, Onesimus has sinned against his master by running away. Philemon is well within his rights in demanding punishment. Onesimus has been and unfaithful servant. Onesimus life is forfeit. Crucifixion is the standard punishment for runaway slaves. And yet, with the cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Or better yet, because of The Cross in the background, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.

The picture is this. Onesimus' sin against Philemon, his unfaithfulness to his master, is ultimately sin against God. God requires us to be faithful to those who are put over us. Just like you and I are required to be faithful citizens in our country and faithful workers for our employers. It is a sin to be lazy, unproductive, and leave our work for others to do. And while our sin against our employers is indeed against our employers, ultimately our sin is against the God who gives us work to do to provide for ourselves and our families. The fact that we are unfaithful workers is only a reflection of the fact that we live in a broken relationship with God. It is the first table of the law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second table of the law: love your neighbor as yourself. You and me and Onesimus show that we do not love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, because we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. There are many times when we neglect our work. There are many days we do not give our employers a full day’s work for a full day's pay. And we deserve to be punished. But what we deserve goes even deeper than that. Sin against our employers is sin against God. It is a rejection of the way God has given us to live. It is open rebellion against Him. And open rebellion against God deserves nothing but God's anger in punishment. In other words, rejection of God requires God's rejection of us. That is what hell is, eternal separation, eternal confirmation of living in a broken relationship with God. And so, we, like Onesimus, deserve the death penalty. We deserve the cross.

The Cross is behind Paul's letter to Philemon. Philemon too, is a sinful man. Paul recognizes this sin in his letter. He reminds Philemon that he has been saved through the preaching of the Good News and owes Paul his "very soul". In other words, Philemon is a sinner who has received God's forgiveness through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul says, "forgive as you have been forgiven." Or to quote our Lord's Prayer, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Philemon undoubtedly prayed these words many times. These words have their meaning in The Cross. Philemon has received the gift of faith and through that gift forgiveness of his sin. The gift was given him freely by God's undeserved love. To be unforgiving or require payment for forgiveness is to reject the gift and the giver.
From Luther's Small Catechism:
The Fifth Petition
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Philemon shows he has received forgiveness by giving it freely to his slave Onesimus who has sinned against him. He shows what forgiveness really is. Onesimus has no means to restore their relationship. Onesimus has no means to take care of the debt he owes Philemon for his theft and his desertion. If Philemon is to forgive, he must do it while Onesimus is undeserving. He must do it by grace, that is undeserved love.

And yet pastor Paul goes one step further. He offers to pay any debt Onesimus owes. He offers to bear the cross of Onesimus' sin. As part of his appeal and as an example to Philemon, Paul acts just as his Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus takes our sin to the cross. He bears the debt we are unable to pay. He does it freely, without cost, by God's grace.

And this is your story, too. Your sin has been forgiven in the cross of Jesus Christ. In other words, The Cross is behind your story. You have been forgiven for your unfaithfulness. You have been forgiven for being unproductive. You have been forgiven for leaving your work undone. You have been forgiven for your rebellion against the God who has given you all these things to do. Jesus takes your punishment to the cross. And offers you forgiveness through faith and trust that what he does, he does for you. Without what you're Savior does you have no means to restore your relationship with God. The debt must be paid for you, like Paul pays the debt for Onesimus.

Now we turn to the most difficult part. It's your turn to forgive. I'm not here to command you to forgive. Although like Paul, as your pastor, it is within my office to command you. What I wish for you, I appeal to you, is to forgive those who sinned against you considering the forgiveness you have received in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ forgiveness is given to you, undeserved, by God's grace, that is undeserved love. You can forgive and show what The Good News truly is. It is free forgiveness to those who are undeserving. It is forgiveness that flows from the cross to you, and through you to those around you. Paul says Onesimus (whose name means "useful") was in his sinfulness useless to Philemon. Through forgiveness Onesimus and Philemon can be reconciled. And Onesimus once again become useful. In other words, the broken relationship can be restored. Forgiveness is the only thing that can restore your broken relationships. It is yours to give. It is a wonderful gift you have to give. It all comes from our Savior Jesus Christ, who took our sin, and the sin of the whole world to the cross. Amen.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Hebrews 12:1-2; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 21, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

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

Endurance… athletes have it, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“No Pain / No Gain”

“He’s such a great player, when the team really needed him, he played even though he had a broken leg!”

That’s endurance. We admire it so, in athletes. I think it’s those water polo guys who’ve got my vote for endurance. They play 8 min quarters treading water, they’re not allowed to touch the bottom, even when the clock stops! The average is 12 min. And it is a full contact sport.

Endurance. We know what it is, it’s reaching down to something that’s really deep inside of us, maybe a survival instinct or something, something that gets us through a really tough spot, that normally would send us down for the count.

So, St. Paul tells the Hebrew readers of his letter, “Persevere! Hold on! Dig deep and get the job done!” Since what he says applies to us, he’s telling us that when stuff gets hard to take turn your attention to yourself, if you dig deep enough you can get a hold of that unique human quality called faith and win the race! Right! After all that’s endurance, right?

Wait a second! I don’t think that that’s what he’s saying at all. To really get what he’s talking about we’ve got to back up a few verses. We could take it that way except for one troublesome little word right there at the beginning of the text. “Therefore” In other words he’s saying, because of all that I just said, do what I’m about to say. So, what is he talking about that sets the stage for this endurance we’re suppose to have.

Well, it’s the great faith chapter of scripture. It’s St. Paul’s description of faith in action. It’s endurance on steroids! And it starts with that wonderful, yet confusing phrase,
Now faith is the assurance of thing hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11,1)

Then he goes through a long list, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. And the first section turns on these words.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised. (v 13)

then it goes to Moses who chose
to be to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (v 25).

And the children of Israel who wandered in the dessert for 40 years before they received the Promised Land. These were all real people who did real things in a real world. They are Paul’s example of endurance. But wait! He’s not quite done yet. This sounds pretty good. Starting at verse 32:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

Ah that sound’s pretty good doesn’t it! Sounds like running a winning race. But Paul doesn’t stop there listen to this:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-39, ESV)

And now, after all that Paul says “therefore” run with endurance. I think it’s that last part that Paul is really emphasizes, you know the being imprisoned part; the living destitute part; the being sawed in two part.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1, ESV)

Notice how even though some of the folks he mentioned seemed to have a great victory while others only suffered, not one of them received the promise… yet. And yet they are the example of endurance, a great cloud of witnesses that’s before us. They all believed. They all had faith. But let me tell you, St. Paul isn’t talking about some deep-down human quality here. He’s not saying, “they toughed it out so you can too.” He’s pointing to something even better even stronger than something human beings can dredge up in time of need. And it’s all right here in these few words that he says to us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Let us also lay aside the weight, the sin, just like they did. Then Paul tells us exactly how to do that; he says, “looking to Jesus the found and perfecter of our faith.” That’s what they did, that cloud of witnesses. They faithfully set aside the sin that could have entangled them. They ran the race that was given them, even if it meant getting sawed in two. They put their eyes on Jesus and ran to Him.

You see, their faith wasn’t some abstract quality, their faith had an object. It was Jesus. It was what He does to get rid of the burden and weight of sin. They could run whatever race they were given to run because of Jesus.

Now the amazing thing is that they didn’t see Jesus as clearly as you and I do. They didn’t have the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross carrying our sin, so that we can lay it aside. St. Paul mentions that too.

They did not receive what was promised, since God has provided something better for us.

I like having a cross with Christ’s body here in the sanctuary. Well, St. Paul says that clearly too:
we preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 1:23a, ESV)

That’s what he means when he says, looking to Jesus. Jesus Christ crucified dead and buried! That’s where He gave our faith a foundation. That’s where He perfected it. That’s the object of our faith, so says Paul.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

And that’s why the endurance. Everything around you would have you look somewhere else.

“What good is Jesus if He doesn’t make your life easy?”

“Jesus can be your financial advisor if you just follow these ten easy steps, you’ll be financially secure.”

“Jesus is one way to heaven; I’ve got another way to get there.”

“Look deep inside yourself to find real strength.”

That’s taking our eyes off of Jesus… on the cross.

I told you when I first came here, that Jesus Christ and Him crucified would be the focus of everything we do. And it is so easy to get sidetracked. Satan’s got to mix us up into thinking that other things are more important (and right now he’s got his fingers in just about everything we’re trying to do) He doesn’t want us to be focusing on the cross. He wants us focusing on our sin. He doesn’t want us looking to Jesus; he wants us worrying about the weight. Because he knows what Paul is really saying. And so do you, it is the object of our faith.

It’s simple. Jesus Christ carried your sins, the weight that so easily tangles, to the cross. There He bled and died and buried them in the grave. You don’t have to carry the burden. You don’t have to work to remove them. You don’t have to do anything but drop them at the foot of the cross, where He picks them up and does away with them forever. So that you can run… without the weight that side tracks; without the sin that would have us at each other’s throats; without the load of worrying about how others have hurt us; with endurance… right to the cross. Amen.

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