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.