Sunday, March 26, 2023

John 11:1-44; The Fifth Sunday in Lent; March 26, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”” (John 11:1–44, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is important to understand Lazarus was rotting and the grave. He was four days dead. When word reached Jesus that Lazarus was sick, he had time to intervene. But he didn't. He stayed two more days where he was. "This illness will not lead to death. It is so that the glory of the son of God may be shown." That was Jesus’ response. After the two more days Jesus said it was time to go. The disciples were reluctant because Jesus enemies were looking for opportunities to kill him. But Jesus said, "our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, I go to awaken him." The disciples misunderstood they thought Lazarus was resting. Jesus knew Lazarus was dead. In fact, the two days were to make sure of it. "Lazarus is dead. If I had been there, he would not be so, but this is so that you may believe."

It took two more days for Jesus to arrive in Bethany. When he was out of town Martha, Lazarus sister, went out to meet him. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, he will give you." It's an amazing statement of faith. And yet, she still misses the point. "Your brother will rise again." Jesus said. Martha says that she knows that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day. This is not what Jesus meant. "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." Jesus is telling Martha that he has the power to raise Lazarus, now. He is the Word made Flesh. He is the Word that spoke the world into existence. In him is life. He will bring it to Lazarus again, now. And although Martha believes she still doesn't see.

Lazarus other sister Mary, comes to see Jesus. The large group of mourners followed her. She meets Jesus in the same place Martha did. She says the same thing, "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died." Now Jesus is "greatly troubled." Mary doesn't see what's going to happen, either. "Where is the tomb?" says Jesus. They took him to see it. And Jesus wept. Lazarus was dead. The disciples didn't understand. Martha didn't understand. Mary didn't understand. The Lord of life was standing before them, Lazarus was dead. Something miraculous was about to happen. None of them see. And then the crowds there, the mourners, speak the truth but missed the point. "It's too bad Jesus wasn't here, Lazarus would not be dead."

"Take away the stone." Commands Jesus. It's Martha who comments on the smell of rotting Lazarus. "It's not a good idea the smell of death will be in the air. He is dead. Four days dead." Jesus’ response could be said, "Didn't I tell you that you would see the glory of God? Don't you see what's about to happen?" And Jesus prays. He doesn't pray for the sake of himself. He doesn't pray for the sake of Lazarus. He prays for the sake of the people who are standing with him. "That they may believe that you sent me."

Jesus turns to the tomb. He cries out in a loud voice "Lazarus, come out!"

The hymn "Amazing Grace" has the well-known line "I was blind, but now I see." but do we? Jesus disciples who lived with him, walked with him, ate with him, heard him preach, didn't see. Mary and Martha, Jesus good friends, didn't see. The crowds gathered around the tomb didn't see. They understood that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus' death. They likely knew that Jesus waited, delayed his coming. It was all to be sure that Lazarus was dead. And not just dead but four days dead. They didn't see. God had other plans then a miracle like all the others that Jesus had done. He allows Lazarus to suffer and die for the sake of what was about to happen. Jesus probes for faith among the crowds, Mary, Martha, and the disciples. He wants them to see who he really is. He wants them to have faith in him even while they stare death in the face. They all confess the truth and yet they miss the point. Chrysotom the 4th Century preacher said,
Many are offended when they see any of those who are pleasing to God suffering anything terrible. There are those, for instance, those who have fallen ill or have become impoverished or have endured some other tragedy. Those who are offended by this do not know that those who are especially dear to God have it as their lot to endure such things, as we see in the case of Lazarus, who was also one of the friends of Christ but was also sick. Chrysostom. (Homilies on the Gospel of John; 62.1; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; volume IV b page 3)
Do we see? When illness enters our family. Do we see? When we are troubled by the cares of the world that seemed to close in on us. Do we see? When life ebbs away in the hospital. Do we see? When the world around us threatens us. God's purposes are above our understanding. We cannot always see what God is about to do. Jesus probes for faith among you and me. Faith is not trust that we will see that things turn out for the best. Faith is trust that they will turn out for the best, despite how things seem. It's just as the writer of the Hebrews says,

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1, ESV) And the author of Romans who says,
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28, ESV)
These are the promises of the one who spoke to Lazarus in the grave. You realize that if he had not said Lazarus name specifically everyone in the grave would've walked out alive. Such is the power of the Word of Life. He speaks life into a dead rotting corpse. The smell of death that surrounded Lazarus faded into nothing. He allowed Lazarus to die so that we would see exactly who he is and what he is able to do. He allows Lazarus sickness that seems to lead to death to progress to death and then through his word back to life. Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds gathered around, and even Lazarus himself could not see the wonder of what Jesus was about to do. Do you think that some years later, when they gathered around the body of Lazarus once again, the second funeral was somewhat different than the first?

It was different from the first because of Jesus. They had seen Jesus raise Lazarus. They had seen Jesus dead on the cross. They had mourned at the tombs. And then they all rejoiced in seeing Jesus after three days again a life. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He did it to show them his great power over death. And then he suffered and died on the cross for the forgiveness of all people. And again, showed his power over death in his own resurrection. Jesus is the Word of Life. He raises the dead. He rises from the dead himself. And this is his promise to you. If you go to the graveside this week as we commit the body of our brother [Al] to the ground, you will hear Jesus promise through Paul's pen.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–57, ESV)
And for the sake of all of this, Jesus' friend, Lazarus, was allowed to pass from life to death to life and into death again. And so, it is for you and me. Your troubles, your problems and your trials are all there for the purposes of seeing your faith in the Word of Life grow. You can be sure that the one who raises the dead will work them all out for your good. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

John 9; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 19, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Well, there’s quite a cast of characters here in our Gospel lesson for today isn’t there. Jesus and his disciples, a born-blind man who sees, the blind man’s parents who are afraid of excommunication, the friends and neighbors of the blind man, and the Pharisees. They all have interesting reactions to Jesus. And we might wonder where we fit in the story too. Who are we most like?

Well, we could look at that unbelieving Pharisees and compare ourselves to them. How often do we refuse to believe what God shows us plainly? They had the proof of Jesus right in front of them, but they wouldn’t believe. It isn’t really a fair comparison. We have faith, they did not. We could compare ourselves to the parents who were afraid to tell the whole story that they surely knew. Isn’t that just like us, keeping quiet when we know God’s will or are just afraid to say what we do know about Jesus. But mostly we aren’t afraid of telling the story of Jesus. We could be like the neighbors offering other explanations, “He only looks like the blind man that we know.” Some of them said. When God’s word condemns our pet sin, we look for ways to excuse ourselves. We look for some other explanation so that we aren’t condemned. But that isn’t the case always, either.

Today I’d like us to think about the question that the disciples asked. In some ways you might say the whole disagreement starts because they ask the question. Now Jesus never discouraged them from asking questions, and they have a great one here. Who sinned, this man or his parents? It was a perfectly logical question for the disciples to ask. It’s a question that you’ve asked, too. It comes up every time we must deal with a problem we didn’t anticipate, like an illness, a complication, a loss of income, or even death. We look at the devastation caused by the fires last year, or the drought in California, and wonder what happened, what was done that was so evil to justify that kind of problem. When the World Trade Center Towers fell, there was some talk by some popular TV evangelists that it was God’s punishment for our country’s moral struggles. And there may be some truth to that. It’s only natural for people to want to know who to blame when bad things happen. In Jesus’ time was no different. The people in his day believed that problems like blindness were the direct result of a sin committed. A child in the womb could bear the punishment for their parent’s misdeed, especially if the sin had to do with worshipping pagan gods. In such a case, according to the prevailing wisdom, the unborn child was just as guilty as the parents were. It was assumed, especially in children born blind that it was the result of some hidden sin in the done by the parents. Notice how the disciples didn’t ask if the blindness is the result of a sin, they want to know what the sin was and whose fault it was.

People have asked this question of me. As I sit beside hospital beds, as I speak to people who are suffering illness and facing death, as I visit with people suffering from problems they can’t identify, from the actions of the people they love, they most often want to know why they must suffer. They want to know what they have done that caused God to treat them this way. In not so many words the questions always come up, “Who sinned to cause this problem? Did I do something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why is he punishing me?”

Jesus’ answer is as important as any uttered in Holy Scripture. “It was not this man or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus tells the questioning disciples that there is a reason for suffering that they have totally overlooked. The blindness in this man isn’t caused by a direct sin. Instead, it is allowed by God for his own purposes. Certainly, Jesus isn’t saying that sin doesn’t have consequences. If we break the law, we face the full force and punishment of the court system. If we overindulge our bodies will be affected; too much smoking causes cancer, too much alcohol causes cirrhosis of the liver, too much food causes obesity that leads to a host of other bodily problems. But Jesus is saying that sometimes God uses suffering in our lives for other reasons, reasons that may be beyond our grasp. “…that the works of God might be displayed…”

Wait just a minute? You mean God used this man by allowing him to be blind, just so he could heal him? Does God use people that way? Does God use me like that? Does he let me suffer so he can prove a point.

Imagine the pain in this family as they dealt with blindness. They had hopes and dreams for their son that were all dashed when he was born blind. Blindness meant shame on the family. Blindness meant no means of self-support except begging. Blindness meant, according to the thinking of the day, a sin had been committed.

But try as we might, an issue such as a person born blind mostly has no discernable answer in this life. Unless it is revealed to us by God’s word, as in the case of this man. When cancer strikes with none of the typical risk factors, when an accident takes a life or causes a permanent injury, when death come unexpectedly, suddenly of “natural causes”. Try as you might, we can’t always find the reason. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus puts a fine point on the issue.
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4, ESV)
He is saying that the world is broken, and people die of no fault of their own. It’s what happens in a fallen and sinful world. It is the curse of sin cast on everything. We die from many reasons, because we are all sinners, and the world is groaning in travail. He does point to what can be done about it,
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5, ESV)
Repentance is the only thing that changes the human destiny to death. Pleading to the Father for forgiveness, carrying our burdens to the cross, expecting forgiveness in Jesus blood, is the only thing that changes anything in this broken world. That’s repentance, it is just another word for faith.

Jesus uses the tower falling as an opportunity to preach repentance. When we see such things we are to remember that they come to us because we are sinful, because the world is broken. Our response can only be, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Faith put into words.

Jesus in John 9 uses the blind man as an example. It’s interesting the way he does it. He could simply have spoken the word and his blindness would have been healed instantly. Instead, he spits on the ground and makes a spit-mud cake and puts the paste on the man’s eyes. He tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus is, in a sense, catering to the common ideas of the culture. Saliva was thought to have curative properties. Healers would commonly use a method just like this in their practices. And the pool too, was thought to have similar properties. It appears that Jesus has set up the conflict with the pharisees.

In the investigation, the man can’t identify Jesus (it would have been much different if he had received his sight instantly). The grilling is intense, much like one you’d expect to see in a procedural police drama. They ask the same question again and again. “How? Where? Why?” and finally “What do you say about him?” His simple answer is “He is a prophet.”

It was not the answer they wanted. So, they move on to the parents. “Is this your son? Was he born blind or just faking?”

“Yes, this is our son. He wasn’t faking. We don’t know who did it. Ask him yourself.”

Just look at the animosity toward Jesus. The claim not to know who did the healing. But they have already decided to excommunicate anyone who claims (or even hints) that Jesus is the Messiah. The irony is that the man previously blind man doesn’t care about being put out. He is already out because of his blindness. He was considered unclean and not allowed to participate. So when they go back to questioning him, he gets in this zinger. “Ah, you must want to become his disciples?” I think he knew that wasn’t the case. The pharisees are outraged. “We are disciples of Moses. This man (they still refuse even to say his name) isn’t.” “Amazing!” he says.
Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”” (John 9:32–33, ESV)
They threw him out. Why? Because he was confessing Jesus as the Messiah. You see, curing blindness was a specific prophecy for the Messiah alone. Other prophets had done other miracles, but curing blindness, and particularly a man born blind is reserved for only the messiah. You see, they know exactly who Jesus is. How could they not. They had seen firsthand all that Jesus was doing among them. They know he is the Messiah sent by God. But he isn’t the messiah they want. He doesn’t hold them up for all they believe they have done right. He eats with sinners and rejects them. They will do anything to prevent Jesus from doing what he has come to do.

After all this, we get to the crux of the account of the man born blind. Jesus finds him again. And asks,
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”” (John 9:35b, ESV)
He had already confessed his faith in a sense, seeing right through the Pharisees hypocrisy about Jesus’ identity. Jesus also here clearly identifies himself as the Christ. The title “Son of Man” does that. He isn’t just calling himself human, he is claiming to be the one sent by God as told about in the Old Testament. “Who is he, that I might believe in him?” Note that the formerly blind man is not asking who the Son of Man is, he just wants to be pointed specifically at the one who is. Jesus says, “He is me”. And the immediate response is faith.

Jesus caps it all off.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”” (John 9:39, ESV)
It is a statement exactly aimed at the Pharisees. The see, they know who Jesus is, and yet they refuse to believe. His last words in this account are chilling, “your guilt remains.” In other words, you have no faith, you are hell bound.

Jesus reveals what faith is. It is the entire purpose of the text. Faith is, not only knowing who Jesus is, but clinging to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Faith is repentance. Knowing our sing and placing it at the feet of the one who forgives sinners. Clinging steadfastly to God who promises it and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, stubbornly confessing Jesus in the face of all odds.

Not all our troubles are so dramatically used by God. Yet, in a way they are. All of them push us to Jesus Christ. All of them clearly display our need in our brokenness. Our need for Jesus. Some are used in a very personal way, while others are more public. God uses them and us, none-the-less. He does it to point to Jesus our savior and the world’s savior. Amen.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Exodus 17:1-7; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 12, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”” (Exodus 17:1–7, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ok, it’s time to set the stage. The Children of Israel had only just been saved from slavery in Egypt. The Ten Plagues got them out, especially the last one that took the life of all the first born whose houses didn’t have the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts. Pharoah gave in and sent them away. After they were gone, he changed his mind and went after them with an army. They were trapped between certain death and the Red Sea. But God protected them by placing a pillar of fire between them and their enemies. Then he directed Moses to raise his arms and the sea parted so they could escape. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea on dry ground. Pharoah’s army wasn’t so blessed. They were all drowned when the water came back to place and covered them. It was time to move on to Rephidim. After this they would go to Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai). God moved them on to Rephidim in stages, maybe family by family. As they arrived it was plain to see that there was no water. I’m sure as their numbers grew each family was told by the previous arrivals the situation. No water meant death by thirst. So, the grumbling began. It's amazing after no less than a dozen miracles they wouldn’t see God at work. That they would grumble, complain, and make threats against Moses.
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
What had they just witnessed? Did they really think that God didn’t have something else in mind? Where not the many miraculous acts enough to tell them he would take care of them? Their complaints get right at the heart of the matter. According to them Moses/God had delivered them from Egypt to let them die.

Moses was exasperated already. “What shall I do with this people?” He seems to understand their lack of faith in the face of God’s miracles. “They are almost ready to stone me.” He means only a little bit will tip over the cart and they will resort to violence. Moses is afraid of death.

God replies.
“Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
He will act in full view of them all. Moses will walk in front of them, taking the elders to the rock at Horeb, strike it with his miracle staff, and the people will have water. God will save them through a miracle once again.

There is something you should notice here. I know it’s a lot to ask so early on a Sunday morning, and maybe you don’t know Israel’s geography that well. But they are not yet at Horeb. Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. It is their next stop. It is a fair distance away. Several days travel at the least. Moses didn’t travel all the way there, to strike the rock. It presents just a little problem in the text. It is a problem that was known even to the scholars of old. How did the rock at Horeb get to Rephidim? Some scholars (old and recent) have mocked this text for being inaccurate. But it should not give us any trouble. There are two answers.

The first, in the tenth century the Masoretes found that the old Biblical language was becoming lost. If you remember, I’ve told you that the original written Hebrew didn’t contain vowels it was written with only consonants. Over time the Biblical language of Hebrew fell into disuse. The Masoretes added vowels using a pointing system, to make it easier to read. Well, the pointing system isn’t inspired. When they added the text, they may have added the wrong vowels changing the word to “Horeb” from “dryness”. So the rock may be the “rock of dryness”.

The second, and this is the long-held church (Old Testament) tradition, is that the Rock of Horeb actually followed the people of Israel throughout their travels in the wilderness. It is just like the pillar of cloud and fire. (Add three more miracles the people ignored). In this case we see that the Masoretes may have purposely pointed the word as Horeb, because of the church tradition that predated them. And this seems to be exactly what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 10 (he is referring to the people here).
… they (the people of Israel at Rephidim) drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4, ESV)
Now of course Paul calls the Rock a “spiritual” rock and Christ. And Christ was certainly present with the people all through their travels in the wilderness.

The hymn we just sang, “Rock of Ages” understands the idea very well, and points us to Jesus presence with them and us. Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Rock at Horeb (or Rock of Dryness) is cleaved open so that water pours out to save the people at Rephidim. The same Rock is cleaved open at the cross where when he was stabbed with the spear blood and water poured out. Jesus saves us through his blood and water, through his cleaved side. It washes us clean from our sin. It is our cleansing baptism in his name, and his cleansing blood that cleans when “the labors of my hands” “All for sin could not atone”. It is a beautiful image the hymn brings to us. “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” When our sins are a great burden to us, “to the thy cross I cling” and Jesus cleft side, his atoning work for us. We hide in the comfort of all that Jesus has done.

So, you may be asking the difference between Israel’s complaints and David’s complaint that we talked about Wednesday night. Paul clears that up for us. He says,
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” (1 Corinthians 10:6, ESV)
They were not clinging to the promises of God. In fact, their complaint is through a lack of faith (even in the presence of all those miracles showing God’s presence!). In their moment of weakness, in their sin, they refuse see what God that God is present, and what he can do and is in fact doing for them. “Is the Lord (YHWH) among us or not!” They were already receiving what David longed to see. David is calling on God to keep his promises in faith despite of how he feels. “God it feels like you are far away, paying no attention to me. God do what you have promised to do! Be present with me! Let me see it in my life!”

Dear Christian friends, cleave to the cleft Rock of Jesus. Take your sin to him and ask him to do exactly what he promises. At the cross he promises forgiveness, life, and salvation. At his resurrection he promises new “Life in Christ.” He promises his presence in your life. Hold him to those promises. Is it surprising that he has already done it before your prayer. Your signs are here, Holy Baptism, his act of cleansing and connecting you directly to Jesus. Water poured out on your head so you can be sure it is all for you. The Holy Supper on this altar today. God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the body and blood of Jesus that goes into your mouth. The Word preached into your ears. Law and Gospel to convict and comfort you.
Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress, Helpless, look to Thee for grace: Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Savior, or I die. (LSB 761v3)

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

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; Second Sunday in Lent; March 5, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV) After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1–6, ESV)
From a Sermon by Rev. Randy Asburry

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

When you plant a seed, after you have covered it up with dirt, there is time before you see the sprout come up. It becomes a time of faithful waiting. While you wait you can’t see anything happening. You can’t uncover the seed and see if it’s sprouted (if you do it will likely die). In the darkness of the soil the seed germinates and begins to grow and take root.

That’s the way it was with God’s family tree, too. He planted the seed and then came time for faithful waiting. God promised the Seed of His Savior to rescue sinful people. The promised seed would crush Satan’s head and bring life and forgiveness to God’s people once again. After it was planted there was a time when the Seed of God’s Family Tree was hidden, a time when no one could see what was happening. A time before it sprouted and began to grow.

It begins with Adam and Eve. After them the human family tree grew rapidly. According to Genesis “man began to multiply on the face of the land.” (6:1) But sin was ever present, and the tree was corrupt. “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (6:5) God sent a flood to clean everything up and later he scattered the people every whereby confusing their language.

But still even during God’s judgment against sin, the Seed of the Promised Savior, remained planted. Even during trouble God kept his faithful people safe. They trusted Him and believed in the promised Savior. It’s after all of that that we find Abraham. He is often called the “Father of Nations.” God called him to faith in the promised Savior. God called Abraham with a promise.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Ge 12:2-3, ESV)

Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. The life of faith is never easy. Before God called him, Abraham worshipped false gods. But even after he believed he still had troubles. He still had doubts about God’s promise to him. He had doubts about God’s planted seed, too. Abraham even thought that God’s promise would fall to someone else. He thought his servant Eliezer of Damascus, would inherit all that he had including God’s promises. But God made his promise clear, And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” (Ge 15:4, ESV)

In spite of all God’s promises to us, we too, like Abraham have trouble trusting God and his promises. Lot’s of times, it’s hard to see God’s work in our lives. Abraham was very old. He didn’t think God could give him the promised son. When things go bad in our lives, we too have trouble seeing the results of God’s saving work in Jesus. We struggle in our faith whenever we see things that seem to go against what God promises. You know what I’m talking about. Some of you have recently lost loved ones. Some of you have lost a job. Some of you have struggled to keep your business afloat. We all struggle with temptations to sin. In the face of these kinds of troubles it’s hard to believe that God is active life. Death makes it hard to believe that God gives us life through Jesus Christ. Economic troubles make it hard to believe that God provides for all our needs. Recurring sin makes it hard to believe that God makes us holy through the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the times when Abraham had doubts about God’s promises, he tried to make his own solution. The Bible tells us about the additional trouble that that brought into Abraham’s life. Our solutions always fall short of God’s promises. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (Ps 146:3, ESV) one of the Psalms tells us. He’s talking directly to you. He’s warning you not to trust in yourself and your own ways of fulfilling salvation. God promised Abraham a son of his own He wasn’t going to fulfill that promise through Abraham’s servant.

But despite all his doubts, Abraham is still a great example of faith. And [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Ge 15:6, ESV) So, what is it that makes Abraham a great example? It’s not that he lived a perfect life. Before God called him to faith, he was an idol worshipper. It wasn’t he record of dealing with other people. Abraham lied about his wife two times, saying that she was his sister, to avoid troubles. And it certainly wasn’t because he always trusted God, he tried to make his own solutions, and he fell into despair and doubt on more than one occasion.

One of the Lutheran Church fathers writes this in our statement of faith. “Faith is that worship which receives God’s offered blessings.” (Tappert, Ap IV 49). That’s Abraham. He received God’s mercy and clung to God’s promise that He would send a Savior. At times for Abraham that promise was hidden like a seed in the ground. But, Abraham still believed even though the growth of God’s promise was hidden to him.

Finally, when Abraham was 100 years old, the promise broke through the soil, when Isaac, Abraham’s very own son, was born. The family tree grew. Isaac had two sons, Jacob, and Esau. Jacob had 12 sons. And God’s Family tree was in full grow mode. After a short stay in Egypt where God delivered them from slavery, God replanted His people in the Promised Land. But, even there, there would be struggle, and God’s people would still have to live by faith in the promise.

God delivered His promise when Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary. The Promised Tree came to full bloom in Jesus, when He hung on the cross, dying for all sin. Two Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) trace Jesus family tree right back to Abraham and his family. Abraham looked forward to the promised tree. We look back in wonder.

Jesus called himself the “true vine” (John 15:1). He said that if you are connected to him, you will have life and bear fruit. That’s Jesus talking about The Tree Promised. The fruit that He gives is faith. In faith, we see Jesus as God’s Promised Tree of Life. He takes on human flesh and blood so that he can be nailed the tree of the cross. That’s the Tree of Promise in full blossom. That’s God fulfilling His promise to save people from sin. And He connects you to all that Jesus did through the promise He made to you in Baptism. And He renews that promise every time you take Jesus body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Faith receives what God gives. That’s the faith of Abraham. When you have trouble trusting in the promises of God, promises of forgiveness and life with Him, remember how God kept Abraham. Remember the Seed Planted. Your God will always bring you comfort in the same way. He gives you Jesus who was promised, who went to the cross for you, and who is coming again. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Matthew 4:1-11; First Sunday in Lent; February 26, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4:1–11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

Amid the lush vegetation of the Garden, a “son of God” was confronted with temptation. He stood casually by and watched… and listened… as his wife was spoke to the serpent. “If you eat of it, God knows you will be like Him.” Hissed out the Serpent. The words floated in the air with promise.

“Is it really possible,” thought the man. “That I could be like God, himself? Doesn’t that mean I would be God?” The serpent’s lips curled into a smile of victory as the woman’s hand reached for the temptation. “Well, it won’t hurt if she just looks at it… touch it…” her husband said to himself as she pulled it from the tree. “I wonder how it tastes?” as her teeth sunk into the soft pulp of the fruit, and soon the sweet liquid ran from his lips too. In that very instant this son of God, went form being His loving, obedient, trusting son, to being a suspicious, guilt-ridden, fearful stranger of God. He didn’t become God’s equal; he became God’s enemy. He was no longer even what God had created him to be. Adam had failed the challenge, and he failed it miserably. He had decided not to be God’s son. And he condemned all of his offspring from that moment on to the loss of son ship that accompanied that decision. All those born after him, that means you and me, share in that loss, we too, are born as suspicious, guilt-ridden, fearful strangers of God.

Another Son of God faced temptation, too. The people of Israel, the chosen Son of God, marched through the hot desert. Forty years God led them there. There were times when they were hungry. The question was this, would this son trust in the Father to give him the bread he needed? Would this Son trust in God’s word and promise? They, too, failed. “Did you bring us here to die in the desert, of starvation?” he cried out. And later again he failed to trust the provision of God, by demanding water. And still again when he entered the land God had promised him. He worshipped the false gods of the people he was to conquer. Over and over again we read of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Over and over again we read of his failure when he was tempted. This son also chose not to be God’s son.

Unfortunately, that failure is not limited to God’s ancient sons. God’s son today, the new Israel, his church, fails, too. When we look at the failures of Adam, when we look at the failures of the Children of Israel, we know that we often have the same responses. Even though God has specially chosen us, even though he has richly provided all that we need, even though he has over and over again demonstrated his great-undeserved love for us, we re-enact the failures of our ancestors. We repeat the choice not to be God’s sons. We want proof that God will provide for us as the economy begins to turn sour. We wonder how we will survive among the rumors of bankrupt businesses and lose of income. We want proof of God’s love for us when we are ill. We doubt his love when our loved ones suffer and die as we watch helpless; and when trouble comes into our family relationships. And when things are going well; when life is good and doubts are far away, we push our Father to a small place on Sunday, in reserve for when we need Him. We set ourselves up as the god of our lives. When we do these things, just like Adam, just like Israel, we chose death and permanent separation from our Father. We choose not to be the Son of God.

But, fortunately for us, fortunately for Adam and Israel, there is another Son of God. This one is the Son of God. He was faced with temptations, the very same temptations we are faced with. Whenever he was faced with the choice to be God’s son, he always willed to love, trust, and serve His Father. But, Satan, the very same serpent who had success in the Garden, did his best to tempt Jesus into repeating the failures of God’s other sons. He set before Him the temptations that lured Adam and Eve, the Children of Israel, and the temptations he sets before you and me. But Jesus Christ didn’t fall to them. Even though he was
“… tempted in every way, just as we are—yet [He] was without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
The Father, Himself, spoke about Him and said, “This is my son, whom I love, in Him I am well pleased.” Because of Jesus, because he was the perfect Son of God, His Father once again declares us to be His Sons.

This Son of God endured the temptations of Satan. The Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness, and He was there without food for forty days. Satan pounced on the opportunity to have Jesus doubt that His Father counted Him as His Son. Satan asked if God would really supply all that was needed. “Turn these stones into bread. Take matters into your own hands. Satisfy your hunger.” But unlike Israel in the desert, this Son had absolute confidence in His Father. Instead of turning stones into bread he turns to the Bread of God’s word and relies on the Father. “Man shall not live by bread alone!” Jesus said, choosing to be God’s Son.

Satan gave no rest for the Son of God. Next, he tempted Jesus to ask His Father to prove that He was present with him. It had worked with God’s other son in the desert. Israel demanded water as proof of God’s presence. “Cast yourself down, God will prove that He is with you.” But this Son refuses to test God. Instead of demanding a sign of water, the true Son, the true Israel puts His trust in the words spoke at His baptism: “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!” And again, Jesus chooses to be God’s Son.

Finally, Satan offers what is not his to give. “These kingdoms I will give you! All the glory, all the honor, all the authority. Be like the first son of God, make yourself God’s equal, be like God. Worship me! Be like Israel and give obedience and worship to one who is not God! But Jesus again chooses to be the Son of God, not a worshiper of Satan. He yields to God’s will. He will accept glory, but His glory will come through suffering and death. His glory will come when He stretches out his hands on the cross to die. He cannot be turned from the course His Father has set before Him. Satan’s temptations have failed. Jesus, God’s Son, is stronger than the tempter. His power and reign are on earth is coming to an end.

Jesus Christ chose to be a son of God (a trusting, obedient, and loving man). He is the second Adam. He is the true Israel. He does what they had failed to do. He doesn’t fall to the temptations that caused them to turn from their Father. He consistently chooses to be the Son of God, He does it for them, He does it for us!

Because of Jesus the words that God spoke over Jesus at His baptism are spoken over us at ours. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” God accepted the perfect love and obedience of His Son, Jesus, and that obedience and love is accepted as ours. Looking to God’s word spoken to us we can know the power of it in our lives. We have the assurance of the Father’s spoke word. We can resist the Serpent when he speaks to us and tempts us not to be God’s sons.

Jesus also chose to be the Son of God, even when it meant that the Father punished Him instead of us. When Jesus hung on the cross, the Father disowned him and rejected Him. He did it so that we wouldn’t be disowned for eternity. We celebrate this Son’s victory over sin and death every Sunday, and especially at Easter. God the Father raised Him from death as proof that the punishment of this only begotten Son sets all the other sons free from punishment forever. There is nothing better than being God’s sons. Armed with that knowledge, Satan’s voice has no sway over us.

Jesus “sympathizes with our weaknesses” when we are tempted. The Son of God invites us to approach the throne of God with confidence, where He speaks for us. “These are your Son’s. These are those for whom I died.” There we receive grace and mercy. There we receive strength to overcome whenever we are challenged to be or not to be God’s sons. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Matthew 17:1-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 19, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”” (Matthew 17:1–9, ESV)
Lord it is good for us to be here.

Sometimes, I think if things would just stop for a moment, and I could catch my breath everything would be all right. If only for a moment, I wasn’t so busy then I’d have the strength to go on. There is so much these days to keep us busy. Community activities, soup dinners, strategic planning, building committee. There are activities for church, activities for home, activities for the community, nothing is busier than Grand Marais in the summertime. All of these activities can keep us running from morning till night. It hardly seems we have time to sit and take a break. There is so much to do… sometimes we just want to catch our breath, sometimes we just want it all to stop. You’ve seen the commercial that shows a family at breakfast. There’s food spilled on the table, kids dressing and eating as they head out the door, mom frazzled, and dad in a daze. How well does this picture fit your family? Sometimes, we all need a “time out.” At time to catch our breath, a time to recharge, a time to stop and just be still.

Maybe we need a time-out like in basketball. (this is for Bob) I like basketball. Especially when a game is close, and there’s lots of tension and the outcome of the game is uncertain. The players are at a fevered pitch, battling for control of the ball, giving all they have for a few seconds of possession. Sometimes tempers rage, sometimes panic. Everyone in the crowd is focused on the floor. Emotion flows out of every pore, of every player. People in the crowd sit at the very edge of their seat, ready to leap into the fray and help. But, sometimes in a game like that its best to try to calm the players down, let coolness prevail and cancel the panic. Sometimes, a good coach knows, it’s time to take a time out. During a time out, the action completely stops. The ball, that was the focus of so much attention, bounces slowly to a stop on the floor and is ignored. The refs talk about the weather and last nights NBA scores, and the crowds sit down and take a drink of pop or finish off that last bit of popcorn. The coach gathers his players around him, and gives a few instructions, and the players breath deeply and recharge. It’s only a few seconds, but during that brief few seconds, life goes into slow motion, time drags out to a slow crawl. Then the buzzer interrupts, and the time-out is over, the crowd returns to its feet, the congregation of refs breaks up, the players take a deep breath and return to the floor, and the game picks up again… soon everything is back to where it was, the focus, the action, and the passion. Some of the players are more focused, maybe just enough for an advantage in the game.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a kind of a time-out. Here we are still with the lingering joy of Christmas. The altar was covered with white, for the joy of Christmas, we’ve been talking about all kinds of wonderful things like, Epiphany (when the Magi visited Jesus), Jesus Baptism, and of course the gifts that God brings to us because of Jesus. But ahead of us is Lent. Soon the colors turn dark purple. There’s sorrow ahead as we begin a walk onto the dark shadow of death. There’s guilt ahead as we contemplate our sinfulness and the great cost the Jesus paid for us. Lent begins a contemplative season when we think about these kinds of things instead of the joy of Christmas. Standing here right now and looking ahead, it’s good to be here, at this little time-out after Christmas, before Lent.

Jesus and his disciples took a time-out, too. He had been instructing them about what was ahead of them, sorrow, suffering, and even his own death. It was Peter who spoke up for all of them.

“No, Lord, none of that will ever happen to you!”

“Yes, it will.” Was Jesus reply, “Yes, it must.”

And the disciples were left scratching their heads, trying to understand. Everything was going so well, everything was so focused on the people around them, the healing, the feeding, it didn’t make sense for all of that to change. Jesus knew what was ahead. Jesus knew how things would go from then on. So, he gathered Peter, James and John and headed for the hills… for a time-out. That’s what they needed; Time to recharge, time to reflect on what had happened the past, and time to focus on the task ahead. I don’t know what the three disciples expected, probably not what they saw: “and he was transfigured before them there.” It was a metamorphosis. Jesus’ face glowed bright, and his clothes. And God’s representatives appeared, Moses and Elijah. And they were talking to Jesus. It was, I’m sure a glorious site, a heavenly site. Here was Jesus in the company of Moses and Elijah, the great prophets of God. What a wonder! Peter and his companions didn’t want the sight to end. This may have seemed to them as the pinnacle of their time with Jesus. But, in truth it was only a time out. But they didn’t want the timeout the end.

Peter says, “Lord, it’s good to be here. Let’s stay and never let this end. We can live here in all this glory, in all this light. Here in the company of Moses and Elijah. Let’s forget about what’s ahead. Let’s forget about all that you have told us about, the suffering and especially the death.”

But without all those things that Peter wanted to avoid, and not think about, without the suffering there would be not death, and without the death, there would be no resurrection. And without the resurrection there would be no restoration of human beings to God. What Peter wanted to avoid was the very purpose for which Jesus came. It was through pain and death that he would restore human beings to God, and through his resurrection that he would give them hope for the future. Jesus and his disciples couldn’t stay there on the mountain. God had a plan…

There are times when we all think like Peter. “It’s good, Lord, to be here…” I’m satisfied with things just the way they are right now. I’m satisfied with my faith. I don’t really need it to grow beyond where it is right now. That growth may come with pain and suffering, it’s good to be here right now without it. I’m satisfied with my church. I like the way things are right now. So small and intimate. No expectations for extra work. No expectations for extra giving. I don’t need another stress in my life, especially from the church. We don’t need any new people around here. We don’t need any more activities to fill my calendar. I think things are just fine the way they are.

I’m satisfied with my prayer life where it is right now; I don’t need to speak to God about all that’s happening in my life. He knows more about it than I do anyway. I’d rather continue to deal with these things myself.

I’m happy drinking the milk of your word. I don’t need to be in bible study, I don’t what to have to chew on the meat and think about what may still be wrong in my life. I don’t really want God to poke around in my life and show me sins that I’m become comfortable with.

There is always the danger of loving the moment, being satisfied with the status quo…. Living in the timeout. Change can be painful, and moving forward always requires change.

Peter wanted to hold on to the glorious vision of Jesus Christ on the mountain. Moving from there meant pain, suffering and death. But what God wanted to give Peter and his friends, what God wants to give us is the greater Glory of Christ. The glory we find in a stronger relationship with him. A relationship that was begun when Jesus Christ suffered died and rose again for us, a relationship that will find its completion when he returns to claim us as his own. When we want to stay in the status quo we are locked in our sinfulness, instead of looking to the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for us.

When the cloud came to the mountain, Peter, James, and John were faced with the presence of God. They fell to their faces in fear. They knew they were sinful people only deserving God’s wrath. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without Jesus Christ. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without what Jesus was about to do. They couldn’t stay there. The timeout was over.

The cloud left them… time began again. It was time to move forward… forward with God’s plans… forward to suffering… death… but also forward to Resurrection and Life!

The timeout is nice, but the game goes on, life goes on. The timeout isn’t the game, there’s so much more to do. God’s plans for our future require change. They may even include suffering. But forward we must go. Forward into Lent to contemplate what Jesus has done for us… forward to an uncertain future but armed with the vision of the transfigured Christ. Armed with the knowledge of what he has accomplished for us. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Matthew 5:21-37; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 12, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. ” (Matthew 5:21–37, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is being very difficult here. He pushes the law to the point where no one can possibly keep it. I mean, just look at the “You shall not murder” commandment. None of us is as bad as a guy who would kill a convenience store clerk, mother of 10, in cold blood for a few measly dollars, But Jesus isn’t happy with that. He says you can’t be angry with anyone. I don’t know. I’ve been angry already today! How about you? Kids or wife not get around as fast as they should have this morning. Did someone hog the bathroom and prevent you from getting your business done? And though we don’t have much traffic here in Grand Marais, how about the last time someone did a bonehead thing while you were driving. You know the thing that almost put you in the ditch. Oh, but even that isn’t good enough for Jesus. He pushes even harder. You can’t say people are fools. Everyone knows how foolish most people are. Author Douglas Adams said (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy),
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” (
Just open your eyes and look around it’s hard, maybe impossible to not say something about foolish people all around. Why is it that the folks who can least afford pets seem to have more pets than they need? It seems that every respiratory therapist I’ve ever met smokes like a chimney. Seems foolish for someone who should know better. (We won’t talk about pastors who smoke today) And Jesus says, I can’t point this odd fact out without breaking the commandment? And condemning myself to hell! And then there’s the adultery commandment. Now Jesus is getting downright personal. It’s not just running out and having an affair I have to worry about. It’s not just sleeping together or living together before getting married that’s the problem. Just looking and getting the idea is enough to damn me to hell. Talk about utter helplessness. I mean, guys, you know what Jesus is saying here. Just walking down the street on a summer day is gonna wind you up in hell. I wonder what he’d say about stealing, coveting, speaking false witness. Jesus makes the commandments impossible to keep.

At first, we may want to take the teeth out of what Jesus says here. It just seems a bit too much. Obviously, no one can do what Jesus says. He gets way to personal here for me. The divorce thing just seems to be pouring salt on the wound. The “d” word has become common place in our society. We think it’s the solution to whatever ales a marriage. But Jesus speaks very strongly. A man who divorces his wife makes her (the innocent party) an adulterer. (It goes the same for the woman too!). The only ground that that God gives here is “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” It’s way too narrow for us. Actually our participation in divorce makes us guilty of adultery, weather it’s being silent, or giving our consent. And adultery, Jesus says, makes us bound for hell.

This text is deadly serious. Jesus isn’t pulling any punches. All too often we take our sin lightly. We tend to sweep it under the rug of forgiveness and pretend that it’s nothing. But sin isn’t nothing. What our sin deserves is exactly what Jesus says, the hell of fire, God’s everlasting burning anger over our rebellion. We can’t ease our way out of it. We think that just because there are no bodies buried in our back yard, just because we’ve managed to keep out of the wrong bedrooms, just because we’ve not been divorced (present company excluded) we aren’t really all that bad. And God forgives anyway. We think our sin isn’t really all that big a deal. It is everyone else’s sin that a problem. That’s why sometimes we think that Jesus is talking metaphorically when he says to gouge out our eye if it causes us to sin. We think he really can’t mean it. Well, he’s dead serious. The problem is that getting rid of our sin isn’t that easy. We could cut off our hand and then we’d have to cut off the other one, and then our feet, and then our elbows. We’d gouge out an eye and be guilty of the same sin with the other before the bleeding stopped. Our tongue would have to go next and still we’d be suffering under our own sin. It runs deep, to the very heart. That’s why Jesus says what he says. There is no cure for sin that we can accomplish. There is no cutting it out because it’s more than the things we do, it’s more than the things we think. We say it in the confession, we are by nature sinful and unclean… we have sinned in what we think, do, and say, by what we have done and not done. And we stand condemned under Jesus words. Whoever does these things is subject to the hell of fire. If it were possible for us to gouge out an eye to save ourselves, we had better get gouging.

Thank God, he saves us from that. It is when we stand at the edge of hell looking in, facing our own deserved punishment, realizing that we are lost and condemned creatures that we see clearly what God has done for us. It is when we see our utterly lost state that the good news of Jesus has its full impact. Cutting off our hands and gouging our eyes won’t do. It takes so much more than that. It takes God himself, to sacrifice himself. It takes God become man in Jesus Christ to set our relationship with God on a proper footing. It takes God, in Jesus Christ, not cutting off his hand but allowing his hands to be nailed to a cross. It takes God, the Father, turning his back on his only son Jesus, and allowing him to suffer the full anger of his punishment, far more then the pain of nails and suffocation on the cross. It takes God, declaring that Jesus suffering and death on the cross is enough to cover our sin. It takes God giving us credit for the perfect life lived by Jesus. It takes God’s grace and mercy and only that to cover up our inability to do anything at all to save ourselves from hell.

Now listen to Saint Paul’s experience. Some people will tell you that he’s talking about himself before he was a Christian. But he’s not. All of his verbs are in the present tense. He’s talking about his life now as he’s writing. He’s talking about the attack of the law on him. He’s talking about Jesus’ words of law cutting him to the very heart.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ” (Romans 7:15–25, ESV)
No room for eye gouging, it wouldn’t work. The sin runs too deep in Paul, it runs too deep in you. There is only one thing that saves you from this body of death. There is only one thing that saves you from the fires of hell so well deserved. It is God, though Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection for you are what you need. His perfect life; his loving God with his whole heart soul and mind; his loving his neighbors, feeding them, healing them, caring for them; his shed blood on the cross; his death and burial; his three days in the tomb; his resurrection from death and his coming again to claim you and the whole world again for himself. All of this is yours, oh baptized Christian, beloved child of God. All of this God did for you in Jesus Christ because you are helpless to keep the law, any part of it. All of this God did for you out his Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. No eye gouging necessary, only faith. Faith that what was done by our Lord he offers to you freely. Unearned. Uncoerced. Unforced. His loving gift for you. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 05, 2023

1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 5, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 2:1–16, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is difficult for a pastor to talk about Christian maturity. The problem, for a pastor, is this: many of you will think you are spiritually mature. Your first thoughts on this topic are to think that you’ve obtained some spiritual level higher than your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ll think you’ve put away certain sins evidenced by the fact that you no longer struggle with them. You joyfully participate in the activities of the church, give your fair share to the budget, say good things about your pastor, and pray through the whole prayer list in the bulletin. You’ve weathered the storms of church politics, pastors with problems, and a long vacancy. You look at the blessings of your church, life, family, work, security as proof that you’ve been blessed by God because you are spiritual, because you have stood firm, because you have run the race and won. Obviously those who struggle to give anything to the church with joy haven’t reached that level of maturity. Obviously those who struggle with sexual temptation haven’t reached that level of spiritual maturity. Obviously, those who… how does the saying go? “I don’t smoke, drink or chew and I don’t date girls who do.” If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times. “Before I came to the Lord, I insert your favorite sin here, but now I don’t even have the desire to insert your favorite sin.” It just all sounds vaguely familiar.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ” (Luke 18:10–11, ESV)
You see, the Pharisee thought he was spiritually mature. He’d conquered all those sins. The tax collector hadn’t. Obviously, he was spiritually lacking, immature. Maybe if he just worked a little bit harder, attended church on a more regular basis, dropped just a bit more in the collection plate, sat closer to the front of the church, worked building committee, maybe then God would clear all those sins out of his life.

You see, that’s the problem with talking about spiritual maturity. Whenever we, sinful human beings, begin to think about growing up in the faith we naturally turn to ourselves. We look to what we must do to make it all happen. And then we boast in our accomplishments and congratulate ourselves on our spiritual maturity.

Paul calls this the “spirit of the world.” And it had invaded the church at Corinth. There were divisions in the church. Some claimed to be more mature because they followed Paul or Apollos. Some thought that they were spiritually mature so they could do whatever they wanted (one man even married his father’s wife!). Paul’s letter to them points out these errors in thinking. He doesn’t go easy on them either, calling for excommunication for open unrepentant sin. It is chilling, “Hand this one over to Satan.” (5:5) he says. For a Christian to live according to the “spirit of the world” is a very dangerous place to be. For a Christian to live in unrepentant sin is to be on the path to denying Jesus Christ. Our own confessions say, But those who walk according to the flesh [Galatians 5:19–21] retain neither faith nor righteousness.

Paul’s warning comes from a firm hand, as does my pastoral warning to you. Beware of your sin, beware of your pride, and beware of your natural tendency to put others in their place while ignoring the log in your own eye. There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner. He must die. Shall I say it even stronger? There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner. He must suffer hell’s punishment. So beware of your sin, Christian. It can only lead you to one place, eternal separation from the Holy God.

Now, dear Christian, I would be neglecting my job as your pastor, if on the heels of that strong law I would direct you to yourself as a solution. “Try harder!” “Do these ten biblical principal and you’ll remove temptation to sin.” “Read your bible every day and God will make you strong enough to overcome.” “You can be victorious if you pray everyday.” “Of all the things Jesus talked about he talked most about money. The bible tells you more about managing your money than anything else!” These are actually more of the same. These are reflections of the wisdom of the world creeping to the church. In fact, if I preached these kinds of sermons, you’d soon be nodding your head in agreement. “Yea, that’s what I need some practical stuff to make a difference in my life.” But that’s not Paul’s solution to the problems of spiritual immaturity in the Corinthian church. What does he say?

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:1)

In fact, this is exactly what St. Paul calls spiritual maturity. It is seeing the foolishness of the cross of Jesus as the solution over and against the wisdom of the world. Not our doing anything. Not our working out our own way out of sin. But clinging to the cross, to Jesus and Jesus Christ crucified as our solution for sin. Spiritual maturity is here at the font, here at the altar, here in the pew when Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross is poured out on you and spoken into your ears. The two most important words you will ever hear in this church are “for you.” This is the Spirit of God at work against the spirit of the world.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (2:12)
So what are the things freely given? The forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross, life and salvation. For as the Catechism says, For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ” (Galatians 6:14, ESV)
So there it is spiritual maturity as defined by God’s Word. It is not my victory over sin; my improving life. It’s not my best life now or my pursuing the purpose God give me in my heart. It is not thinking that there is something I can do to deal with my own sin. It is seeing that my sin is over my head. It is seeing the absolute danger of my sin and fearing the eternal consequences of it. It is also seeing that God has done what it necessary to remove it. It is seeing Jesus Christ bleeding and dying on the cross as the only answer. It is clinging, in faith, to Jesus as my savior and boasting in Jesus Christ crucified for me. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2023

1 Corinthians 1:26-31; The Fourth Sunday after The Epiphany; January 29, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

President Lincoln once said Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. He’s reflecting the idea that nobody really wants to be called a fool. Nobody wants to be thought of as foolish. But there was a time when he was called a fool, and he didn’t mind. During the Civil War Lincoln visited one of the forts north of Washington during the heat of battle. While inspecting the front lines he asked to be shown where the enemy was. When they were pointed out Lincoln stood to get a better view, thus making his tall frame, beard, and black hat the perfect recognizable target. Under a hale of bullets, a junior officer grabbed his arm and pulled him from harms way, shouting “Get down, you fool!” The president was reported to have replied. “I’m glad to see you know how talk to a civilian.” It was the president’s first and last visit to an active battle front.

In not so many words, Paul calls the Christians who are members of the small Corinthian church, foolish. But like President Lincoln, they probably weren’t upset. Paul was clarifying the way that God works. He wanted the Corinthians to recognize that God does things differently than people would do them. He especially wanted them to recognize God’s work in their midst. He begins by reminding them who they were before God called them to faith. He wanted them to remember where they came from. It was not uncommon for Christians those days to be primarily from the lower classes. Many were former slaves and even current slaves. Many were poor and un-influential. It’s not the kind of group you would gather to be a major force of influence in any town. Paul’s words tell the story: …not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth… and still there were wealthy people who were part of God’s family at Corinth. Note that Paul says, “not many”; not “not any.” He includes them with an “m.” And yet, Paul reminds them that God doesn’t recognize social status. He calls all people into his family, regardless of their standing. Those who become a part, realize that all the things that people boast in, wealth, education, prestige, and moral standing don’t count for anything in God’s sight. Instead of boasting in those things that Paul calls them “rubbish” (Phil 3:4-10), Christians boast in Jesus (1 Cor 1:31). Christians know that nothing they have done can ever make them right with God. That’s what Paul means when he calls the Corinthians foolish. He means foolish in the eyes of everyone else.

God chose the foolish things to shame the wise, Paul says. Paul is emphasizing that God doesn’t consider human merit or human ideas in his calculations of what is important and how he is going to work. And you can see it easily with a quick look at the people Jesus hung out with. His followers came from tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick and the poor. One of the Pharisee’s primary complaints against Jesus was that he received sinners, and not only that, but he had the gall to eat with them. (Luke 15:2) It went against the way they thought God worked. It went against their belief that people got connected with God by working to clean up their life first. Jesus shamed them by loving the people they deemed unlovable and, in fact, doing what they should have been doing. The very

thought of helping those people was foolish to them. But Jesus didn’t just start doing things like that out of the blue. The history of God working in the world is full if foolish examples. There are two good examples mentioned in the Old Testament lesson for today. (Micah 6:1-8) God is reminding his people, the Israelites, about what he had done for them. For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:4, ESV) Egypt was a superpower. But the God, the God of slaves showed that he was The True God. He used foolish slaves to show his true nature to save. You and I would have chosen the grandeur and prestige of the King of Egypt to show God’s power.

And then there’s the reference to Balaam the son of Beor. (Micah 6:5) I don’t know if you remember this story but it’s a good one: (See Numbers 22) after the freed slaves, the Children of Israel, had wandered in the desert for a while and were finally ready to occupy the land that God had promised them, they needed to cross the land of Moab. The King of Moab wasn’t very happy to oblige. He called a wise man to help him, a general prophet called Balaam. “Curse these Israelites for me, so I can defeat them.” But Balaam was told by God in a dream not to do it. But because he stood to become very wealthy from the deal, Balaam took two of his servants and began the journey on his donkey. God made the donkey see what Balaam couldn’t. God had set and angel in the road to kill them. So, the donkey stopped and refused to go on. Balaam beat the donkey in anger. But the donkey only trapped Balaam’s foot between himself and a rock on the narrow road. Balaam beat him again, but the donkey still refused to move and lay down on the road. Balaam beat him all the more. After the third beating the donkey spoke up. “What have I ever done to you that you beat me in this way?” Balaam seeming to not be the least surprised at a talking donkey, replied, “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword, you’d be dead.” And the donkey answered back. “I’ve been your donkey all your life. Have I ever acted this way before? Don’t you think I have a good reason?” And at that moment God allowed Balaam to see the angel with the drawn sword in his hand. (Num 22:31) He repented immediately and promised to do whatever God wanted. There’s a song by Christian Song Writer, Don Francisco that’s all about this account. In the song He talks about the foolishness of God and how he chooses what he will to do his work. The song ends with the line:
The Lord's the one who makes the choice of the instrument He's usin' We don't know the reasons and the plans behind His choosin' So when the Lord starts usin' you don't you pay it any mind He 'could have used the dog next door if He'd been so inclined (Copyright Don Francisco; This song appears on the albums: Beautiful to Me Got to Tell Somebody)
And of course, nothing screams foolishness, in human eyes, more than God becoming man, for the specific purpose of dying the death of a common criminal. But Paul wants the Corinthians to remember it is the message of that foolishness that has made all the difference for them.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

God’s purpose in choosing the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3), like the Corinthian Christians is, as Paul says, “so that none may boast.” (See also; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:27-28) There is no room for boasting in human achievement in light of what God has done through Jesus Christ. All the Corinthian Christians had to do was remember who they were and where they came from and they knew they had no room for boasting, they were saved because of Jesus and only Jesus.

This is where Paul’s words should strike us right between the eyes. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:27b, ESV) Paul’s words to us are like the soldier’s words to Lincoln. “Get down you fools!” Because of whom we are and where we come from it is very easy for us to lose sight of Jesus and begin to boast in our own accomplishments. Like those Pharisees we forget what God has given us to do and look down our noses at the people in this community that God has given for us to serve. It’s easy for us to tell ourselves that we’re better than the people who don’t get to church much and pat ourselves on the back for being the financial backbone of the church. Or even more to the point, looking back at the way we used to do church and the way the things used to be and forgetting that this church is here not because of anything our parents did, and not because of anything we have done, but because of the foolishness of God. This church’s future isn’t in us and our ability to make it work, or build a nice new (and needed) building, but in the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified for the sins of the whole world. We are here to boast in Jesus Christ, not in this church.

That’s the foolishness of God again, isn’t it? We want to think that it’s what we do. God wants us to remember that it’s what he does. Through Baptism God has called you to be part of his body. Consider your calling… who were you without Jesus? A lost and condemned person; a sinful person deserving God’s anger and punishment. Yet through the “weak” and “foolish” acts of God in Jesus Christ you have been saved from that. Jesus’ death on the cross is even enough to forgive the sin of boasting that we so easily fall into. He forgives the sin of feeling superior and forgetting why we are here. Paul says [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV) Just as God saved the Israelites from slavery and death in Egypt he saved you from slavery to sin, and the punishment that results. He does it through his sacrifice that is enough to forgive the sins of the whole world.

I think of the story of a family house that caught in a fire. The two children were saved from death by a stranger who risked his life and suffered serious burns on his hands. The parents didn’t escape. When it came time to adopt the children their savior stated his case without words by showing the scares, he received by saving them. Some people might think it was foolish of the man to risk his life for two children he didn’t know, but not the children he saved.

Jesus does more than risk his life for us. He gives it. His bleeding body on the cross saves us from our own foolishness. His blood washes away all our sin. His death wins for us eternal life. His resurrection promises that life to us. What is there left for us to boast in? Only Jesus; only his cross; only his resurrection; only his choosing foolish things like you and me to be his own. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV)

We boast in the Lord when we remember that it is God’s work through His Word and Sacraments and the foolishness of preaching the Good News about Jesus, that God uses to call people into his kingdom. We boast in the Lord when we point people to Jesus as their only Savior from sin, even when they think it’s foolish. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Psalm 27:14; The Third Sunday after Epiphany;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wait for the Lord. I struggle a great deal with exactly what that means. Wait for the Lord. We don’t like to wait for anything. Now that I live alone, I don’t have to wait for my family to get ready to leave the house, there was always one more thing to do, one more trip back for something forgotten, one more trip to the bathroom. I was ready to go and there I stood waiting. I knew better than to go out to the car, I’ll be sitting and waiting twice as long. Waiting isn’t something I do very well. Aren’t we all conditioned by that light emitting box in our living rooms? Rarely do we ever have to wait more than an hour (or even a half) for any story to unfold. Oh, I know that lots of the programs now have story lines that continue from week to week. The networks have figured out that you’ll come back if they drag you along with a continuing story. But that story line is always a part of a complete story for today’s episode. And now you can view a whole season of your favorite shows, a whole year. Binge watching until you have a headache. You don’t have to wait for next week for the new episode. How many of you have a bottle of wine sitting at home you are letting age to the appropriate age? Probably not many. In America, the wine experts complain, the typical aging of wine takes place on the car seat home from the store. Well, that’s typical of our waiting.

We don’t wait for anything. We don’t wait for marriage to have sex. We don’t wait 10 min for a hamburger (We should put salt and pepper shakers in the steering wheel.) We don’t want to wait for the traffic light to change, or for our tax refund. How long can you wait? Everything in our life is designed to minimize the wait. Losing “wait” isn’t just talking about getting lighter on the bathroom scale. And here in this little text, at the tail end of a rather short Psalm, King David tells us to “Wait for the Lord.” Now of all the things we must wait for, most of all we don’t want to wait on God.

“I’ve been that route,” you say. “I waited for God and my mother died anyway. I waited for God and the promotion I wanted passed me by. I waited for God and my girl friend started dating someone else. I waited for God and the pain in my body turned into chemotherapy. Waiting for God doesn’t mean that I’ll get what I want.” And that’s true. God never promises that he’ll give us whatever we want and waiting on him doesn’t mean we’ll get what we want just because we wait.

We’ve all been taught that God answers our prayers with three different ways: “Yes, no, and wait.” I think we’d rather have “no” then “wait.” In fact, I think when the answer is “wait,” we most often go out and find our own answer. We lie ourselves into believing that if it makes me happy it must be God’s answer to my prayers. “After all,” we lie, “what God wants most is for me is to be happy.” The god that tells you that you can have it all, without waiting, is Satan. The god that tells you that what you want right now is what’s best for you is the world. The god that gives you whatever you want right now, despite the consequences, is yourself. Not wanting to wait on God is really all about rejecting him. It’s about refusing to let him be in control of our life. Wanting to be our own god.

Jesus told a parable about waiting. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one told him he wished he were dead. Give me the money that is mine when you die, I can’t wait for that day. The father divided his property between the sons. The younger son couldn’t wait to get out from under the thumb of his old man. Within a few days he had gathered up all that was now his and went as far away as he could go. He partied. He laughed. He loved. He spent it all, every single dime. And when it was gone, every single dime, a famine came over the land, and since he had nothing left, he was trouble. He found a menial and degrading job, where he worked just to have a little bit to eat. And even that wasn’t worth anything. No one there offered to help him in any way. When he was at his lowest point he came to his senses. He knew he didn’t deserve anything from his father, but he thought to himself, “Even the workers on my father’s farm are treated better than this. Maybe I can talk my father into letting me work for him. I’ll go back to him and tell him, “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I can’t be your son anymore, but could I work for you as a hired hand?” So, he set out on his way home.

Since the day the son had left the father had been looking out and waiting with eager expectation for his son to come home. Every day he would stand looking out on the road for the first glimpse of his son. So, when the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and ran out to meet him. He had been waiting. He ran to meet him with open arms to welcome him home again.

“Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you. I’m not worthy to be a member of this family anymore…” but the father, who had been waiting, didn’t allow him to finish. He called to the hired hands and told them to do everything necessary to welcome the son back into the family. He put the best robe upon him. He forgave him for all that he had done. The days of waiting were over. His lost son had come home again.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

That waited for a wretch like me,

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.
That’s looking and waiting with eager expectation. The father stood at the road, looking out, waiting to forgive.

God, the Father, has already forgiven you. You have already been restored to the family. He was waiting for you with eager expectation at the baptismal font. There he embraced you and kissed you. He put on you the best robe, the robe of the perfect life of Jesus. It isn’t what you should receive from God. Instead, you should be turned away. That’s what happens on the cross of Jesus. Jesus is turned away. He receives the punishment for your sins, and you receive the life that he lived perfectly. It is God’s love for you that he sent Jesus to die in your place. There is no waiting for forgiveness for you. It is done even before you ask. “O almighty God, merciful father, I a poor miserable sinner, confess unto you…” and he interrupts and says, “I forgive you because of Jesus.” He forgives even your sin of not wanting to wait. He forgives even the sin of worshipping your own desires. It is all forgiven for the sake of Jesus.
Where guilt is great and sin abounds,

There God’s great grace is poured,

And fervent prayer form saints resounds:

“I wait for you, O Lord”
“I wait for you, O Lord.” It seems impossible. We hate to wait. But we do wait on the Lord. We do it because we know he has our best interest at heart. It’s not like waiting for a hamburger at the drive through. We don’t have a relationship with the server. We have a relationship with God. Our relationship is based on what he has done for us. Through baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are a part of God’s family. That is sure, not because of anything we have done but because of everything He has done. He has shown us that he is faithful. Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t end in his death. He defeated death by rising from the grave alive again. That’s why the psalmist can say, “be strong, and let your heart take courage.” We are connected to Jesus’ resurrection through faith in him and Holy Baptism. What is his is ours, his robe of perfection, his living again. Our sin is paid for, and our death isn’t the end. We will live forever with the Lord.
By grace we’re saved, through faith alone;

That mercy contemplate.

Bring all your needs before his throne

As for the Lord you wait.
The God who sacrificed his only son to make us his sons and daughters sometimes asks us to wait. We have God’s promises that no matter what happens it all happens for our good. (Ro 8:28)
31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
And that’s God’s promise, too.

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage, wait for the Lord.


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