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.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Matthew 2:13-18; Holy Innocents; January 1, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”” (Matthew 2:13–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting, deadly, horrible story. A king so paranoid that he would kill innocent children rather than face the possible threat of being dethroned. He doesn’t understand Jesus at all. He fears for his throne, but Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t out of character for this king, who had his children, wives, friends, not to mention his enemies, killed, to give the order to have a few dozen children slaughtered. It is also reported that Herod gave another order, that upon his death, that thousands of city officials were to be escorted into the arena to be killed. The king wanted to be sure that on his death there would be mourning. In his fear, he conspires with the Magi to find Jesus, and kill him. When that fails, he kills the babies two years and younger to prevent Jesus’ reign.

Given the population of Bethlehem it was probably under twenty infants. The early church exaggerated the account for emphasis on the evil nature of it. But numbers hardly make it more or less evil. But given the numbers, it is no wander that no historian records the event. It would have hardly shown up in the news. It is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such evil. We call this event the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Very young children killed for no reason. We’d like to know why. But God doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know. In his Word he only tells us what we need to know. It is one question you may be anxious to get an answer for when you stand before Jesus.

So, Herod wants to prevent Jesus from becoming king. He does his worst. But the angel warns Joseph. The baby and his mother are spirited away to Egypt in the cover of darkness. Jesus is safe from Herod.

It isn’t Jesus’ time to be killed. So, Herod’s plots will necessarily fail. That’s how God’s plans work. People can do their best (or worst) to prevent them. But God is in control, and we see it plainly here.

They must seem dark days for Joseph and Mary. A king out to destroy them. Uprooted from home and family and work. Spending time in a foreign country. It wasn’t part of their plans for their family. How upsetting, unsettling it must have been. But did you notice how faithful Joseph is? (Who among us has been confronted by angels telling us what to do?). From being told to marry Mary, to sneaking away to Egypt, to returning. It seems it was difficult for him to get a good night’s sleep. Still, he does exactly what God asks. This is why we celebrate Joseph as Jesus’ protector. He faithfully does what he is given to do. And then having done what God gave him to do, he disappears from the scene.

Of course, evil people can’t thwart God’s plans. What kind of a God would he be if they could? Jesus came as a human being, God with Us to save us from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. His time to do that wasn’t in a house in Bethlehem. It was many years later, on the cross. He had much to do to make himself known. Miracles to perform. People to teach. Establish his church and sacraments. It was all God’s plan for saving people from the second death in hell. The bible tells us as much when it says things like, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” And “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled.” Strong reminders that God’s will is always done. All that Jesus did is described by the prophets. It is all done in order that you could be redeemed. It is all done in order that you could spend eternity with Jesus forever. Salvation is God’s primary plan for the world. It can’t be stopped. His love for your is such that he is willing for his only son to die a horrible death on the cross, to assure it.

Well, that’s the big stuff, isn’t it? What about your life and mine. Does God make plans for you and me that can’t be stopped by evil people? It is what he told the prophet Jerimiah in his darkest days. And just look at what he suffered in his life. His “friends” plotted to kill him. He was thrown into a cistern to die. He struggled with kings and false prophets that always seemed to have the upper hand. And yet God said to him:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11–13, ESV)
It is a very personal promise to Jeremiah. He is promised to have “a future and a hope”. In other words, God’s plans for Jeremiah couldn’t be stopped. In his darkest days, I think it was quite a comfort to him to have such an unstoppable destiny in God’s love.

And just think how absurd it sounds to the world’s ears, that God cares enough about you that he wants to make sure you get enough sleep. That is what he did for Elijah in his darkest days. After he had killed the 300 prophets of Baal and was running for his life. He was complaining that he was the only faithful person left in the world. God said something like, “I see you are grouchy, eat and take a nap.”

After Jesus survived Herod’s attempts on his life, he says things like that to you.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28–31, ESV)
If God’s attention to the details of life are such that he even knows when a single sparrow dies, just think about what that means for your life. If he numbers the hairs of your head (easier on some than others), what does that say about the plans he has for you? Will the “keeper of sparrows” and the “numberer of hairs” let anything stop them? Of course not. He plans “a future and a hope” for you. And it all begins with his having done everything necessary to save you. It is the most important thing that he does through Jesus. Canceling your debt of sin, and along with the Holy Spirit he (according to Martin Luther) keeping you in the true faith.
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
And how about this list:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)
You can expand that list and add cancer, pandemics, government persecution, wokism, trouble at work and in your family, and even snowstorms and mostly even you. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t separate you from it. Such is God’s great love for you that even these can’t stop his plans for you.

I don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. You don’t know the details of God’s plan for your life. What I do know is this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
“All things”, St. Paul says, not just the things that we think are good, but all of them. The things we see as good, bad, and ugly. God promises they are all “for good”.

Someday, you and I will die (unless Jesus comes first). We will pass through death and stand before Jesus our Savior. Then all that happened to us, everything, will be seen clearly. We will understand fully how it all worked out for good. We will see our problems, troubles, joys, all of them, in light of the salvation he promises. There will be no doubt about it. We will see how everything in our life is connected to that moment. And then, with our resurrection on the last day, we will live in the sublime joy of it all. All our troubles will be behind us. All our cares will be behind us. All that will be left is joy. Joy in what Jesus has done for you. Amen.

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