Sunday, June 11, 2023

Hosea 6:1; The Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 11, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. Hosea 6:1 (ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

So what does this text have to do with waiting for the Lord? I wonder what kind of waiting this passage is telling us about. I not sure I want to know. Just look at it again: He has torn; He has struck us down. That doesn’t sound like anything that is anywhere near the top of my priority list. And in fact, it’s worse than it seems because the English translation really wimps out. The word torn that the prophet is using is what a lion does when it captures its prey. It tears the meat from the bones of the carcass. In fact, other places in the bible the same word is translated as “to feed.” And as far as struck down the old King James Version gets closer; it uses the word “smite” and most of the time it means to “smite dead.” Well, like I said, I might be willing to grudgingly wait for God, but this isn’t the kind of waiting I had in mind. You have heard me say before, I didn’t want to wait. Worse-yet, I don’t think I want to be torn and struck down. And yet, what Hosea is saying isn’t outside of what I should expect.

In fact, Martin Luther talks about this very thing when he talks about Jesus saying that he is the vine, and we are the branches. God, the Father, Jesus says, is the vine dresser. It’s the branches dresser’s job to take care of the branches. Sometimes that includes suffering on the part of the branches. The vine dresser comes and prunes the branches. “Hey, the branches complain. You’re cutting off too much! You’re going to kill me. I’ll never bear fruit if you do that.” “No, the vinedresser answers. “I’m just pruning away the dead wood. If I do this, you’ll produce more fruit.” The vinedresser returns later and begins aerating around the vine’s roots, poking at it with a sharp tool. “Hey,” the branches complain again, “be careful, you’re going to cut me off at the roots. You’ll kill me for sure. If you do that, I’ll never bear fruit.” “No, the vine dresser answers, I’m just making the soil soft for your roots to expand, I’m not cutting you off. If I do this, you’ll bear more fruit.” Some time later the vinedresser returns with a wheelbarrow of manure, and sure enough he plops it down on the ground all around the roots of the vine. “Hey, that smells. How come I must put up with that muck in my life? I don’t think that’s necessary. The smell alone will kill me.” “No,” answers the vinedresser again, “you’ll survive. In fact, you’ll thrive here, since I’ve taken care to prune, aerate, and fertilize you.” The suffering we must go through now has a purpose; it is there to make us grow.

Now, it’s only natural for us to want not to suffer, especially here in the US. Prosperity is the American way. It’s the American dream. We tend to believe that we are in control of our own destiny, and we can pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. I think where this comes most into play is the fact that we believe that people who are poor, and don’t have much, (don’t have as much as we have), must deserve it somehow. They must be lazy, and unwilling to work. If you have trouble in your life, it must be your own fault, you must not be pleasing to God. And in fact, it goes much further than that. We want to make a deal with God. I heard that a Professional Football player was asked what the key to a playoff victory for his team was. “If you are faithful and obedient to God, God will be faithful and obedient to you,” was his answer. It is only natural to think what when something is going wrong, when we are suffering, that God must be punishing us. And when things are going well, we must be doing things right and God is rewarding us. It’s a little like the movie “Sound of Music.” When everything is working out for Maria she sings, “I must have done something good.” That’s a theology that fits well into our thinking. Doesn’t it? 12 steps to prosperity. Do what is pleasing to God and God will give you rewards. This is the way we think life in these United States should work, and so we’ve built a theology around it. Another way to sum it all up is to say things like, “God wants us to be victorious. Claim the victorious life and God will provide you with whatever you want. If you are suffering, if you have pain, then your faith must not be strong enough. Claim the victorious life and God will give it to you. Besides, if other people see you living the victorious life, they will be drawn to God.” And to a certain extent the world certainly seems to work that way. Except if you consider the millions in poverty around the world, men, women, and children, starving to death for no fault of their own, and no way to escape. And among those people are plenty of faithful Christians, also starving to death, every day.

I think it would be difficult to look St. Peter in the eye and tell him to claim the victorious life, as he was hanging on his cross upside down, because he wasn’t worthy to be crucified like Jesus. Or to tell Paul that it was obvious his faith wasn’t strong enough to overcome the evil in his life as the blade was falling to remove his head. These men of God suffered in their lives. These men suffered for their faith. The book of Acts is a litany of Paul’s suffering. And he didn’t hesitate to place the blame where it belongs either. “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28, ESV) He was saying “This is God’s doing. He is intimately involved in every aspect of my life.”

“Ok pastor, now you’ve done it, now you’ve said that God is responsible for suffering and evil in my life. Now you are blaming God.” Well, I’m not alone. One of Job’s friends told him, “If you stretch out your hand to God, without any sin in it, you will be secure, and you will be blessed by God.” “No,” was Job’s answer. (Job 11:13ff) “All my suffering is from God! He is the cause.”

Do we really want a God who isn’t in control of all things? Do we want a God who can’t do anything about evil in the world? Doesn’t the real comfort in our faith come in realizing that God is in control of all things and that even the suffering in our lives has a purpose? 28And 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) Notice that it doesn’t say that all things that happen to us will be good (from our perspective), but that God uses all things for our good.

Now, Peter wasn’t always willing to suffer for Jesus. He is probably even known best for his greatest sin, denying Jesus to save his own skin. When Jesus was on trial, he denied even knowing him. And don’t forget about another time, too. Jesus asked him who people said that he was. “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God!” “Blessed are you, Peter.” Jesus complimented. But as soon as Jesus began to talk about his suffering and death to come, Peter piped up again. “No sir. There’ll be no bad stuff in my messiah’s life, no suffering, only victory!” And Jesus puts Peter’s second confession right in its place. “Get behind me Satan!”

We see and understand God best, not through victory in our lives but through suffering. In fact, we understand God best in the suffering of Jesus. Ours is a cross shaped faith. That is how God chooses to work. The truth of it grates against us and our human nature. We have a mathematical formula figured out. If I do a good deed God will reward me in this life and in eternity. And even we God’s faithful people believe it, and practice it. Of course, what do we expect? The wisdom of the cross is foolishness to men. Christ Crucified is a stumbling block. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25) No reasonable human being would believe that an all-powerful god of the universe would work through suffering, let alone the willing suffering of his only son.

The problem with us is that we always want to make ourselves the center of everything. If I have 12 steps to make God smile on me, or if I can open my heart to God, everything will be fine. I’m at the center. I’m the actor, I’m the savior, and I’m my own god. If I can just get a handle on my relationships with other people, I’ll be ok. If I don’t kill or swear or covet, then I’ll be worthy of God’s love. We think that the big sins in our lives are on the outside. But really the biggest sins are on the inside. You shall have no other gods. But we do. We put other things first. We put ourselves first. We worship what we earn.

It’s the cross of Jesus that makes it truly clear that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. God acts at the cross. He reaches out to save me and you. Our thinking is like the Boy Scout who is lost in the woods. The scout master goes out to look for him. When he finds him, he tells the scout to follow him. “It’s going to be a tough walk, but you can do it,” he says. God tells us that we are the lost scout who is unconscious because he has fallen out of a tree. The scout master goes to find him and saves him by carrying him to safety. Our thinking is that we are the titanic passenger who has fallen into the water, and our rescuer throws us a life preserver to aid our swimming to the rescue ship. God’s word tells us that we have fallen in the water and have passed out due to the cold. Our rescuer dives in the water and lifts us to safety, and in the process freezes to death himself.

The way the God really works in the world is through suffering. He acts through an instrument of punishment that must have been dragged straight from the pit of hell itself, the cross. God works right there as Jesus suffers and dies a horrible death. Jesus’ life was not a victorious life, by any human standards. He did everything perfectly, everything according to God’s perfect will. And yet he ended up on the cross. Right there we see and understand God more fully than anywhere else. Right there at the cross we see ultimate evil and ultimate good. Jesus suffered and died because of sin. It was our sin that brought him to that suffering place. When we look at the cross, we see a great evil, and yet we also see that all of it was God’s plan for working out good for the whole human race. The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is God doing everything necessary for good your good and mine.

But there is more to Jesus than just a perfect life and an innocent death. We know about the ultimate good in Jesus’ suffering because we know about the resurrection. It is the ultimate way that God uses all things, even evil and suffering for our good. It is because we are intimately connected to Jesus’ suffering and death, that our faith is meaningful. His suffering and death are the suffering and death for our sin. And even more importantly his resurrection, his victory over death and suffering is our victory. No matter how much suffering we go through we already have the ultimate victory promised to us in Jesus’ resurrection. Our suffering is temporary. Our death is temporary. Our lives look just like Jesus’ life, they are shaped like the cross. And our death is just like Jesus’ death, it ends in life again. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4 (ESV) We have suffering in our lives, not to help us to earn our salvation, but to drive us to the cross. Suffering comes to our lives to strengthen our faith. And it’s not as we often want to think, that when our faith is strong, we stand better on our own. Our faith is strongest when we see Jesus as strong and ourselves as helpless. We suffer in our life to show us exactly how helpless we really are. In our suffering we see that we are nothing and Christ is everything.

When suffering comes, we turn to Jesus and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner!” Picture it this way: Death will come to you. It may come in many years, or it may come soon. When you face it in faith you won’t call out, “I’ve lived the victorious life!” instead you’ll cry out “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” That is the difference between life and death, heaven, and hell. For us who are nothing, Jesus is everything.

That is Amazing Grace. Undeserved Grace. Nothing in my hand I bring but only to the cross I cling. That’s what the text is telling us about waiting for God. He has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Matthew 28:16-20; Trinity Sunday, May 4, 2023;

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

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

Well, there it is, “The Great Commission” Go and make disciples. It couldn’t be plainer than that. Jesus commands us to get out there and witness. Jesus wants us to go beat on doors. Jesus wants us to quit our jobs, move to China and be missionaries. “Go… and do it.” Jesus says. Right? Maybe the JWs and the Mormons have the right idea. Ok gentlemen, time to get out your white shirt and black tie and name tag…

But wait… before we get all in a tizzy maybe we should look at what Jesus says again. In fact, let’s look at the whole passage again. It says the disciples had gathered on the mountain to wait for Jesus. When he showed up, they worshipped him… but some doubted. That “some doubted” is an interesting phrase. There’s lots of discussion among scholars about exactly what it means and who it refers to… but I think it’s just begging a question. By the way, you’ve asked the same question yourself.

Here they are standing on the mountain in the presence of Jesus. After all they’ve seen and heard, Jesus healing people, Jesus preaching sermons that they’ll never forget, Jesus feeding the multitudes with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and 12 baskets left over. Jesus arguing down the religious leaders. Jesus arrested. Jesus crucified dead and buried. Jesus alive again despite their disbelief. Here they are standing in front of Jesus waiting for what he’s going to do next. The question they must be asking is, “Now what?”

You’ve asked it too. “Now what?” Something big happens in the church and when it’s over, “Now what?” Every time you get a new pastor, “Now what?” New children are born, baptized, and confirmed “Now what?” Sunday after Sunday you sit in the very same spot and listen to the God’s Word and sing hymns about Jesus and when it’s over you say, “Now what?” Just like those eleven frightened men on the mountain, we say, “Well God, we see what you’ve done in the past but… Now what?” What Jesus says here next is an answer to that question.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Now what? Well Jesus is going to tell us, and what’s more what he says carries some weight. After all he has authority; in fact, he has all authority. That means what he says goes. That means what he says happens. That means it’s not an idle wish, or vain hope Jesus is talking about here. Jesus has authority. You want proof. Just look at what he did. He healed the sick with just his words and his touch. He stopped storms on the sea. He multiplied bread and fish. He rose from death alive again. When Jesus says he has authority, all authority, you can be sure that it’s true. The next two words are important but as important as the first is I think the next is even more so. The text says, “go therefore.” But we might understand it a bit better if we change the order around. “Because I have all authority, therefore... go...” do it because I’m telling you to do it. Do it because I have authority and I promise to make it work. Therefore, just do it... as the commercial says.

What are we to do? Now what? That’s exactly what’s next. Make disciples. You know we very often get caught up on that word “go.” But it’s not really the most important part. Making disciples is the main point. You might even say it like this, while you are going… make disciples. While you are living… make disciples… while you are doing what you do every day… make disciples. It’s not the going that’s important it’s the making disciples that’s important. Jesus’ command to his disciples was to make disciples. Now those guys aren’t standing on that mountain by themselves. St. Matthew wants you to see yourself standing with them. When Jesus gives the command to them, he’s giving it to you too. We as the church are to be about the task, the commission, of making disciples. That’s the answer to the question, “now what?” Now what? Make disciples.

Well, that’s all fine and good. But we are poor stewards of that task. We haven’t donned a black tie and white shirt in decades. We don’t even have an evangelism committee. The favorite phrase around here (and by the way most churches) is… let the pastor do it. We are afraid. We don’t want to be seen as religious zealots. We don’t want to be accused of “sheep stealing.” But I’m afraid that as much as it is the pastor’s job to do carry out this task, Jesus doesn’t leave you out. Every day you don’t follow his command to “make disciples” is a day you sin. Every time you skip the opportunity to speak about Jesus is a day you fall short of God’s desire for your life. Every day you don’t put Jesus first in your heart and on your lips is a day you deserve only God’s wrath and punishment. It’s sinful not to do it, and we are all guilty of this sin. And don’t forget, the wages of sin. What we earn for disobeying God’s command is death and hell. So welcome to the club. I deserve it too. I am no less a sinner than you. It’s enough to make you think that you’re not really a disciple after all. ‘cause what Jesus says happens and it sure doesn’t seem to be happing around here, through me, or through you either.

But Jesus doesn’t just leave us hanging with his command. He says make disciples because he has authority. He’s going to make sure it happens, that’s what authority is. Next in the text he tells us how to do it. And at first it sounds obvious but then it sounds a little bit surprising. How are we to make disciples? Now what? By baptizing. That’s God’s evangelism program, baptism. He doesn’t talk about knocking on doors, he doesn’t talk about white shirts and ties; he talks about Baptism. And not just any baptism either; baptism into God’s name. Martin Luther puts it clearly:
What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
And here’s the good news for you, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. The proof is in the water. Your sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus made sure that you know it is yours because you’re the one who got his head wet. You’ve been connected to the Triune God through God’s promise to you in his Word and water. Your sin is washed away. You are made clean. It is nothing short of a miracle. Hey, I guess your parents were doing what Jesus said to do. In fact, the church has been doing what Jesus said to do ever since that mountain in Galilee. And God is faithful. We are all living proof of that. But there’s more. Jesus continues his instruction. He also says to teach. The word “disciple” means (in part) “learner.” I love that definition. It is a great way to think about it. Baptized children of God continue to learn about God’s love for them in Jesus. As a disciple of Jesus, you never stop learning about Jesus. That’s what the gift of the Holy Spirit is all about. He takes the Word you hear in your ear and plunges it into your heart. He helps you to understand in your head the faith you hold onto in your heart. God does all that with teaching. Christians, disciples, learners, learn every time they hear God’s Word about Jesus. The church is to teach. Martin Luther called it “God’s mouth house,” the place where God speaks. When God speaks, his people listen and learn. Our task in fulfilling the commission, the task we’ve been given to do is to make sure what’s being spoken agrees with what Jesus said, “all I have commanded you.”

It’s going on here all the time. The Great Commission. Baptizing an

d teaching. Jesus promised it. Jesus makes it happen through his Word. Hey, I just realized something. Jesus also promises he’s going to be with us forever. That’s no idle promise either. What he promises is true. And he is not just promising some vague invisible presence either. That wouldn’t mean a thing. His presence with us is as real as my voice, as real as water, as real as bread and wine. Jesus keeps is promises.

Now what? Well, it’s a good question. Got family? Got friends? Got neighbors? Got milk? Jesus isn’t asking you to quit your job and go to Africa. He’s asking you to listen and learn right here. He’s given you a pastor to teach you. He’s asking you to support the churches work here. He’s asking you to point your family, friends, and neighbors to Jesus right here. You don’t have to say the right thing, you just have to point. You don’t have to give a witness of Jesus in your heart you just have to speak God’s promises in Jesus. Jesus has authority. He makes it happen. He is present here with us forever. Amen.

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