Sunday, September 17, 2023

Genesis 50:15-21; The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 17, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:15-21, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The story of Joseph has it all; sex, lies, deceit, family conflict. Those reality TV shows have nothing on this story. Joseph was the victim of his brother’s jealousy. You remember how he was cast into a well to be killed because he was dad’s favorite. He got the best stuff like the expensive coat of many colors. And apparently, he got more of dad’s attention too. He stayed home while the other brothers had to go with the sheep in the far fields. Joseph didn’t help either telling his brothers (and his parents) that they’d be serving him some day, because he dreamt it. His brothers hated him enough to want him dead. When Jacob sent him out to spy on them and they would have killed him had it not been for Brother Reuben. He convinced them to sell Joseph to the traveling caravan of Ishmaelites. That put Joseph in Egypt in the house of a man named Potiphar. He was a hard worker and soon oversaw everything this powerful man owned. Josheph was a hansom boy, and Potiphar’s wife had a roving eye and it landed on him. She cornered him to have a little affair, but Joseph refused. She screamed bloody murder and got Joseph thrown in jail. This was better than the alternative, because Potiphar certainly could have had him executed on the spot. In the prison Joseph again rose to a good position, he always seemed to land on his feet. While he was there the king’s cup bearer and baker were also thrown in prison. When they had dreams they didn’t understand, Joseph, by the gift of God, told them what they meant. The cup bearer would be back with Pharaoh, the baker would lose his head. When it all turned out as Joseph said he asked the cupbearer to tell Pharaoh about him. But Joseph was forgotten and spent more time in jail. When Pharaoh had a dream he couldn’t understand the cup bearer remembered the dream teller in prison. He told Pharaoh and Joseph had his chance again. The dream was about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so pleased with Joseph, he put him in charge of preparing for the famine.

Meanwhile back at home, the famine struck hard and Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food. Unknowingly the brothers came upon their “dead” brother, who was now in charge. He provided for their needs and brought the whole family to live with him in Egypt. That’s where our text for today picks up. The brothers wonder if Joseph is just waiting for their father to die to take out his revenge. Joseph shows he is a man of great character. He might be entitled to a bit of revenge, but he’ll not take it. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good. Look at where we are and how God has taken care of us. God is indeed faithful.”

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) I often read this passage at the bedside of a member in the hospital. It is a passage we Christians are familiar with and take great comfort with. But as often as we hear it and even though we believe what it says, it is also true that we don’t always see that God is doing what he promises to do. How can the bad things that happen to me be “for the good?” Didn’t you often ask yourselves what you did that God would treat you this way? When we run through tough times, it is easy to think that God isn’t keeping his promises. When life is hard, and trouble is forefront we wonder where God is in it all. When our hopes and dreams seem to be fading away, when what we want for our future evaporates before our eyes, we ask God why he isn’t keeping up his end of our life.

How like the brothers of Joseph we are. God does good for us, and we doubt his promises. Trouble comes and we look to the worst instead of the best. God is faithful and we mistrust his promises. In other words, we sin. We can’t help it. We find it very difficult to trust God’s promises. We find it difficult to accept that God allows trouble and heartache into our lives. We want God to work the way we want him to work. If I were God, I’d surely not let people suffer this way. If I were God, I’d eliminate suffering. If I were God, I’d make sure every day was a happy day instead of a sad or troubled day. If I were God… that sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Isn’t it the snake in the garden that told Adam and Eve that they could be gods? “If you eat the fruit, you’ll know good and evil, and you can be in control instead of God.” For all our talk of faith and trust we haven’t come very far from the Garden, have we? We haven’t gotten over our desire to be god. We still want things our way instead of God’s way. We forget that he indeed knows what is best. It happens often when we stand in the face of trouble, afraid. We are fearful that we will suffer. We want to avoid suffering at all costs.

That is just like Joseph’s brothers. They were afraid of suffering for the sin they had done to Joseph. They were looking at years of guilt, years of payback. But instead of revenge Joseph comforts them. God uses even evil such as this and makes it good. Joseph was telling them, that God used their sin to save thousands from starving. He used their sinful act and saved their family through it. Joseph’s faith and character tell us a lot about who he is, but even more they show us who God is. God takes evil in the world and uses it for good. We can’t always see the results, so we sometimes think there are none.

Imagine if the disciples had the faith of Joseph, when the guards came to arrest Our Savior in the garden, they would not have fled into the darkness. They would have trusted that God would use that very evil event and used it for the good of all people. Don’t we all need to learn that God will take care of us in all things, no matter what we face, no matter what the pain we face, no matter what the trouble? The truth is we are like Joseph’s brothers when we think we are like Joseph.

And yet, we have a Savior. We need a Savior. We are lost in our sin, helpless, like the brothers lacking faith when we need it most. Like the disciples in the garden unable to see the good that will come about because of suffering. But as sinful as we are, God is even more faithful. We have a brother who is gracious and faithful to us. It is our sin that leads him to pain and suffering. It is our faithlessness that brings him to blows of the whip. It is our arrogance and pride that drives the nails into his hands and feet and the thorns into his scalp. Our brother sold into death. This brother is even more faithful than Joseph. He has even more mercy than you and I and Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He saves us not from famine but from eternal death. He says about us, “Father forgive them.” Jesus Christ God’s son, our Brother, and Savior forgives. His blood shed on the cross is our cleansing. His innocent suffering and death at our hands is what sets us free from sin, death, and hell. God uses the most terrible event in history, the killing of his only son, to bring forgiveness to all people.

The passage we are so familiar with in Romans continues with these words:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, ESV)
The answer is yes indeed! God gives us all things we need. If he sent Jesus to suffer and die for our greatest need, he will take care of all our other needs as well. God is perfectly willing to use whatever means are necessary to do what is best for us. Imagine if a parent wouldn’t discipline a child for playing in the street. When traffic killed the child, we would be outraged. God will do whatever is necessary for our benefit. Mostly though God uses trouble and pain remind us of Jesus. Suffering and uneasy times push us to faith and trust. When there is nowhere else to turn, we turn to God. When all our regular supports fail God is faithful. Sometimes we need to hit the bottom to be reminded that our Gracious God and Savior Jesus Christ, has done all things necessary for our salvation, and that all things are in his hands.

But that isn’t all. God indeed gives us everything we need and then he gives us more. As in everything else God’s math doesn’t add up according to our thinking. He gives all and then he gives even more. We have his Word, where he tells us of his love for us in Jesus. He tells us of the salvation won for us through Jesus perfect life, his sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. And then there’s more. We have the assurance of God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. We are his. God is where his name is. He is not far away when you suffer, he is close at hand to strengthen you and lead you through. God is right amid our suffering with us. He gives the body and blood of Jesus shed on the cross, that by eating it you would be strengthened in faith. You are reminded of the price paid to save you from sin, the suffering and death of Jesus and that gives you the sure and certain hope that your suffering has purpose, just as his does. His blood and body go into you and cleanse you from your sin of doubt. Forgiveness strengthens faith. Forgiveness restores relationships. Forgiveness restores trust. God forgives you through Jesus.

My dear Christian friends, I wish I could promise you no trouble in your life. I wish I could say there would be no pain in your future. I can’t. God doesn’t make that promise to you either. What he does promise, what he wants you to remember and hold on to in faith, is that it always has a purpose. He wants you to trust that he works it out for your good. He makes that promise to you.

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

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Romans 11:33, Part 3; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 10, 2023;

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Over the past weeks we been talking about God’s attributes, specifically three: His riches, which are not money but mainly seen in his mercy, (that is not giving us what we deserve, eternal wrath and punishment). He gives salvation through Jesus Christ, graciously. Scripture tells us that God is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4). Last week it was God’s Wisdom. He is wise above all things. His wisdom extends into our everyday lives. He provides all we need to support this body and life. He provides Jesus to be our savior. His death on the cross is God’s wisdom showing.

An aside. Last week I said that I disagreed with God about my divorce. I didn’t mean to imply that it was God’s doing. The fault lies with me, and my x-wife. The sin is entirely ours. The consequences come from that. However, God could have intervened. He didn’t. He allowed it to happen. I accept his wisdom in this matter, I don’t like it, but I accept it.

Today is about God’s knowledge. As we have said before, God’s attributes are the most, best of all. He knows more about everything that humans will ever attain. In speaking about God’s knowledge, Jesus said,
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 10:29–31, ESV)
Sparrows were sold in the market for a snack. God knows intimately about each one of them. They are of little value to human beings. But to God they are everything. Even something as insignificant as the hairs on your head, God knows how many exactly you have. Just think, though, if God cares enough about you to know the number of hairs on your head, that is a great deal of knowledge. It isn’t hyperbole either. Somewhere in God’s mind he has that number. He knows everything about you, every single detail. His memory is as unfathomable as his knowledge. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. God’s knowledge extends to every part of every meal you have ever eaten. He knows all your thoughts. He knows all your struggles. He knows all your pain. He knows all your feelings. In detail.

And he even knows your sin. He sees the blackness in your heart when you think poorly about your neighbor. God knows when you want to not do the right thing regarding your taxes. God knows when you think impure thoughts about the girl or boy next door. He knows when you refuse to apply his word to your life. Every detail about everything you have ever done, or thought is open to him. He knows more about your sin than you do.

Does it make him angry? Sin always angers God. He is perfectly holy. He can’t tolerate sin in any way. The bible says God’s anger burns against sin. This is not Good News. You can see why the author of Hebrews says,
“The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30b–31, ESV)
When we understand the depth of the knowledge of God, we see our predicament and it is much worse than it seems. God knows everything. Nothing and no one escape his judgment. There is quote that I have put in the bulletin,
“Objects in the mirror are more sinful than they appear.”
And there is something more God, in is infinite knowledge, knows. You are buried so deep in your sin, that you can’t dig your way out. For you the situation is futile and hopeless.

The more you see your sin, considering God’s knowledge of it, the more you see how rich God is in mercy. There is no hiding anything from him since he sees everything. It makes his wonderful gift of salvation through Christ even more amazing. Despite your sin, God sent his only Son to be your savior. In fact, through Holy Baptism, your connection to Jesus, God adopted you. Since Jesus set aside your sin by taking it to the cross, you have become a son (or daughter) of God through Word and water. This changes everything for you.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3–7, ESV)
It is God’s knowledge of you (everything actually) that brings this about. He knows you intimately, and his love is such that he is not content to see you perish and suffer forever in hell. Instead, Jesus becomes your punishment. Displayed on the cross is God’s anger against sin, yours included. Jesus bears it. Since you are adopted by God, when he looks at you, he no longer sees your sin. Instead, he sees Jesus. Jesus’ life lived in the perfect will of God, the Father. Jesus always loving his neighbor and his enemies, even at the expense of his life. Jesus giving to the government appropriate obedience. Jesus not lusting after the women in his life. Jesus conforming himself to God’s Word, perfectly. All this, that God knows you are unable to do, is his gift for you, through faith in Jesus. And even that faith is his gift of love for you.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
So, we have looked at these three attributes of God. We could talk about all his attributes in the same way. Every one of them is infinite. That is God’s nature.

Maybe you have noticed one peculiar thing. When we talk about God’s attributes, we always end up talking about Jesus. It isn’t forced. Jesus, himself, says in John’s Gospel:
I and the Father are one.”” (John 10:30, ESV)
If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”” (John 14:7, ESV)
Jesus and the Father are one (also the Holy Spirit). He says that if you know me you know the Father. Everything about God, is seen in Jesus.
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)
You can’t separate Jesus from God. He is God. Everything that is true about God is true about Jesus. Creator, preserver, savior, sanctifier, he is all these. And more, he has all the riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God. Plus, he is fully human. God and man together, God in human form. To see Jesus is to see God. This is God’s knowledge at work. In his mercy, he sends Jesus as a visible sign of what he is. As Jesus walks, preaches, heals on the dusty roads of Israel he is God, himself, at work. God in his knowledge knows what people need, a physically present God. God that can be interacted with. God that can be seen.

That is exactly what we have in Jesus. He was born into history. He left his marks on it. No one in history has had a more profound effect. It is proof that God became man. When such a being appears in history, it is exactly what you would expect.

But, you may say, he is not physically here with us now. Well, that is God in his riches, wisdom, and knowledge also. While the people of old had Jesus’ present with them, we also have him present. He is present through his word and promises. He is present through the Holy Spirit given at Baptism. He is physically present in his Holy Supper. He is present in his church.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”” (Matthew 18:20, ESV)
Is it the same? Not quite. It is in fact better. Instead of Jesus in a single place, where he can be seen by just a few, he is everywhere, especially with all who have faith in him. We see him every Sunday in this place. We hear his words preached into our ears. We see him in our brothers and sisters in Christ sitting about us. You could say that the Church is firstly about Jesus being present.

This is why it is so important for Christians to gather in worship and fellowship, to see Jesus, to hear Jesus, to see and know God.

So, the church is an outpost of God’s presence in the world. And you are his ambassadors. You being a Christian, bring God’s presence to the place where God has placed you. His riches, his wisdom, and his knowledge. In your vocation, you show God’s love to your neighbor by faithful service. You show his wisdom through your godly actions. And you show God’s knowledge whenever you speak the truth in love. Amen.

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

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Romans 11:33-36; The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 3, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Last week we talked about God’s riches. They are of course not money. The text talks about God’s attributes. God is the richest person in the universe. He has no need for money. We primarily see his riches in his activity with us. Namely, that he gives freely from his riches. One of those ways is that he shows abundant mercy. God is rich in mercy. From Ephesians 2:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,” (Ephesians 2:4, ESV)
God gives us mercy when we don’t deserve any. Mostly he sent Jesus to be our savior, to die on the cross to give us the mercy of salvation through faith.

Today we are going to talk about another of God’s attributes, his wisdom. The scripture talks about God’s wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:25:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV)
What Paul is saying here is that if God had foolishness (he doesn’t!), that foolishness would be greater than all the wisdom of people. In fact, God is the wisest person in the whole of creation. Everything he does is the wisest thing that could be done. We, at times, have a difficult time with God’s wisdom. It isn’t necessarily a lack of faith, but we sometimes disagree with God’s actions. For example, I think that my life would have been much better had my wife stayed with me. I disagree with God on that point. But I know what seems to me, his foolishness is greater (the greatest) than my wisdom. So, in faith I bow to his wisdom. I just don’t like it. I also know that he is right, and I am wrong.

But there is more to God’s wisdom than just the things he does and allows in our lives. In fact, right before Paul says,
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV)
He says,
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:20–24, ESV)
Jesus is the wisdom of God. That is a very interesting thing. Jesus, the Son of God, made man, the Savior of all the world, is God’s Wisdom. Since God is the wisest person in creation, that means that when he sends Jesus, it was the wisest way to bring about our salvation. Let that put an end any talk about how God could have saved us any way he wanted. It was, in fact, the only way to save us. God knew, in his wisdom that is greater than all the world’s wisdom put together, that Jesus was the only way to accomplish what he desired, saving the world.

It seems like foolishness. In our wisdom we would have saved the world in some glorious looking way, with lightning bolts, and thunder. We would have used a person above everyone that no one could reject.

But God does it differently. He sent Jesus in humble form to serve people. Jesus wisely loves and heals and feeds people. He wisely goes specifically to the cross to bear the sins of the world, to exchange our sin with his righteousness. He wisely rises from his death to live again. That resurrection is all the proof the world should need to see God’s plan for the wisdom it is.

Think about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In hell the rich man begged God to send Lazarus to his brothers to save them. God replies,
He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31, ESV)
In his wisdom God uses a simple preacher’s voice to preach Christ crucified and risen. He uses his word, the account of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, to implant faith in the hearts of people. He uses water and words spoken over a baby, he uses bread and wine to combine with Jesus body and blood to bring about faith and strengthening of faith. The world doesn’t know this kind of wisdom, it calls it folly.

And sometimes it seems not enough to us as well. We are tempted to think we must add to it to make it more effective and more palatable. We think that those foolish notions just aren’t enough. Soundwaves in the ears, water on the head, and bread and wine running down throats is too simple to work on its own.

God in his wisdom created the church to proclaim his Word, Jesus. If we, as a church, are preaching God’s Word in its truth and purity; if we, as a church, are baptizing in the name of God; if we, as a church, are administering the Lord’s Supper as Jesus gave us instruction; then we are doing all that is required of us. That’s the wisdom of God and following the greatest wisdom in all creation is wise.

But there is more. God being God doesn’t conform to our idea of mathematics. God give everything in his salvation of the world. It is just like him. He is a gracious giving God. And then he gives more. For God one plus one does not equal two. In his mathematics one plus one is infinite. He gives everything and then he gives more.

He gives us the gift of his church. We know where to go to receive life and salvation. We know what time to be here. That is God’s grace in action. But there is more to the church than that. It is God’s gracious will for the church to give everything and still have more to give. What God does through the church, is to allow you to participate in his gracious giving. Having the opportunity to practice your faith. Individually in our vocations we serve our neighbors, the church allows us to do it collectively. We can show God’s great love for people through what the church does. A good example is Faith Lutheran in Silver Bay has a program called “Swaddling Clothes.” Their church supports babies by giving necessary items. Our Synod supports Mercy Work. Through LCMS World Relief and Human Care. They provided Disaster relief, Life Ministry, Veterans Ministry, Medical Teams to foreign shores.

James talks about this in his Epistle.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15–17, ESV)

He is saying that when faith is present, so are works. They show up everyday of our lives. By God’s grace the church has everything and more. We have the opportunity to serve our neighbors in love, to help with the things of this physical life; to comfort those who are suffering; to help those in need. All in the name of our savior Jesus.

That is God’s wisdom. Well, a small portion of it anyway. He gives of his riches, his mercy in Jesus. He gives from his wisdom. Next week we talk about God’s Knowledge.

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