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All the Preparations Are Ready: Sermon for the Funeral of Sarah Jane Morman

Morman-Sarah_oval-232x300Click here to listen to this sermon. 

In the sermon text, Jesus was Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear Patricia and Richard, members of Sarah’s family, friends, neighbors, and members of Our Saviour’s congregation,

At times like this, we are reminded of two days that are particularly and especially before us. One of those two days is the day of the funeral—today. As you well know, there have certainly been a great number of things to do and decisions to make since a week ago Friday when the Lord took Sarah to Himself in heaven. There have been numerous preparations in order that the grave site committal could take place and for this funeral service.

Fortunately, Sarah had been preparing for this day and service. She wrote most of her own obituary (although since she was much too modest, Patricia had to add a few things like the variety of sports she played: tennis, bowling, and an industrial baseball league just a step below the one like in “A League of Her Own.”) Sarah chose some of the pictures she wanted to share and indicated she wanted to be buried at Fort Snelling with her husband, Ray.

More importantly, Sarah helped to prepare for our worship service today. She selected the hymns she wanted us to sing, the readings that you have just heard. She wanted all this worship service to focus on Jesus Christ—Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. Though it is never easy to plan a service for a loved one, this certainly made it a lot easier for you to get all the preparations ready for this day.

The second day we all face is much more difficult to prepare for. In fact, it is an impossible day; and to make it even more frightening, no one can tell you what day it is. It is, in all likelihood, a different day for each one of us here. For Sarah, it was a week ago last Friday, the day of her death. What day will it be for you?

What is your death day? I can’t tell you. It might be today; it might be ten years from now. Left all alone, with only yourself and your death day ahead of you, … well … there is no way to prepare for that portal called death which leads to eternity. Indeed, without God there is only eternal destruction and condemnation on the other side of your death day. In the darkness of this day at hand and that day ahead of us, such thoughts are more than troubling … they are terrifying!

The preparations for the funeral service are easy when compared with the preparations for the day of death. Truly, not one of us here can prepare for the day of death. Those preparations must be made for you by God. That’s why, on this day, Sarah wanted you to hear a sermon based on a section from John 14:1-6, and to do so that you may know of the preparations that the Lord has undertaken and brought about for your death day. Please listen to the words of Jesus once again:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going. Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into heaven and the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed … by what we do and by what we don’t do … by what we say and what we don’t say … by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider just what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. For those who take their sinfulness and their sins seriously, to say that our hearts are troubled is an understatement. If left to ourselves and our own devices, our outlook would be hopeless. The Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. To accomplish your salvation, God the Father sent God the Son into this world to take your place by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins … every one of them. Jesus paid the debt that was yours. Listen to Jesus, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me.”

Jesus is God, just as the Father is God. God prepared your redemption when He died on the cross. His words, “It is finished!” indicate a complete payment and accomplished salvation for you. Truly, truly, I say to you, Jesus is our Redeemer and He has made all the preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise.

God baptized Sarah into Christ’s death at Oak Grove United Presbyterian Church in 1930 and her death became His death and His death became her death. Sarah died that day of her Baptism. She was crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer she who lived but Christ living in her; and the life which she then lived in the flesh, she lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved her and gave Himself for her (Galatians 2:20). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was preparing Sarah for a week ago Friday, the day when she entered Paradise.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day … on what we call Easter morning. Neither death nor the devil nor the grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted Sarah her first resurrection when He baptized her with water and the Word. She was buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so she also walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was not only preparing Sarah for a week ago last Friday when she entered Paradise, in that first resurrection of Baptism, the Lord was also preparing Sarah for the Last Day and the resurrection of her body to live everlasting.

The Lord worked faith in Sarah’s heart in Holy Baptism. Attending worship regularly, she heard the proclamation of the Gospel and God granted her faith to believe in Him and His promises. The Lord, through His Word and Sacrament, sustained and strengthened the faith that He created in Sarah throughout her life. You need only look at one of Sarah’s Bibles to see how much she treasured the Word of God—there you will see evidence of how she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren each day in morning and evening devotions.

A few days before her death, Sarah partook of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for the last time here on this earth. A week ago Friday, the Lord who had prepared a place for her at His banqueting table in Paradise, received her unto Himself that where He is, there she is also now. So she and Ray are together once again and their voices hymn among the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven singing the never-ending liturgy of the Church Triumphant. Therefore, let not your heart be troubled.

preparing His followers for what was ahead for Him—for His awful suffering and His cursed death on the cross. He knew that His disciples would need hope in the days that followed. Therefore, He tells them about His ascension … about not only dying and about not only rising from the dead, but also for His ascension in and to heaven. Thus Jesus speaks to you and thus did Sarah want you, this day, to hear these words of hope and comfort.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

But you know something: On the day when Jesus spoke these words, not everyone knew what He meant. At least one person among those hearing the Word that day did not know what Jesus meant. At least one person in the congregation did not know what was being said, did not understand, was not at all certain what this meant. Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

“No one comes to the Father except through Me.” That is neither threat nor law. It is a promise. That, dear people, is pure Gospel … pure Good News. Everything of God has its source in Christ and is reached through Christ. Jesus is the Way, the only Way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth. We can trust Jesus because all that is real and true is found in Him. He is God the Word, and through His Word He reveals His salvation. Jesus is the Life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life.

The Son of God, in His becoming one of us, in His sinless life, in His sin-atoning death on the cross, in His victorious resurrection, in His majestic ascension and in His life-giving and sustaining Word, has made all preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise. Live in His Word and grace each day. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Mystery of the Will of God

MysteryClick here to listen to this sermon.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:7–9).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Listen, I tell you a mystery”—so Paul writes the Corinthians concerning the resurrection of the body. Today, in our text from his letter to the Ephesians, Paul also tells us a mystery, a mystery made known to us by God. This is not a different mystery, but the same one, for it has its substance and its solution in Christ Jesus.

From Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, the characters and authors of mysteries are part of our culture. Even those who usually write in other genres often try their hand at mystery writing, learning the difficulty of keeping the reader interested, but not thoroughly lost, taking them through twists of plot, secret passages, locked rooms, red herrings, mistaken identities, and other tricks of the trade.

The greatest selling book of all times is actually a mystery. Of course, I mean the Bible. The Bible tells the story with all the wicked twists and turns provided by Satan and sinful humanity. Meanwhile, God’s countermoves exceed even those of the evil one. And because of the Holy Spirit, we already know how the mystery of God’s will toward us comes out.

Ordinarily, when we know the solution, we’re done with the “whodunit.” But not this one. Even knowing how it all ends, we marvel at the way in which the love of God is revealed. Because of the Holy Spirit, we see our salvation plainly, and we are astonished at the blindness of those still perishing in their sins. This is the mystery that captivates us even when we know how it comes out.

When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, He includes a petition asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray this often. But Luke omits this petition, perhaps because his Gentile readers would not have understood what Matthew’s Jewish readers already knew about God’s will.

Most of the ancient world didn’t know how to make sense out of life’s complexities. God’s will was a mystery to them. Some thought everything that happened in the world was due to luck, purely a matter of random chance. Others believed it was already predetermined and set down by fate. Neither understanding was totally right. Neither chance nor fate accounts for the ebb and flow of events in our lives, much less in the world at large.

The same confusion can happen to us when we read the Bible. On the one hand, it looks like people are saved because they accept Jesus as their Savior or they don’t. On the other hand, it sometimes sounds like salvation is predetermined and nothing we do can change it, like in our text. Phrases like “He chose us…before the foundation of the world,” “He predestined us,” and “according to the purpose of His will,” muddy up the water.

What’s the solution to this mystery of God’s will? The answer—and it should not surprise us—is found at the cross.

You see, it’s a frightening thing to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven if He wants to punish us for our sins. It’s not that we don’t deserve His wrath. We do! But we don’t want to have it actually happen to us. And we wouldn’t dare to pray this petition, “Thy will be done,” if God was capricious, mean, or uncaring. We’d be doomed.

The Good News, is that God’s will is for our salvation from the law’s justice. It is God’s will that people be saved through faith in Jesus. And, in spite of our sin and the world’s evil and Satan’s opposition, God saves sinners! He did this by becoming a human being, living a perfect life, and dying for our sins.

We have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior because God gave it to us, not because we chose Him (Ephesians 2:8–9). On our own, we could’ve never solved this great mystery. For “[God’s] greatness no one can fathom.” As Jesus, told His disciples, this mystery is kept hidden from unbelievers (Mark 4:11), and we cannot solve it on our own for these reasons:

First, we blew our “in” with the One who knew the solution. Ever since the Fall, we’re all born as sinners divorced from God and in disharmony with our fellow human beings. We all think only of ourselves, our own wants, and own perceived needs. And that makes it a mystery as to how God would ever love us.

Second, by nature, we purposely close our eyes and our minds to God and turn away from godly deeds. As Jesus pointed out to the scribes and Pharisees, we’re all blind men, following blind guides.

Third, we could never buy off the only One who knew the secret. The secret to the mystery is not for sale. As Paul asked the Roman Christians, “Who has given a gift to [God] that He should repay him?” (Romans 11:35).

But Jesus has revealed the mystery to those who believe in Him. As our text says, “making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9). Through faith in Jesus, the secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you and me (Mark 4:11).

“How can this be?” you might ask. “How can Jesus reveal the mystery of God’s will when we could not find the answer ourselves?” The answer—like the solutions to many mysteries—is quite simple once it has been revealed. Jesus is the One we were created to be!

Jesus was and is in perfect harmony with God. Jesus told His opponents, “I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing Him” (John 8:28-29).

Throughout His entire life, Jesus kept His eyes on His Father and did only His will—even when that meant sacrificing Himself for those who deserved only punishment. Jesus knew perfectly His Father’s mind, for He and the Father are one, and what He did revealed the mystery of the Father’s will toward us.

On the cross, Jesus purchased salvation, “not with gold or silver,” but with a price much higher, “with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.” That’s how this mystery came out, and it’s a happy ending for us!

Now, even knowing the solution, we want to revisit this mystery over and over again. As we ponder the wonderful gift of the Gospel in our hearts, we remember Christ’s work of salvation and what that means for our lives.

We remember that Christ restores the harmony of creation that was lost in the fall. He makes everything new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We remember that Christ restores spiritual sight to understand that God’s will toward us is love and forgiveness (John 9). He opens our eyes to recognize our sin and need for a Savior. He opens our eyes to see that He is that Savior.

We remember that Christ bends our will to His Father’s will. By the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, Jesus reveals His Father’s will and continues to bind us together in love and unity (John 17:20-26).

And we remember that Christ gave us salvation and this knowledge of the mind of God as a free gift. We have been saved, not by our own works, but by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is the one mystery we can tell others without having to first issue a spoiler alert.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians will seek to participate in and spread our newfound harmony with God. We are enabled to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We can love our neighbor as ourselves and build him up for good.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians wish to focus on the source of our salvation. As the writer of Hebrews urges, we are able to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2) as we run the race of faith that has been set before us.

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians desire to receive Christ’s blessings of Word and Sacrament. We thankfully remember our baptism. We hunger and thirst for His true body and blood. We long to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We want to be about the works of God, demonstrating His work in us (Ephesians 2:10).

Now understanding the incomprehensible, the mystery that God’s will is our salvation, we Christians participate in the gift, even as God continually blesses us with it (Philippians 2:12-13). We freely and fully share this gift with others as we tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Aha!” exclaims the mystery reader. “Now I see!” when the solution is revealed. And so do we! Not perfectly, for we still view God “through a glass darkly.” But we can follow the plot of our salvation from eternity’s forever back into Eden, where God cursed the serpent and promised the Savior. We can follow the golden thread throughout the Old Testament, where God’s desire to save His people—even when rebellious and unworthy—pushes the narrative forward. Foreshadowing freedom from sin, death, and the devil, the Lord rescues His people from bondage in Egypt, brings them through the waters of the Red Sea, and takes them to the Promised Land. Preparing us for the keeping of the promised Savior, God continually keeps His other promises in the time and manner He desires.

Now we’ve gone through it again. Still a great story! Especially as we see ourselves in it! This mystery isn’t about someone else; this is our story. Christ dies for you and me that we might live. Christ lives for you and me that we might die to sin. Christ takes away our sin and gives us His perfect righteousness and obedience. Christ removes our worries and gives us peace. Christ becomes a lowly human being that the lowliest of us might receive the inheritance given only to the firstborn Son. Christ’s Father abandons Him so we will never be forsaken. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:7–9).

The mystery is solved! In Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, in Him—for the sake of His person and work—you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

Just Jesus?

jesus-unrolls-the-book-in-the-synagogue-1894(1).jpg!LargeClick here to listen to this sermon.

“[Jesus] went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him” (Mark 6:1–3).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

As usual, St. Mark gets right to business. He tells us that right after healing the woman of a 12-year hemorrhage and raising a little girl from the dead in Capernaum, Jesus returns “to His hometown” (Nazareth) with His disciples.

It is not a social call, a chance to renew old acquaintances and catch up with the homefolks. Jesus returns as a rabbi, a teacher of Scripture. And so, that Sabbath He can be found teaching in the synagogue. The worshipers all know Him well. He comes to share the Gospel with them. But the question is: Are they ready to receive the Gospel from Him? Or perhaps better stated: “Are they ready to receive Him as the one who embodies the Gospel in His person and ministry?”

Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus preached. He focuses, rather, on the reaction of the townspeople. “Many who heard Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?’”

Translation: It’s just Jesus, nobody special. We watched Him grow up. He might be doing some special things, but He’s nobody special. Certainly not any better than we are. Who is He to be speaking to us this way?

But there’s even more than merely “the hometown boy makes good” jealousy or the “familiarity breeds contempt” thing going on here. St. Luke tells us they drove Him out of town… so they could throw Him down the cliff. St. Mark tells us why: “They took offense at Him.”

“They took offense at Him.” These words are a warning to all Christians, including (perhaps especially) the one who is preaching to you. The warning is this: Preaching should not be done to entertain you. Preaching is not meant as a pep talk or even for teaching you how to be a better person. Preaching has but one purpose, and that one purpose is to focus your eyes and ears and heart on Christ Jesus and Him alone. Just Jesus… that’s ultimately who you should hear and see when God’s Word is proclaimed to you.

Now, in order for God to give you a good picture of your Lord Jesus Christ, He must first show you a bad picture of yourself—that is, a true, accurate, though unflattering picture of you and your sin. In order for you to benefit from the forgiveness that Jesus earned for you through His death on the cross, God must first proclaim His holy Law to diagnose and warn you about your continual need for forgiveness because sin and death live within you. The people of Jesus’ hometown took offense because they did not want to hear such things.

That is where things fell apart at Nazareth. Jesus “came to His hometown… and on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue.” Everything was fine up until then. Then, Jesus starts preaching about Jesus. Just Jesus. And “they took offense at Him.” They were scandalized because of Jesus and the Gospel.

You and I both should take a clear warning from this. May God guard us against such unbelief and self-centered scandal! May we allow our Lord Jesus Christ to say what He must say about us—our sin, so that we might focus on Him—our Savior. So that we might repent of our sinful ways and continue to receive the gifts of salvation and life that come only from Him—just Jesus.

The second warning of today’s Gospel is this: a personal relationship with Jesus will do you very little good. I know, that sounds shocking given today’s religious environment. All the time you hear Christians saying, “You must have a personal relationship with Jesus” if you are to be saved. But a personal relationship with Jesus, in and of itself, will not save you.

Let me explain. I think the text makes it clear that most everyone in Nazareth assumed they had a personal relationship with Jesus. They’d seen Him grow up. They knew His family. They even knew Him as an adult when He plied His trade as “the carpenter.” Yet they took offense at Him.

This is another serious warning, not only for us but also for many of our loved ones and neighbors who find it unimportant to come to worship! Our text does not emphasize knowing who Jesus is or even having a personal relationship with Him. It does emphasize that we hear the words of Jesus and believe. A simple claim to know Jesus or a claim to have personal relationship with Jesus might place you in danger of the fires of Hell. Even the demons knew Jesus. And so, it seems, did everyone in Nazareth. Yet “[Jesus] marveled at their unbelief.”

No, salvation is not based upon a personal relationship with Jesus, but rather faith given by the Holy Spirit through the Word. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” Jesus promises in Mark 16:16. Believe in what or whom? In Jesus. Just Jesus. Christ alone, and Him crucified.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The foolishness of unbelief, the disregard for things we consider common. There stands the eternal Son of God, present with His people and speaking His powerful Word, and to them He’s just Jesus—no one special. How could they do such a thing? After all, they’d heard of His marvelous teachings and miraculous powers. You would think that they would receive Him as Savior with open arms and listen to Him and believe.

But then again, the Old Adam makes belief very hard, and we must take care or we will fall into the same trap. And if we have so fallen, then it is time for us to repent. You see, the Lord is here, too. Not just “spiritually present” as so many churches teach. The Lord is as really present here as He was in that synagogue in His hometown. There, He cloaked His godhood in flesh and blood. Now He hides both His divine and human natures to visit you in His means of grace.

You’ve heard of this miracle and mystery many-a-Sunday before this one. By means of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, the holy Lord Jesus Christ is wholly present here with you. Furthermore, He is present for your good. He speaks His Word of grace and life to you. He forgives your sins for an awesome purpose. He desires that you have eternal life with Him in heaven. That is why He died on the cross. That is why He comes to you in His means of grace. And that is why He is present here. The Son of God is here. To save you.

Now the question I lay before you is this: What kind of welcome will He receive? All over, as people got up for church this morning, Old Adam got up with them. Among the discouragements that Old Adam whispered were these: “It’s going to be really hot in there.” “The sermon is going to take a long time.” And we’ll be singing the same old hymns and liturgy again.” “It’s the same stuff that we do every week, nothing special.”

The Old Adam whispers all these things to us—maybe not this Sunday, but then some Sunday soon. He does so for a reason. Old Adam doesn’t want you to rejoice that Jesus is here. Because, you see, Jesus is here. He is present in these things. In Holy Baptism, He placed His name upon you and wrote your name in the Book of Life. As you hear His Word proclaimed and sing His Word in the liturgy, He is working through that Word to give you grace. As you receive His Supper, He shares His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

Miraculous things are going on here—miracles far greater than healed hemorrhages and stilled storms, even greater than little girls brought back to life—because these miracles give you life forever—eternal life in the presence of God. And yet, when the Old Adam prevails, you approach these things with a sense of apathy and boredom, unhappy with the same old Jesus. Perhaps, even offended?

To illustrate the sadness of this sin, consider this. You know that the car needs gasoline to get you places, and it’s the same routine each time. Pull up to the pump and stop the motor. Slide the debit card and pump the gas. Put the nozzle and the cap back in their places. Understanding the necessity of fuel, are you ever tempted to look for an alternative source of power for your car?

Now, you need forgiveness repeatedly because daily you sin much. The Lord gathers you here to give you forgiveness and eternal life, and He has prescribed His Word and Sacraments to get the job done. Yet it is so tempting to approach this ongoing feast of forgiveness with the idea that it’s just Jesus, nothing special. If this is true, it’s because your sinful nature is hard at work. Your Old Adam doesn’t care if you trust in gasoline to get around. It doesn’t destroy him and give you eternal life. But forgiveness does, and so the Old Adam works hard to make it seem like just forgiveness, nothing special. Could it be that you are tempted to take our Lord’s presence for granted because you don’t see the need for forgiveness? Because you don’t see how terribly sinful you are before God?

So I ask you: Did you come here today excited to be visited by the Son of God Himself? Do you make your way here with at least as much enthusiasm as you would to meet an old, dear friend? Do you come enthusiastically into the Lord’s presence—as eagerly as you ought? The answer is no. Burdened by sin, none of us can honestly say “yes” in this life. Why? Is it that the Lord has changed and is no longer as holy, glorious, or merciful? No. He remains the same. The trouble is with us, plagued by sin, that prevents us from rejoicing as we ought.

If you do not appreciate our Lord’s visit, it is not that the Gospel has changed; rather, it may be that you have failed to hear the Law that shows you how much you need forgiveness. Burdened for one reason or another, and denying how sinful you are, it is easy to come to church and say, “It’s just Jesus, nothing special.” This is proof you are sick with sin, and this is confirmed by God’s Word. But if you realize you are sick with sin, then take comfort. Remember, it was the sick in the Gospel lesson who were healed. It was those who didn’t trust in themselves, but confessed their weakness and trusted in Jesus who were healed.

So, here is the Good News. No matter what frame of mind was yours as you came here this morning, the Lord is here—as faithful as always. He gathers you here to forgive your sins, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. He removes your guilt from you, for He has died for your sins.

How powerful is His grace? Consider someone who drags himself in with little eagerness to meet the Lord, and who departs with no more emotional or physical energy than when he arrived. Nevertheless, he hears the Word and receives the Lord’s Supper. And as he goes, he can say, “Even though my body denies it with every step, the Lord came to visit me today. And although I feel no different, He has removed my sin and strengthened my faith. He will preserve me in that faith until the day He raises me from the dead. Then, fully released from the bonds of sin and death I will be properly joyful at His presence with me.”

Take heart, dear friends. The Lord is here to forgive your sins. Today, He visits you by His Word and Sacrament; and though your Old Adam may say He’s just Jesus and no one special, your faith rejoices to receive Him and to hear Him speak this Good News through His called and ordained servant: You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

“Fear Not!” : A Sermon for the Funeral of Pat Beyers

20180629_091902Click here to listen to this sermon.

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Cheri, Scott, Brendon, Cyndi, and other members of Pat’s family, her friends, and Our Saviour’s congregation:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When I speak at a funeral service, there are often younger people, and maybe some not so young, who are trying to find the place for religion in their lives. They’re asking themselves, “Does this mean anything to me? Is this just something my parents cared about?”

But then, at some point, everybody faces something he or she can’t handle, something that scares us. Maybe it’s the biggest stress we’ve yet faced in this life, maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis of a dangerous disease, or maybe it’s the eventual realization that we have to face the end of this life. And suddenly we wish there could be some place to turn—or Someone to turn to—outside ourselves.

Then maybe those who’ve gone before can teach us something after all—like how they dealt with those fears themselves. Turning to their example we see that as they learned and grew, their faith became absolutely foundational.

Pat, I think, is one of those people from whom we can learn. We can learn from Pat because she knew where her Christian faith fit into all this. She knew she could face fears because her Redeemer promised to deliver her from them all. In Pat, God illustrated His assurance that we need not fear.

Our text begins, “But now thus says the Lord.” This is important. There are many philosophies, ideas, and different ways to live life out there in the world. There are many ways to handle fear. You can be crippled by it. You can try to act as if no problem exists. You can try to face it on your own strength. Or you can turn to the Lord. As Christians, we want to know what the Lord says, so when we hear, “But now thus says the Lord,” we listen, we turn to the Lord.

Isaiah continues, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel” That’s how Hebrew poetry works: say something, and then say it over again with a little twist for emphasis. In this passage, God says: “I have created you,” but then adds, “I have formed you.” That’s a closer relationship. “I didn’t just bring about some great cosmic force that ultimately produced you,” God is saying. “No, I ‘formed’ you. Like a potter with a piece of clay, I have lovingly and skillfully molded you and shaped you to be who you are. From the time of your conception, while you were yet in the womb, I have been actively involved in your life.”

Then come two great words that are the theme of our text: “Fear not.” Literally, “Stop being afraid.” The same thing the angel said to the shepherds at Christ’s birth and to the women on Easter morning. Fear not. That’s what God tells us through Isaiah; and then He tells us why: “For I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”

Life is full of fears. Pat went through most of them. Growing up—that’s terrifying for everybody, isn’t it? We each struggle to find our own identity. We wonder what our life will be like, where we’ll work, if we’ll ever get married and have a family. When we do tie the knot, there’s the fear and tough business of making it work, facing the fears and worries every couple experiences: finding jobs, making a home, planning for the future. And when it doesn’t work out as we expect, there are the worries of what to do now, how to carry on and begin anew.

With children in the equation, there’s a whole host of new fears! There’s worry about paying the bills, keeping the kids fed and healthy, about the friends they hang around with, and the choices they’ll make as they establish their own way in the world. In addition to juggling family responsibilities and a job at the Pipestone County Star, Pat somehow still found time for also serving her church and being actively involved in the Pipestone community.

After her children were grown, Pat entered a new phase of her life. It had to be scary as Pat moved away from Pipestone and began a career in economic development in Northfield, MN. But she was up to the challenge and advanced as new opportunities arose in Manchester, Iowa and Granite Falls, Minnesota. Then she returned to Pipestone in retirement—a move Pat called “the best thing she ever did.” And God opened the doors to new adventures and challenges.

Finally, in life, Pat, like each of us, had to deal with her own shortcomings, her own insecurities, her own sinfulness, her health issues, and ultimately, her own mortality. And that can make any of us afraid, too.

No doubt, there were times when Pat was scared. But she heard the Lord say, “Fear not. I not only made you, but I was born that I would experience everything that you can experience. I understand. Don’t be afraid. I redeemed you on the cross when I took all your sins upon Myself. I want you to look at that cross and know that every bit of punishment due you ended right there. I redeemed you, and in the resurrection of Jesus you know that even the last enemy—death—has been defeated in Me. Fear not.”

As the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He also said to Pat: “I have summoned you by name.” That happened many years ago when the pastor put water on Pat’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, God said, “Pat, you are My child. You are Mine. I called you by My name. No one shall ever pluck you from My hand.”

And to make sure Pat stayed in His flock, the Lord fed her regularly in the worship service with His life-giving Word and His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith.

Our text from Isaiah goes on: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” The first word there is interesting. Maybe we think God should say “if.” If you pass through the waters.” If hard times come.

But the text does not say “if”; it says “when.” We have somehow taken it for granted that there ought to be a way to get through life without difficulties—some medical breakthrough, some fitness program, some perfect planning will help us avoid trials and troubles. But the Bible says, “No. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” In this fallen world we can expect, we must expect difficulties, troubles, and trials to come. Because of sin, such things are inevitable.

Even so, the Lord promises, “The rivers… shall not overwhelm you.” Oh yes, they will bother you; they will try you; they may make you want to give up. But fear not. I will be with you. When you walk through fire, the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Pat believed these verses. When asked if this were her true confession, she affirmed again and again to the time of her death: “Of course. Of course, God made me. Of course, God redeemed me. Of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit He will watch over me no matter what happens. Of course, He will raise my body on the Last Day that I may have eternal life with Him and all of His people.”

It probably won’t surprise those of you who know her best, but when I visited with Pat a few weeks before her latest stay at the hospital, she wasn’t interested in talking about herself and her weakening condition for very long. She preferred to talk about how much God had truly blessed her. She wanted to talk about her life, her children, her grandchildren, her hobbies and interests.

You know why? Because she believed God’s promises. She wasn’t afraid of her final moments because she knew her final destination was to be with the Lord.

Yes, there’s sadness today, certainly, and there is going to be more sadness I’m sure. You can’t lose someone you love and not feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness. But I pray that in the days to come, you will also feel a sense of peace.

Think of a rainbow. Rainbows don’t appear on clear days. Rainbows come on rainy, drizzly days. You come here today with the storms of your grief. You come here with the grayness of your thoughts. You come here with a sense of emptiness and sadness—but God gives you a rainbow.

Part of that rainbow is God’s work in Pat. Pat’s life lets us see one band of color in God’s whole beautiful promise also to us. In Christ Jesus, who redeemed you by His death on the cross, in your Baptism, by which God called you by name, you have the whole spectrum of His whole bright, many-colored promises. This is why the Lord, your God, the Holy One, your Savior, the One who created you and formed you, says to you today: “Fear not!”

By God’s grace, may you, like Pat and other saints who have gone on before us, find comfort and peace in Him and His Word. May God continue to work in you through His powerful Word to drive away all worries and fears with His forgiveness and love.

I close this message with the Irish blessing Pat wished you to hear:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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(Re)Created to Serve and Give

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But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also (2 Corinthians 8:7).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I often marvel at the spiritual insights of children. One week during chapel services I was teaching the preschool children about David the shepherd boy as part of a series of lessons on loving our neighbor. I showed the kids two pictures: one of David as a young boy watching over his family’s sheep, and another of David as the grown-up king of the nation of Israel. And then I asked them, “Which one of David’s jobs was more important—shepherd or king?”

Most of them replied predictably: “King!” But one of them stole my thunder. “It depends upon whether or not you’re one of the sheep,” Patrick said. And he was exactly right. Both jobs are important for those who are under their care and influence. For the sheep, the shepherd is going to have much more direct impact. He serves them. They depend upon him for food and water and protection. The king might be able to help provide those things for the people of the nation, but he won’t be too concerned about a few sheep.

Both positions of shepherd and king are God-given vocations—callings or stations in life. God gives the shepherd the privilege and responsibility of caring for the sheep in his flock. God gives the king the responsibility to care for the people in his nation. God gives you each of your various vocations.

God created humans to work and to serve. If you look back at life before sin, you’ll find work and service there. When God created Adam and Eve, it wasn’t for them to lounge around. As He worked to serve them, they were to work by caring for creation and by serving one another.

This is important: before there was sin in the world, there was work and service. To be sure, it was easier back then, as work wouldn’t be bothered by thorns and thistles, crabby customers, unreasonable supervisors, and the like; but even today, God has created you to work and serve in the place He puts you. This is true of everyone, regardless of whether they are a believer or not. Regardless of if they recognize their vocation is a calling from God or not.

This means a king has no higher calling than a shepherd. If either one neglects to do his duty, those under his care are going to suffer. A doctor has no higher calling than the woman who cleans and disinfects the operating room. If either one does not take her work seriously patients may get sick and die.

For Christians, this gives a completely different understanding of our daily life and a greater appreciation for all vocations. If you’re a Christian, whatever you do according to God’s will is holy, your vocation is holy and given by God for the purpose of serving your neighbor. Work should not be considered a “four-letter word,” but a gift of God.

Now, if work and service are gifts from God, you can bet the devil is going to do his best to ruin those gifts and your perception of them. Look at the popular notion of work today: a job is something you have to do Monday through Friday, so that you can get the days off to do what you really want to do.

But if you’re working for the weekend, you’re not going to see your job as a holy vocation, but rather as a hassle, or boring and unfulfilling. Aren’t you? Instead of rejoicing in the quality of work, you’re more likely to settle for “good enough.” Right? But what would happen if the weekend was a time that refreshed and prepared you to return to that holy vocation you wanted to do? That’s how it is, once you’re set free from the sins of sloth and selfishness. It’s another good reason to repent when you find yourself resenting the prospect of going to work. Remember: God created you to work and serve whatever stage of your life.

We’ll add one more: God created you to give. Giving is part of serving. As God gives us to do to serve others, so He also gives us to give to serve others. Where the Lord gives us abundance, He also gives us the opportunity to support church and charity, to help our neighbor, to assist a relative in need.

Now, if we’re tempted to deny that work is a gift from God, it’s going to be that much easier to deny that giving is a gift from God. It’s all too easy to see giving as an ugly test that comes with salvation, as in, “I have to give so that I can prove I’m not guilty of being greedy or to show I am truly thankful.” But both of those are attempts to motivate with the Law; and Law can cannot properly motivate or empower. It only kills and condemns.

God created you to give, which is why the devil will do his best to prevent you from giving to others. Beware, too, because greed acts much like sloth. The less you give, the less you want to give; the more you keep, and the more you’ll focus on keeping. And rather than seeing the proper solution is giving more, you’ll be inclined to believe that happiness will be found in gathering more for yourself.

The Macedonians were not like this at all. They were afflicted and poor, yet they continued to experience an “abundance of joy,” which “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” This generous giving was an act of God’s grace in Christ.

The generosity of the Macedonians was exhibited in three ways. First, they gave not just as much as they could, but even more than that. Like the widow with her mite, they had given in a way some might consider reckless or imprudent.

Second, no one had pressured them into giving. They had decided “of their own free will” to be so overwhelmingly generous in their offering. They had, in fact, “begged earnestly for the favor of taking part” in “this act of grace.”

And third: “They gave themselves first to the Lord…” The Macedonians gave something more important than money with their offerings—they gave themselves back to the Lord who had given Himself into death for them.

Paul ties everything connected with giving to the grace that God has given to His people. God’s grace centers on His gift of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on our behalf. That grace moves us to be gracious—to freely, gladly give everything, including our material goods, back to the Lord. The offerings of a Christian, then, are part of our worship, our response to God’s grace.

Notice how evangelically Paul encourages the giving of the Corinthians! He doesn’t bargain with them or exploit their guilt or try to squeeze dead works out of their old Adam. He addresses the new man who loves to do God’s will and welcomes opportunities to express the gratitude of a reborn heart, as a fruit of faith. That is why Paul is careful to say, “I am not commanding you.” He does not want this offering to be given reluctantly or grudgingly, but freely and generously.

As always, Paul points to Jesus, the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in fact. Paul uses the same terms, “rich” and “poor,” he had been using in talking about the offering of the Macedonians. “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor so that you by His poverty might become rich.”

It is not difficult to see that the Jesus who Paul holds up as a perfect model of sacrificial giving is much more than just a model. He is first a Savior. Through His humbling Himself all the way to death, the Corinthians are spiritually rich beyond compare. Their sins are forgiven. They are enjoying brand new lives as part of God’s family. An eternity of joy awaits them.

They know all of that, but like you and me, they need to be reminded of it daily. If their eyes turn from the Christ, every area of their Christian lives, including their stewardship practices, will soon degenerate into dead works instead of being good works. To be “acts of grace” their offerings must be gifts driven by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christ who became poor to make us rich is the foundation on which all Christian stewardship rests. He is our Savior. He is our motivator. He is our example. And in that order.

Saved by His grace, we are then motivated to follow Christ’s example. Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we learn to be sacrificial and generous in our giving. And in the process, we are surprised to discover joy. One of the mysteries of God’s grace is that joy grows out of unselfish, sacrificial giving. The suggestion is not “Give until it hurts” but “Give until it feels good.” Only those who get beyond giving only what they won’t miss will find that joy.

How much should you give? God doesn’t give us percentages or amounts. Giving is to be an act of grace. As you see needs arise—be it disaster relief after a hurricane, a family that is struggling with economic hardship, or your weekly offering, you’re created to help and to serve as you are able.

Given all this, what would keep you from giving? What would prevent you from doing what God has created you to do?

It might be fear, fear that if you give you may end up not having enough for yourself. If that is the case, remember to be sensible in what you give and what you keep, but also be careful that fear is not the master who dictates what you do, because fear is a terrible idol to have.

It might be selfishness. You have plans for some luxuries in life, and you’d rather spend your money on those. While luxuries are not intrinsically sinful, take care that selfishness is not defeating your God-given desire to give and to serve.

It might be a restless feeling that you need more than you have because you are not satisfied. But contentment springs not from having much, but from doing what God has given you to do with what He has given you.

So God has created you to work and to serve and to give. But with all those temptations out there and that sinful nature within, you’ll never work and serve and give as you ought. As you do your best to do these things, you will likely avoid much of the restless desperation that haunts those who live only for themselves, but your best efforts are still hardly enough to earn eternal life.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, abound all the more in this act of grace—“the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You do not rejoice today simply in your own working and serving and giving. Those would never be enough to gain you favor with God. No, you rejoice today because of the Lord’s working and serving and giving. You rejoice today, because the Lord who created you to work and serve and give, redeemed you and is now at work recreating you in His own image through His means of grace. In Holy Baptism Jesus gives you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Holy Communion, Christ gives you His very own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.

So you rejoice this day. God created you to work and to serve and to give: therefore, your labors each day are what He has given you to do. Where sin sought to destroy those gifts and even rob you of life, Christ died to redeem you, to set you free from sin. Therefore, you are set free to work and to serve and to give. Therefore, your labors each day are holy, because they are sanctified by God.

But even more, you rejoice in this: while sin still taints your work and your service and your giving, this does not harm your salvation—because your salvation doesn’t depend on your work and your service and your giving. This is an act of grace. Salvation is yours on account of Jesus Christ, because He has worked and served and given and lived and died for you.

Therefore, in whatever you do, you rejoice this day to be God’s holy people, recreated to serve and give freely. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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If You’re So Smart…

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“Illustration to Book of Job” by William Blake

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“If you’re so smart, then tell me this…” Ever heard those words? They’re usually words children speak when they’re playing the game of one-upmanship. One child brags how far ahead he is of the rest because he’s been there, done that. Someone else doesn’t like the insinuation and says, “Oh, yeah. Well, if you’re so smart, then how did you get a C on that last science test? If you’re so smart, why did you have to stay in for recess yesterday? If you’re so smart…”

Our Old Testament Reading contains God’s words to Job at the end of the lengthy discussion between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, plus a fourth by the name of Elihu. After letting the human counselors and counselee vent for thirty-five chapters, God finally speaks out of the storm.

His silence throughout the long days of Job’s illness no doubt parallels the silence of God during some of our tough times. Sometimes it appears God is silent, or maybe sleeping, like Jesus was in our Gospel Reading. But God does care. He is not asleep. God is not silent. But neither does He owe us an answer.

As Job forgets, and as we may well be reminded this morning too, God is so much bigger and smarter than you or me. We can trust Him even when life seems out of control, even when things just don’t make sense to our human reasoning.

Lots of people think they know better than God, and they need to hear these words from Job. The atheist who claims not to believe in God. The skeptic who questions whether God cares what goes on in the world. The secularist who’s far too practical to depend upon God. And the materialist who says if he can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. These and many others think they know better than God. To use the words of the text, they speak “words without knowledge.” They “darken counsel.”

But let’s face it: they’re probably not going to hear these words. But we do. We need to! The truth be told: we play that game all the time as well. It’s just that we don’t express it quite so crudely. We don’t say, “I know everything.” We say, “I know Scripture says it’s wrong, but in my case…” Or we cry out in despair, “God, why have You let this happen to us? Don’t You care?”

And then God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Could it be that most of us have at times thought we knew better than God? Perhaps when we wanted an illness healed, a war stopped, or even a voters meeting decision to go our way? Or we wonder, “Why does it seem that everything in my life has to be so hard? Look at so-and-so! They’ve got it so easy!”

Let’s learn from Job this morning. His is not a formal institution of higher education. His is the school of hard knocks.

Remember, Satan has challenged God about Job. “He only serves You because You’re making life easy for him,” Satan charges. “You let me afflict him, and he’ll curse You to Your face.” And so Job suffers greatly. In just a short time, he loses his twelve children. He loses his great possessions and wealth. And then he even loses his health.

Job’s wife isn’t exactly encouraging or supportive. As Job sits among the ashes and scrapes at his festering sores with a broken piece of pottery, she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Job’s friends have nothing comforting to say to Job, either. Their greatest help is when they just sit with him for an entire week before speaking. When they begin to speak, though, they accuse Job of great and secret sins that are the cause of his suffering. In their faulty theology, every person’s suffering is in direct proportion to the measure of his guilt in God’s eyes.

In reply, Job protests his innocence. But to whom do you appeal when your friends don’t believe you, and God appears to be giving you the silent treatment?

As much as Job suffers physically and psychologically, what pains him the most is God’s apparent alienation from him. Several times in this book, Job requests that God speak to him: “Oh, that I had one to hear me!… Let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put His indictment in writing” (31:35).

Job has been saying, “I know my situation better than you do, God. I know I’m innocent. I know I don’t deserve the rough lot I’ve had. If I could just talk with You about this, man to God, we could surely resolve this problem.”

About this time God’s silence ends. Out of the storm, God demands: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”

Pretty good questions, aren’t they? Some of them we still can’t answer, even now. Just like people today, Job asks, “Where is God when these bad things happen to me? How can a loving God allow suffering, pain, and death? Even if He doesn’t fix my problem, can’t He at least let me see why it’s happening?”

And God answers Job’s questions with His own, beginning with: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In other words, “If you’re so smart, if you know better than I do, then you tell Me.”

God first uses the image of the construction of a major building, where He is the architect, surveyor, and engineer. He talks about laying the foundations of the earth and stretching the measuring line across it. In effect, God says, “Believe it or not, Job, I knew what I was doing when I created the earth. It didn’t just happen. I put a lot of planning into it. No matter how hard you try, you couldn’t begin to cram My creative wisdom into the narrow confines of your limited imagination.”

Then God uses the image of a midwife. “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? Who else was present at the birth of the seas, when I wrapped them in the swaddling clothes of clouds and darkness?”

God the builder, God the midwife: both images tell us that God knows what He’s doing. He understands the master plan. He knows how things operate—whether He’s building a home, delivering a baby, or allowing Job to suffer. Each of those images is designed to create confidence in the God who is speaking and to remind His listeners of our smallness in comparison to God.

In the verses that follow our text, God gives rapid sketches of some 20 creations. God’s words testify to a sense of beauty and order in the world, whether it’s in the spiritual realm, cosmic elements, meteorological phenomena, animals, or birds. Job is to conclude that if God cares for the many creatures He has created, He will care for His human beings far more wisely and compassionately. If God is in control of the clouds, the storm, and the rain, as our Gospel reminds when Jesus stills the storm, then God is in control of what happens in our lives as well.

Well, that’s what God says. Now, for what He doesn’t say. Does it strike you as odd that God doesn’t answer Job’s questions? He doesn’t debate with Job or Job’s friends. He doesn’t even refer to Job’s suffering. Instead, God raises Job’s sight from his own troubles to the marvelous order that undergirds the whole world. He patiently instructs a man who needs to see the larger picture.

Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case—that Satan had brought up the matter and that God had allowed the suffering. Job must operate “by faith, not by sight.” He must love God for God alone. God invites Job to love Him for no reason other than that God is worthy of love.

God invites us all to have a humble perspective that is willing to learn and listen. He says, in short, that it’s more important to know Him than to have all the answers. Which is a good thing—because none of us do. But that’s okay! We don’t have to have all the answers because God does—even when things seem their worst, even when everything seems out of control as it did that dark day two thousand years ago when it appears Satan had won, when the disciples have no clue why Jesus was abandoned by the heavenly Father to die on a cross.

Jesus’ disciples don’t have the answer, but God does. Christ bears our sins on the cross that we might not have to die for our own sins. We know that now through the preaching of the Gospel. And unlike Job, with Christ’s resurrection, we come to understand God’s reasons for the greatest, most unjust suffering that ever happened. Jesus willingly gave up His life for the salvation of the world—yours and mine, the disciples’, and yes, Job’s.

Well, how does the Book of Job end? What’s the result of Job’s meeting with God? In the final chapter Job says, “Now I’m satisfied; I’ve seen You with my own eyes.” With his newly opened eyes of faith and spiritual understanding, Job learns that everything is right between himself and God. And knowing that, Job becomes content not knowing all the answers to his questions. He learns to rest in the power and grace of God. He learns to trust that even in suffering and unanswered questions, God is graciously working all things for “the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Today, you also meet with God. He is present in His Word to instruct, comfort, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness. He is present in the assembly, wherever two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He is present in the Sacrament you will share in a few minutes. He invites you to learn with Job that you need not have all the answers as long as you have God. You need not know why certain things happen as long as you know that He loves you in His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the larger picture. That’s the teaching you can always trust.

You are right with God. He is not silent. He is not asleep. He loves you. He promises to work all things for your good. No matter what may happen in this life, He will bring you to the joy of eternal life with Him. In the meanwhile, He speaks to you peace and absolution. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Mystery of the Sown Seed

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“And [Jesus] said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come’” (Mark 4:26-29).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Look around you. Right here. Here is the kingdom of God! It may not look like much. Then again, it may be a lot more than you think. To begin with, it sure doesn’t look like a kingdom. Not you. Not me. Surely not a kingdom worthy of God. Well, that’s the way it is. The kingdom of God can be quite a letdown.

We know that we live in God’s kingdom. But when we look around, what do we see? Empty seats. (Empty seats tending to be concentrated in the front pews!) And to make matters worse, when we look at the seats that aren’t empty, or the man standing in the pulpit, what do we see? Sinners! Poor, miserable sinners, who are by nature sinful and unclean, who have daily sinned against God in thought, word, and deed and who justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment.

We see people who aren’t as active in the church as we think they ought to be. People who don’t always treat us or one another as kindly as we think they should. People who struggle with the lusts and weakness of their own sinful flesh. People who are quick to anger and slow to forgive. People whose lives outside the church don’t always rise to the standards we might set for them. And if we take an honest look at ourselves, each of us would have to admit they we, too, seem altogether out of place in the kingdom of God. Yes, we know that the kingdom of God is among us. But sometimes it’s hard to believe. It just doesn’t look like we think the kingdom of God ought to look.

Well, we aren’t alone in feeling this way. In fact, Jesus’ first followers felt the same frustration—but even more so! They had been waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for the promised Messiah. At last, there were signs that He had come! The sick were being made well! Evil spirits were being cast out! The blind were being made to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk! He turned water into wine and gave bread to a crowd of thousands! He calmed the storm with just a word! And this man taught with authority like no other.

But, somehow, the pieces didn’t all seem to fit. Rome still had Israel under its thumb. The corrupt house of Herod still cast a dark shadow over their land. And the One to whom they were looking for deliverance seemed in no hurry to take up a crown or raise an army. If Immanuel had at last come, why wasn’t He doing more to ransom captive Israel?

To top it off, this man was associating with all the wrong people and breaking the sacred traditions of the Pharisees. Time and time again, He did what was unlawful on the Sabbath! He ate and drank with the sinners! Tax collectors and women of ill repute were among His closest friends.

It just didn’t seem to fit. On the one hand, this clearly was no ordinary man. On the other hand, this sure wasn’t what people thought the kingdom of God ought to look like. It was so common, so ordinary, so disappointing.

Jesus knew what they were thinking—and He knows that our fallen, sinful minds just can’t wrap themselves around the mystery of His kingdom. So Jesus tells us a parable:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).

Jesus focuses on the seed. Not the soil. Not the sower. The seed is the primary actor in this parable. Although a farmer plays an important role in the cultivation of his field—after all, he sows the seed—its growth occurs apart from his efforts, even as he sleeps. He doesn’t understand how it happens. Not really. Oh, he understands you need a certain combination of seed, soil, water, nutrients, and sunshine, but no one—not even the most advanced horticulturist—know all the chemical and biological processes that are necessary to make a seed sprout, grow, and produce grain for the harvest. It’s a mystery. But that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter how it grows, but just to know that it does grow. The power is in the seed.

So it is with the Gospel. It is sown. It sprouts. It matures. It is harvested. Christ’s parable echoes Isaiah 55:11: “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The harvest Jesus speaks about includes the final harvest at the end of the world, when all mankind will see the marvelous crop the Lord has produced through His Word in this world of sin. But the harvest is also reaped here and now in the life of every child of God in whose heart the Word has taken root and grown and whose faith God uses time and again to bring that same Word to others.

Still, the harvest isn’t the believer’s doing, but God’s. Paul later put it this way in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Notice that in this parable, Jesus doesn’t explain the mystery of His kingdom. It’s not the kind of mystery that can be explained. It can only be accepted by faith. But Jesus does offer comfort and hope by telling us how this mystery ends. The seed that’s been sown will produce a crop. And when the grain is ripe, the harvest will come!

We don’t need to rush out every day and anxiously examine the grain to see if it’s harvest time. When a field has been planted, the farmer doesn’t need to worry and fret every day about when the harvest will come. The harvest will come in its own time. The same is true in the kingdom of God.

In this parable, Jesus gives us the comforting assurance that responsibility for the kingdom’s growth does not rest on our shoulders. The seed has been sown and growth will come by itself—not as the product of our efforts or ingenuity. The Lord of the harvest is in control. There’s no need to worry.

So what does this mean for you? Well, first of all, it tells you how you were brought into the kingdom of God. The seed of God’s word was sown in your heart. By processes we cannot fully understand, it sprouted, took root, and has grown.

For most of you, this first happened in your Baptism. Nobody could see it; it looked like three splashes of plain water, but in that water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word, the seed of the kingdom was sown into your heart. Your Baptism works forgiveness of sin, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to you and all who believe this.

And that seed continues to grow and produce new life. As the seed of the Word—God’s Law and Gospel—is continuously sown in you, your Old Adam is drowned by daily contrition and repentance and dies with all sins and evil desires, so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Imperceptibly, bit by bit, you are being conformed to the image of Christ.

The seed of the Word is also sown in you in the Lord’s Supper. In, with, and under the bread and the wine you receive the very body and blood of your Savior Jesus Christ given and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given you through the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

The second thing that this means for you is that God has invited you to be part of the process of sowing the precious, mysterious seed of His kingdom, even as you carry out your everyday vocations.

It might seem like a small thing, too insignificant for the effort it takes to have devotions with your family at the end of the day, but think about what’s happening: you’re sowing the seed of the kingdom, trusting God’s promise that that Word will take root, grow, and produce a harvest of faith.

Or how about the next-door neighbor who is going through a rough patch? You probably didn’t even think about, but in praying with her, you were not just bringing her needs before the throne of God, you were sowing the seed of God’s Word. Who knows? That simple seed might take root and grow almost immediately, or it may lay dormant for a while until someone else comes along and waters it. That’s okay. You’re not responsible for the growth, only the faithfulness of sowing the seed.

And that Bible story you shared with your grandchild? You thought you were only having a good time and entertaining them for a few minutes. It turns out you were sowing the seed of faith!

Such is the mystery of the sown seed. The Gospel, like seed, generates spiritual life and causes spiritual growth not only in a way that in incomprehensible to man. Just as plants pass from one stage to another in ways that cause us to marvel, so is the growth which the Gospel produces. God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, and through the power of the Word.

This reality often causes frustration among those who seek a quick fix or eagerly long for a rapid expansion of the kingdom, and all the more as we only have a short-term view of things. But God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that thing ultimately depend on Him and not on us, for only He is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal.

So, just go out and sow the seed of God’s Word. Witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus faithfully, without worry, and in all patience, knowing it is all in the Lord’s powerful hand. Trust that it will bring results in and others. And remember, no matter your past failures or present state, God’s life-giving Word is at work in your life, too, producing faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.