Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Water: Holy God & His Holy Things

Desert SpringsClick here to listen to this sermon.

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:16–21).

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

In all the searching that scientists do in outer space, one of the things they are most anxious to find is water. If they can find water, it would improve the chances that other forms of life might exist in the universe besides the life here on earth. Or, if water can be found somewhere else, it could be used to support human life in other parts of the universe. Water is essential to life—whether it be plant life, animal life, or human life. Without water, there is only death.

That was true in the history of the people of Israel, and it’s even more crucial to our spiritual life. When God speaks of or uses water, it usually signals something that is literally of life-and-death importance to His people. Truly, God’s use of water is a holy matter of death and life.

Our text reminds us of how God brought about death and life at the Red Sea (vv 16-17). Israel, just days after coming out of Egypt, was trapped with water on one side and the powerful Egyptian army on the other side. God provided a way through the water for His people, but when Pharaoh and the Egyptian army entered the sea, they were drowned (v 17).

For Israel, on the other hand, the waters of the Red Sea were saving waters of life (v 16). For God’s people, the way through the sea was the way to safety, a new life of freedom. Both groups went into the water, but only one group came out alive. This was the Lord’s gracious doing.

Because of their failure to take God at His Word to deliver them to the Promised Land, the Israelites were made to wander in the desert for 40 years. Water was always a life-and-death matter. Time and again the people complained that they would die of thirst (Exodus 15:22-24; 17:1-3; Numbers 20:2-5). In fact, their murmuring against God did lead to the death of many (Numbers 21:4-6; Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Nevertheless, the Lord again saved them with water. This time He provided water so that they wouldn’t die of thirst. He brought water from the Rock, changed the bitter water to pure, drinkable water.

Water was often a matter of life and death for God’s Old Testament people. And God, in His mercy and grace, provided for their needs, often in miraculous ways. In our text, though, the Lord tells Isaiah’s hearers not to look back on all that: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, now I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19a).

So much of our faith and the faith of the Old Testament people is based on remembering the past. Here Isaiah urges the people to forget the former things because the new workings of the Lord will be even greater. The one who made a way through the sea will now make a way through the desert.

God will do a new thing to bring about both death and life—still using water. The new thing is a whole new era of history, which Isaiah describes in terms of abundant water. As the wandering Israelites had known so well, the wilderness was parched, inhospitable to animals and people. But in a new era, a day God let Isaiah foresee, it would be as if the desert would flow with rivers, providing abundantly for man and beast.

 

The more immediate context is God’s promised deliverance of His people from Babylonian captivity. Because of Judah’s stubborn rebellion and rampant idolatry, the Lord will use Babylon to chastise His people, to call them repentance. Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. God’s people will be marched off to Babylon. But God promises that after a while, He will bring them back home.

The Lord will break the power of the Babylonians and make these once power Gentiles fugitives. Their ships, which once carried precious cargo, in the future would transport them as fugitives. The Lord would dispatch the necessary forces to make this happen. Not only would God break the power of the Babylonians, but God would also release His people from captivity. They would find a way through the desert so they could travel back to Jerusalem, just as God once led Israel through the Red Sea and wilderness to the Promised Land.

This deliverance is greater in that it is a key event in God’s plan of salvation. More than the deliverance from Egypt, the release from Babylon paves the way for the fulfillment of a spiritual deliverance. Leaving Babylon behind, the people came back to Palestine to rebuild the temple, resettle in Jerusalem, and resettle the villages and towns of Palestine. They resettled Galilee, inhabited towns like Bethlehem and Capernaum, and made Jerusalem their center of worship once again. A great Redeemer would come from Bethlehem, begin His work in Galilee, and enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He would be beaten, suffer thirst, and die on a cross just outside of Jerusalem.

The people remained in the land until the coming of Jesus. One deliverance paved the way for the greater. No wonder, then, that they were to forget the deliverance from Egypt. It was a great deliverance, but an even greater one awaited. It was all part of God’s plan for His people.

This would be the age of the Messiah, the day when the Christ would come and restore the reign of God, making right all the corruption that sin brought into a once-perfect world. This age is now, the new reality established when Jesus came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the grave. The new age came with death, Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ death removed the curse of sin that turned the mists and rivers of Eden into wastelands and deserts. Jesus’ resurrection declares all things right again. The Church has long seen the Red Sea passage as a foreshadowing of this resurrection, life arising from certain death.

In this new age, God still kills and makes alive by water. Even more so than with the “former things,” water is important in our faith history. In fact, without water we have no faith history. We each share in God’s new thing by Holy Baptism.

Baptism with water kills. In Baptism, we die with Christ: “We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That means we also die to sin, putting away the deeds of the sinful flesh. We no longer wish to carry out the lusts of the old man or woman. Of course, this dying with Christ, dying to sin, is so that we may live a whole new life. By Baptism, God also makes us alive again.

Baptism is when our life of faith began. Water was used and applied to us. It’s true our rescue was not as dramatic as that of the Israelites, but it was no less important. We were in a hopeless situation with nowhere to turn.

The way out was through water, and God provided it. When we were baptized, the Holy Spirit created in us a new person. In our text, God calls us “the people I formed for Myself” (v 21), using a Hebrew word much like the one describing His creation of the world, making something from nothing. Baptism literally brought spiritual life from spiritual death.

Obviously, it’s not the water itself that does such great things. We don’t keep or revere “holy water.” Rather, Luther explains in the Small Catechism, it is not the water indeed that does this, “but the Word of God in and with the water… along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.”

God’s Word of Baptism is rich in promises. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “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 3:5–7). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:25–26).

The water of our Baptism has long dried off, but the words that made that water a Baptism are still with us, and we are invited to recall them daily through contrition and repentance. So that our old sinful nature may be put to death, so the new Christ-like nature arises to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

Whether in ancient Israel or in outer space today, without water, there’s no hope of life. We thank God, therefore, that He has done an entirely new thing, better than giving water in the wilderness: by water and the Word, He’s delivered us from death and given us life in His Son. For Jesus’ sake, 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

“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.