October 22, 2017 Sermon

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Oct 222017
 

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1 John 5:13-15

Dear Children of our Heavenly Father

Jacob wrestled with God all night and wouldn’t let him go until he blessed him. Did you ever think about that! As morning began to break God, in human form, touched Jacob’s hip, just touched it, and put it out of joint. Obviously, he allowed Jacob to wrestle with him. He could have put an end to the wrestling match, and to Jacob, any time he wanted. But, in the end, he did bless Jacob, changing his name to Israel.

This morning, John reminds us that we too can wrestle with God. We too can have the confidence to come into the presence of God and ask for his blessing and know that he will bless us. We can pray with confidence.

We need to hear this because Satan doesn’t want us to come to God in prayer at all; and our own conscience tells us that we shouldn’t even try. When we think about coming to God in prayer Satan and our conscience immediately point to a long list of our sins. They say, “you said you were going to read the Bible daily, but when’s the last time you did? You broke your word, why should God listen to you?” They say, “you haven’t been a very good parent lately; you have been very selfish and unloving toward others, not to mention those other things you have thought about or looked at that you would be ashamed of if anyone found out—But God knows about them all! Why would God even want you, sinner that you are, to come into his presence, much less give you anything but a just sentence of eternal punishment?” When Satan and our conscience say these things, we know it’s the truth. So, how could we ever come before the holy God? How could we ever pray with confidence?

John gives us the answer, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. He echoes the familiar words from his Gospel, these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. And Paul says, In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Why? Because, in Jesus, whatever sin Satan tries to bring to our minds, whatever sin bothers our conscience, has been paid for in full. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. In Jesus, covered with his perfect righteousness, God sees us as holy and without sin. He sees us, not as sinners deserving his eternal punishment, but as his dear children to whom he wants to give every good thing and eternal life.

Because of what Jesus has done for us we have the confidence that we can come before God in prayer without the fear of having him turn his back on us so that we are dragged off to be punished for even daring to enter his presence. And, John says, we have the confidence of knowing that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

Think back to Jacob wrestling with God and refusing to stop until he blessed him. He could do that because God had promised to bless him. Years earlier, as he was running from his brother Esau, God gave him the vision of the ladder with angels going up and down. God promised him that he would be with him and bring him back to Canaan. Now, years later, Jacob was returning to Canaan, but he was worried about what Esau would do. Did he still want to kill him? Jacob could say to the Lord, “Lord, remember your promise. You said you would be with me and bless me and that the savior would be born through me. It seems like that would mean that you would keep Esau from taking vengeance on me and my family. Keep your promise, Lord.” And the Lord did keep his promise.

When we know that something is God’s will; when we know that God has promised to do something, we can pray with absolute confidence. God will not, he cannot ever break a promise he has made. And there is only one way to know what God’s will is, to know what he has promised. You have to read and study his word. You see, he has not promised to speak to us directly. He has not promised to give us a sign that indicates a yes or no answer to anything we ask him. But, when he says in the Bible that something is his will, or when read a promise God has made in his word, we can be 100% sure that if we ask for what he says is his will, if we call upon him to keep his promise, he will.

What has God said he wants? He wants all to be saved. He wants the gospel preached to every person on earth. He wants us to bring him honor by living Godly lives and teaching his word faithfully. So, if we come to God in prayer and ask him to help us share the gospel with someone, he will. It’s what he wants! If we ask him to help us crucify our sinful nature so that we live lives that honor him and let our light shine, we know that he hears us, and that he will do what we ask, even though we don’t deserve it.

What has God promised? He has promised that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life– not only will have, but has it right now. He has promised that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love for us in Jesus. He has promised, as he promised to Jacob, to be with us always to the very end of the age. What confidence we can have then, that when we are troubled by a sin and we come to God in prayer and ask for forgiveness for Jesus’ sake! We are confident that we have forgiveness. He promised! What confidence we have, even in the face of death, to talk to God about our fears, and to ask for his help, and know that we have it. He won’t leave us or forsake us, because he promised!

Notice that our confidence in all these cases isn’t in us. It’s not because of anything we have done. It’s not because we promise to do something for God. Nothing we do can give us confidence; just the opposite. Looking to ourselves, or the things we do only makes us doubt. It is only when we look to God and his promises to us in Jesus that we will ask what is according to his will and be confident that he has heard and will do what we asked, because he promised.

It’s hard for us to imagine this, but God hears every one of our prayers. That’s hard to imagine because multiply your prayers each day by the billions of Christians who are also praying each day. Although it’s an irreverent movie, the Jim Carrey Movie “Bruce Almighty” tried to picture what it would be like if you were God trying to answer every prayer. A room full of filing cabinets couldn’t hold them all. If they came by Email, 24 hours a day wouldn’t give you enough time to answer them all. Finally, Carrey just answers them all “Yes”, and really makes a mess. Maybe Hollywood was trying to depict the foolishness of prayer, but for us, it reminds us what an awesome God we have. He considers every prayer individually. He doesn’t just answer them all “Yes.” He answers them, considering the person who is praying, how what they have asked aligns with his perfect will, how what they have asked will affect their future, especially their spiritual life, and how what they have asked will affect others. Then he answers in the way that is best, which might be “No,” or “wait a little longer,” or “it’s time for your suffering to end so I’m going to send my angels to guide your soul to heaven.”

We can be confident that we will receive the things we have asked from him, or something much better than we could have ever asked or imagined. As Jesus says, if
you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.

Jacob had the confidence to wrestle with God and refuse to let him go until he blessed him, and he received the blessing, because God had promised, what he asked was God’s will. We too can pray with confidence. We can approach the all-knowing, holy God, without fear because we have been cleansed of our sins through faith in Jesus. When God has revealed something to be his will, or promised to do something through his word, we can be confident that when we ask for those things, he will give them to us. When we pray about something that God has not spoken about, that’s not something he promised, we can have absolute confidence that he hears our prayer and will answer that prayer in the way that is best.

What a blessing to be able to pray every prayer with confidence, not because of who we are, but because of who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus.

October 16, 2017 Funeral Sermon

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Oct 162017
 

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Hebrews 13:5

Dear Family and Friends of Herb,

This verse from Hebrews was Herb’s Confirmation verse. As we talked about Confirmation verses we noted how, years later, over 80 years in Herb’s case, that verse is still fitting and helpful. It was mentioned that sometimes Herb struggled with contentment, as we all do at times. How wonderful it was for him to remember his Confirmation verse and be reminded of the wonderful promise and encouragement it offered!

Herb was one of the first people we met went we moved to Seward. The Parsonage is two houses north of what was Herb’s house. Shortly after we moved in Herb was out working in the yard. He had been on a ladder trimming a tree. As we finished talking Herb said, “Now don’t tell my wife what I was doing, I’m not supposed to be up on a ladder.” Herb was a good neighbor, often snow blowing the sidewalks almost half-way down the block. But even more important was that fact that Herb wanted to be in God’s word. When I would visit him his devotion book would always be open to the correct day and obviously well-used. When it was no longer safe for him to get out to come to church he was very sad about it. This would indicate that he realized that he was not perfect, that there were some things that he struggled with, that he needed the assurance of his forgiveness in Jesus and the strength that God provides through his means of Grace, the gospel in word and sacrament.

Herb’s confirmation verse reminds us of the great challenge that faces all of us every day. Every day we are bombarded with slick advertising put together by very smart people who have studied human nature. They know where to position products on the shelves so that they are sure to grab our attention. They come up with slogans that hit home. You hear “you deserve a break today.” And you think, “That’s right, I really do deserve a break, I worked hard today, and it didn’t seem that anyone noticed or appreciated what I did. I’m going to treat myself. I deserve it.” On the news we hear politicians and others telling us that it’s not fair that others have more than we do, and how the other guy should pay “their fair share”, whatever that is. Soon the Black Friday ads will be out and people will start planning their strategy to make sure they get to the right stores at the right time to get the bargains before someone else does. It’s hard to be content in a world that constantly tells you not to be content.

It’s been said that one of the things the Bible talks most about, other than the most important thing, having salvation in Jesus, is the proper view and use of money. The writer to the Hebrews warns us to keep our lives free from the love of money. There’s good reason for that warning. Paul says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It can lead not just to theft or fraud, but to murder, adultery and just about any sinful thing you can think of. As crime investigators always say, “I you want to solve the crime, follow the money.” It’s an equal-opportunity temptation. It affects both rich and poor, employers and employees, everyone is tempted by the easy life it claims to offer. But the Bible points out what most of us have probably discovered, whoever loves money never has money enough. The amount you thought would satisfy you and make you happy and content, didn’t. As soon as you got it you began to want more. But the worst thing about the love of money is that you can’t love it and God too. You can’t serve both God and money. If God is not the thing you love above all things, then he’s not your God. Whatever you love most is your god. Paul says that those who love money have fallen from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

All the advertising, and all the talk that implies that if only you had this product, or that car, or enough zeros after the 1 in your bank or retirement accounts, that then you could be content, is a lie. Temporary, worldly things can’t make you content. They don’t have the power. They break. They wear out. You leave them all behind when you die. But the writer to the Hebrews tells us what does enable us to be content. The only thing that can give us true contentment is the wonderful promise of God never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. That’s the secret Paul learned that enabled him to be content in any and every situation.

What a wonderful promise that is! It’s a promise of grace, because we all know that God should forsake us. Because of our lack of contentment. Because we are so often like Israel in the desert, constantly finding something to complain about instead of recognizing all the blessings God has given us, God should do what he threatened to do to Israel. He should say, “ok, you are on your own.” Because of our many sins God should send us to the place where we would be forsaken by him for all eternity. And he would be perfectly just if he did that. But he promises never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. How can he do that? You know the answer. Herb knew the answer. It’s because of Jesus. Paul reminds us that if God did not spare his own son, Jesus, but gave him up for us all; how will he not also along with him graciously give us all
things?

In his love and grace God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus was tempted to be discontent. Satan told him to turn stones into bread, after all, he deserved it didn’t he? He had been fasting for 40 days. But Jesus resisted. Satan tempted Jesus to love mammon, money and the things of this world. He offered to give him all the power and riches of earth if only he would bow down and worship him instead of God. But Jesus resisted. He lived a life of perfect contentment in our place even though he only had the clothes on his back to claim as his own. Having lived his whole life without ever sinning, he willingly went to the cross and allowed himself to be punished for everyone else’s sins; for Herbs sins, for your sins, and mine. Considering what he has done for us in Jesus, how could we ever doubt that he loves us? How could we ever doubt that he will care for our every need, and give us the one thing that alone can make us content, forgiveness of our sins and eternal life.

God kept his promise to Herb. He claimed him as his own dear child at his baptism. He kept assuring him of his forgiveness every time he read the word, came to worship, and received the Lord’s Supper. He may not have given him everything he wanted, but he did give him everything he needed, and, on Wednesday, he gave him the best gift of all, eternal life.

God is keeping his promise to you too, as you mourn. He will not leave your or forsake you in your time of loss. He reminds you that those who die in the Lord are blessed. He reminds you that all who believe in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life; they will live, even though they die. He pictures for you the New Jerusalem, the place where there is no pain, or mourning; the place where those who die in the Lord get to eat from the tree of life and drink from the water of life, where every need is satisfied and everything is perfect. By his grace and through his promises you are able to mourn, but not as those who have no hope because you know that when Jesus comes again in glory he will bring with him those who have died in faith, and on the last day you will not only see Jesus, but also all who have died believing in Jesus.

It’s a real blessing to be able to look at your confirmation verse and see the hand of God; to be able to read or remember that verse and think, “thank you Lord, I really needed that.” What a blessing it was for Herb to remember his confirmation verse and hear God’s promise, “you can be content because I will never leave you or forsake you.” What a blessing for us today to hear that verse as we struggle against the constant temptations of the world around us and the deceptiveness of wealth. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. You can take any earthly things with you, but you can be content, you can have comfort in your time of loss because God has said, never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.

October 15, 2017 Sermon

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Oct 152017
 

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Luke 17:11-19

Dear Friends in Christ,

I want you to think of some familiar Bible stories. Think about the Centurion who came to Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus. What do those two stories have in common? You might think, they both came to Jesus asking for healing for someone else, a servant and a daughter. You might remember that they were both non-Jews. But did you realize that these are the only two people in the Bible that Jesus holds up for us a having great faith?

Now think about these incidents from Jesus’ life. A notoriously sinful woman crashes a party and anoints Jesus’ feet. A blind man begging alongside the road learns that Jesus is passing by and he calls out to Jesus, but is told to be quiet. A woman in the crowd thinks that, if only she can touch Jesus’ robe her chronic illness will be healed. It is. When Jesus stops to ask who touched him, his disciples think it’s a foolish question at first. What do these incidents have in common? That’s a little harder to see. Two are miraculous physical healings, one is a pronouncement of forgiveness, but in all three cases the person Jesus speaks to is looked down on by those around them. And in each case, Jesus says to that person who is looked down on by others what he says to the Samaritan leper. He says, Your faith has healed you, or the more literal translation in all these cases is, your faith has saved you.

What is faith? In catechism class you probably learned that faith has three parts, knowledge, acceptance and trust. You can’t believe in, or trust in, someone or something if you don’t even know it exists. Paul asks, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And there are lots of things you hear about every day that you don’t necessarily believe- things people brag about, or stories in the news you are pretty sure are fake, or at least biased half-truths. Faith is having knowledge of something, accepting what you have heard to be true, and then trusting, being so confident in what you believe that you are willing to defend or even die for it. Having that kind of faith in something, having that kind of faith in Jesus, a faith that is willing to publicly defend and even die for what you believe usually is something that has to be developed in you through testing. Like a muscle, faith grows and becomes stronger when tested.

Consider the ten lepers. They are an interesting group. They may have been from different villages all along the border of Samaria and Galilee. Normally they would never have hung out together, certainly not with the Samaritan among them, but one thing drew them together. They all had the incurable disease of leprosy which meant that they could not live in villages with healthy people. They had to live in caves, or in some kind of shelter that was far enough away from where everyone else lived so that they would not infect others with their disease. Misery loved company. Since they all had the disease they could live together, maybe pool their talents and resources, and make a little better life than they would have had living all alone. Their common predicament even allowed them to overcome the deep-seated prejudice that existed between Jews and Samaritans.

Somehow, they had heard about Jesus of Nazareth. They must have heard about all the miracles he was performing; perhaps even that he had healed others who had leprosy. They must have heard that he was traveling nearby and they decided to go together, as a group, to see if Jesus would heal them. When they got close enough for Jesus to hear them, but not so close that they would break the law about keeping their distance from non-lepers, they called out loudly, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!

Was this faith? It was certainly hope. They certainly realized that there was nothing they could do that would cure them. Maybe some just looked at it in the sense of “what do we have to loose? What’s the worst that could happen? If the Jesus refuses to talk to us, or if he is unable to heal us, we are no worse off than we are now. But what if he is able, what if he does heal us?” Were they trusting that Jesus was God in the flesh, their savior from sin; or maybe just a prophet like Elisha who had healed Naaman of his leprosy? We don’t know what was in their hearts, but it seems likely that whatever faith they might have had was shaky, certainly in its infancy; a spark, not a fire.

What was Jesus’ reaction to their request for mercy, which certainly implied, “please heal us?” He told them to go show themselves to the priests.

Now they understood this to be an implied promise. There was only one reason to go show yourself to the priest. It was a priest’s job to inspect a leper’s skin and decide whether or not that leper was healed. It was a test, a challenge from Jesus, a way for them to show their trust. They might have preferred to have Jesus heal them first, after all, what if they got to the priest and they were not healed? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Jesus to say, “Ok, you are healed. Now, go show yourself to the priest so that he can declare you clean and you can return to your homes and families?” But Jesus told them to go before they were healed, while they still had leprosy. He challenged them to have faith; to trust his implied promise that if they did what he said they would be healed before they got to the priest. It was similar to Elisha telling Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan to be healed of his leprosy. He challenged him to trust that he was speaking God’s word and to do something that seemed foolish. In both cases, when Naaman washed in the Jordan, when the ten turned and headed off to show themselves to the priests, their leprosy was healed. And when they realized they were healed, faith grew.

You have probably experienced something similar. Maybe you came to God with a request, for healing from an illness, or for some blessing, or help with or the resolution of some problem you were facing. You had faith. You knew who God was and you believed that he could help you. Maybe, like the Lepers, you came out of desperation thinking “I tried everything else, maybe I’ll ask God to help me,” realizing that you should have come to him first. Your faith was a little shaky. You wondered if God would hear and answer. Maybe it seemed at first that he wasn’t going to answer and you thought, “maybe I shouldn’t have even asked.” And then, he did something even better than you could have expected. Your heart was filled with joy. Your faith grew as you realized it was not misplaced. God really does exist, he is able to do all things. He hears and answers prayer! And then you went about your life just as you had before. NO?

The fact that Jesus didn’t heal these Lepers right away and then send them to the priests, but sent them on their way and then healed them, provided another test for faith. How would they respond when they were healed, when their prayer for mercy was answered beyond their wildest dreams? Imagine what must have happened, Scripture doesn’t give us the details. Imagine that suddenly, one after the other of the ten, realizes they have been healed. They must have stopped in their tracks. They must have cried out to each other, “Look, I’m healed! Look, I have feeling in my fingers and toes! Look, all those scaly spots on my skin are gone- it’s pink and healthy like a new born baby!” How they must have jumped for joy and celebrated! “I’m running to the priest as fast as I can so that I can be allowed to go home to my wife and kids,” one might have said. “I can’t wait to get to rejoin my fellow shepherds and see how the flocks have grown while I’ve been gone,” another might have said. But one said, “I’m going back right now to tell Jesus thank you.” Maybe the rest even ridiculed him for it, but he returned. A few minutes earlier he could not get close to Jesus and he had to call out loudly to anyone who came near, “Unclean, unclean!” Now he fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks and praise to God loudly, for all to hear. He would not return to his life before leprosy until he personally expressed his thanks to the one who had heard his prayer and healed him. Jesus had tested his faith, and his faith had grown to the point where God, and giving God thanks and praise, was the most important thing in his life, his first priority.

In coming back and falling down before Jesus it seems that this man was acknowledging that Jesus was more than a healer. It seems to be and acknowledgment that Jesus is the Messiah, his savior. The other nine, like the priest and the Levite who passed by the man who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead, made the required ceremonies of the law more important than giving thanks to Jesus, or acknowledging him to be what their healing proved him to be, the Son of God, the promised Messiah; not just their healer but the savior from sin. And he, the one who returned to give thanks, was a Samaritan. He was the one with great faith. He was the one to whom Jesus says, your faith has saved you.

Is there something for us to take to heart from the fact that those who were singled out by Jesus as having great faith were gentiles, and those to whom Jesus says, your faith has saved you, were looked down on by others? Isn’t it a warning to us not to take our faith, our position as “faithful Christians” for granted? Faith grows when it is challenged. It grows when something makes us realize that we can’t help or save ourselves so that we come to Jesus for mercy. Faith grows when Jesus doesn’t just wave a magic wand but gives us a promise and says, “Trust Me.” Faith grows when it is obvious that Jesus has kept his promises, when he answers our prayers. What will we do? Will we act as if that answer was expected? Will we act as if a blessing was deserved? Jesus asked, where are the nine?

Like the thankful leper, as our faith grows through testing, may we be moved to acknowledge before all who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, not a genie in a bottle who grants wishes, not just a healer of our physical ills, but the promised Savior. He is the only one who gives forgiveness for all the times we have been ungrateful, or taken our many blessings or granted, or acted as if we deserved something from God because of who we are or what we have done. Like the thankful leper, may we be moved to fall at Jesus’ feet every day and say “Thank you Lord for coming to earth to live and die in my place, and for rising from the dead so that I can be sure that my sins are forgiven.” Then, Jesus is able to say of us, you have great faith, your faith has saved you because I, the one and only savior, am the one in whom you trust for everything good.

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