Sermon from January 3, 2021

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Jan 032021
 

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2 Kings 5:1-5, 15-17

Sometimes it might seem that since Israel was God’s chosen nation, they were the only ones who knew the one and only true God. But that’s not the case. In fact, God did not choose a nation to be his special people to exclusion of other nations. He chose a nation to be his special people to make sure he had people through whom he could display his glory to all nations.

From a practical, human point of view, we might say that the location he chose to be Israel’s land shows that he intended to reveal himself through them to other nations. The land of Israel is a narrow strip of habitable ground sandwiched between the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. The greatest nations on earth; Egypt to the south and Assyria, Babylon, Persia to the north, had to pass through Israel in order to trade with each other or to make war on each other. There were lots of natural opportunities for others to learn about these peculiar people and the God they worshipped who claimed to be the one and only true God.

Although we cannot say that the United States is God’s chosen nation today because Paul instructs us that Israel in the New Testament equals all believers, we can see some similarities. Up until recently, the majority of people in the United States had a Christian background of one kind or another. As the world’s superpower, many people from almost every nation from around the globe come here to trade, or get an education, or make a better life. As Christians who live here, we still have many natural opportunities to share with those we meet what we know and believe about our God who is the one and only true God, the only savior for all people.

From our Scripture readings today, we see that God used some unique ways to make sure powerful leaders and people of other nations learned that he is the one and only true God.

We started with Daniel. He, along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, was captured by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar who were besieging Jerusalem. He was taken to Babylon and trained to serve in the Babylonian government. Amazingly he served as the head of the Wise Men, and in other important government positions, under at least 3 different kings, and the last king was one who had captured Babylon. He served Darius even after a hostile takeover.

You know how God used these men to display his glory. He rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. He rescued Daniel from the lions’ den. As a result of Daniel’s rescue, King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in the entire earth: …People should continually tremble and be afraid before the God of Daniel, because he is the living God, who endures forever. His kingdom will not be destroyed, and his dominion is eternal. He rescues and he saves. He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth.

Then there was the man from Ethiopia. We don’t know how he first heard of the one true God. As treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia, it may be that he had come to Israel on a trade mission. In some way he had learned about the one true God and had come back to Jerusalem to worship. He had purchased a very precious scroll, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he was reading it as he rode in his chariot on his way back to Ethiopia. He had learned that the God worshiped by the Jews was the one and only true God, but there was a lot he still didn’t know. He didn’t know who the promised savior was or what he had done.

In this case God honored what the Spirit had spoken through Solomon, that those who seek him will find him. He did it in a miraculous way. He pointed Philip to a specific place and a specific chariot. He told him to get close to that chariot so that he could hear what the Ethiopian was reading. Everything was arranged so that all Philip had to do was to offer his help and explain that the words of Isaiah he was reading were fulfilled by Jesus, the promised Messiah who offered himself as the Lamb of God to pay for the sins of the world, including his. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church today claims that they were founded by this man.

The Holy Spirit may never tell us to go to a specific road and walk up to a specific car, but he does place opportunities before us every day. Keep your ears open. Listen for questions people are asking that can open the door for you to tell them about Jesus. Watch for signs that people are wondering about God, or what the future holds; for people who are discouraged. Be ready to share with them what you know about God, what Jesus has done for you and for them, and how God gives wonderful and certain hope for the future through his word.

What about the Wise Men? We know that they came looking for the one born king of the Jews, the Messiah, but how did they hear about a coming Messiah? How did they know look for a star that indicated his birth? We don’t know for sure, but remember Daniel was the head of the Wise Men, and Babylon is in the east. We celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to worship Jesus at a house in Bethlehem as the Gentile’s Christmas. As far as we know, they were the first non-Jews to worship Jesus as their Savior. They remind us that God has always intended salvation to be for all people.

Finally, there is Naaman. He is a Gentile. He is a very powerful and successful general in the Army of the king of Aram, modern Syria. Did you notice that God takes credit for granting success and victory even to Gentile rulers like Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus, and Naaman? God is not just ruler over Israel. He is ruler over all nations even if they do not acknowledge him.

Naaman was very blessed, but he had one problem. He had an incurable disease. He had Leprosy. As it happened, on one of his raiding parties into Israelite territory he had captured a young girl who became his wife’s servant. When she learned of her master’s leprosy, instead of wishing evil on the one who had taken her from her homeland and family, she mentioned that there was a prophet of God in Israel who had the power to heal his leprosy. So Naaman got permission from his king along with a letter of introduction to the king of Israel to go to Elisha to be healed.

You might remember it took a little convincing for Naaman to do what Elisha said and wash in the Jordan, but when he did, he was healed. Not only was he healed physically, but he was brought to see that the Lord is the one and only true God. Listen to what he said to Elisha, If you do not want anything, please give me, your servant, as much dirt as two donkeys can carry, for your servant will never again burn incense or sacrifice to other gods, but only to the LORD.

  Naaman’s servant girl was not an important person in a foreign government like Daniel was, but God used the simple witness of that lowly servant girl to bring great blessings on her gentile master.

We have covered a lot of different times and places in history in our readings for today. What have we learned? That God has always wanted all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth that he is the one and only true God, the only savior for all. We have learned that God uses lots of different ways and lots of different people to get the good news of salvation out to nations around the world. He can use a faithful Christian serving in government who remains faithful even in the face of persecution. He can guide us so that we are in just the right place at just the right time so that we can answer a question someone has about God or his word. If he can use a quiet wish of a lowly servant girl. He can use you too.

Think about how God can use you to display his glory, to bring someone half-way around to the world, or across the backyard fence, to know that there is only one true God who sent his Son to be the Savior of all.  Think about ways that you can give a quiet witness like Naaman’s servant did in your everyday conversations at work, or at school. If you are on Social Media, think about ways that you can share a devotion, or maybe just post something about what God has done for you. Our church Website and Facebook page have been seen by people in many counties around the world, including Pakistan.

Some Christians seem to have the attitude, “we have a nice building, everyone knows where it is, we will be happy to welcome them if they come.” But the great commission doesn’t say build a building and wait for them to come. It says, GO and make disciples of all nations.

God has ways of getting the good news of salvation out to all people even without us. But he wants to display his splendor through us. He wants us to see ourselves as missionaries, as his witnesses. He has made us his chosen people, his holy priesthood, so that we might declare his praises to all. He wants us, no matter where we live, no matter what our position, whether in a position of power or a lowly servant and everything in between, to be always ready to give anyone who asks the reason for the hope that we have.

We have the sure and certain hope of eternal life because God, the one and only true God, sent his son to live and die in our place and then he raised him from the dead. There is no other name but Jesus whereby anyone from anywhere on earth can be saved. Do everything you can to let everyone know that truth.

 

New Year’s Eve Sermon

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Jan 032021
 

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Deuteronomy 8:2-3

We like to think that 2020 has given us a lot to complain about, but what if you had been an Israelite! In spite of everything that has happened in 2020, we still have spacious homes with heating and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, and cupboards and refrigerators stocked with food. How does that compare with Israel? Let’s see. They had tents for houses – no heaters, no air conditioners, no running water, no indoor plumbing, just a tent. They didn’t have any cupboards or refrigerators stocked with food. In fact, there were times when they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. There were times when there wasn’t only no running water, there wasn’t any water at all. There were poisonous snakes and scorpions. They endured at least 5 plagues during their time of wandering. So, is there really anyone who would want to trade 2020 for 40 years of living in a tent in the wilderness? Compared to Israel, we have nothing to complain about.

Did you notice something about our reading for tonight, something that God very rarely gives us in his word? He gives Israel an answer to the question “why?” Usually when we ask God why he answers the way he answered Job. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? …Have you given orders to the morning or shown dawn its place? …Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? …Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? Do they report to you? In other words, God’s usual answer to the question “why” is, “I am God Almighty. You will just have to trust me.”

The reason God gives an answer to the question “why” here may be that no one is demanding an answer from him. He is providing instruction for Israel, and for us, through Moses.

Why did Israel have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years? The first answer is because they listened to the ten spies who talked about how big and powerful the people were in the promised land, that they had walled cities, and there was no way they could possibly defeat them. They refused to listen to Joshua and Caleb who encouraged them to trust the Lord who had promised to be with them. Because of this God decreed that the whole generation that refused to trust him would have to die before he would allow Israel to enter the land he had promised them. That took 40 years.

But there was another reason. God would use the consequence of their disobedience for good. He would use it to test them, to train them, to help them learn to trust him for everything.

Twice in verse 2 God uses the word n[ml, which means “in order to.” Moses says, Remember the whole journey on which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you. Why did God do this? He was using those experiences the same way he used the questions he asked Job. He wanted Israel to realize that they were not in control. He wanted them to realize that without him they wouldn’t have anything to eat or drink, without him they would not survive. They were not God, he is.

Don’t you think God has used the events of this year to humble us? Early on, a few Pastors who pridefully claimed that the virus was a hoax, or not dangerous, or that God would protect them from it, got the virus and died.  How many times hasn’t some doctor or scientist pridefully made some claim about something that works or doesn’t work against the virus that turned out to be completely wrong? “Trust the science”, we were told, but which science, and how often hasn’t what claims to be science changed? God is using this pandemic to humble us, to help us see that we aren’t as smart as we would like to think; that we aren’t as much in control of things as we would like to think. Science is not God. We are not God. We are lowly, fallible mortals.

I pray we and many others learn this lesson because only those who humble themselves before the Lord will have him lift them up. Only those whose hearts are humble are able to say, “Lord, I can’t do anything without you. I certainly can’t save myself or do anything to earn eternal life. All I can do is trust your promise to give it to me for Jesus’ sake.”

God used the wandering in the wilderness to humble his people so that they would learn to look to him for everything, especially for salvation. And he used their wandering the wilderness to test them, like he tested Abraham. He was not tempting them. He was not trying to get them to sin against him, only Satan does that. But he was testing them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commandments.

Do you see another parallel here? This pandemic has seemed to pit a number of God’s commandments against each other. Luther explains correctly that the fourth commandment doesn’t just apply to children and parents, but to all those in authority. We are to honor, respect and obey those in authority, any form of government, unless they ask us to sin against God. Then we must obey God rather than man.

The fifth commandment asks us to care for our neighbor’s body, to avoid doing anything that might cause our neighbor bodily harm. Some religious leaders have said that this means refusing to wear a mask is a sin because you might cause harm or even death by passing the virus on to others. I would say that’s going a too far because the effectiveness of masks is not completely proven, but if it might keep your neighbor from harm, why not wear one?

And then there is the third commandment. God wants us to worship him. In Hebrews he tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Does that mean we have to disobey the government when we are told to limit gatherings at church? Have they told us we can’t worship at all? No, at least not in our state.

God is testing us. He wants to know what is in our hearts. Are we totally devoted to him? Will we find ways to continue to worship even if we can’t go to our church building for a while? Will we take the time to carefully examine the commandments and apply them to our situation, or will we jump on the band wagon of whatever group seems to express our feelings? God has truly put us to the test in 2020 and none of us have passed with flying colors.

That leads us to the next verse and the next “in order that”. God didn’t just test Israel. He didn’t just allow them to become hungry and thirsty and then forsake them. He showed them his mercy and faithfulness. When they were hungry, he provided them with mana, a perfect food that gave them all the nutrition they needed. When they were thirsty, he sweetened the bitter waters and gave them water from the rock. When they realized that they could not provide for themselves, he provided for them. He did these things in order to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

God is certainly using everything that has happened this past year to do for us what he did for Israel. He wants to humble us, to beat down our natural sinful pride, because if we are not humbled there is no way that we will turn to him or recognize him as our God and Savior. He is testing us, asking us to pull out our Catechisms and review his commandments. He is asking us to consider what it means to love him above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves, to realize that deciding how to put such love into action isn’t always easy. It’s not just a matter of feelings, but a matter of careful meditation on his word, and prayer for his guidance. He wants to know where our heart really is. He wants to see if we will trust him completely.

None of us have passed these tests with flying colors, but Jesus did. You recognize the words about not living by bread alone. They are the words that Jesus used when Satan said that he should turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. Jesus quoted these words to defeat that temptation. In fact, Jesus lived every minute of his life on earth by the words that had come from the mouth of the Lord. He always loved the father above all things and he always loved his neighbor as himself. He did this, not for himself, but for us. He did this in order to win forgiveness for us when we fail the tests that God has placed before us, when we don’t always live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Knowing that Jesus has passed the test for us, and then died to pay for our failures, may we be humbled, moved to trust God no matter what, and to devote ourselves even more to living by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

 

December 27, 2020 Sermon

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Dec 272020
 

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Luke 2:25-35

There is usually a lot of talk about peace at Christmas time. Many people misunderstand what the angels said to the Shepherds when they spoke about peace on earth. We all long for peace; the end of wars and threats between countries; peace among family members who don’t get along; rest for a troubled conscience; a peaceful, uninterrupted night of sleep. But Simeon knew that the kind of peace most people are looking for will never happen on this earth. He knew that there was and is only one way to have true and lasting peace. It’s the peace that comes from seeing the Lord’s salvation.

Although we are told that Simeon was righteous and devout, it seems that there were some things that were troubling him, things that had to do with God’s promise to send a Messiah.

As a devout man, he knew what God had promised. He knew what we heard in our reading from Isaiah. God is the one and only true God who challenged anything called a god to do what he does, to make predictions about the future that are 100% accurate. He declares that no word that has gone out from him will return unfulfilled. But Simeon was troubled. Israel was not the powerful kingdom it once was. They had no king of their own. They were ruled by the Romans. And the situation among God’s people wasn’t good. There was division even among the religious leaders. Pharisees and the Sadducees argued about many things. It didn’t seem that there were many left in Israel who were truly devout. Yes, people showed up at the temple and went through the motions required for offering sacrifices and prayers, but it seemed obvious that it was more tradition and obligation than a response of faith. People seemed to be more focused on the things of this world than they were on God and his promises. How could God send his Messiah into such a Godless situation. In fact, maybe Simeon was thinking the way many do today, “if he doesn’t come soon there won’t be anything left for him to come to.”

We don’t know exactly what was on Simeon’s mind, but from what Luke tells us, it’s clear that he was concerned about the comfort of Israel, the coming of the Messiah. Praying about the fulfillment of this promise of God must have taken up a good portion of his day every day.

What troubled Simeon still troubles us today. As we look at the situation in our world we see that more and more young people are turning to Atheism. We see a lot of people who claim to be Christians but over half don’t gather for worship, and some who do, see worship as tradition and an obligation instead of an expression of faith. We see a world that is full of division, a world where earthly things like notoriety and power and money are the things that people are most interested in. We hear leaders talk about peace and unity, but it seems to be just talk as there seems to be more hatred and dissention than ever. It’s easy to be troubled, to think that if Jesus doesn’t return as he promised and do it soon, there won’t be much left for him to come to. In fact, even Jesus wondered out loud, when the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?

How did Simeon find peace? We might think that he found peace when God graciously answered his prayers and promised him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. I’m sure that special promise of God did grant him a certain amount of peace knowing that the Messiah would come in his lifetime. But he might still have wondered, could it be today? How will I know he has come?

The thing that gave Simeon the greatest peace was seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise. In some way the Holy Spirit urged him to go into the temple courts at just the right time. He enabled him to find Mary and Joseph among the hundreds of people who must have been there. He enabled him to recognize that the young child Mary was holding, probably only 40 days old, was the promised Messiah, the one who had come to redeem Israel. As Simeon took Jesus into his arms, he finally knew a peace that passes understanding, a peace that nothing else in the world could give him.

He said, Lord, you now dismiss your servant in peace. Why? Because you have kept your word. Your promise to send a savior has been fulfilled. Your promise to me has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen your salvation. Many great prophets longed to see this day and only saw it in faith, but by your grace I have seen it with my own eyes. I am holding the promised Messiah in my arms. This child has come for all, for the world. He will be a light for the Gentiles, showing them who the true God really is. He will be the glory of Israel, proof that their trust in you and your promises was justified.

Good for Simeon. He saw God’s promises fulfilled. He held Jesus in his arms. He could go home with a heart filled with joy and peace because God had kept his word and the savior, his savior, had come. But what about us? We will never get to do what Simeon did. We will never get to hold the baby Jesus in our arms, and God hasn’t promised us that we won’t see death until Jesus comes again in glory. How can we leave church with a heart that is filled with joy and peace?

Think about when we use these words of Simeon in worship. We use them after we have heard the words and promises of God in the vespers, or evening prayer service. We use them after we have received the Lord’s Supper in the regular service. We join Simeon in rejoicing that we can leave worship with hearts that are filled with peace and joy because God has kept his word.

Two or three have gathered together, the bread and wine were consecrated with the words Jesus gave us. Although we couldn’t see him, he was present with us as he promised. As we looked at the cross and as we received the bread and wine, we remembered what he did for us. We remembered that he was born to die. We remembered that he was forsaken by the father so that we would not be forsaken. We remembered that the body and blood we received with the bread and wine were given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Although we don’t see him with our eyes, we see the marks of his presence.

When we see an empty cross, or a depiction of his ascension we are reminded of the fact that he rose from the dead. He ascended back to heaven where his is preparing a place for us. As we remember all the things that God made know ahead of time and that have come to pass just as he said they would, we have the peace of knowing that everything else he has promised will come to pass when He knows the time is right.  Like Simeon, we leave worship with hearts that are filled with joy and peace because, through the eyes of faith, we have seen the Lord’s salvation, a salvation he prepared for all people, a salvation he has prepared for and has given to me.

Simeon expressed his peace and joy in the fact that God kept his word, but he wasn’t finished. He also spoke of the future as if the Holy Spirit showed him in an instant everything that would happen over the next 30 years. He makes it clear that, although knowing Jesus as our savior may fill our hearts with peace and joy, it won’t make our lives on earth peaceful. He saw that Jesus would be then, and would be as long as the earth exists, a source of division. As Jesus himself said, he did not come to bring earthly peace, but a sword. He is the rock the builders rejected, that becomes either a stumbling block or a solid foundation for faith.

Just as the reaction of the Jewish leaders to Jesus revealed their jealous, worldly, unbelieving, hate filled hearts, so the reaction of leaders and others today to Jesus reveals their worldly, unbelieving, hate filled hearts. Like Mary, a sword pierces our hearts too when we see so many in our world, especially a parent, or a child, or others we love stumble over Jesus.

Simeon very clearly reminds us that the peace he had was not the kind of peace that the world can give. The kind of peace he had came from knowing that this world is not all there is. He had the peace of knowing that when his last day on earth came, he could stand before God and be invited to live in God’s kingdom of glory forever, not because of what he had or had not done, but because God kept his promise and provided salvation in Jesus. That’s the kind of peace you have as well.

In this world we will have trouble. When we profess our faith in Jesus the unbelieving and even hateful thoughts of many will be revealed. But Jesus has overcome the world. In him, no matter what is happening in the world, we have peace.

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