April 7, 2019 Sermon

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Apr 072019
 

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Exodus 3:1-15

This morning we will be going through this portion of God’s word verse by verse. Please follow along in your Bibles or service folders. There are also questions you may wish to answer as we go that are printed inside the back cover of the service folder.

In our Gospel lesson we heard Jesus tell the Jews, before Abraham was born, I AM. That was a shocking statement! How could Jesus say that! He wasn’t even 50 years old and Abraham had been dead for a about 2000 years! “Who do you think you are Jesus?” They understood who he was claiming to be. They knew he was pointing them back to the conversation God had with Moses at the burning bush. As we study that conversation, we will learn the answer to the question, “Who Is the LORD?”

Verse 1 Now Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, a priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

You might wonder what Moses was doing shepherding flocks in the wilderness of Sinai. We usually think of him as the Prince of Egypt. He was the one who was rescued from the Nile by the daughter of Pharaoh and adopted as her son. What’s a Prince of Egypt doing tending sheep in the wilderness? Maybe you remember that one day Moses came upon an Egyptian task master who was abusing a Hebrew slave. Moses stepped in. He killed the Egyptian, but then he had to flee the wrath of Pharaoh. That’s when he met Jethro’s daughter and married her and became a shepherd in the wilderness of Sinai.

Verses 2-3 The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in blazing fire from within a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but the bush was not burning up. So he said, “I will go over and look at this amazing sight—to find out why the bush is not burning up.”

When God wanted to get people’s attention, he would sometimes cause his glory to be seen. Often, he showed his glory in the form of a bright cloud, and sometimes in the form of what looked like fire. You remember that he did both as he led Israel out of Egypt – leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. On the day of Pentecost, he got people’s attention by sending what looked like tongues of fire and having them rest on the heads of the disciples. God got Moses’ attention by having his glory appear like a blazing fire in a bush in the wilderness. This was a bush, not a tree. It was a dry, thorny bush that should have been reduced to ashes in just a few minutes. That’s what Moses expected, but when it was not burned up by the fire Moses decided to check it out.

Verse 4 When the Lord saw that Moses had gone over to take a look, God called to him from the middle of the bush and said, “Moses! Moses!” Moses said, “I am here.”

The Lord SAW, and God CALLED Moses by name! Don’t overlook that! Moses had learned the history of his people from his mother whom the daughter of Pharaoh had hired as his nurse maid. He had heard about the promises God had made to Abraham. But the Hebrews were foreigners in a foreign land and were now enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. He himself was living as a fugitive in the middle of nowhere. He wasn’t enjoying the comforts of the palace in which he had grown up. Certainly, he would have been tempted to think, “where is God? If he exists at all it sure seems like he has forgotten his people, and me!” But NO. God had his eye on Moses. He had not forgotten him. He called him by name!

There is great comfort for us here. God promises never to leave us or forsake us. He always knows where we are. He always knows what we are doing. He sees us and he knows our situation. He calls us by name. In fact, Scripture reminds us that he has redeemed us. He has purchased us for himself with the precious blood of Christ, his one and only Son. He has put his name on us and claimed us as his own at our baptism.

Verses 5-6 The Lord said, “Do not come any closer. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” He then said, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

  When we are tempted to wonder if God knows or cares about us, our view of God is diminished. In our eyes, he seems small. He seems uncaring. He seems powerless. But when he shows himself, we realize how wrong our view of God is. The holiness of God strikes fear in our hearts as it did in the heart of Moses. We realize how sinful, how powerless, how frail we are. We realize that the blazing fire that does not consume but burns forever should engulf us. If Moses had doubted the presence and power of God, when God spoke and commanded him to take off his sandals because he was in the presence of God and standing on holy ground, he could doubt it no longer. The presence, power and holiness of God revealed his sin and filled him with fear. May we never lose our sense of awe when we think about God, his omniscience, his omnipresence and his omnipotence, his glory and holiness.

Verses 7-10 The Lord said, “I have certainly seen the misery of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry for help because of their slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now indeed, the Israelites’ cry for help has come to me. Yes, I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come now, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the same being who spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden. He is the same being who appeared to Abraham 400 years before Moses was born and promised to give his descendants the land of Canaan, and even more importantly, that through one of his descendants all peoples of the earth would be blessed. He is not a distant God. He has not been on vacation for the last 400 years. He has SEEN what is going on in Egypt. He has HEARD the cries, the prayers for help. He is AWARE of the suffering of his people. And, he has a plan. He is going to do something about it.

God says the same things to us. No matter what our situation in life. No matter how bad or hopeless it seems. He says to us, “I SEE you. I HEAR you. I am AWARE of everything that is happening in your life. And, I have a plan to deliver you. Ultimately his plan is to guide you through the wilderness of this life with all its troubles and temptations and finally to take you to be with him in the real Promised Land of heaven.

Verses 11-13 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” So he said, “I will certainly be with you. This will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what should I say to them?”

God told Moses that he had come to call him to be the one to deliver Israel from Egypt. Forty years earlier Moses thought about doing that on his own when he intervened on behalf of a Hebrew slave and killed the Egyptian task master, but he failed. His plan failed because he was on his own. He failed because it was not God’s time, nor was killing an Egyptian God’s way.

Now, forty years later, Moses’ thinking is completely opposite. Who am I to go to Pharaoh? Moses says. He makes all kinds of excuses, and finally just tells God to find someone else.

If you have ever tried to do something you thought was a good thing and failed, there are some questions you should ask yourself. Did you, like Moses, try to do it on your own without consulting God or asking for his help and guidance? Did you do it in a way that involved breaking one of God’s commandments, as Moses did? If, later on, the opportunity to do this good thing came along, did you hesitate because of your previous failure?

It’s a difficult line for sinful humans like us to walk; that line between sinful self-confidence and sinful self-deprecation. If we stray to the one side, we think we don’t need God. If we stray to the other side, we fail to act and to trust God’s promise to help. The solution is to search the scriptures; to learn all we can about God’s will and hear his promise I will certainly be with you. Through the Scriptures we learn that without Jesus we can do nothing- nothing that is good or pleasing to God; but with Jesus, attached to the true vine by faith, we are enabled by him to produce much fruit.

Verses 14-15 So God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.” He also said, “You will say this to the Israelites: I am has sent me to you.” God also told Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

Moses had basically asked for a letter of introduction and recommendation from God. He felt that he needed a way to let Israel know that he wasn’t making things up. The Lord, the one true God, actually sent him. God granted his request. He told Moses, tell them “I Am” has sent me to you. I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I AM, not I was. Even though they are dead I am still their God. I am the one and only true God. I am the one who simply exists, who is completely other, independent of time. I am the same, yesterday, today and forever.

The Lord is the one who created everything that exists by the power of his word. He is the one who spoke to Abraham, who took on flesh and blood so that he could keep his promise to crush the serpent’s head. He is the one who is always present to keep every promise he has made. He is the light of the world and the consuming fire. He is the one who forgave Moses for killing the Egyptian and called him to serve, to lead his people to the Promised Land. And he is the one who forgives all our sins in Jesus and calls us to live and to serve him every day.  He is the one jwho knows everything that is going on in our lives, who calls us by name, hears our every prayer, and is leading us to the Promised Land of heaven. He is here, present right now as he promised to be when two or three are gathered in his name.  Stand in awe as Moses did. Then, trust that he is certainly with you as you trust in Jesus and live your lives in faith each day.

March 31, 2019 Sermon

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Apr 012019
 

Ephesians 3:20

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Dear Friends in Christ,

Some of you have seen the movie “I Can Only Imagine.” If you haven’t, I would encourage you to see it. It’s not your typical cheesy religious movie that gives you the idea that, “if only you give your life to Jesus everything in your life will be great.” It’s a true story about Bart Millard who struggled with many things in his life, but especially his relationship with his abusive father. The title of the movie is the title of the popular Christian song he wrote after his Father came to faith, he struggled to forgive him, and his Father died. In the song he tries to imagine what it will be like to be with Jesus forever.

Paul says that now we see as through a glass darkly, or the NIV translates, now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. We can’t fully comprehend, we can only imagine, what it will be like to be with Jesus and see him face to face. But, instead of letting this fact move us to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the use, it’s all beyond my comprehension anyway”, Paul tells us to let this fact motivate us to know as much as we can by studying the word, and to let it increase our faith. We can’t even imagine all that God can do, so don’t be afraid to ask anything. Trust that there isn’t anything he can’t do. As the angel told Mary, nothing is impossible with God.

Our Scripture lessons this morning remind us that God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. When the people of Israel grumbled that they didn’t have food, they couldn’t imagine how God could or would provide for them. Their only thought was, “we have to go back to Egypt or we will starve to death in the wilderness.” We know that they couldn’t imagine how God would provide because when the manna appeared the next morning, they said to one another, “What is it?” Still today we can’t imagine this perfect food that must have provided complete nutrition appearing six days a week for forty years! But that’s exactly what happened. And Moses tells us that God did this to test his people. He did it to teach them to trust him; to trust that he would and could provide for them in ways they couldn’t even imagine; to trust that, although he can do anything, he only promises to provide what we NEED, and only one day at a time.

God had Moses record these things for our learning. Like Israel, we sin when we grumble and complain about what we have, or don’t have, to eat; and we have a lot more than Israel ever had. We easily fall for the class envy narrative that we hear all to often in our world today and end up grumbling against God because we don’t think he has given us enough, or at least as much as someone else. When there is too much month left at the end of the paycheck, we do everything except the most important thing, pray and search the Scriptures. Let God’s word point out our greed, our envy, our mismanagement of HIS gifts to us. Then confessing our sins, seeing them forgiven by Jesus, and asking God to provide what we need even though we don’t deserve it, trusting him to do what we might be afraid to ask or even imagine.

The Gospel reading also reminds us that we can’t even imagine what God can do. When large crowds were coming to Jesus, larger than usual because it was near the Passover, Jesus asked Philip, Where can we buy bread for these people to eat? Philip couldn’t imagine how that was possible. They were on the other side of the sea of Galilee. There weren’t any stores or markets anywhere close. And even if there were, two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to have just a little. They didn’t have enough money to purchase that much bread even if there were a market nearby.  Andrew couldn’t imagine how they could feed so many people either. He said, there’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what is that for so many people? John tells us that Jesus asked the question about feeding all these people to test his disciples. He wanted to see how they would react when they were faced with a seemingly impossible situation. Would they conclude that there was nothing anyone could do? Or, would they pray? Would they turn to Jesus and say, “based on all that we have seen, all the healings you have performed, the fact that you calmed the storm and walked on water, the fact that you are the Christ the Son of the living God who provided manna for our fathers in the wilderness, we trust that you can and will find a way to provide food for all these people, even though we can’t imagine how.”

How would you have fared if you had been there and Jesus pointed to a hillside full of people, 5,000 men not counting the women and children who were with them, and asked, “how will we feed them?” If we are honest, we would admit that we would have failed the test just as Philip and Andrew and the rest of the disciples did. Like them, we would never have imagined that Jesus would take the five loaves and the two fish, give thanks for that which seemed to everyone to be not even enough for everyone to have a crumb, and have it end up being more than enough. In fact, to have twelve baskets full left over after everyone had eaten all they wanted.

Jesus wants us to understand that he is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

The examples from our lessons today have to do with food. God has promised to provide us with what we need, one day at a time. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus calls it daily bread. He provides it most often by giving us the ability and the opportunity to work and to earn our daily bread. But, as our two lessons show, he can provide our daily bread in way that we can’t even imagine when and if that becomes necessary.

In the lesson from Ephesians, Paul has in mind something even more important than food. His prayer for the Ephesians and for us is that we would realize what God has done for us spiritually.

Think about what God has done. Humanly speaking, it’s very rare that a person would sacrifice themselves for someone else. Someone might do it for a child, or for the safety and welfare of their nation. But no one would sacrifice their lives for an enemy! Yet, that’s what Jesus did. We were his enemies, born dead in sin and completely opposed to everything God stands for. It wasn’t that we started to improve or see the light and so he decided to take a chance on us. No! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He sacrificed himself for people who deserved just the opposite.

We can’t even imagine anyone doing what Jesus did, anyone suffering what Jesus did, especially when he didn’t deserve to suffer and we did. But, even though we can’t imagine anyone doing what Jesus did, we know what it means. It means he loves us more than we can imagine anyone else loving us. Paul prays that, as we think about what Jesus did, we would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, and that we would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

Not only did Jesus sacrifice himself for a world of sinners who deserved just the opposite so that, since we are part of the world of sinners, we could know that our sins are forgiven, he made sure that we learned about what Jesus did for us. As Paul says, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? How wide and long and high and deep the love of God is, that out of the billions of people  in the world, he saw to it that we heard the good news about Jesus; that the Holy Spirit used his word to convict us of our sinfulness and then to move us to trust that Jesus really did pay for our sins! Through the word and sacrament, he strengthens us with power through his Spirit in our inner self, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Because of what Jesus has done for us, although we can’t imagine how wonderful it will be, we have the certain hope that we will see Jesus and live with him in his kingdom for all eternity.

We can’t even imagine how great God’s power is and how great God’s love really is. But from what we have seen him do as it is recorded for us in his word, we do know this. His love for us is so great that he sent his perfect son, Jesus, to live and die in our place. His power is so great that Jesus rose from the dead. He can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Be reminded of his love and power daily through the study of his word. Never think that your problems, whatever they are, are too difficult for him to handle. Trust that he will provide all you need, one day at a time; and, even more important, even though you can only imagine what it will be like, that he has a place for you in heaven because of Jesus.

Sermon from March 24, 2019

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Mar 242019
 

Luke 11:17

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  Everyone knows that a house, a team, a family, a congregation, a nation, that is divided is in trouble. If there is division on a sports team about coaching, or the commitment of certain players, or the style of play, that team will not win a lot of games no matter how good the players may be. If a family is divided over how to manage finances, or about the Christian training of children, that family is in for trouble and their children will be confused about religion if not completely turned off. If a congregation can’t agree on its purpose, to use the means of grace to make and train disciples of Jesus, it won’t be effective in doing that. If a nation can’t find some principle that the majority can agree on and rally around, sooner or later it will no longer be a nation.

  When Jesus cast out a demon that was causing the person it possessed to be unable to speak, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of performing exorcisms by the power of Satan. Notice, they didn’t deny that exorcism was possible or that Jesus had successfully driven out the demon. Those were facts that they couldn’t deny. But they refused to believe what the miraculous sign clearly showed- that Jesus was from God, that he was the promised Messiah.

  Jesus responded by pointing out to them how foolish their accusation was. Their accusation showed that they were greatly underestimating Satan and that was a very dangerous mistake. Satan is not divided. He is not going to work against himself or his demons. Satan and his demons are 100% focused on a single purpose. John lets us know what his purpose is when he says in Revelation, woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. When he couldn’t devour Jesus, he was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring– those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. And Peter warns us, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Satan is not divided, he is intently focused on taking as many with him into the fires of Hell as he possibly can.

  Is that a little scary? I hope so. In fact, Peter says it ought to make us sober, always keeping our wits about us; and vigilant, always watching and praying, so that we don’t fall prey to the devil’s schemes, one of which is to divide us. If he can distract the members of a congregation, if he can keep them from focusing on Jesus and sharing the good news of the gospel with as many as possible, if he can get them to focus on petty differences in traditions (not doctrine), or buildings, or where and when to have coffee, he wins. If Satan can convince us not to talk about him, or take him seriously, he wins.

  Satan is not divided. Jesus says he is a strong man, fully armed, guarding his house. He fought to keep Jesus from driving the demon out of this person. He is fighting to keep his possessions, that’s all of us who are born dead in sin and slaves of Satan, safely in his grasp. We heard him pull out all the stops as he tempted our hungry savior who had been fasting in the wilderness. But we also heard the result of that all out attack. Jesus was victorious. In fact, Jesus describes himself as the one who is stronger than the strong man. Satan is united against Jesus, but Jesus is stronger. He has come to tie up the strong man, Satan, and set free all those he has captured. Jesus’ point is that the only way he could drive the demon out of the one who was possessed is that he is stronger than the strongman, Satan.

  So, who was divided? His accusers were. They were divided over Jesus. Some thought he was of the devil. Some thought he was a prophet. Some thought he was the Messiah. Their division meant that they were in trouble. Jesus warned them the one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters. You can’t be neutral when it comes to Jesus. You are either united to him by faith, or you remain a slave of Satan. Those who try to remain neutral about Jesus are like the house that a demon finds empty. When he finds a house, a heart, empty, trying to be neutral, lukewarm in regard to Jesus, he goes and finds seven other demons to take up residence in that empty heart with him. Our hearts will not remain empty. They will either be filled by faith in the one true God, or they will be filled with idols.

  Our world is filled with people who are trying to be neutral about Jesus, but whoever is not with Jesus is actually against Jesus. All of us, by nature, are against Jesus. And, once the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, we live with a constant battle. Our stubborn sinful nature buys into Satan’s lie that true freedom means being free to participate in obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, coveting and immorality, when in fact doing so is idolatry. It’s making ourselves god, and leads to eternal slavery and separation from God’s kingdom for all eternity. You can’t serve both God and your own sinful desires. You can’t unite with the sinful actions of the world and stay united with Jesus. You can’t say, as some have actually said on TV, “Christianity is what I do on Sunday, the rest of the week is mine.”

  By God’s grace, Jesus has caused his light to shine into the darkness of our hearts. Through our baptism and through the good news of the Gospel the Holy Spirit has enlightened us, enabling us to see the truth. The truth is that Jesus is the only one who is stronger that the strong man Satan. The truth is that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work and to set those Satan held captive, to set us free. The fact that he cast out the mute demon was proof that he was defeating the strong man, tying him up so that he could plunder his house. The fact that Jesus rose on the third day and descended into hell to proclaim his victory to the spirits in prison, to Satan and his Demons, makes us sure that Jesus has destroyed the devil’s work. In Jesus, Satan is powerless. His accusations against us before the Father fall on deaf ears because Jesus points to his perfect life and innocent death as evidence that our every sin is paid for in full. Through his word Jesus gives us the power to recognize Satan’s lies and tell him to go away; and because Jesus defeated him, he must listen.

  By God’s grace, Jesus continues to shine his light of truth into our hearts as we live our lives in the word each day. Every time we are reminded of our baptism, he reminds us that we are his dearly loved children; that he has purchased and won us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death in our place. Being reminded of what he has done for us moves us to walk in love and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to God… walking as children of light in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.

  While Jesus was speaking about Satan, the danger of taking him lightly and not seeing Jesus as the one who came to defeat Satan, a woman recognized that he was speaking the truth, raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Who wouldn’t have wanted to be Mary the mother of Jesus! What a joy it must have been to raise a perfect child who never sinned, who, at twelve was impressing the great teachers in the temple courts with his knowledge of God’s word! But Jesus reminds her, and us, who is even more blessed than Mary. He said, “Even more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

 Satan is looking for a house, a heart, that is empty; a heart that is trying to remain neutral about Jesus. He is looking for a house, a heart that is cleaned and put in order, maybe one that is determined to be upright and moral, a good person, but does not trust in Jesus for salvation. Those are hearts where he can rule. Those are people he can make his slaves. But those who hear the word of God, who read and study it daily, are blessed because God promises the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts through the word. Those who hear the word of God and meditate on it; who think about how what God says applies to them; who are then moved to confess their sins and run to Jesus for forgiveness, are blessed. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in their hearts, their faith is growing, and their sinful nature is being drown every time it tries to bob up out of the water. Those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed because they have the most powerful weapon there is against Satan, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God..

  Satan is not divided. He is focused on one objective. He is desperately working, doing all he can to take us to Hell with him. Don’t take him lightly. Don’t try to be neutral when it comes to Jesus. You are either with Jesus or against him. But with Jesus, you don’t have to fear Satan. Jesus has defeated him. As you regularly hear the word of God and take it to heart, you are blessed. The Holy Spirit is at work to protect you from every evil Spirit as he helps you grow in faith, walk in love, and bring forth the fruit of the light, which consists in goodness, righteousness and truth.

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