October 13, 2019 Sermon

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Oct 132019
 

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Micah 6:6-8

Please turn to our first lesson for today as Micah tells us what the Lord requires.

 

Israel knew that they were in trouble with God. He had just called the mountains and the foundations of the earth as witnesses against them. More than anyone living at the time, the mountains and the foundations of the earth could witness to the whole history of the way that God had dealt with his people and how they had responded. They were there to witness how God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, sending plagues on the Egyptians and dividing the Red Sea for them so they could cross on dry ground, and then destroying their enemies who were pursuing them. They were there to witness how Israel responded, grumbling and complaining and refusing to trust in God’s care and protection. They were there to witness how Balaam intended to curse Israel, but when he opened his mouth, God brought out prophesies of blessing instead. They were there when, later, Israel fell for Balaam’s trap and accepted the invitation of Moabite women to participate in idol worship with them. They were there to witness the fact that God showered them with blessings, bringing them to the Promised Land, defeating their enemies for them, and making them into a rich and powerful nation under David and Solomon. They were there to witness how Israel rebelled, rejected worship at Jerusalem, set up golden calf idols, and more recently, gave up the worship of the true God altogether to worship Baal instead.

Israel had been complaining that God had burdened them. They thought that they were doing all they could for God and that he owed them something in return. Now that he had shown them that this was not the case, that he had been completely faithful to his promises while they had been unfaithful to him, they felt their guilt. They wanted to know what to do.

We sometimes fall into the same trap as Israel did. We look around and see all the evil in the world and we start to pat ourselves on the back. “We aren’t like those people. We come to worship. We give to the Lord’s work. We try our best to help our neighbor.” So, when things don’t go the way we think they should, or when we face an illness or disease, we are tempted to think, “Hey Lord, I deserve better. You owe me, Lord, for all my faithful service.” But when we begin to think that way the Lord calls on the mountains and the foundations of the earth as witnesses against us. They have witnessed our whining and complaining. They have witnessed our lack of trust in God’s promises to provide and protect. They have witnessed our lust for mammon and our trust in government, or medicine, or science, instead of in God and his word. In fact, we don’t need to have the mountains and the foundations of the earth to witness against us. All we have to do is take a good look in the mirror to realize that we are sinners. Our conscience tells us that we have not been faithful. We really don’t want God to give us what is due us because that would mean we would languish in hell for all eternity.

With Israel, with the people in the crowd on Pentecost who were cut to the heart when Peter showed them that God had sent the Messiah and they had killed him, we need to recognize our guilt. When we do, we will be moved to ask the same question they did, “what should we do to get right with God?”

As Israel thinks about this question, they offer a number of suggestions. How should I bow down to God on high? Should I appear before him with burnt offerings, with one-year-old calves? Will the LORD be delighted with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my rebellion, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

What’s the answer? “No!” None of those things can make you right with God. In fact, thinking that any of these things will make you right with God, especially the sacrificing of a child, will do just the opposite. It will only add to your guilt and separate you even further from God. No one can ever give enough to God so that God has to repay them. Everything already belongs to him. There is nothing anyone can offer to God that will pay for even just one sin. Even the sacrifices God commanded didn’t pay for sin. They weren’t something you did to earn forgiveness. They were intended to point you to what God would do for you; how he would sacrifice his Son to pay for your sins and the sins of the whole world.

What does the Lord require? He doesn’t require you to sacrifice something of great value in order to pay for your sins. He doesn’t ask you to do something that doesn’t work. No payment we could make for sin would ever be enough. So what does he require?

He has told you, mankind, what is good. What does the LORD require from you, except to carry out justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?

  God himself has told you what is good. Only he is good. Only he could do what was required to pay for your sins and the sins of the whole world. He told you what that would be when he promised Adam and Eve that a seed of the woman would one day crush the serpent’s head. There was nothing they could do to pay for their disobedience, but God would send a Savior who would do it for them. Only he, the seed of the woman, Jesus, is good. Only he lived on this earth without sin. Only he who had no sins of his own, could and did offer to take the punishment everyone else deserves on himself. Only he could die a death that paid the price of redemption for all. Only he could rise from the dead victorious over death and Satan.

God has told us what is good. He has told us that Jesus was good in our place. He has told us that salvation is a free gift of his grace because of what Jesus has done in our place. He has told us that through faith in Jesus he considers us good, righteous in his sight and heirs of eternal life. There isn’t anything better than the undeserved gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he has given us in Jesus. It’s a gift to us that is worth more than thousands of rams, or tens of thousands of streams of oil. It’s priceless.

What does the Lord require? Now that you have seen how faithful he has been in spite of your unfaithfulness; now that you have seen how good he is that he gives you forgiveness and eternal life for free because he knows you could never earn it yourself; he simply asks that you humbly acknowledge what he has done and give him thanks and praise.

What does the Lord require from you? To walk humbly with your God. To daily admit that you don’t deserve anything from God, not even the air you breathe. To daily admit that you deserve nothing but punishment. To daily plead, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and forgive me for the sake of Jesus and all he did in my place.” To be in the word daily and to let what God says be the final word even when everyone else seems to be saying the opposite. To make God and his will more important than any one or any thing else. To remember what Jesus said, that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Then, having been humbled by seeing our sins, and filled with joy and thankfulness that God has remained faithful in spite of our unfaithfulness and given us the gift of forgiveness in Jesus, we are moved to carry out justice and to love mercy in our dealings with others. We strive to do what God calls justice, making sure that we are not lying or cheating or taking advantage of others for our own gain. We are willing to take risks to help those who are suffering injustice at the hands of others, speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defending and protecting the fatherless and the widow, those who are easy targets for abuse.

Having experienced God’s great mercy yourself, we strive to show mercy to others. we do your best to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. we strive to be a giver instead of a taker. Instead of wishing that those who hurt you get what they deserve, you pray and work for an opportunity to tell them about God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus. As Paul says, we strive to live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. To make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

What does God require? Really nothing. There isn’t anything we can give him that he doesn’t already have. What does he want? Peter put it this way. Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He wants our hearts. He wants us to see our sin and our need for a savior. And when he tells us that Jesus is the Savior, and that He did what is just and right in our place and that through him we have received grace and mercy and forgiveness, he just wants us to humbly say, “Thank you Lord.” He knows that when our hearts are filled with humble faith in him, we will worship him daily. We will strive to carry out justice and love mercy, bringing him glory in all we do.

October 6, 2019 Message

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Oct 072019
 

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Ephesians 3:14-21

Please turn your attention to our second reading for today as we think about what Paul prayed for on behalf of his fellow believers.

 

Paul was writing to the Christians in Ephesus from a Roman prison, but even the strongest prison couldn’t restrict his freedom to talk to God in prayer. He assures his fellow Christians that, not only is he still praying, but that, despite his own difficult situation, he is still praying for them. He had just reminded them that, because of what Jesus has done for us, we may approach God in prayer with freedom and the confidence that he always hears our prayers and always answers our prayers in the way that he knows is best.

After Paul points out that he is praying to the one true God, the Father who sent his only perfect son Jesus to be the savior of all, and who created all that exists, he mentions three things that he is asking the Lord to do for his fellow Christians in Ephesus.

His first request is, that, according to the riches of his glory, he would strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner self, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Isn’t this the prayer of every parent and grandparent? You see children instructed in the word, filled with joy as they express their faith. If you ask them why they are going to heaven they get a big smile on their faces as they confess, “Because Jesus died on the cross and washed my sins away.” At Christmas you hear them recite the Christmas Gospel and join their voices in gleeful, sometimes overly exuberant song. You rejoice in their simple, childlike expressions of faith. But, as they get older, they seem to become self-conscious. They don’t sing out as gleefully as they once did- too worried about what others might think. They get into High School and College and their faith is challenged by professors and friends who don’t believe, and they begin to wonder if what they always thought they knew about God is true.

Most of us have been there at one time or another. Most of us still have doubts and questions especially when we witness disaster, or experience illness or loss. We know what is needed. We know that we can’t remain strong in the faith on our own. We need to be strengthened. Our inner self, our new man of faith, needs to be strengthened to be able to resist the temptations that face us every day, and to overcome the doubts that Satan tries to plant in our hearts through those who speak for him and ask, “did God really say?”

Our spirits, our inner selves, can only be strengthened by The Spirit. And God’s promise to us is that The Spirit works to strengthen us through the Gospel in word and sacrament. Through the means of grace, he is constantly pointing us to Jesus and all that he has done for us, so that Christ is dwelling in our hearts. He is the object of our love and the foundation of our hope. He is the only reason we, or our children, or our grandchildren can say, “I know that I have eternal life.”

We want all those we love to have Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith. We want them to be rooted, to be firmly connected to the true vine of Jesus. We want them to be grounded, literally, to have a firm, unshakable foundation, the foundation of the inerrant word of God given through the Apostles and Prophets. Only then will they, and we, be able to resist temptation and overcome doubt and remain in the faith until the end

God answers this prayer when you bring your children and grandchildren to church regularly; when you read your Bible or Bible story book with them at home; when you have family devotions. When they get older and object to going to church or having devotions you remain strong and follow the example of Joshua who said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” God answers this prayer when they see you studying the word yourself and striving to put what you learn into practice. When we talk about the Lord and his word as we get up, as we lay down, as we are together in the car, as we sit down to eat; as we show that God’s word is infused into every part of our lives, not just an hour a week.

We pray with Paul, Lord, strengthen your people by the power of The Spirit who is at work through the Gospel in word and sacrament so that, being rooted and grounded in Christ and his love they may resist temptation, overcome doubt and remain firm in the one true faith until the end.

Paul’s second request is that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

  Paul wants everyone, all the saints, all believers everywhere, to be able to comprehend the incomprehensible. The love of Christ surpasses knowledge. It’s so wide and long and high and deep that no one can fully wrap their minds around it. As Paul says in another place, we can kind of begin to grasp that someone might offer to die, or to sacrifice themselves for a good person, or for someone they love. People donate bone marrow or give one of their kidneys to someone. A soldier or a policeman might draw the fire of an enemy so that others might escape. But what is incomprehensible is that Jesus sacrificed himself for us, while we were still sinners. He literally took our place on death row so that we could be set free. He suffered Hell for us so that we could go to heaven. He did what we can’t imagine anyone doing for anyone else. It seems incomprehensible. But, by the power of the Spirit working through the word, we know that it is true. And as we go through life and have people sin against us, sins that pale in comparison to what we have done to God, we begin to comprehend more and more, not just in our minds but in our hearts, the greatness of God’s love for us and for the whole world. God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That’s a love that surpasses knowledge.

We pray as Paul did. Lord, the greatness of the love that you showed us in Jesus is incomprehensible; yet, Lord, as we learn more and more about it from your word, and as we see your love in contrast to our lack of love, may we learn to appreciate it more and more each day.

Paul’s third request is, that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.

God is full of every good thing. In him there is no darkness, nothing bad or evil. His essence is love. He possesses all power, wisdom and strength. He wants to bless us with every spiritual blessing. He wants to restore in us the image of perfection that Adam and Eve had before they sinned. One commentator said that Paul is asking that we be filled to overflowing with all the good things that God dispenses through his church. To be sure, as long as we live on earth we won’t be filled with all the fullness of God, but the more we grow in faith and the knowledge of God the more we will be filled, molded into his likeness, until he restores to us the perfect image of God in heaven.

To put it simply, Paul is praying that these Christians in Ephesus would never take God, or the blessings that come through his word and sacrament, for granted. It’s so easy for us to do that! Our lives are so busy. There are always multiple things that we can choose to do, from work, to sports, to recreation, you name it. It’s so easy to give way to what seems to be urgent, or important in the short term. It’s so easy to forget that one day we will have to face death and then those things that seemed urgent and important for the short term won’t matter. Only God’s word, his love and his promises will matter. Only knowing that Jesus never took God’s word and promises for granted; that he never set them aside for less important things that seemed urgent, will matter. Only knowing that he went to the cross to pay for our failure to be strengthened as often as possible through the word and sacrament, and that he rose from the dead, that he is our savior, will matter.

Paul closes his prayer by reminding us that God is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. The widow of Zarephath didn’t imagine, or even ask Elijah to raise her son from the dead, but he did. The widow of Nain never imagined that she would meet Jesus on the way to the cemetery or that he would raise her son from the dead, but he did. Even Mary and Martha didn’t imagine that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, especially since his body was already decaying. But he did.

God is able to do anything, things we can’t even imagine, things we might not even dare to ask him. So, as the Hymn says, You are coming to a king, large petitions with you bring, for his grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much. He has not promised to give you everything you ask, but there isn’t anything you can ask that he can’t give. Ask, as Paul did, and then trust him to do what you asked, or something even better than you could have asked or imagined.

As Paul prayed for his fellow Christians in Ephesus, he was confident that God could do all he was asking and more; that God would answer his prayers in the way he knew was best. By God’s grace, because of all that Jesus has done for us, may we too pray with such confidence and then join Paul in saying, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen

September 29, 2019 Sermon

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Sep 292019
 

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1 Kings 17:8-16 (Matthew 6:31)

Please turn your attention to our first lesson for today from 1 Kings. We will see how it’s an illustration of what Jesus teaches us when he says, Don’t worry.

 

A number of years ago there was a popular song with a catchy reggae beat. I’m guessing a lot of you can finish the title: “Don’t Worry, ________.”  It’s a fun song. It kind of makes you feel happy, but, if you think about it, it never gives you a positive reason not to worry. It just says, if you worry when you have trouble you just make it double, and if you frown you bring everyone down.

What a difference when Jesus tells us not to worry. He reminds us that, if we are worried, it might be because we are chasing after mammon, the things of this world that don’t last. We are giving the kind of food we eat and the kind of clothes we wear too much importance. As Paul says, if we have something to eat and something to wear, we should be content. But then Jesus provides us with a wonderful, positive reason for not worrying. Certainly your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. He gives us concrete examples. Look how your heavenly Father dresses the lilies of the field, and their beauty only lasts a few days.  Look how your heavenly Father cares for the birds. Remember, you are worth much more that flowers and birds. You are the crown of God’s creation. He appointed you to rule over everything else he created. It was all created for your use and enjoyment. Since this is true, why wouldn’t he make sure that you have food and clothing when he knows better than you do exactly what you need?

The apostle Paul adds another powerful reason that we never need to worry. He says, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Forget the birds and the flowers. The Father sacrificed his one and only perfect son in your place to save you from the eternal consequences of your sin. If he did that, how could you doubt that he will provide for all your earthly needs? After all, worry is rooted in doubting God’s promises. Or as Jesus says, if he clothes the grass of the field will he not clothe you even more, you of little faith?

But Pastor, we like to argue, my situation is different. Anyone in my situation would worry. Even God would understand that anyone who has it as bad as I do would worry. Well, your situation may be very bad, but I would venture to say that no one here has ever been in as difficult a situation as Elijah was, or as the widow of Zarephath was.

Elijah had been sent by God to denounce King Ahab and his Sidonian wife Jezebel for promoting the worship of Baal in Israel. He delivered to them God’s message of judgment that there would not be any rain in the next few years except by the word of God through him. And there wasn’t any rain for over three years.

Now before you are tempted to cheer that God was bringing judgment on the wicked and wishing that he might do the same today, remember that this drought and famine it caused affected Elijah and the other believers who remained as well. On top of that, Ahab and Jezebel had put Elijah on the most wanted list, even contacting foreign governments and demanding that they turn him over if they found him. Elijah was hiding in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. His life was in danger every day. He had no house, no pantry, no closet. But, God provided for him. He had water from the stream and the ravens were directed by God to bring him food.

But things got even worse, if you can imagine anything worse. The stream dried up. Now what!   God told Elijah to go to Zarephath near Sidon and a widow there would provide for him.

Did you catch that? Zarephath is near Sidon. Jezebel was the daughter of the king of the Sidonians. God was telling Elijah to go into the belly of the beast, so to speak. And, did you notice that God didn’t give him any details about who this widow was- no name, no description of what she looked like? But, like Abraham, Elijah went. He did what God asked even though what God asked defied human logic. Being human, he may have worried about being recognized as he traveled and that his location might be reported to Ahab. He may have worried about how he would find this widow God mentioned with the little bit of information God had provided, but the power of God’s promises created trust in his heart and overcame his worries.

When Elijah got to Zarephath, he immediately saw a woman he recognized as a widow. Maybe because she was out alone gathering sticks, maybe because of the type of clothing she was wearing, but it was clear to him that she was a widow. So, he asked her to do some things for him that would help him determine if she was the widow that God had chosen to provide for him. He asked her to bring him some water. And, as she went to get him some water, he made an even stronger request, please bring me a piece of bread.

Elijah’s request led her to reveal a lot about herself and her situation. She recognized who he was for she said, as surely as the Lord your God lives. She recognized him, probably by his clothing, as a man from Israel, a worshiper of the Lord, Jehovah, the God of Israel, and possibly also as a prophet of the Lord God. His question led her to reveal that she was indeed a widow. It was just her and her son. It led her to reveal that she was gathering sticks for what she believed would be her last meal. If you were in her situation would you trust the Lord to provide?

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do just as you said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from the flour and bring it out to me. Then go and make another for you and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says. The jar of flour will not run out and the pitcher of oil will not become empty until the day the LORD sends rain to water the surface of the ground.”

Did he say, “You are about to eat your last meal, but don’t worry, be happy?” No, he said, “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. God is promising that he will provide. Don’t worry, trust God. Put him first and what you need will be provided.”

Would you have done what the widow did? Would you have gone home and made something for this foreigner who gave you a promise from the God of Israel, the one who was causing the famine to show that he was the one true God, not Baal, the god who was worshiped in your land? Would you have made a small loaf for Elijah, or would you have turned, shaking your head, and gone home mumbling about how crazy Elijah was to even think about asking you to let him have anything when you have to take care of yourself and your child, much less give him something first?

What happened? She went and did exactly as Elijah said. He and she, as well as her household, were able to eat for many days. The jar of flour did not run out, and the pitcher of oil did not become empty, just as the LORD had said through Elijah. She put the Lord first, even when she thought she was facing her last meal on earth. She trusted the promise of God given through his prophet, even though she had never met him before and he was from a foreign country. She, Elijah, and her whole household, learned by experience what Jesus promised to us. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (the basic necessities, something to eat and something to wear) will be given to you as well.

It’s so easy to worry, isn’t it? Don’t you feel bad for these young people who are making national news because they are so worried about the changing climate? Don’t get me wrong. We should do everything we can to take care of the earth and all that God has given us. He has made us rulers over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and all that he has made for us to care for and enjoy. But he has promised that, as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease. The earth will not endure forever. A day of judgment is coming. But until that day when Jesus comes again in the clouds of heaven, the rainbow reminds him and us of what he has promised. I’m guessing that these young people that are so worried about the changing climate don’t even know what God has promised. To them the rainbow means something completely different. And that reminds us how important it is to do everything we can to proclaim the promises of God before it is too late, before Jesus comes again in glory.

It’s so easy to worry. But when you are tempted to give in to worry, remember Elijah. Remember the widow of Zarephath. They had a lot more to worry about than you do. Remember the birds. Remember the lilies. Look at how God cares for them. Remember Jesus. Remember that the Father sacrificed him in your place so that all your sinful worrying would be forgiven, and you wouldn’t have to worry about being punished in Hell for all eternity for your lack of faith. Remember God’s promise. Remember the rainbow. Remember how God provided in the midst of the famine for Elijah and the Widow. Remember how God provided manna for Israel in the wilderness. Remember his promise that when you seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness all you need will be provided.

Don’t worry. Trust God! Let his promises and the record of his faithfulness drive out your worries and increase your trust every day.

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