Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean That It Didn’t Hurt – A Sermon on Genesis 50:15-21

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Old Testament lesson, where Joseph forgives his brothers.

What does it look like when you forgive? I know what I do when I’m not up here forgiving in an official capacity. When someone says they’re sorry, I usually respond by saying, “Oh, that’s okay.” Or, “No problem.” Or, “Don’t worry about it.” And I respond that way to assure people that things are alright. Because, really, they are. “Oh, sorry I hit you with my shopping cart.” “That’s okay, it didn’t hurt.” “I’m sorry I didn’t make it yesterday.” “No problem, I know what it’s like to have the flu.” “I’m so sorry I backed into your truck!” “Don’t worry about it, it was covered in dents anyways.” Nobody really got hurt. Nobody intended to cause any harm. So forgiveness is pretty easy.

But how do we forgive when things really aren’t okay? How do we forgive when there’s no remorse? How do we forgive when they intentionally hurt us? We don’t. We withhold forgiveness. Maybe as punishment to them. Maybe as a means of control. Maybe as a way to protect ourselves. Because it’s not okay. It is a problem. We cannot but worry about it. We are hurt. And that hurt doesn’t just go away with a few words that we don’t really mean. Forgiveness, instead of being easy, is a difficult thing to give.

In our Old Testament lesson today, at the death of their father Jacob, Joseph’s brothers are hoping for forgiveness. But the way they go about it is pretty shameful. The brothers come to Joseph, bearing a “message from their father.” A command to forgive. Doesn’t matter if the message is real or not. Forgiveness just isn’t that easy. Not when they told their father that Joseph was dead. Not when they sold Joseph to slave traders. Not when they were the ones that were responsible for him ever being near Potiphar or his unfaithful wife. Not when they were responsible for all those years in prison. All the abuse he received. All the depravation he endured. All the betrayal at their hands. And now they come bearing a command for forgiveness? Who can blame Joseph from weeping at these words? Even if he had already forgiven them long ago, this “message” still cut Joseph to the heart.

What was he supposed to say? “That’s okay, because it worked out in the end”? But it wasn’t okay. Not even close. Not everything worked out. “No problem, because I ended up with something better”? But it was a problem. A big problem, that not even all the wealth and power of Egypt could cover. “Don’t worry about it, because nobody got hurt?” Joseph hurt. He hurt every day. And was still hurting when the messengers arrived. Hurting when his brothers arrived afterwards. Forgiveness isn’t easy.

And yet, every Sunday, here we are awaiting God’s forgiveness. We show up, not really any different than Joseph’s brothers. Afraid God might remember what we did. Or worse, not even caring what we need forgiveness for. And, if we play our cards right, maybe God will forgive us. Because if can should say, “That’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it,” it’s God, right? After all, He is God. He can just make everything okay. He can just make the problems go away. He doesn’t have anything to worry about.

How easy is it to forget that God is somebody? It’s too easy to think of God as just a collection of attributes. Too easy to think of Him as a power or force. To easy to dismiss the fact that He is His own individual. We reduce God to a concept. Goodness. Holiness. All-powerfulness. Love. And as a concept, we cannot imagine God ever being hurt. And yet, our God hurts like you or I cannot imagine.

From even Genesis, we see the pain of God. At the fall. Talking with Cain. Before the flood. We see God hurt. And can we see just how much we have hurt Him. With our betrayal. Our lies. Our lusting after other gods. And even worse, when we justify ourselves for doing these very things. Tell God how right we were to hurt Him like this. Tell Him to His face that we’d rather be alone, than endure His love. That’s what sin does to Him. From littlest white lie to the greatest abominations you can imagine. They all take their stab at God. And He feels every one of them. And they all hurt the same.

“That’s okay, no problem, don’t worry about it.” Those words just don’t cut it. But the words, “I forgive you,” do. Because forgiveness doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still hurt even now. What forgiveness means is “I release you from it anyways.” And that is a frightening idea. To actually forgive someone who hurt us is too much. Because it threatens to bring the pain all over again.

And for God it absolutely does. Forgiveness meant hurting all over again. The first time it definitely hurt. But Jesus came to endure the pain of all those sins again. To take those sins nailed into His hands and feet. To bear that sin pierced into His side. All in order to forgive you. Forgiveness isn’t easy. But you’re worth the price. You’re worth that pain. You’re worth dying for. You’re worth saving. No matter how many sins you have. To do that takes more than an attribute. It takes a person. It takes Jesus.

But what about Joseph? Forgiveness still isn’t easy. Could Joseph love his brothers that much? Were his brothers worth it to him? Doesn’t matter, because Joseph saw that they were worth it to God. God had saved those jealous, backstabbing, hateful brothers. And He saved them by putting Joseph in the right place. Giving Joseph the right gifts. God saved even them. And if that’s how God felt, who was Joseph to do otherwise?

Did it mean Joseph felt that hurt again? Yes. And it brought him to tears. But it also brought joy. The joy of reconciliation. The joy of restoration. The joy of family. A joy that was impossible so long as Joseph withheld forgiveness. And just as Joseph forgave because of what God did for them, so also we can forgive because of what God has done for them. Those who have hurt us so badly? Jesus went to the cross for them. Jesus suffered for them. Jesus died for them. Jesus forgives them.

Is that then a command? For us to forgive? Like the message Joseph’s brothers brought to Joseph? Perhaps. Or perhaps forgiving others is itself also a gift from God. A mirror image of what He has already done on our behalf. Might it hurt? Yes. Might your forgiveness be abused? Absolutely. But it’s still God’s gift through Christ for both you and your neighbor. And in that gift there is joy to be found.

So that is why it is an honor and a privilege to be here serving you as your pastor. Because I get to share in your joy by speaking God’s Word of forgiveness to you. And it is my joy to say that in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Categories: Sermon

The Greatest in the Kingdom – A Sermon on Matthew 18:1-20

September 6, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 

What Jesus says here in Matthew is a lot like what He says in Mark and Luke’s Gospel in a different situation. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus calls us to a childlike faith. And what better way to have childlike faith than to actually be a child. This is why Jesus put children in front of the disciples. As though telling them, “Here’s you example.”

And because of not only what Jesus say, but also what Jesus did, I say this with all confidence. The greatest among us in the kingdom of heaven this morning is Alexandria Lily Williams. Who this morning was given God’s gift of baptism. There is no more childlike faith, than the faith of a child. And through that baptism, God’s promises are made hers. God has indeed given her faith. And she has indeed been brought into the kingdom of Heaven. And it means that right at this moment, Alexandria’s faith is stronger than yours or mine will be for the rest of our lives.

Because ‘faith’ is just a churchy word for trust. And Alexandria has no alternative but to trust. She has to trust you, Bethany, to feed her. She has to trust you, James, to care for her. She has to trust her very life to you both. There’s no choice in that matter for her. Not at this age. It’s only when we start growing up that trust becomes optional.

And just like she trusts her mom and dad, she now also trusts Jesus. And I can say that with certainty. Because that is what God promises in baptism. Baptism now saves you. Be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. Salvation, forgiveness, entering the Kingdom of heaven. These are all the same thing, found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are all the Gospel, the good news which Jesus gives to her, to you, to me, to all. And this is Alexandria’s faith.

“But how can she possibly know?” you ask. After all, her mom and dad are really there interacting with her. She can hear them, taste them, touch them. Where as God…. Well, what? Is God imaginary? Is God only an intellectual construct? Is God something we can only fathom with sufficient mental capacity? If that’s all God is, then Alexandria can’t really know God. And, frankly, neither can we.

But today, Jesus has made Himself heard. It’s His voice speaking His words. To Alexandria, and to you. Jesus has made Himself felt. Felt in water, as He Himself buried Alexandria in His own death. Felt in that same water as Jesus takes her by the hand in resurrection from the dead to new life in Him. And He has done the same in your baptism as well. Jesus gives us a taste of Himself as well. As He feeds us His own body and His own blood sacrificed on our behalf on that cross for the forgiveness of our sins. So in the very same ways Alexandria trusts her mom and dad and knows they’re there for her, likewise we all trust Jesus Christ, and know that He’s really here for us.

There is one more promise that comes to little Alexandria, and to us in today’s text. It’s a little obscure. And not a whole lot of time gets spent on it anywhere else. But it is a promise nonetheless. “See to it that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is heaven.” It’s a promise that you matter to God. That you are important to Him. That the most important members of God’s heaven, the ones that see Him face to face, are the same ones he has given to look out for you.

But again, just as we wonder how a child can trust God, we also wonder how this promise could really be. After all, there are times we really wish that guardian angel would have been a little quicker. Not let those things happen that hurt our hearts so badly. There will be times in Alexandria’s life where we will all wonder if that angel fell asleep on the job. But all that boils down to is a charmed life tuned to the desires of our hearts. You see, we like our angels like our gods, imaginary.

But when tragedy strikes, when the pain comes, when our hearts are broken, and in this sin filled world, they will be, then there is God, hurting, crying, suffering right there with us. There is our guardian angel, straight from the face of our Father, to let us know that we are not alone. To comfort us. Whether that’s in letting us know that our sin is forgiven. Whether that is to hold our hand and be by our side. Whether that is reminding us that there is a tomorrow, a new tomorrow with a new heavens and a new earth, where every tear is wiped away.

Because this is promise is still the same promise given in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This gift of God is still the same gift. Life, forgiveness, salvation, hope, love, peace, comfort, compassion. Because Christ Jesus has indeed overcome all things. Conquering even death itself. All for you.

There is no millstone so heavy that Jesus cannot pull you out of the sea. There is no hell of fire too hot that Jesus cannot save you from it. There is no one so lost, that Jesus cannot find you, and rejoice. There is no sin so great, that Jesus cannot unbind it. And there is no place so alone, that Jesus cannot enter it. All these things, which Jesus warns against in today’s text, are certainly worthy of full attention. But none of them are outside of what He Himself covered with His own blood at the cross.

Because you are there with him at that cross. There through baptism. As St. Paul said to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would live a new life.” That new life is yours, just as it is Alexandra’s. And through that new life as a baptized child of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is yours as well. Thanks be to God.

This isn’t just Jesus rebuking His disciples for arguing who is the greatest. This isn’t just Jesus saying that even some child passing by is greater than they are right now. Although both those things are true. Jesus makes the point that there is no greater Christian, no more faithful person to God than a child. We all should strive for a childlike faith. And there is no easier way than to be a child.

Jesus’ words mean that in all confidence I can say to you that the greatest Christian in this room right now, is little Alexandria, who is baptized today.

Categories: Sermon

The World Hates the Gospel – A Sermon on Matthew 16:21-28

August 30, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Peter means well, but just doesn’t get it. And as a result, Jesus has some harsh words for him.

I can’t imagine it was easy for Jesus tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Because Peter is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Someone just a few verses earlier Jesus was praising for the good confession. Someone who would go on to do some amazing things for the Church. Because those are words that can make people shut down. Stop listening. Leave forever. Because, after all, Peter meant well.

Peter just wanted Jesus’ ministry to be successful. He wanted as many people as possible to hear Jesus. Know who Jesus is. Peter wanted to Jesus to be as effective as possible. Reaching out and making disciples of all people. He wanted Jesus to have all the right tools for the job. He wanted the metrics to all line up. He wanted the perfect mission strategy. And Jesus talking about suffering and dying was simply a major turnoff to too many people. It had to stop. Or they weren’t going to reach anyone.

It sounds silly to us now. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, now we know that His death and resurrection was the entirety of Jesus’ plan. But we still treat Jesus as though He doesn’t quite know what He’s doing. The Gospel is great and all. But how are we going to get it out there. Many good Christians are completely preoccupied with tools, metrics, strategies, and programs. Because it’s not enough to preach the Gospel. You have to find the most efficient way to reach the most people. I have to equip you. We have build an effective ministry together. Because, apparently, the Gospel can’t do that alone.

But do they have a point? After all, maybe the Gospel isn’t enough. No one is listening. No one wants to hear. No one is interested in that message. And so anything we do that gets people to listen has got to be good, right? Maybe they’ll listen better if they’re comfortable. Maybe they’ll hear if we play the same kind of music they like. Maybe they’ll be interested if we give them what they want. After all, Jesus did give us a mission. To proclaim the good news of His death and resurrection to the world.

But this assumes that the reason more people aren’t Christian is because that good news was powerless by itself. It didn’t go. It didn’t sink in. And so people just don’t know what Jesus is all about. And if they only knew, then they would come to the only logical conclusion that Jesus is for them. But all of that assumes that people are neutral to the Gospel. They aren’t. Because for the most part, the world has heard. The world knows what Jesus is all about. And that’s the Jesus who’s rejected. Because the world hates the Gospel. And Jesus has told us that fact all along.

The world hates the Gospel. The world hates a Jesus who dies on their behalf. The World hates a Jesus who forgives their sins. The world hates the very Jesus we worship. And no amount of cultural relevance, no amount of revitalization, no amount of giving people what they want will ever change that fact.

And you what we have also forgot? That we too are in the world. We too hate the Gospel of our Lord. And that is an easy thing to forget when we also have in us the regenerate man who loves the Gospel. Would do anything for Christ our Lord. And believes the promises God gives us over and over again. But that sinful part in us lurks. Waiting to push the good news of the cross aside for bigger and better things. And that is when we must hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me. For you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of Men.

When you believe the Gospel is powerless with out you. When I believe that it’s more important to give you tools than preach the Gospel. When we believe that the only chance the Gospel has is for us to make it culturally relevant by means of giving the world what it wants. When we believe these things, then we are a hindrance to Jesus, not a help. Because we have in mind, not the things of God, but the things of men. We all have fallen short. Disbelieved what God says about His Word. Underestimated the sheer power of the Gospel. The sheer power of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I mean, do you realize how powerful the death and resurrection of Jesus is? Here we are today, sinners standing before a holy God. And we are not dead. Do you realize how much that took? Do you realize the extent of God’s mercy? Do you realize what forgiveness is? We take for granted what so many in our world desperately long for. And God is giving this gift away.

There’s a reason the world hates the Gospel. Why we hate the Gospel. Because the Gospel asks what part of your life is the worst. What part hurts the most. What part can’t you bear any longer. And these are normally the things we hide away. The things we bury as deep as they’ll go. The things we want no one else to ever know. And we’ll do anything to keep them from being revealed. We would prefer that the Gospel asked us what we liked. What we wanted to do. What fit best for us. Because we want success. But no. The Gospel asks the most painful questions anyone could ever ask.

However, the Gospel doesn’t ask us these things to hurt us more. Nor to shame us in front of the world. But rather so that Jesus can say to us that they are no longer ours, but His. He claims them as His own. The fears no one can understand. The pains no one else can bear. The unforgivable sins. Jesus takes all those thing into Himself on your behalf. The Gospel asks, so that you know what it is that Jesus has taken away. And those things die with Him on that cross. They stay buried in that grave forever. Even when He rises on the third day. They are no longer yours. They are gone. And that is the most powerful thing anyone can ever hear.

Because the Son of Man is going to come with His messengers in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. This isn’t just a last day thing. This is at the cross thing. And that cross has been, and is still being brought to you. Even now. His angels, the Greek word for messengers, bring you this good news. Great news. That the thoughts that you are the most ashamed of. The words you can’t take back. The deeds that condemn you before God and men. They all belong to Jesus now. They’re are no longer yours. And all you will be repayed for is the good that Christ has done in you.

This news needs no cultural relevance, because it’s for all people of all time. This news needs no help to be proclaimed because it is itself the help we need. This news doesn’t need to be measured for effectiveness, because there is no other thing as effective as the Gospel. And yes, the world hates it. Our sinful selves hate it. But it still is the power of God unto salvation. And there is no substitute. This is what Jesus has promised to you. And it is yours. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Uncategorized

In Memoriam – Leatha McIntosh

August 6, 2014 Comments off

Psalm 130

Job 19:23-27

1 Thessalonians 4:13-16

John 12:23-26

If there was one thing you could always be sure about with Aunt Leatha, it was where you stood with her. She was never afraid to tell you exactly what she thought. Whether it be politics, religion, or your choice of hairstyle. Ten years ago, I heard about that last one a lot. She was never afraid to speak up, at least as far as I saw. And about what, it didn’t matter. Whether over very serious things, or that last cookie on the plate. In fact, if I keep going on about her, I half expect her to get up, hit me upside the back of the head and say, “What are you do-un’?” Because she knew that at the graveside, there are more important things to talk about than her.

In our readings today there was another who was never afraid to tell you what he was thinking. At one point, he had it all. Family, friends, worldly possessions. And in an instant, they were all taken away. By a gust of wind, a handful of thieves, and a downturn of fortune. All because God trusted in Job, despite Satan’s accusations. And Job let everyone know exactly what he thought of it all. Even God Himself. With words we might not consider all that polite.

But as grumpy as Job was, he still proclaimed the hope of us all. I know that my Redeemer lives. We all need a Redeemer. One who saves us. Because everyone dies. Job died. Leatha died. We will die. Just like our forefathers before us. Just like our children will, hopefully many years down the road. Death comes for everyone. For all have sinned. And The wages of sin is death. Therefore we need a Redeemer who will save us out of even death itself.

This is exactly the kind of Redeemer Job is counting on. And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. This is the kind of Redeemer Leatha counts on even now. And this is the Redeemer we count on as well. That is why we do not grieve as others do, who have no hope, as Paul wrote. Because our Redeemer is Christ Jesus.

Jesus is the one who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And he was talking about Himself. Unless Jesus died, he would remain forever alone. Separated from us. And that’s was not okay. But by going to that cross. By bearing the load of this world’s sin. By God Himself dying on our behalf, that one Seed bears much fruit. Death itself is overcome. We are forgiven. We are adopted into the family of God. We are baptized into His name. We are fed with His own body and blood.

And on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. So that Job likewise will rise. And see God not with another set of eyes, but with his own. Jesus rose from the dead so that Leatha will likewise rise. In her flesh. And she will see Him for herself. Jesus rose from the dead so that you too will likewise rise. And we will be together again in the flesh. The resurrection is Jesus’ promise to you.

And it’s His promises in which we hope. Body and soul put back together again. With new heavens and a new earth. Seeing Jesus with our own eyes. Where Aunt Leatha will be snatching that last cookie again, even out of Jesus’ hand. And don’t think she’d be sorry about that either.

I know that my redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives, He lives who once was dead. He lives my ever living head. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Persecuted to the Wilderness – A Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21 (The Feeding of the 5,000)

August 2, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the feeding of the 5,000 from Matthew’s Gospel. Now when Jesus heard about the death of John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. And really, who can blame Him? When things get tough, we too want to escape for a bit. Go for a walk, go for a drive, just to clear our heads a little. Get a little relief. Escape for a little while. Jesus, being both God and man, surely needed the same things we do. And so He jumped into the boat and headed off to the wilderness alone for just that kind of escape.

The wilderness has often been used in the Bible as a place of escape. Moses led the people to the wilderness to escape Egypt. David escaped to the wilderness fleeing from Saul, and later Absolom. Elijah escaped to the wilderness running away from Jezebel. Except all those escapes are of a far greater magnitude than Jesus’. All fled for their very lives. Not just to have a little time alone to sort things out.

And guess what, we still flee for our lives to the wilderness. In Acts, chapter 8, the Christians in Jerusalem are scattered out of the city. Where wilderness is all around. In the second and third centuries, Roman emperors and their cults drove Christians out of the cities into the wilderness again. In the middle ages, invaders scattered Christians from their towns and cities, and they fled for the wilderness. Even today. In Kenya. In the Sudan. In Ethiopia. In fact, right at this moment in Iraq, Christians are being driven out of their homes. At least those lucky enough to escape with their lives. Out into the wilderness. It’s been a recurring theme since Adam and Eve for the people of God. As Paul writes to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

For the crowds in today’s text, they too headed out to the wilderness for their very lives. Because their enemy drove them out there. Sin, death, Satan, the world. They came out because their sicknesses threatened their lives. And while that might not be at the wrong end of a sword or gun, the results are the same. And out there was the means of escape. Out there was Jesus. And when a tired, hurting, mourning Jesus saw this crowd, he had σπλάγχνα. A word that means exactly how it sounds. A pouring out of the intestines. Compassion.

When the disciples got there, they thought it best to show even more compassion. It was getting late, and there was no food. So they said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Perhaps that was for the best. Let them go, Jesus. Let them return to the villages. Return to the towns. That’s their homes. That where their food is. That’s where their lives are.

But there’s one thing they forgot. That was what they were escaping. Those were the homes where disease wracked their bodies. Those were the villages where their sicknesses were their social standing. Those were the towns who rejected them. Those were lives not worth returning to. We don’t understand, because most of us haven’t been there. We haven’t been there, because we have found ways to live in our homes, our towns, and our lives. We don’t need to escape them. We don’t need the wilderness. Most everything in our lives is pretty much okay. And if there is something wrong, it really isn’t that big of deal. Because most any problem we encounter because we want, in the words of Paul, to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus, can be avoided by just not mentioning Christ Jesus.

We refuse to think so, but we are in worse shape than even those Christians in Iraq. Yes. Even though they’re driven away from their homes. Even though they’re murdered in the streets. Even though they’re forced to watch as their family is abused before their very eyes, we are worse off than they. Because they continue to confess Christ, despite it all.

We, on the other hand, think that we get along quite well never mentioning Him at all. When we say nothing, we don’t have to deal with those disapproving looks. We don’t have to answer the hard questions people ask. We don’t have to go into any awkward situations that are just so embarrassing. So we just don’t mention Jesus at all. Not to our neighbors. Not to our friends. Not even to our own children. Because we barely know much ourselves. And we have no idea what to say when they respond.

In a way, we’re already in the wilderness. That empty place where we have no idea what to say. No idea what to do. We have enough to say evangelism is important. We have heard enough to say that the mission of God’s Church is vital. But those words are themselves a vast desert. And we feel like we have to cross it all by ourselves. We have to say the right thing, close the deal, make the conversion. And that either freezes us in place, or makes us foolhardy enough to try the crossing all on our own. And both are sure to end us. We don’t flee to the wilderness, because we’re already here. And we don’t know which way to go to get out. At least the Iraqi Christians have their confession. At least they can say from experience, “Were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s our forever.” While to us, those are just the words to a pretty song we sometimes sing on Sundays. Our wilderness is indeed far more desolate.

But even in this wilderness, even when we shut our mouths from fear, even when we hide our faith away, we’re not alone. Because out here with us is Jesus. He sees us and has σπλάγχνα. A pouring out of the intestines. Compassion. You need not go anywhere else. Because Jesus is here with you. Giving you the same gifts he gives to the 5,000. The same gifts He gives to all who escape to the wilderness. Relief. Comfort. Hope. Here, there is no need to let you go. Because here, Jesus feeds you in the wilderness. Just like he did for the 5,000. Just as He did for Elijah. Just as he did for King David. Just as he did for the Moses and the Israelites with manna. Just as He did for Adam and Eve. Just as he does today for all who are persecuted on account of Christ Jesus.

Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples. The same words of today’s text are also written in Matthew 26. The exact same words. Words we know well. For after these words, Jesus says, “Take, eat, this is my body.” The Lord’s Supper is a lot of things. A celebration. A remembrance. A thanksgiving. An obedience. All those things are indeed there. But that’s not the primary reason Jesus repeatedly gives this gift to us.

Jesus gives His body and His blood to us because we need them. We need them more than anything else in this world. Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” And this gift is yours. A gift more valuable than home, family, even life itself. A gift Christians around the world would rather die than give up. Because this bread and cup is the very death and resurrection of Jesus for you. And in this Lord’s Supper Christ Jesus creates everything important we lack.

Jesus creates faith. Jesus creates a willing and giving heart. Jesus creates the words He would have spoken. Jesus creates the strength needed to go on. Jesus creates the good confession. Jesus creates perseverance in the face of persecution. Jesus creates hands ready to help those neighbors in need. Jesus creates in you a place for Him. Those are all things you could never do on your own.

And so, when persecution comes to us, we are ready. Not if. When. Because it’s already here. It’s in your homes. It’s in your families. It’s in your lives. We’ve just been escaping it in all the wrong ways. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from feeding you. Just as it hasn’t stopped Jesus from feeding Christians of all times, in all places. He has σπλάγχνα, compassion on you, no matter what the world tries to do.

I don’t like to steal other people’s stories. But the head of the The Ethiopian Evangelical Church of Mekane Yesus said something profound on the subject of persecution. Mekane Yesus, Ethiopia’s Lutheran Church Body was heavily oppressed by the communist regime in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s leaders were killed. It’s members were imprisoned in the harshest of prisons. Wakseyoum Idosa, who lived through all the torture, all the killing, all the pain, said this. “Persecution is always good for the Church. Always.” The Ethopian Church of Mekane Yesus is now one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. But more importantly, it is faithful through the help of Christ Jesus our Lord. So, if Jesus can bring them through persecution. And if Jesus can bring those fleeing for their lives today through their persecution. If Jesus can bring all who have died in the faith through their persecution to eternal life. Then He can bring us through this wilderness too. No matter who or what we face. Because He has given us Himself. And does so again today. Jesus, in the flesh, given and shed for you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Buried Treasures – A Sermon on Matthew 13:44

July 26, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The first memory I have of a graveyard is when I was about five. It was before I knew graveyards were supposed to be scary placed at night. Or that they were usually remembered with sadness. Because when I was five, we drove up highway 26 towards Mt. Hood to a small town called Sandy for the fourth of July.

Everybody came to watch the local firework display. And with all the trees, the cemetery was about the only clear space one could find that had a lawn to spread out on. The field was spacious, and mostly the headstones were towards the front. Toward the back, the field dropped into a small gully near a creek, which is where the local fire department prepared the fireworks show. Up above, the lawn sprawled out beautifully, and was full of blankets and lawn chairs. The headstones back here were far more scattered. And as the sun set, we all had ours oohs and aahs as the sky lit up over top of both the living and the dead. My family did this for a few years, avoiding the overcrowded displays in Gresham, Portland and Vancouver. It wasn’t until after we started a different fourth of July tradition that a young me was telling some kids in grade school about it. That’s when I found out it was scary and weird.

Many people prefer to spend as little time in graveyards as possible. Other than those Fourth of July celebrations, I was hardly ever near one growing up. And I didn’t know very many people who died. Occasionally a distant relative that I wasn’t particularly close to. Someone from church who I didn’t really know. All my grandparents lived until I was about twenty-one. So there was no reason to go. No reason to see these fields marked with stones.

But those reasons eventually come for everyone. Grandparents, parents, siblings. Time brings everyone we love closer to death. Tragedy can make our visits immediate. Children, Infants, those not even yet born. Death can take anyone. And  will in time get around to taking everyone. The grave is a sad place to visit. Which is why we don’t like to go. Because maybe, if we don’t look, we wont remember.

No one goes very often to cemeteries. It’s an observable fact. On the way up to Fresno, you can see Washington Colony Cemetery from 41. The grass is always green. The trees are always trimmed. And there’s almost never anybody there to visit. Floral Memorial Cemetery in Selma is even closer to the main road, and it’s the same story. Except on special days, no one is ever there, walking among the dead. And on the rare occasions they are, it’s always in sadness. Always with tears. Always with sorrow. Remembering what was lost. Who we miss. And, I suppose, that’s normal. Nobody wants to be in this field. Where the ends of tragic stories are buried. Where we cover up the dead we’ve lost. Nobody likes a graveyard. Nobody, that is, except one.

Artist Edward Riojas has a painting of your typical cemetery. Green lawn throughout the field. Nicely cultivated tree. Headstones all around. But it focuses on a strange sight. And a man pulling a casket out of the ground from under one of those headstones. The words painted across the bottom say, “For joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.” The man in the paining is Jesus.

When we look at the graveyard, we see how much treasure has been lost. The death of family, friends, loved ones. Those we treasured deeply. And the loss of so many others, who were likewise treasured. Death changed everything. The value we place on them is still there. But we can no longer keep them. Their lives ended. And so in tears and grief, we bury them in the field.

However we’re not the only one who saw their value. We’re not the only one who loves them. Because Jesus is the one who finds our treasure buried in that field. Jesus finds our loves ones. Jesus finds us, who will one day join the dead in that field. And Jesus is there covering us with that dirt. Jesus is there at the funeral. Jesus is there at the grave. And He’s there in hope. Because Jesus goes in joy to buy the field. To buy the treasure hidden away. To buy us and our loved ones. And in joy, Jesus sells everything he has to purchase us out of death.

But Jesus is God. That’s a lot to sell. That’s a lot to give up. But to do that on our behalf is His joy. His place as King of creation, a joy to let go for you. Born not in a palace but a barn. His glory, which exceeds understanding, happy to get rid of to get you. Taking on the form of servant, and then serving. His holiness, gladly gone, as He who knew no sin, became sin for us. His power, a delight to abandon, as He puts His life in Pilate’s hands on your behalf. His unchanging nature, cheerfully renounced, as He is changed into an object of wrath on the cross for your sake. His life, the very thing He is, the very definition of God, A joy to let go for you. For joy He went and sold all that He had and bought that field. 

Your sin is atoned for. Death’s ransom is satisfied. Christ’s treasure has value once again. And just as Jesus rose on the third day, so also His treasure will rise. Unburied. Alive. That is the sure hope we have. That is why we do not mourn like others who have no hope.

These days, when I walk about graveyards, there’s a different feeling now. It’s not the ignorance I knew from youth. It’s not the fear taught to me later. It’s not the sadness of remembering death. It’s awe. Awe from standing in a field with so much buried treasure, that God Himself paid everything for it. And that all of these treasures will be unburied. And live.

When I was five, on the fourth of July, the cemetery was a source of joy. With the oohs and aahs of amazing sights. I knew of few things more exciting. Few things better to look forward to. On that last day, in that same cemetery, and in every other, I bet everyone will feel the same way. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Illusion of Purpose – A Sermon on Romans 8:18-27

July 19, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the epistle lesson, from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.” As the chapters go on, he speaks of the meaninglessness of knowledge. The futility of enjoying the good things in life. The uselessness of living a life filled with wisdom. The emptiness of working hard. Because in the end, everyone dies. And everything you do will someday be forgotten.

That’s pretty much the opposite of what we think today, isn’t it? We think hard work is a noble thing. That living one’s life wisely is right path. That there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life. And the pursuit of knowledge is worthy of high praise. Those are the things that give us purpose. Those are the things that make our lives meaningful. And what is meaningful will last from generation to generation.

I know that’s what we think, because what happens to us when those things are slowly taken away? When we can’t work like we used to? When we can’t live the right kind of life? When there is nothing left to enjoy? When our knowledge deteriorates with our minds. When our purpose is no longer clear, we give up. We lose hope. We see our lives as meaningless. Without purpose, what’s the point of going on? Why doesn’t God just take our lives already? Because even death is better than a life without purpose. And the only hope we see is death itself. We just want God to get it over with already. Because the only thing left for us here without a purpose is futility, sufferings, and groaning.

Perhaps the reason we so desperately want purpose in our lives is because in this world, there is no purpose. For the creation was subjected to futility, Paul writes. Literally the creation was subjected to purposelessness. And while that may surprise us, it isn’t surprising anyone else in our world. Buddhists figured out the world was purposeless thousands of years ago. Greek philosophers came to the same conclusion. Modern philosophy cannot help but repeat this truth. And it is now the predominant point of view in our post-modern society as well. All echo the wisest of men, saying together Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.

Yet the desperation for purpose and meaning is still alive in everyone. There’s a deep void in creation itself, and we’ll fill it with just about anything. So long as we have something in our lives to give us meaning. We’ll buy books by the millions on how to lead a purpose driven life. We’ll find purpose in everything we learn. Purpose in everything we work at. Purpose in everything we dream of. We must see it. Lest the fear of being meaningless overtake us. We must see this purpose. And we do. Only it’s all illusion. we see only what we want to see. At least until the illusion is destroyed when our lives fall apart. Then the sufferings of this life overtake the lies we’ve told ourselves for so very long. Then we groan in agony at our futility and our uselessness.

And thank God those lies are revealed. It is God Himself who reveals them as lies. For the creation was subjected to futility, to purposelessness, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it unto hope. God subjected all of creation to meaninglessness intentionally. Not because we wanted it. But because in this way we have hope.

But that can’t be right. It just can’t be. Serving no purpose creates hopelessness, the very absence of hope. That’s the conclusion everyone else has come to. When existence has no purpose, the Buddhist hope is for Nirvana, that is, to no longer exist. Permanent death. When existence has no purpose, the Greek philosophers hope is in denying themselves the material things of this world. That they can achieve a different, more meaningful existence through their own works. That is their hope. When existence has no purpose, modern thought is to just have as good a time as you can. Sex, drugs, whatever you like. Whatever feels good that moment. It doesn’t matter. Because that moment is all the hope you have for sure. These are the kinds of conclusions we reach when things have no purpose.

And yet God is the one who who subjects the creation to purposelessness. Not so that it can come to those conclusions. Not so that it can hope in things that have no hope. But so that we would have the one Hope of the world. Jesus. That is exactly what Paul writes in today’s epistle lesson. That is exactly what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. We don’t need a purpose. We need hope. We need the only hope that saves from death.

But how does the world being purposeless prepare us for hope? After all, the first response we have isn’t hope, but despair. But that’s because we’re looking to ourselves. We look only at us, because that’s all we see. But there is no hope in what we do. No hope in us fulfilling our purpose. Because hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Now, this is where the world laughs. The world calls us fools for trusting in a hope that no one can see. But there is no surer hope than ours. No surer hope than Jesus. However while hope cannot be seen, purpose can. And Jesus has purpose. Jesus has meaning. There is no futility in Him. He is the one who rose from the dead. He has promised that resurrection to us as well. Yes, it is true that our resurrection is still a hope, because we have not seen it in us as of yet. But the promise comes from one we can, and do see.

We see Jesus in His Word. The Word which tells things how they are. Pulls no punches about how life in this world works. That this world has suffering, futility, and groanings. However despite the sin of this world, the sin at work in us, Jesus still goes to the cross and dies on our behalf. To forgive our sin. To adopt us as God’s children. And to be with us even now. 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God… And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

So yes, we groan in this world, but we look forward to the next. And not just where our souls are in heaven with Jesus. But where He puts body and soul back together again. Resurrection from the dead. Resurrection to a new world. A world no longer subject to purposelessness, but whose purpose lies with Christ Jesus our Lord. A world without sin. A world without end.

But we’re not left alone, waiting for that to happen. We don’t sit here begging God for death. Hoping to get this life over with so we can hurry up and get to the next one. That’s not hope. And that’s not why God is with us right now. Because God has a purpose. Not us. Not the world. God. And His purpose is to be with you. Even when we can’t work like we used to. Even when we can’t live the right kind of life. Even when there is nothing left to enjoy. Even when our knowledge deteriorates with our minds. God loves you. And prays with you, even when you don’t know what else to say. We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless writes Solomon. But adds one exception, our Lord. And while the happening of this world, even the happenings of your life might be meaningless in the long run, you yourself are not meaningless. You mean everything to Christ. And in that fact, there is more hope than the world could ever give. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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