Sunday, June 28, 2015

General Prayer Proper 8b

Lord God heavenly Father, you have promised good to those who wait for You and to the soul who seeks You.  Hear us as we pray in Jesus’ name and answer us for our good:

Today we are thankful chiefly for the salvation we have in Your Son Jesus Christ who took upon himself our sin-sickness and gave us his wholeness and cleanness in its place.

What a blessing it is to know that Your steadfast love never ceases and Your mercies never come to an end.  Let Your mercy and love fill the lives of Your people.  Grant healing to those who are ill, especially Connie and Robert as they face surgery, Vernon who is ill, Ashley as she recovers from surgery, and the baby born to Nicole and David who needs Your strengthening and protection.  Help those who need mental and emotional healing, especially James.

We know that You do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men but You have compassion according to the abundance of Your steadfast love.  Because You are the abiding portion of Your people grant peace and comfort to those who mourn the loss of loved ones, especially the Kiesling family as they mourn the death of Lester and the Kennedy family as they mourn the death of Korby.  Assure them that all who die in Christ will rise again.

Lord You have promised that even when our mouth is in the dust there may yet be hope.  As our nation and its citizens have been brought low by a legal decision that undermines Your good gift of marriage, save us from discouragement and despair.  Grant us humility to recognize our own brokenness.  Help us speak to the truth in love to all who are caught up in some besetting sin, that there is forgiveness in Jesus.  Strengthen our own marriages and families.  Work a spiritual renewal in our nation, its leaders, and our fellow citizens so that we would walk in Your ways.

Bless the stewardship of our congregation and help us to be like the churches of Macedonia whose giving overflowed in a wealth of generosity.  Give us hearts and hands that are open to meet the needs of others and support the mission of the church. 

We give You thanks for Jesus Christ our Savior, who though he was rich, became poor so that we might have the rich treasures of salvation.  Grant us an ever deeper appreciation for the gifts of salvation that are given in this place each Lord’s Day in Word and Sacrament.

Help us to follow the faithful, courageous example of the woman with the flow of blood and the ruler of the synagogue and seek out Your Son Jesus Christ, throwing caution to the wind to come to him for blessings without number.  Especially do we thank You for the blessing of rain this week and for Dolores’ good test results and for the life You granted to Your servant Lee whose birthday we remember.  

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever brings glory to You and serves our neighbor; whatever extends the Kingdom of Your Son; grant to us dear Father in heaven for we ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jesus Cares For Those Who Are Perishing

Mark 4:35-41 The Bible says that:  When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”   When Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him, he invites us to live a life of discipleship that ultimately leads to heaven.  The end of our journey of faith is eternal life in the glories of heaven where there is no suffering—no sorrow—no separation from the Lord or his people.  That is what awaits us in heaven. 
But the journey there…well that is something else altogether.  The Bible says that “it is through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God.”  There are examples of that precept in our readings today.
 Job was a man who was “blameless and upright”.  He feared God and shunned evil and yet he lost everything except for his own life.  The Apostle Paul served the Lord courageously and sacrificially and yet endured “hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.”  How true it is that…
“It is through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God.”  It’s always been that way for God’s people-- and it will be that way for us. 
When Jesus invites us to be his disciples, he is not inviting us to go with him on a journey of safety and ease and luxury-- any more than he promised the disciples that they would sail the Sea of Galilee on smooth waters. 
But he does promise us that he will be with us on the journey and that he cares for us and that he is greater and more powerful than any trial or tribulation that we face and that he will bring us safely home.  He did it for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and he will do it for us in our journey to heaven.  The Bible says that:
…leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.
            I had a friend in Kingsville who had a boat.  Occasionally he would take me out into the Gulf of Mexico to go fishing—30 or 40 miles out into the gulf.  That far out into the gulf, four to six foot swells are called “smooth seas”.  I always begged to differ.  Four to six foot wells meant that the boat was moving up and down four to six feet at a time.  I’ve been out there when swells were more than that and I can’t imagine being on a stormy sea.
            What I was always struck by is how small and weak and insignificant I felt being out there in the ocean on that little boat-- and how powerful and overwhelming are the forces of nature in comparison.
There are all kinds of situations in life like that that the child of God faces.  A few little cancer cells have the power to end our life.  One hail storm has the power destroy our crops and our livelihood.  One genetic mutation can lead to a birth defect or miscarriage.  In a few short hours a hill country stream can turn into a raging torrent that sweeps away houses and lives.  One crazy person with a gun can kill nine people while the study the Bible and pray.
That is the way life is (even for the Christian) in a world that has been broken by sin and ruined by Satan.  There is nothing we can do to stop it or change it any more than the disciples could stop the wind and calm the seas.
And that makes us feel helpless and powerless and afraid and it makes us wonder:  Where is God in the midst of this?  Why won’t he help?  Doesn’t he care about us?  The Bible says that:
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And the disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
            We understand that question don’t we?  We have asked it ourselves in the midst of hard times.  But that question in the heart of a believer reveals a fundamental misunderstanding we have of what our life with God will be like. 
We have this mistaken idea that life with God as a disciple of Jesus means that somehow, some way, we are going to magically escape all the difficulties that go with living in a world broken by sin and Satan.  (And there are plenty of false prophets in the church today who make their living telling people that lie).  But it is not true and it never has been true!
From the moment sin entered into the world, Adam struggled to make a living against a creation that fought against him every step of the way.  Eve brought her children into the world through pain and suffering.  There was conflict in their marriage and family.  The Israelites suffered through terrible droughts and famines.  Evil men persecuted the people of God.  The apostles were martyred except for John and he was exiled on a desert island.
That’s the way life is for the child of God living in a broken world.  The Bible says: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.”   What the disciples learned that day (and what we need to remember) is that just because we are following Jesus, that doesn’t mean we won’t face hard times and frightening trials. 
But in the midst of that storm, Jesus hadn’t abandoned the disciples and he won’t abandon us in the storms of life.  Instead he will come to our aid and meet our need just like he did that day on the stormy seas.  The Bible says that:
Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
            There is a reason that Jesus slept through a storm that terrified his disciples and there is a reason that his words immediately calmed the sea and there is a reason that he could walk on those same waves.  It’s the same reason that in his presence the blind could see and the lame could walk.  It’s the same reason that in his presence hunger became plenty and death became life.  It’s because in the presence of Jesus, the creation meets her Creator and her brokenness has to give way wholeness.
            That is what Jesus wants us to understand.  There is no trial or difficulty that we will ever face that is greater or more powerful than Jesus Christ.  His words calm stormy seas and give healing to the broken and call the dead from their tombs.  That is who Jesus is-- and he is with us and hears us as we call to him and will bring us safely through whatever storm we are facing.
But we do have to understand one thing.  Real deliverance is more than making it through the storms of life.  Real deliverance is making it to our heavenly home.  You see, even after the storm was stilled, that wasn’t the end of the challenges the disciples faced.
They would face people who were possessed of demons.  They would face fellow Jews who rejected them and their message.  They would face thousands of people who were hungry and had no food.  And they would even face another long night on a stormy sea.  And so it would go for them throughout their life until they died a martyr’s death.
Jesus hadn’t come to get them out of one jam after another—he had come to deliver them from the trials of life in a broken world altogether.  So it is for us.  Real deliverance.  Real safety.  Real wholeness does not come when Jesus helps us out of the next mess—it comes when he brings us home to heaven.
That deliverance was not accomplished by an act of his sovereign, almighty power.  It was accomplished by a profound act of humility where he identified with our sin (our faithless fears, our lack of trust, our shameful doubts) and carried that whole sorry mess to the cross to pay the price for all the times we have not trusted a good and gracious God as we should. 
He rose again and ascended to heaven to show us what he really came to do:  to forgive our sins and gives us a new life unencumbered by death and to bring us to our heavenly home. 
That living Christ is still with his people in the storms of life and he will bring us through them—either by stilling the storm--or by bringing us to our heavenly home. 
And so, the words that Jesus spoke to the stormy seas he also speaks to our hearts that are tossed to and fro by the storms of life:  Peace! Be still!  I am with you.  You don’t have to be afraid!  There is nothing you face more powerful than I!  Peace! Be Still! 
Then Jesus asked them a question that he still asks his disciples today:   He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Well dear friends in Christ, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 
The only response to those questions from the child of God is this:  Lord I believe!  Help my unbelief!  Help me to believe that you are with me!  Help me to believe that you are more powerful than anything I will ever face!  Help me to believe that you will bring me safely home!  He is—and he will.  That Bible says that:  The disciples were filled with great fear
What I find so interesting is how the fear of the disciples changed over the course of their journey.  In the midst of the storm they feared the wind, they feared the waves, they feared for their lives. 
But at the words of Jesus their fear and their trust and their love found its proper object and that is God.  We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  And because they had gone through the storm with Jesus, because they had heard his words, because they had experienced his deliverance—now it had.  They asked one another:
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?  It is God.  That answer would go with them into the next storm and the next trial and the next hardship.  And so it does for us.  Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us and Jesus is the Lord who saves.  That is who is with us in the storm of life.  That is who will bring us safely home.  God.
Well, that is where our text ends but that is not really where the story ends.  Our story began with an invitation from Jesus to his disciples to go with him to the other side.  If you have your Bible open you can see how the story ends in the first verse of chapter five:  they came to the other side.  Here’s the thing…
Jesus did not invite the disciples to go with him only to see them overcome by the story seas.  He was with them every step of the way and his powerful presence delivered them safe and sound on the other side.
So it is for us.  Jesus has not called us to come and follow him only so that we can be overcome by the storms of life.  He has called us to journey with him so that we can safely reach our heavenly home.  May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Seeker and the Sought

Genesis 3:8-15 If you talk to the average American about their relationship with God (assuming they have one at all and that is increasingly rare!) they would almost certainly talk about it in terms of their being the one who is seeking God.  They are the initiators—they are the ones who act—and they are certainly the ones who set the terms for what that relationship is.
That idea has even crept into the church.  Churches have “seeker-services” designed for all those people who they think are on a great spiritual quest.  And those who have gone through some spiritual experience say that they have “found” God. 
Now, please don’t get me wrong—I am thankful to the Holy Spirit for every person he brings to faith—even if that person cannot articulate it biblically.  But God is not lost—we are.  God is not the one who needs finding—we are.  We do not choose God—he chooses us.
Baptism and Holy Communion are not acts of obedience, works of our hands whereby we show our faith in God, they are acts of mercy whereby God graciously reaches down, makes us his own, and feeds us with the gifts of salvation he gives in Christ’s body and blood.
Now, if you are saying to yourself, well of course you say that, you are a Lutheran pastor.  You’re right I am.  But I am going to let you decide from the Word of God whether I am right or not.  I am going to let you decide from the Word of God whether your church teaches the truth or not.  Does man seek God or does God seek man?  The Bible says that:
Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
            Immediately before this verse, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command, tried to cover their own shame by the work of their hands, and fled from God’s presence. 
This is the spiritual condition of ALL of us by nature.  This is sinful mankind.  Alienated from God.  Running away from God.  Hiding from God.  Trying with every fiber of our being to hide our shame and guilt by the work of our own hands.  That is what sin has done to man.
So what about all of those promises of Satan, that going our own way and making our own decisions, will make us like God?  Absolute lies! 
Instead of gaining wisdom, mankind who was created by God in his image, as the pinnacle of his creation, to exercise dominion over creation and bring forth new life-- flees from the God who is everywhere and hides from the God who knows everything.  Foolishness!
There is no clearer picture in the entire Bible of what sin has done to us—and especially to our natural spiritual abilities—than this picture of Adam and Eve who have (in an instant of sin) lost a right knowledge of God and right relationship with God.  And- so- it- is- for every- one- of- Adam’s- children, by nature, down to this day.  By nature…
There are NO seekers of God among the children of Adam, there are only sinners whose guilt and shame drives us way from God as fast as we can go—whose sin and blindness robs us of any kind of right knowledge of God. 
That’s the way it is was in the garden—that is what sin did to Adam and Even.  That is the way it is in our world today—that is what sin has done to every one of their children by nature and God could have—with perfect justice—destroyed them and the world with them.
But the God who created them in love, loved them still (just as he continues to love a world full of sinners) and sought them out and called them to return to him.  The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 
Do you see the incredible act of humility and mercy that is here in this scene—that the almighty, all-knowing, living God of the universe calls out to his sinful, rebellious creatures:  Where are you?  Of course he knows where Adam and Eve are hiding!  He knows all things!  And yet God condescends- in mercy- to seek these sinners and call them to himself so that they can acknowledge their sin and come to him for forgiveness. 
In exactly the same way the gracious call of God still goes out to a world full of sinners who are running away from him as fast as they can, doing their level best to make their own way, and hiding from the truth of who they are just- like- Adam- did. 
Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
            God created us to live with him in perfect fellowship, to be counted as his children, to receive his blessings in time and eternity and yet sin has destroyed the faith and trust children ought to have for their father and made us terrified of God. 
That is what the Hebrew word means that our Bible translates as “afraid”—it describes someone so terrified they tremble like a leaf.  The Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  That is what sin has done to us:  made us terrified of God and blind to our own broken condition. 
Adam told God that he was afraid because he was naked-- but he had ALWAYS been naked!  That had not changed!  What had changed was his sin and disobedience and the guilt and shame that goes along with it.  But God loved him—he loved Adam even though he sinned.
What a comfort this is for us!  We fall into some sin and we think that God no longer loves us and so what is the point of returning to him.  We get caught up in some kind of mess of our own making and we can’t figure out what went wrong and we wonder, what’s the use? 
But God loves us in the midst of it and seeks us out so that we can return to him before we destroy our life and the lives of those around us.  That’s what God was doing with Adam—calling to him, questioning him, refusing to let him hide so that Adam could know the truth about his sin and turn to God for help-- for his sake and the sake of those around him.
Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 
            When Adam saw Eve for the first time in the perfection of Eden he said one of the sweetest things recorded in the Bible.  He saw her and said:  This at last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  His joy in God’s good gift of a wife fairly leaps off the page. 
But look at what sin has done in such a short period of time!  The lie of Satan that their eating would bring blessing, has only brought destruction.  It has destroyed their life with God so that they blame God for their sin.  It has destroyed their life with one another so that they blame one another.  It is has destroyed God’s creation and brought death into the world. 
Adam and Even finally understood this.  At the end of their excuses, their confession was the heart of truthful simplicity:  I ate.  So it must be for us:  Lord, I have sinned.  As dark and as difficult as those moments of confession are, there is a bright beam of God’s gracious love and mercy and forgiveness that also begins to shine as he comes to our rescue.
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
            During our meditation on God’s Word this morning I hope that you have come to see the truth about the spiritual condition of mankind apart from God-- but now I want you to see just as clearly the goodness and mercy of God towards sinners—that he is not content to leave us blind and dead—that he does not want us separated from him by our sin—that he seeks us to save us. 
In the midst of man’s rebellion, while he fled from God and hid from God, when he had destroyed God’s perfect creation and brought death into the world, God still loved him and promised that, as dark as that moment was, sin and death would not be the end of the story but God himself would make things right again by the offspring of a woman who would crush Satan.
This is the first Gospel promise in the Bible and it was fulfilled within the womb of the Blessed virgin mother of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took upon himself our flesh and became man—a Son of Adam—one of us.  The Bible says that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil
And so he has.  Even though it is not in our reading, I want to tell you what happens next.  The Bible says the Lord God made garments of skins and clothed Adam and Eve with them.  Do you understand?  The Lord made a promise of a Savior to come and then blood was shed.  A sacrifice was made.  And God himself covered man’s shame.  What the Lord’s promise meant, of a savior to come, began to take on shape.
And so it was that many thousands of years later Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Offspring of the Woman, went to the cross and shed his blood to cover our shame and guilt.  The innocent died in the place of the guilty.  Two rough beams of woods became the Tree of Life and three days later, early in the morning, as angels stood by, the restoration of Eden began- and death lost its hold on us and Satan was defeated. 
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  And so it is that everywhere this Good News is told, there the Holy Spirit is at work:  opening eyes that are blind, transforming minds that are at war against God, restoring the image of God in those who believe, laying the foundation for a right relationship between us and others, and giving us new life where before there was only death.     
The Good News for us today is exactly the same as it was for Adam and Eve all those years ago:  not that we seek God—but that he sought us out when we were lost and blind and dead.  Not that we love God—but that he loves us with an everlasting love that our sin cannot destroy.  Not that we made our way back to him—but that he came for us and covered our sin with his sacrifice and restored us to our rightful place in God’s family as his children. 
God grant us his grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to believe it!  Amen.