Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epiphany 4 Sermon

January 29-30, 2011
Epiphany 4
Matthew 8:23-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus can sleep through anything. He has no fears, no guilt, no worries. Sometimes it seems as though He sleeps through our prayers. In any case, He rarely behaves the way we think He should. Why was He sleeping while the storm raged? Why was He not with His disciples? Teaching or praying or comforting them? Why wasn’t He helping? And why, when they came to Him looking for salvation, did He rebuke them when He had praised Gentiles for the same request?

Perhaps there is no more important Theological lesson to learn than this: God is not like us. He does not submit to our ideas. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. We live by faith not by knowledge or understanding. Unlike every other man Jesus never considers appearances. He really doesn’t care what people think. He is His own man in a way no one else is, that no one else can be. He is not concerned with doing the proper thing. He simply is. And whatever He does, whether we understand it or not, is the right thing.

But that idea requires faith. Because He doesn’t seem to be doing the right thing. He seems to be sleeping, to be ignoring us. Wars and disease, hatred and greed, bigotry and addiction: these things don’t seem right. We are plagued with crime and poverty. Families are falling apart. Babies are murdered in their mothers’ wombs. American soldiers die in foreign lands. Wives at home are unfaithful. The government lies. Children cheat. Schools can’t be trusted. Friends betray us. Pastors preach false doctrine. And then, as if we weren’t already our own worst enemies, nature herself comes swooping down on us in hurricanes and tsunamis, in killing frigid temperatures, in ice and snow. And all our efforts against them, our little programs with grief and debt and pregnancy and marriage counselors, our engineering feats and government money seem of little effect against the evil that lurks in the hearts of men or the waters that fill Lake Michigan, are futile, like wrapping gauze over the top of a volcano to stop the lava.

These vain efforts of men would lull us to Jonah’s denying sleep. They would placate us with Utopian fantasies. If Leave it to Beaver and the Cosby’s now seem cliché and transparent, if Hallmark seems obviously sappy and Martha Stewart seems just plain fake, then turn to any home improvement show, or even to a cooking shows. Those are pure fantasies disguised as reality. No one lives like that. And they are barometers of our discontent. They show what we want but fail to obtain. Repent. Your answer doesn’t lie in gadgets or flower bouquets, in a beautiful home or a beautiful meal, even in happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. And there is no such thing as Andy and Opie either. You won’t find salvation in human love. Spouses and children disappoint as surely as parents and siblings, as surely as we disappoint ourselves. Repent. Stick to your prayers. Submit in faith to the goodness of God and wait for the Lord. It will be revealed in time. The storms will cease. Jesus is with you.

And what if He rebukes you for your panic? For your desire for safety, for your desperate little faith that thinks it is perishing? Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that you still have a smoldering wick of faith and that it knows where to go, that it still prays, that it seeks salvation in Jesus’ Name. Thank God you are weak for then you are strong. He will not let you become dependent on your faith or upon your works. He will purify you with holy chastisement and will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will keep you dependent on Him.

And what if your conscience is plagued by guilt and regret, by doubt and fear? What if you are weary? Thank God for that as well. For it is faith, a living and vibrant faith, that stirs your heart. Faith causes you to feel sorrow and shame. The pain is proof that your faith is alive. Pray that you never lose that feeling until God relieves you of it on the last day. Pray that you are never comfortable in your sins, that you never think you’ve got Him figured out, that you can handle the storms on your own. Be rebuked again and again. Suffer His insults. Be broken by His Law. For in this way He empties you of yourself to fill you with His love. He breaks you to mend you. He kills you to revive you. For His sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel. First comes the rebuke, then comes the calming of the storm. First comes the cross, then comes the glory.

Are we of little faith, O Lord? Indeed. We are unworthy in every way. But You have made a promise. You are our God. Your Name is upon us. Save us, O Lord. Be our God, our Savior. Deliver us from these presents evils and from the Evil One. Count us in that rag-tag, fearful group on Lake Galilee. Let us be your failing disciples that you might show Your grace in us. We have no boast, no claim upon Your mercy. But we have Your Word and Promise. That is enough. You will be our Jonah, O Sleeper. You will calm the sea with Your sacrifice. For You have gone into the belly of the earth and come forth again on the third day. Rebuke us if You must, send the waves over the sides of the boat, make us desperate and full of fear, teach us to pray. And then, O Lord, give us peace according to Your Word. Give us the faith we lack. Give us Your Holy Spirit and bring us home. Remember, O Lord, Your Word and Promises even while we wait for the Resurrection to come and the consummation of all our hope. Save us, O Lord. Save us.

In + Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Daily Readings for January 30 - February 5, 2011

Daily Lectionary

January 30 Jonah Is Swallowed by the Great Fish—Jonah 1:1—2:10; Matthew 11:11-24
January 31 The Sign of Jonah—Matthew 12:38-45; Matthew 12:1-21
February 1 Jesus Walks on the Water—Matthew 14:22-36; Matthew 13:1-23
February 2 Jesus Washes the Disciples' Feet—John 13:1-15; Matthew 14:1-36
February 3 Parable of the Lost Sheep and Coin—Luke 15:1-10; Matthew 15:1-20
February 4 Parable of the Prodigal Son—Luke 15:11-32; Matthew 17:1-9
February 5 Genesis 18:20–33; Colossians 3:12–17; Matthew 13:24–30

Look forward to the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Genesis 18:20–33, Colossians 3:12–17, Matthew 13:24–43

The Righteous Will Shine Like the Sun
                  The enemy sowed tares among the Son of Man's good wheat. Thus, the sons of the wicked one and the sons of the kingdom coexist in the field of the world (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). In order that His own might not be uprooted and destroyed, the Lord has delayed the judgment of the wicked until the time of harvest. Even for the sake of ten righteous all of Sodom would have been spared (Genesis 18:20–33). But in the end, the harvest will come. On the Last Day, the angels will separate out the tares from the wheat. The wicked will be cast into the furnace of fire, but the righteous in Christ will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Therefore, those in whom the word of Christ dwells richly (Colosians 3:12–17) need not fret because of evildoers. For their salvation is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of trouble (Introit).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life Sunday Sermon January 22-23, 2011

—January 22 – 23, 2011 Life Sunday Sermon —
—Psalm 139:13-14 and Mark 10:13-16 —
—Hands that Knit—Arms that Hold —

So why are we observing a Sunday called, “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday”? Isn’t that getting a little political? Are we doing this because we live in a society that does not uphold the God-given value of human life? No, there is more to it than that. We do not uphold the sanctity of human life because we live in a society that doesn’t, but because we serve a GOD WHO DOES. Why are we observing this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday? Is it because life is precious? No, there is even more to it than that. We uphold the sanctity of human life because life is precious TO GOD!

The Word of God before us today raises the life issues—things like abortion and assisted suicide—way above the political realm. The Word of God before us today reminds us why it is important for us who are members of the Body of Christ to address these issues. The Word of God before us today tells us that every human life is a life created by God, every human life is a life for whom Jesus Christ died, and every human life is a life Jesus desires to take into His arms and call to an eternal relationship with Him.

The Word of God before us today reminds us very clearly why we observe this Sanctity of Life Sunday. Let’s look a little more closely at each of our texts. First, life is precious to God because His hands knit us together. Psalm 139 can be frightening when you first look at it. It reminds us that God knows everything about us, everything we do, and everything we think. There is no place we can go to escape God. God watches everything you do. That is a big problem!

But that fear goes away when we realize that the One watching is not some judge waiting for us to goof up. No, the One watching is our God, our Creator who knit us together with His hands. He’s been creating life with His hands from the beginning. Using dirt, He formed Adam with His hands and breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Using one of Adam’s ribs, He made Eve literally with His hands.

Then, He told these two perfectly handmade humans to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. He sets into motion a biological process for procreation. But, as our text says, He still involves Himself intimately—with His hands. The Bible says, “God formed my inmost being” (:13). He first creates the very essence of what is uniquely you. That’s how biology works. When the genetic code from mom and dad come together, you were uniquely you at that moment—male or female, tall or short, blonde or brunette, brown eyes or blue, good at math, sports, music—it was all there at that moment, your “inmost being.” At the moment of conception, you were you. You were not “something” that was going to become you; you were someone who was you! That which was in your mother’s womb was your inner being, the very essence of what is uniquely you! In that womb a group of cells called “stem cells,” starts changing. Some of those cells become bone, some skin, some nerves, some muscle, and so forth. Eventually, your whole body will be formed by these cells.

That seems to be reflected in Psalm 139. “Knitted me together” is literally something like, “You wove a covering for me.” So God creates you, your very essence, your genetic identity, and then He covers you, “knits” a body for you. No wonder the Psalmist says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (v 14). It’s true, each one of you, each and every human being, is fearfully, wonderfully, uniquely, marvelously made—the work of God’s hands.

Do you see how this trumps everything else we think might make life valuable? It doesn’t matter where you live, whether in a mansion or in a womb. It doesn’t matter how big you are, whether six-foot-five or a tiny dot of an embryo. It doesn’t matter the condition of your health, whether a well trained athlete or unconscious in a nursing home bed. The value of human life does not come from what we are able to do or not do. It comes from what God has done. Every human life is fearfully and wonderfully the work of God’s hands.

But sin corrupts God’s handiwork. All the flaws in the work of God’s hands, all the defects—physical, mental, emotional—flow from one giant flaw, sin. Sin corrupts us at our very core. This corruption manifests itself in so many ways, but the one we focus on today is how sin has affected the way we view and value life. Sin makes us judge life’s value based on criteria we think is important. Sin turns the source of value from the Creator to the creature.

We creatures have not done well in the criteria we have used to determine life’s value. We have used ethnicity as a basis for value and ended up with hundreds of thousands brutally slaughtered. We have used skin color as a basis for value and ended up with slave trading and civil war and discrimination and lynching—thousands upon thousands of lives lost. Now we use whether you are born or not as a basis for value and end up with abortion being the most common surgical procedure done is this country. Millions upon millions of lives lost in brutal ways—over 50 million in the United States since its legalization in 1973. More and more we use health as a basis for value and end up with assisted suicide and euthanasia and “killing as a means of caring” and the elderly being led to believe they have the “duty to die.” Millions of people with disabilities and people in nursing homes are increasingly at risk of hastened deaths.

This deadly sin of the creature taking the place of the Creator when assigning value to life is not just a sin we point to out there. We in the Church share the blame and shame of what is happening. We do so when we fail to: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8 NIV). We share in the blame when we fail to deal with these issues because we think they are only political problems or social ills. We share in the blame when we sit silently as the slaughter continues. We share in the shame when we think of the children who will never even have the opportunity to be brought to Jesus through the waters of holy Baptism. We rightly join Jesus in being offended with the disciples for trying to prevent children from coming to Jesus. But if we do nothing and say nothing about the 3,200 abortions every single day in this country, we also prevent children from coming to Jesus. Jesus’ rebuke should ring in our ears as well, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

When we do not talk about the life issues in our churches, we silence the only message that can really make a difference in the lives of people facing these grave issues of life and death. The message of the Gospel is the most powerful and positive Life message in the universe! We have a message of our God who loved the work of His hands so much, He came down into our sin-broken world and into our sin-broken lives to bring restoration and healing. He came down to bear the blame and the shame and God’s punishment for all sin and for every sinner. He came for those who have sinned against life. In fact, in one sense, we can say He came especially for those who sinned against life and are crushed under that burden.

That’s the picture He gives in our text from Mark 10 when He says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:15). While He is referring to “child-like faith,” He also is referring to child-like helplessness. Scripture pictures children as being very vulnerable and completely dependent upon others in order to survive. We do not enter the Kingdom by walking in on our own merits. We are not even capable of crawling in. We lie prostrate on the outside—like a little child—acknowledging our helplessness and completely relying upon Christ and His mercy to come out, take us in His arms, and carry us in.

So often, those with an abortion in their past feel helpless and hopeless. Satan tries to make them feel like they have committed a sin too big to be forgiven. He would keep them from Jesus. But helpless and hopeless are just the kind of folks Jesus came to rescue! One woman who had an abortion finally understood this. She said, “I never realized that Jesus Christ was willing to get down into my muck and miry life and lift me up out of the sewage of my problems. He has since shown me He really is.” Jesus Christ is not only willing to get down into our muck and mess of our lives, He has! He lifted us all up out of the sewage of our sin whether the sin of abortion or the sin of silence while abortions are going on all around us. He has picked us all up in His arms, put His nail-scarred hands upon us, and blessed us with forgiveness—unearned, undeserved, free, and complete!

Now to the point of all of this—Jesus doesn’t want anyone kept away from His arms. He desires that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He desires to take every child, every vulnerable, sinful human being into His arms and bless them. He desires to call every life into an eternal relationship with Him.

That’s why we are here today observing this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. We are not doing this because we want to get political. We are not doing this because we are advocating some sort of social agenda. We are doing this because the children—all those who are vulnerable and in need—are precious to God. Every human life is a life created by God. Every human life is a life for whom Jesus Christ died. Every human life is a life Jesus desires to take into His arms, bless, and call into an eternal relationship with Him. Amen!
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:3


The Meaning of Life - God Knew Your Name.

Every once in a while a song comes along that not only speaks to the heart, it changes the heart. This is one of them. The song was originally written for the movie "LIFE: It's a 'CLASS' project" and the complete video with the narration was done for the LIFE Sunday celebration observed each year.