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The Hammer or the Hatchet – A Sermon on Romans 8:28-39

pexels-photo-4205987The Hammer or the Hatchet
Romans 8:28-39

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the mercy and love of God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ empower you to reach out to others, knowing it will work for good, and it can’t separate you from God.

 

The Wrong Tool…sort of?

Yesterday a picture from the past brought up a lesson I learned the hard way.  My dad had taught me the lesson growing up, but let’s just say I did not listen as well as I should have.

A simple lesson, “make sure you have the right tools to do the job.”

Every year when I went camping, I forgot one tool, the hammer to pound the ground stakes of our camper into the hard ground. And every year, it would take a while for me to do it with a hatchet. It would eventually get done, but the hatchet is made to chop, not pound. This is the business end of a hatchet, not that end.

I had the wrong tool, the job still got done, but…

As I endured this week, I started wondering more and more about whether I use the reading from Romans 8 the right way…

You see, the passage does the job for two tasks, but I think, it was made to be used as a hatchet, Romans 8:28-39 should free the church to minister to this broken world. Even as it offers comfort, it should be empowering us to provide warmth and light to this broken world.

As a Hammer

So if you notice, this hatchet has this end, so you can use it as a hammer. It is kinda dangerous to use it this way, especially for a klutz like me. Or anyone standing in the immediate area!  Hammers are used for securing something in place; to stop it from falling again.

I usually use verse 28 to bring comfort to people who are broken, who are struggling with sin and personal failure. Hey, let God pick you up. God will work this out – He has promised to do so – right here…

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Similarly, I have used verse 38 to bring comfort to those who are struggling, to those who wonder if what has happened means God isn’t with them.

I assure them, nothing can separate you from God. You are His, and the Lord is with you!
This is all true, and it works, but like using the wrong side of the hatchet, there is a danger here. A danger that we just hear those messages find comfort in them, and do nothing else.

Yes, God will work this out, and yes, I am safe with Him.  Therefore, it is time to go sit by the pool and have a beer! Or go binge-watch another 2 seasons of a favorite show!

If all we get out of these passages is that, I did not preach the passage correctly. I just picked you up and nailed you in place.

As a Hatchet

A camping hatchet has another job. You use it to cut up kindling and split small pieces of wood to use to build a fire. Something that you can sit down next to, invite some neighbors from other campsites nearby and talk and have a good time. The hatchet is a tool to build a place of community, a place that is inviting and encouraging.

So too, does this passage serve a different purpose than just comforting broken people. It frees them from the brokenness to serve others. It treats us like the kindling, bringing us together to warm and show Christ’s light to the world!

Bob, you screwed up and dropped a few words you should not have. Go apologize, and see how God will use it.

Tom, you have no idea how God will work through you – things are too crazy and unknown! Don’t worry, go do it and rejoice. Even if you screw up, you can not mess it up so bad that God will toss you away. Nothing in all creation can cause that!

The gospel in this passage goes beyond comfort, it should empower you to serve alongside Jesus in mission even more than ever. Hear again part of the passage that lies in the middle, that gets overlooked,

Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

It is the church, being the church, loving, encouraging, comforting, and drawing people into a relationship with God – even to the point of martyrdom, that is the context for these words about God.

God still loves us. Even when we screw up. Even when we have to lay down our lives. Or lay down our pride, which may be harder!

This chapter is full of that message

You’ve sinned, it’s covered. There is no condemnation in Christ, get up, and get ready to serve.

You are so broken you don’t know how to pray, don’t worry, the Holy Spirit interprets the pain in your heart

You’ve screwed it up? God will make it work out

Your oppressed, beaten, at the end of your wits, and losing your mind? Keep going, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Get the message, the Lord is with you, working in your life, and He’s not leaving you.

Even in you face death, or covid19,

Yesterday in devotions, we look at a passage from Jude. It told us what we can do, even amid hardship, even as the world falls apart. It is this,

21  And keep in step with God’s love, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to show how kind he is by giving you eternal life. 22  Be helpful to all who may have doubts. 23  Rescue any who need to be saved, as you would rescue someone from a fire. Then with fear in your own hearts, have mercy on everyone who needs it. Jude 1:20-23 (CEV)

My friends, let God pick you up, and believe He will use all your lives to make a difference.  Know that all you encounter will result in good. Serve with Jesus, knowing that nothing, not even the hardest times you can encounter, not even the most oppressive times Satan can throw at you, can separate you from God’s love.

This victory is yours because Jesus won it at the cross. So let’s pray.

The God Whom You Worship!

 

0This God Whom You Worship!
Acts 17:16-31

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you worship the God you know…

I Don’t think that word means….

In one of the most quoted moves of all times, a Sicilian mercenary captain keeps on using the word “inconceivable.” Over and over, you head the word come from this short, balding guy, inconceivable, inconceivable, inconceivable!

Finally, his swordmaster utters this favorite quote, ““You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ( Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride)

Now, what was funny was all the inconceivable things, well, they were actually conceivable, and doable.

This sort of reminds me of the people of Athens in this week’s reading from Acts. They had all these statues and temples dedicated to “gods.” The Greek gods, the gods of the countries they conquered, any god which they could find someone worshipping, hear of someone worshipping, they even had the one shrine dedicated to a god they prayed to when all else failed.

The “unknown” God.

They had to have a shrine with that name, for they really didn’t understand what a god was, never mind who God is, and how He would relate to all of His creation.

This word god that they used, they simply did not mean what they thought it meant… and for some, that would change, this day.

So my question for you today, when you use the word “God,” do you know what the word means?  If not, I pray you to do by the end of the day!

Who is this God?

Man creates and searches for gods for a reason. They know they need someone else to connect to, they know there is a presence that is missing.

So they create a god for this, a god for that, and attach to these gods a dream. For example, a lot of people are looking to authorities to save us from COVID, or the economic downturn that it has caused.  We blame those we think are interfering with that recovery, even calling them evil or demons.

We put all our hope and the joy that accompanies hope.

And then that god fails, or that dream turns out to be false, and the contentment we thought it promised turns out to be more heartache and more pain.

We need a God that takes care of more than one problem, who is not created, who is more than someone who provides us what we want, or what we think we need for life to be right.  We need the God Paul described.

This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. 24  “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25  and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26  From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. 27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28  For in him, we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.

This is what a God is, this is Who we need to find peace, to find fulfillment, to have a real hope at life – for as Paul said, in Jesus, in Him we live and move and exist.

This is what happened at the cross, when all that was not god that we invented, all our idols, and the sins they led us to commit, were stripped away.

We realized that we are the children of God, His beloved children!

Judgment is coming.

Which is a good thing, because Paul then moves his discourse into something that could be frightening.

30  “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice.

Judgment day!

For those who don’t know God, who keep on going back to their idols, who keep on putting hope in some they think will solve all their problems, there is a day when God will ask why – why didn’t you trust in  Me?

Why didn’t you consider my love, which I laid out before you?

Why did you create or find answers that won’t provide the hope and peace you need in the long run?

Why not just cry out to me?

Why not let me save you?

For the judgment day surely has two parts – the full justice of God.

The judgment of idolaters, the judgment of those who would reject God, and the part that truly gives us hope.

31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead.”  

This is our hope… this is everything that God appointed on to judge us, would die to make things just and right. Jesus would not only strip away those things that draw us away from God but would heal us. That would heal the broken hearts, our broken souls, if we would but let Him.

It is time to call out to Him now, knowing this,

19  and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength 20  which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Ephesians 1:19-20 (TEV)

I pray that you know this God and know what it means that He is your God and that you learn to depend on Him… and trust in Him…matter of fact, let’s pray right now…

Heavenly Father, help us to stop chasing after other gods, help us stop finding hope in things other than you… deliver us this morning, and surround us with your glory, that we may dwell in Your peace.  AMEN!

 

Encountering God at the Cross – A Sermon for the Sunday of Christ’s Passion

 

Encounter God
at the Cross

John 12:20-36

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to hear people when they want to meet Jesus!

An Odd Question

I have a question for you, one I wish I you were to here to answer.  Message me your answers, no cheating.

Did the Greek visitors to Jerusalem in the gospel reading meet Jesus that day?

Yes or no?  (Pause)

Come on, no cheating! No cheating!

Well, if you said yes, or if you said no, you have done what most people do – they give their opinion on what they think the Bible teachers, without really knowing.  The answer is simple – we do not know.

We know that Phillip, not knowing what to do, went to Andrew, who didn’t know what to do, who went to ask Jesus… but that is where the story transitions to Jesus teaching.

So did the Greeks get to see Jesus that day?

I don’t know, but they would before the week was out.

Which Jesus did they want to see? (Miracle guy, Great Teacher, The Amusement)

Which Jesus did they want to see, anyway?

There were a ton of rumors floating around. This was the greatest speaker ever, this was the guy who does all the miracles, this was the guy who was going to kick out the Romans or maybe they heard the rumor out of Bethany, that there was this guy with two sisters… who died.. and was buried for half a week – and he’s walking around town now.
For these foreigners, here to experience this Passover thing, this was one of the things on their vacation list.  This was a curiosity, and attraction, something special they may have thought, but they had no clue.

The Jesus they saw..

They had no idea they would see him, just a few days from now…beaten and bruised, with spikes that shattered bone and ripped though flesh into the hard wood of the cross.

Jesus had pointed this out, as He said,

 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 33  He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

My friends, He knew….

These Greeks showing up simply confirmed it, he was drawing everyone to himself.

To forgive them

To save them,

To have them dance with God the Father….to be swept up in His arms the way the prodigal’s dad did.

It’s not what they expected, it was shocking, but it was amazing.

Be His voice

An abrupt change of direction here….one appropriate for the day Jesus was praised but not for why He should have been praised.

There are people all around us, that need to know they are loved by God.

They are looking for hope, even while they are stuck in their homes. But like the Greeks, and often like us, they are looking for someone to save them, to change the brokenness of life which crushes them.

Which crushes us.

These days we need to encounter God just as the Greeks wanted to so desperately.

But why do we want to see Him? Do we want to see the miracles?  Do we really want to hear what He wants to teach us? Do we want to see Him raise people from the dead?

Why are we seeking Him out?

Just like the Greeks, it doesn’t matter why we are going to seek Him, what matters is that we see Him revealed to us in all His glory, as the love is seen in the harsh light of the cross.

God brings us all there, to the cross – to not just encounter Christ, but to join Him.

To not just see us die with Him, but to raise us, free of all the brokenness, free of all the sin, free of the idolatry, where we decide to play God and control Him.

You can’t do that at the cross… it is not possible.

You can’t control the God who dies there

who dies there… to embrace you… and give you life,

We want to see Jesus – but we need to see Jesus crucified for us…

As do our Greeks visiting us.

That is the Jesus they need to see.. these visitors.

Yes – you want to see Jesus, it doesn’t matter why – Here he is.

He loves you…

Just let that wash over you, comfort you, cleanse you, heal you.

Then when someone needs to meet Him.. introduce the one who loved you from the cross you cling to.

AMEN!

Encounter God and Live: A Sermon on John 11 from Concordia

Encounter God and Live
John 11:14-45

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to live!

Two odd focal points

Like most of the gospel, I have preached on reading from Luke before.  I thought I had attacked it from every possible point and hadn’t missed anything in the story before.

I did pick up on a couple of things I missed, two different phrases that are repeated twice. I was also trying to work on how you preach on the miracle of someone rising from the dead in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, if there was a time to repeat the miracle in the Valley of the Dry Bones, wouldn’t it be a great thing to do it now?

Back to the two things I missed – these two phrases.  As we deal with them, I pray that they will help us learn to live, to really live.

The first is that twice it describes Jesus as being Angry.

The other is a phrase that Jesus uses, that is translated as, “for your sake!”

Angry

The gospel records this,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

Did you catch this?

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

Other translations make this seem that he was simply bothered, that he was upset – and yet word describes someone who is enraged, indignant, and storming about angrily.

Does that make sense?  After all, what is he angry about?

My first reaction was the lack of faith, the absolute raw pain he is witnessing! Here he is, and Martha even acknowledges he is the Messiah.

Is Jesus truly mad at the lack of faith?

If so, perhaps he is mad at me for this week. After all, watching the fear and anxiety affect so many has been brutal. Hearing of friends whose families have contracted the virus has been brutal, especially as I can’t go to them, pray with them, give them a hug.

I don’t want to entrust these friends and their loved ones into God’s hands, and that, as brutal as it sounds, is a lack of faith.

Is that the reason God is upset?  Because they couldn’t trust that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead?

I don’t think so.

But I think we beat ourselves up too often for our lack of faith, and this time is definitely not a time to be doing so…

This epidemic is not about our lack of faith, and God hasn’t abandoned us in this time.

We might not see what He is doing, but that is true in other times of our lives as well.

We have to understand it is okay to struggle, it is okay to ask the hard questions, it is okay to weep, because then, having admitted where we are, we can see Jesus at work.

For your sake

Which is where the other duplicated phrase comes in to play.

Verse 14, “So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

and then verse 42, Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

When you see these verses bracket this story, it is not a major leap to see that Jesus’ anger isn’t toward those whose faith is struggling. For it is to strengthen our faith that this occurred.

So why would He be mad at the lack of faith?

God worked something out of this situation that led people to have more faith in Him, to depend on Him more than they ever did before.

In this case, it was a miracle, the resurrection of someone dead 4 days.

But that too – was something God had planned – remember – he said we are going to him. Even though Jesus said he was dead, they were going to him.

But that isn’t the end of the story, for God was going to demand more of their faith, which we get a hint of in Thomas’s comment, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus.

A Greater Demand on their Faith?

This story is about the fact the disciples would need even greater faith when Jesus dies just a little while after this. They would need to depend on God for the darkest three days of their lives.

Not knowing what any of it meant, not knowing what darkness would hit next…

As God would sustain them during those dark days between the cross and the resurrection –

For that is the place where God’s anger is purged – as the power of death and sin was crushed.

The sin which so separated us from God, and from each other – Jesus’s anger at that sin was made evident, there as He is with those dealing with the consequence of sin, death. He understood that death for the sinner would be final, which is why a short time later, the Father would deal with death through Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection.

He had to do something about the sin and death that so scares and scars us.

And so he did… Jesus would die,

For their sake…

And for ours.

And that is why we have a faith that is stronger, that is why we know we can depend on Him, not just for the forgiveness of sins, but that He will be with us always…

Caring for us, loving us, dying for us…

And know,

Alleluia – He is Risen!

and I can’t wait for you to say the next part

He is Risen Indeed Alleluia and therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!

AMEN!

Encounter God… and See! A Sermon on John 9 during the pandemic

Encounter God… and See
John 9

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ help you to see Him, and see Him at work in your life!

DO you believe

Towards the end of the encounter of the Blind man and Jesus, Jesus asks a question to the man that was formerly blind.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

What Jesus is asking him is whether he believes in the Messiah and whether He believes He has come.  It is one of the titles a Jewish person would have known referred to the Messiah,

Do you believe in the Messiah?  Jesus asks.

The man encountering Jesus replies, “Who is he, sir?  I want to believe in Him!”

The encounter then takes a new direction – as Jesus reveals to the one born blind he is the Messiah.

Before we deal with that, I want to ask another question, an interesting one.

Did he only believe because he saw Him?

Did the Blind man only believe in Jesus because he saw Him?

Or another way to phrase the same question, if the man had encountered Jesus, but Jesus did not give him the ability to see, would he have believed in Jesus?

It is an important question and one we need to face….

Will we only believe and trust in God, if He does what we desire most?

Will we only turn to Him if He keeps us safe from the flu or the coronavirus?  Will we only trust in Him if He heals our broken land, and ends the isolation that is so affecting all of us?

Will we only believe if God does things our way?

And if He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, will we reject Him?  Will we refuse to believe in Him? Trust in Him?

Depend on Him?

There is our question for the day… and a hard one.

The Dark Question

It’s one, if we are honest, we are afraid to ask.  Even if we aren’t sure of the answer.

Matter of fact, that is why we need to ask this!

Because we need to come face to face with the question.

Is our faith in God, is our being a Christian based on God doing what we desire?

Is it based on God caring for us the way we want?

If I am honest, the answer would be yes, at times. My faith wavers, it struggles, and I have to be able to admit that. I get frustrated when things don’t go my way, and I hurt in times like this.

And this passage gives me the comfort to admit this… and then reach out to God… and say where are you?

Why I can

The first is this – Jesus was working in the man’s life way before he asked the question. He was giving the blind man the ability to see and doing things that though the guy didn’t know who Jesus was, he knew something was happening that could only be accountable to God.

Back in verse 17 the man stated, “I think He must be a prophet!”  And then in verse 33 he said, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it!”

He saw God at work – even before he truly understood Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus was the Savior. He recognized something out of the ordinary was happening, something that couldn’t be normal, or just a coincidence.

While for us that may not be healing, God is still going to be at work in our lives way before we recognize that the Holy Spirit is carefully opening us up, and calling us into that place where we begin to heal, where we see God at work

Where we can then hear the question asking us whether we believe and as we go… uhhh… or ask this question or that one, we see Jesus revealed to us. And as He is revealed the Holy Spirit grants us both faith and repentance.

The Holy Spirit does that as well, working in us, revealing to us Jesus’s work through the gospel and then sacramentally, as God cleanses us from Sin and sets us up in a relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Then, the Spirit has worked in us, we are no longer blind to the work of God, we can say with the man in today’s gospel, “Yes, Lord, I believe!”

How can we behold Jesus today?

You see that is the key, not saying I believe because of this argument, or that apologetic.  We believe because God is at work, and we, even as limited as our vision is, begin to see Him at work. We encounter Him doing something in our lives.

I am not saying our salvation is based on our experience or our emotion. I am saying that as God is at work, it becomes hard to deny it.

So how do we “see” Jesus at work today?

I mean he’s not down at the hospital, or the Braille institute, opening the eyes of the blind. My eyesight isn’t that bad, so where is He? Where can see that He has worked?

I see Him in the eyes of those who commune, I heard Him in the words of those who respond to me, “and also with you!” and “he is risen indeed! And therefore, we are risen indeed!” In the voices of those singing His praises.

But I see Him the most as His word and sacraments breathe life and power into the lives of the people around me. As I see people reconcile with those they have offended and forgive those who have offended them.  I see it in the eyes of those I tell that God has forgiven them of all their sin, and as people ask the hard questions, the ones that cause us to have no other option but to trust in God, and in the midst of that trauma, find peace and serenity that goes beyond anything we can logically explain.

The Spirit is at work within you – because He has promised to be, and God always keeps those promises.  This is our encounter today – wherever we are.

So be still… and know and see, He is God!  AMEN!

Encountering God in the Midst of Isolation

Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
John 4:5-26

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…

What is God Looking for

What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?

How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.

How do we cope?

Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there.  Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.

She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.

And then it happened, she encountered God.

We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,

The problem – do we really know Him

As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.

You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship

The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.

That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!

This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.

I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!

Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”

But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.

That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.

How the problem is being taken care of.

How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!

Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.

God showed up.

It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route.  Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.

That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.

Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!

This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.

It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.

In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.

He is here.

I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you.  To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.

To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.

It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.

To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…

This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.

The Lord God is with you!    AMEN!

Encounter God – Sermon #1 Encounter God in the Midst of Sin

Encounter God… in the Midst of Sin?
Genesis 3:1-21

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to know He ill always provide for you.

 Where are you?

In the series we are starting today, we are going to look at a number of people who encountered God in scripture. Each one is different, each has a story to tell, a story that many of us will relate to, stories we can learn from, which will cause us to grow in our faith, that will help us to depend on God longer.

Just as these people did, many of them the hard way.

Just like us!

So we start with Adam and Eve.

Where it all started! Or perhaps one may say ended.

The encounter we are looking at is probably the scariest encounter with God that could exist.

And it is one of the best that you can have, prior to judgment day.

The Encounter

I’m not going to rehash Adam and Even’s sin, most of us know the story, and they acted like most people.  You tell them not to doo something, and they do it.

Well, most people except Tom and Chuck.  They always do what they are told to do…
That is assuming they hear it.
So let’s start with the question God asks,

WHERE ARE YOU!!!

Adam, Eve?  Where are you?

Are you over here???  No.  What about here???  No… Hmmm, I wonder where they are!

Some people I know think that God is outraged, furious, storming all over the place.

I think this worked out more like a very concerned parent, but one that wants to care for His children.

He knows exactly where they are.  He knows what they’ve done, and that they are scared, that they feel guilty, they are buried in shame, and they even know what it means to be ashamed.

And He cries out with the care and compassion that is appropriate for God who is love,

Adam, Eve, where are you!?!?!

God’s Action

Every sermon I have written or heard on this passage focuses on what Adam and Even have done, and sometimes takes a theological side trip talking about who is to blame. But I think we need to look closer to God’s action.

First, He goes after them

Then, He gets to the basic issue, patiently brushing aside the blame game.

You ate… yes?

uh..uh.. yeah, but…

And what did you do,…

Uhh.. yeah I did, but I was deceived…

Despite their “explanations”, despite their trying to minimize what they did, despite all of their fears and anxieties, They knew the punishment now, and the idea of death was no longer a stranger. I would like to say I don’t know what they are going through, but been there, hiding from God.

Waiting for Him to tell me I was completely lost… completely beyond His forgiveness, beyond His love.

And as God shares the complications they invited into their own lives, the curses they chose, Includes something else.

What Luther called the first gospel ever preached, and it was preached at the Devil, “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”

By the way, that is why you see a snake in many of the old pictures of the crucifixion, for that is where Jesus crushes that snake, Satan.

And then, there is the second prophecy,

21  And the LORD God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.

The LORD God kills something, to cover the sins, that should have resulted in His killing Adam and Eve. He provides what is needed, and though there are consequences, the result is that they are still His children, they are still the ones He loves, that He will always care form that He always has…

So where are you?

So now I have a question, well, I don’t,

God does.

Here Him asking you “Where are you?”

Where are you?

What have YOU done?

Don’t worry about excuses, don’t worry about the name game,

Just respond, and hear this,

14  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 13:14 (NLT2)

Does that sound familiar?  God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. Animals had to die in order for the guilt and shame to be taken away.

He’s done the same thing with Jesus.  He died for one purpose, to ensure that the Father doesn’t have to cry out, “where are you?

And can instead cry out, “I love you!”

No longer do we have to hide, for we are beginning to know His love and compassion will find us, and the promise of forgiveness applied, even more surely than the promise was made and forgiveness applied to Adam and Eve.

This is what it means when we say in a couple of weeks, “Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!”

O wait, we aren’t supposed to say that… yet.

Too bad!

We need to hear it.

For sometimes still think we need to hide, sometimes we still think that guilt and shame are the norms.

No more my friends, for we have, in the midst of our sin, encountered a God who wouldn’t let us hide anymore!

He’s been calling, and the best thing you can do is listen, and hear Him say, I love you!

Then, as He carefully deals with your sin, you will realize this is one of the best encounters you will ever have in this life…

and His peace, a peace beyond comparison, a peace beyond all logic, will replace the guilt and shame… and you will realize you always have dwelt in His presence.  AMEN!

It’s All Useless! A sermon and another sermon in the service – based on Isaiah 49:1-7

Useless!  It’s All Useless! ??
Isaiah 49:1-7
† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!

The Feeling of Uselessness

There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.

But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard.  You wonder why you tried so hard,

And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.

There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.

It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.

to wonder why things aren’t getting better

to wonder if they ever will.

My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!

In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,

He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4

I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…

So how do we deal with this feeling?

Why does it exist?

First, we have to identify where it comes from.

The first is simple and often overlooked.

Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.

He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,

and through our lives.

You heard that! God does the work through us!

The second cause is our own sin,

When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.

You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.

When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.

What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,

5  After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6  I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)

That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth.  We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.

We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.

Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.

Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)

When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.

And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.

The Real Answer

The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.

Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)

That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.

He is God remember?  He is with us!  His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!

Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!”  Matthew 25:21NLT2

That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!

Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!

Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.

That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!

Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.

Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.

He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.

Conclusion

That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.

You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.

Sounds useless to me!

What value was it?  He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.

Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.

No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create

If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!

Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us…  or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us.  That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.

We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!

AMEN!

They Didn’t Know, but He Did!

They Didn’t Know,
But He did
Luke 23:27-43
† In Jesus Name †

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ help you to know that you will be with Him in paradise.

They Didn’t Know – 1 Cor. 2:8

I have a confession to make.

When it comes to politics, I am slightly… okay… mostly… apathetic!

I like to blame it on scripture, you know, passages like Psalm 146,

3  Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. Psalm 146:3 (NLT2)

Or Psalm 118

8  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. 9  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT2)

I mean –I can justify my apathy there, can’t I?

But if I am honest, it is because I have known a few politicians in my life, and I don’t understand them, or a system where what is popular is better than what is right by God’s standard.

I’ve even got one more passage that talks about people in power, one that nails their lack of knowledge clear. Paul tells the church in Corinth this,
7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8  But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (NLT2)

Jesus saw this as well, as he looked out on those who were crucifying them and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

They didn’t know what they were doing as they crucified Jesus, and what they really did not understand was that they were doing exactly what they needed him to do/

Hear that again, in their ignorance they did exactly what God wanted them to do, what He needed them to do.

They crucified Jesus.

He did

When Jesus forgives them, he does so with full knowledge.  Not just the experience of the crucial pain of the cross, but the full knowledge of why He was hanging there. To be able to say “you are forgiven”. To be able to say to us, as we realize the depth of our sin, rise, go in peace, your sins are forgiven, sin no more…. Only to be ready to tell that to us again the next time.

Presently I am reading Luther’s little pamphlet on meditating upon the cross. It is powerful, not just in the depth of walking us through the depths of our sin, but helping us realize the love of God that causes Jesus to volunteer to bear that pain. He chose it, knowing over and over from where the Triune God inspired the Old Testament, that He had to suffer and die!

Time and time he told the apostles it had to come about, that He had to die for them, that He had to die for us.

They didn’t see it coming, the leaders didn’t, the people didn’t, and Jesus died, which would have never happened if they truly understood and lived their lives knowing He was the Son of God..

And the thief realized it…

Only one man that day, dealing with the pain of his own sin, realized what Jesus being the Messiah meant. The man being crucified next him. 

Hear this man’s words again,

Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Do you realize how crazy this is to say?  How insane/

They are hanging there, on the cross, both about to die! To die! 

Hey Jesus, when this is over, can I be part of what you’ve got coming next?  Please?  I mean, really Jesus, and as he leans to speak to Jesus, the pain once again robs him of all His strength.

please..? Can you imagine the joy that comes from hearing Jesus response? 

I am not sure if he even heard the word, day….. or maybe the word paradise.

He heard what was in between though, “YOU will be with ME”

“You will be with me”

That is why Jesus came to the cross, to be able to say those words to that sinner.  To that man who spent his life doing what He shouldn’t do, and not doing what he should do.  The kings and leaders who crucified him didn’t know this was Jesus’ intent.  Neither did all the people who cried “Crucify Him” and mocked him.

By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, this man knew… and he heard the sweetest words.

Words that every sinner can hear.  Including you and I.

Jesus says, “you will be with ME!”

And as we hear that, all else fades away. 

The sin, the shame, the grief, the pain. The doubts, the anguish…. It all faded away faster than this man’s life was, for he hear Jesus’s words…

We need to hear that, even as we struggle with out own brokenness and apathy.  We need to realize that all things – – including Jesus dying for our sins, works out for good, so even the ignorance of kings and leaders can, as well.

“You will be with ME!”

You will be with ME!

We indeed are with Him!!  AMEN!

Let us pray….

Let us Ever Walk With Jesus! Walking with Jesus means Our faith grows! A sermon on Luke 17:1-10

Let us Ever Walk With Jesus!
Walking with Jesus means
Our faith grows!
Luke 17:1-10

In Jesus Name!

May the grace, the mercy and love God the Father and the Lord Jesus Chris show you, enable your dependence on them to grow strong as the Holy Spirit sustains you!

The oddest question (and perhaps craziest?  😊 )

The question the disciples ask in the Gospel reading today must be one of two things.  It must be ignorant, or if not, it is completely, without doubt, insane.

Let me explain the first.  If by “increase our faith” they are asking Jesus to increase their knowledge of the faith as in the doctrines and understanding of religious ordinances, then they are ignorant.

Faith is not our doctrine, faith is not a belief statement, or even all the teachings found in, or taken from scripture. Though we use the word as a noun in these days to describe what people believe doctrinally, it wasn’t so then. So if they were asking God to increase their knowledge of doctrine, of theology, then their question was simply ignorant.

But faith means to trust and depend on something or someone. Let’s say I decided during the week that there was too much dust on the lights up there. So, I decided to clean them myself. I would need to have faith in the ladder’s ability to hold me up, I would depend on it, and that the warning that it can only support 225 pounds was somehow… wrong.

So for the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith, what they are really asking is, “Lord, give us the opportunities to depend on You and nothing else”  Or to put it another way, “Lord, get rid of all the things that we can’t depend on in our life, so that we only depend on you!”

Any ideas of what you are asking God to take away there?

Any one ready to pray that? 

The challenges of Faith  – Sin in its various forms

If we look at why the disciples ask the question, you see there in the gospel the conversation that occurs before the question, and you see it deals with sin. Specifically, it talks about the sin we encourage in others, or passively encourage by not confronting it, by not rebuking it.

Talk about something that requires the greatest level of faith. 

I mean, how easy would it be for Bob to pull me aside and talk to me about my sin?  To confront it, to challenge it, to remind me that he can run with me to God, and it can be forgiven?

Or is it a lot easier for our deacon to simply say, “Well pastor is mostly a good guy, except for being a Pats fan, and he lets me have fun preaching and teaching, so I will just ignore the sins he committed, or the heresy he teaches, after all, he’s a good guy…”

How much faith would he need to depend on God to bring up the sin, and encourage me to seek God’s forgiveness?

And yet to not do so, to allow people to linger in sin, to give into temptation, to remained trap there, is sin for us.

So whether the sin is gossip or unrighteous anger, whether it is using God’s name in vain, or being jealous to the point where it dominates, we need to trust God enough to be the one God uses to start the redemption process, and the wisdom to listen to God as to what is necessary at this point in time.

You see, “rebuking” isn’t going up to people and wagging your finger in their face. It is working for the repentance and redemption that can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is placing a value on the sin – realizing something has to be done for the person, because of the damage sin will do!

Rebuking them is going to them in love, and caring for them enough to address the issue

The answer – recognizing the Master

So back to the question – how do we increase our faith? 

Jesus answer is, uhm… really?  If you had any…then…. everything is possible.

Not quite the answer I would expect from Him, really.

And then He goes into this parable about the servant and the master.  The Master gives instructions and the servant simply does it. It’s about that nasty word “obedience”. To do what we are supposed to do, because our master is here.

Or as we say it around here, “The Lord is with you!”

This isn’t doing what we are told to do, as Jesus leaves us on our own, it is our responding to His wisdom, to the fact He has responsibility over us, to ensure we get to be with the Father in heaven. It is listening to Him here, and now, hearing His concern for those who get caught in sin, or who are convinced what they are doing is right, because people of God haven’t confronted them.

It’s about faith and trusting and depending on the God who is here.  About talking to Him and hearing His voice.  About realizing His love for us is so complete that He won’t lead us astray.  

Depending on God is easier, when you know He is here, when you know He is in charge, when you realize that our Lord is the one who loves us.  When we realize He will make all things work for our good, even the tough stuff, then we are able to craft what He has called us to do…

Faith is found, not in your will, not in your strength, but in the fact of God’s presence in your life. You can trust Him, He is here, with you… you can depend on Him, He loves you and is working for your best.

Faith isn’t something that is increased, it is simply something realized… I can trust God, because He loves me!  AMEN!

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