Sunday, June 26, 2022

What Love Looks Like

 1 John 3:13-18

Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Sermon for 2-SAT                                                6/26/22

What Love Looks Like

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Once again our Epistle Lesson speaks to us about the topic of love.  Here we are again reminded about love for the brethren.   We are told that the one who does not love his brother abides in death – that is, they are not in Christ.  Then John tells us to love in deed and in truth.  Last week was all about love and loving, and so this week our Epistle tells us what that love looks like. So I invite you to consider with me that word of God from the pen of the beloved disciple with the theme, What Love Looks Like.

John writes a lot about love for the brethren, and loving your brother.   The first question, then, is, "Who is meant by ‘brother'?"  Is it our family members, or the population of the world around us, or what?

The answer is found by considering the world of John and of Jesus as the context for that command.  Jesus indicated that it was an "us" versus "them" world for Christians.  He told the Jews who refused to believe in Him that they did not believe in God either, and that they were not really "children" of Abraham.  In the world of the Apostles, it was still a divided world.  Christianity was illegal.  When one became a Christian, they frequently lost their family, they often lost their employment, and they were unceremoniously excluded from the common life of society around them.  The Church was their family.

It feels different today, but it is not.  The world still hates God, and hates anyone who stands with God in truth.  If the world smiles on a believer, it is only for a time, and only for the purpose of seducing him or her from the faith.  If you doubt what I am saying – which the Bible explicitly says over and over again – stand up in polite company, among the friends who do not share your church, or your doctrine, and speak boldly and clearly about the Lord's Supper, or Baptism, about their truth and power and importance, or speak about the vital importance of sound doctrine and see what happens.  They will tolerate you briefly, then try to silence you, then mock you, and finally, if you don't surrender and go back to being more broad-minded in your attitudes and words, meaning that you refuse to compromise what you believe and confess, they will reject you.  Sometimes, when it is in their power, they will persecute you.  You can be as kind and polite and diplomatic as you wish – God's truth still offends.  And standing clearly and firmly on God's truth will still make you a pariah, except among God's people.

A brother is still a fellow Christian – male or female.  We are all brothers in Christ.  The world wants us to take all of this love commanded by God and spend it on them.  They want us to make every person, no matter who or how distant from us in word and deed, in philosophy or religion, to be the intended target of this love.  They want our love aimed particularly at those who reject God, and are enduring life's hardships.  So, it is the murderer in our society whose life is so precious and tender that we cannot consider the God-established recompense for their crime.  Our nation's concern is for the murderous choice of a woman rather than the life of the child within her.  Capital punishment is considered to be too cruel and unusual for the most violent and deadly sociopaths.  But there is no public outcry on behalf of the victims of the murderer, or the collateral victims, the families of those who are brutally murdered.  Although homosexuality is a remarkably deadly behavior, our culture's concern is to preserve their right to an immoral lifestyle, and to find a medical miracle to remove the dangers from their corrupt behaviors.  The world clearly is still the implacable foe of Christ and His people and His values.

The words of John in our Epistle are meant for us, and aimed at teaching us how to treat one another.  First century Israel was shamed by the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus illustrated to them how little they loved one another.  It was the truth of the parable – the reality that those who were brothers in the flesh and those who should have been brothers by virtue of their religion did not love one another – that hurt them so.  Jesus painted a true picture – brother didn't love brother, and it was left to the Samaritan, the hated enemy, to show true love.  And religious affiliation, or public role and position of respect and authority did not change the basic problem.  Brother did not love brother with even the sort of decency which unbelievers would expect.

John tells us to expect that the world is our enemy, that the world hates us.  And the world is sometimes lurking within the visible church.  That is the way it is -- and if you don't think so, either you are not seeing reality clearly, or you are not one of those the world hates.  I am not judging anyone.  I am just telling you the way the Bible says it is.  All we have that we can count on in this world, aside from God Himself, is one another, fellow believers.

And John says that we can tell that we are numbered among the people of God by our love for the people of God.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  Then He tells us that if we have no love, we have no life.  He who does not love abides in death.  Now, with God there is only love or hate.  Either we love by what we do and how we value someone or we hate them.  Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah.  He has six children with Leah, so I suspect it wasn't the sort of hatred we might call "hate."  It was simply a prejudice, and one that Leah was not responsible for – or deserving of.  God said He loved Jacob and hated Esau – and yet He blessed both richly.  Once again it was preference, choice.  We are called on to love – to prefer and choose – one another.

John also addressed a temptation that the devil throws in among Christians -- the temptation to hatred of the brother.  This hatred is not simply a preference for someone else, but it is that common form of hatred that we all know so very well in this life.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  This is an active, evil will toward a brother.  This hatred is murder – not doing the deed, but desiring it.  We can hear it in the words hatred speaks, "I couldn't care less!"  "Drop Dead!" and, a favorite of those who hate, "I don't care whether you live or die, you're dead to me!"  Burning hatred and blind apathy toward the well-being of a brother is murder – maybe not the kind you go to prison for – but it is judged the same by God.

Christ gave us the example of love. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.  This is the school in which we learn what love is, and how it works: Jesus Christ, who loved us.  He chose us and loved us and died for us, even though we were still His enemies, and even though our fellows – people who thought and acted just like us – tortured Him and put Him to death on the cross.  He died for us to save us.  He took our sins and paid our penalty and bore our punishment all the way to the cross, and then to the tomb.  He bore the wrath of God against us – unlovable though we were and are, even by human standards.  Which one of us would live for someone who hated us and mocked us and injured us, let alone die for them?  But Jesus did, and by His stripes, we have been healed.  Because Jesus died for you, your sins have been forgiven, and God has poured out for you and on you the free gift of everlasting life and salvation!  That is our hope, and that is our joy, and that is our salvation, and that is our example!

We are expected to live up to it, as the children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, brethren by the grace of God.  So John writes, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  Jesus said that a greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.  Here we are challenged to lay down our lives for one another!

Of course, no one is asking us today to die for each other.  There have been places and times when that was needed, and expected.  Some did, and some failed the test.  There are places today where that price is the price of love, but not here, not now.  Now when we are challenged to lay down our lives for the brethren, it isn't dying for them that is being asked – it is living for them.  We are exhorted to live for each other, setting "me" aside and putting "you" first.  We are to set aside our values and our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, our irritations with one another and our peccadillos, and live for the other.

That means that my needs, and my desires and my plans do not come first – the brothers do.  That means that your needs, and your desires and your plans do not come first – the brothers do.  And who are the brothers?  The Church – in particular our congregation – Immanuel Lutheran Church of Bartlett Township, and each person in her.  They are more important than your plans.  They are more important than your comfort.  They are more important than your happiness.  And if they are not, something is wrong.  But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Love that doesn't act isn't really love.  We talked about that last week.  Love is a behavior more than it is an emotion.  It is an act of will before it is a feeling.  It is doing and saying and giving what is needed simply because we can see that it is needed.  Love is doing what is right, and in accord with holiness rather than what comes naturally, because sin comes naturally.  It means treating one another the way God would have us deal with one another, not just the way it feels satisfying to do it.  

It is love just like the love with which Jesus loved us, and gave Himself up for us.  If it isn't that sort of love, it isn't love, at least not what God means by love here, at all.  And your brothers here need more than just your money or worldly things – although some of them may also need that – they need your ear, your time, your compassion, and sometimes your patience and forgiveness.  The point is that you need to check in and check it out and see what each one that God has given you to love needs.  We are not talking wants, but needs.

True love is in deeds, not merely words.  True love spends itself, and its substance.  True love pays attention, and cares, and we can identify this love because it notices things and acts on them.  True love cannot simply come to church, and then go home and forget for the next 166 hours that the people of God exist.  It doesn't abandon the brethren over some imagined problem and go somewhere else where it is more comfortable.  These are your brothers.  Every single one in the room.  And John says that you love ‘em, or you hate ‘em, and He who does not love abides in death.  Look around you.  These are the people of your life, the ones God has given you to love.  More than your blood family or social friends, these are your true brothers and sisters in connection with Christ. 

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, June 20, 2022

Perfect Love

 1 John 4:16-21

And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Sermon for 1-SAT             6/19/22

Perfect Love

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Sometimes words simply fail us.  I know each of you has had that experience.  I am not speaking of those times when we have no words because something is too big or too striking or too emotional for us.  At those times all of our words fail us – they simply don't show up and give us the tools to express what is happening inside of us, or to describe what is happening outside of us.  The situation I am intending to describe is when we use words and they simply say too many other things, so that the words get in our way and fail to say what we want, or to convey reliably the ideas that we are thinking.

Our text this morning is a good illustration of what I mean.  Everything that John wanted to say is clearly expressed in our text, and yet, if I gave you all a quiz, with your Bibles open, and asked you to tell me what you read was saying, in this text, I would guess that most of you would probably read several words to be saying things that they are not intended to say.  Knowing Greek helps a little, because when the intended sense is clear in the Greek and not in the English, I would have an advantage, but even then, some of the words in this text simply fail us because they can be taken in a number of ways.  For example, John writes about "perfect love".  We could define that phrase in a number of ways.  But John only meant one thing - and so this morning we are going to parse the language - work on clarifying which meanings were intended.  Our theme is "Perfect Love".

In order to get at that, I am going to start with the verse just before our Epistle lesson begins, 1 John 4:15:  Whoever confesses Jesus is the Son of God – the Christian faith in its entirety is meant here – God abides in him and he in God.  That is actually the starting point for John, this morning.  Confessing Christ also means that God abides in you and you abide in God.  Then John goes on to discuss that we, believers, have come to know the Love of God for us - love seen on the cross in our redemption.  We know it, and we believe it.

Then John makes a genuinely radical statement: God is love.  He is talking about Agape Love, of course, a love of understanding and comprehension and compassion which puts itself ‘out there' on behalf of the ones that are loved.  God is all about us.  One theologian went as far as to say "God is all that He is, not for Himself, but for us."  That may be over-stating things in a way, but God does all that He does in love and for love - that is with us in mind and for our blessing and benefit, ultimately.  God is wholly just.  God is completely powerful.  God is as wise as can be, and God is love.  These are His attributes.  These are good things to know about God.  If you are dealing with God as a Christian, you are dealing with love – love for you and for fallen mankind.

John mentions this here to make the point that if anyone abides in God, that one abides in love, and love abides in him just as surely as God abides in him.  So, the one who confesses Christ, the believer, abides in love – agape love.  We live our lives in the self-giving love of God, and we are filled with this type of love, because God dwells with us and in us.  That also means that we become somewhat God-like in that we begin to live out the same sort of love that God lives out for us.  This is where John comes to talk about perfect love, or love being perfected in us.

Just as John did not mean affection - you know, liking someone or feeling all warm and squishy about someone when he spoke about love, he doesn't mean perfect in the sense of being without flaw.  Agape love is a love of concern, compassion, intelligence, and the desire for the welfare of the beloved.  Perfect love is love that has accomplished what it set out to do.  It is telios – that is the Greek word here for perfect – it means that this love has reached its goal.
John tells us, by inspiration, that the Love of God achieves its goal in us when we have no fear of the judgment, but rather confidence - and therefore no fear of death.  The goal of the love of God toward us is that we are saved, that we know that we have no reason for fear of death and hell, but that we know the realities of sin and forgiveness, and we trust in them - and trust in Him.  You may have notice that John doesn't talk here in the terms of the Apostle Paul so much, talking about sin and grace and forgiveness and the like.  He talks in terms of fear and love.  So the goal of the love of God is also the goal of the will of God and what is the will of God for you? [Our Salvation].

We do not fear the judgment because we are in His love and He is in us and we are just like Him - righteous by His gift, and fit for everlasting life.  Being filled with this love - being filled with God - is, if you remember the beginning of the sermon, consequence of the confession of Christ, that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for you and by His stripes you are healed.  John said that there is no fear in love because "perfect love cast out fear".  That doesn't mean flawless love, but love - the love of God - that has achieved its goal in you.  And that goal is faith and trust in God and in His love for you.  There is no fear in this love because we know the love of God and live in it, so we know that our lives are in His love - in the Gospel, if you will - and we cannot be frightened by judgment - and, therefore, our life must serve God's good and gracious will, and His good and gracious will must serve our life, or preserve it.

Now, that means that if  you are afraid of life or death or the judgment, you have not come to the goal of the love of God for you, but you are short of it.  That doesn't mean that you do not have the love of God or that He does not love you.  It means that you still need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and come to understand and believe all that the love of God means for your life.  That means you still need to look more deeply into the Gospel.  John speaks of this love in us by saying, We live in this love because He first loved us.

Now all of this love stuff brings about a result in us.  Since we are the recipients of God's love, and since by our faith in Christ, God dwells in us, we are filled with this love by virtue of being Christians.  Since it is not a love of mere emotion, it is not a feeling that suffuses us.  Many would-be Christians make that mistake.  It is comprehension and compassion and understanding and concern from us as it was those things for us by God.  And it is aimed at one another, our "brother".  Here, Brother is another one of those words that means a number of different things to us, but only means one thing here in John.  Our brother is our fellow believer, particularly our fellow member of the congregation - the church and family - in which the love of God has placed us.  Brother is one born of the same Father - God.  You remember, Jesus said it to Nicodemus in last Sunday's Gospel lesson, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the spirit is Spirit."

John says here that you must love your brother – one born of the same Father – because he is whom God has given you to love.  When you love your brother you are actually loving God, and when you love God you do it or show it by loving your brother.  This principle works itself out for us something like the Old Testament Law worked for them.  The one who feared and loved God also trusted in God, and so he or she would do what the Law instructed out of faithfulness even when it seemed easier, more profitable, or more enjoyable to do otherwise.  So, they would sacrifice, for example, even when it seemed inexpedient to do so, because they trusted God to make it all work out correctly, rather than trusting what seemed ‘best' to them, or what seemed to make sense at the moment.  Faith of the faithful followed God's will.

So, too, here.  We love our brother because of the love of God in us and for us.  We are compelled to be concerned - and intelligently so - for the welfare of our brother.   This has loving nothing to do with loving the unbeliever - whether that person is family, friend, or neighbor.  Those people are not your brother, because you have been born again and they have not.  You are of the household of God, and they are not.  If you want to be affectionately minded toward them, that is fine, and decent, and somewhat natural at times, but that is not what John is speaking of here.  He is speaking of your true brother and your true family in Christ, born of the same Father, born of the same love and filled with the same love as you.

He also says that you cannot love God while hating God's child.  If you claim to love God but do not love the one born of God, then you are simply lying.  You might think of this as a test of the truth of the statement that ‘I love God'.  The one who claims to love God but hates the one in whom God is present, standing before them, cannot actually love God.  They would love the person because they love God who fills them.  And remember, in the realm of this New Testament language, there is only love and hate.  There is no middle ground.  To not love is to hate.  John makes this teaching, that you must love the one born of God, if you love God, explicit in the verse just following our Epistle lesson.  The very next verse, Chapter 5, verse 1,  says, "Whoever loves the Father loves the one born of Him."

Here is where the Gospel lesson for today fits rather nicely.  The Gospel is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  The rich man demonstrated that he was not one of God's people by callously ignoring Lazarus, whose name is a code for a Child of God: "Whom God helps".  The rich man did not care for one who should have been his brother, proving that he, the rich man, was not a brother to one who was beloved of God.  He was not filled with love, and it did not achieve its goal in him, and therefore he had a great deal to fear from the judgment.  As we know, the state of each man at the end had nothing to do with their prior earthly condition of blessing or want.  It had to do with their relationship with God.  By his name, Lazarus clearly stood with God, and by his conduct the rich man clearly did not.  "Whoever loves the Father loves the one born of Him."  And,  the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

John says,  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  By faith in Christ and love for God you are doing the commandment - and you love the ones who are also in connection with God and His love.  You must because if you don't love your brother, John has already said that you cannot love God - so you must be fulfilling the commandment by genuine faith in Christ.  So why would John list the commandment here?  Because it is not a matter of emotion only but of your mind and of your will, He encourages you to be deliberate about loving one another - loving your brother.  That is why he says, "should".

We each need that love of the brother.  We need that encouragement.  You have been placed here in this place and among these fellow believers for this purpose.  We cannot sense the love of God, we can only hear about it in the cross of Jesus Christ.  We can, however, feel the troubles of life, and sense the fears and the pressures of life.  It is in the face of these things - and the temptations of the world and the false teaching of those who oppose Christ, that we need the encouragement from one another.  And so God has given me to you and you to me and to one another to do that encouraging, so that we might stand in perfect love - the love of God that has accomplished its goal in us, so that we are not filled with any fear by the coming of the judgment, but confident in Christ and encouraged all the more by one another.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Knowing God


Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 6/12/22

Knowing God

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I think one of the most exciting passages of Scripture to consider is our Epistle lesson this morning. It asks a question that the prophet Isaiah originally asked in pondering the greatness of God. The question does not appear in Isaiah in our English translations because the quote is actually from the Greek translation in which it appears which was pretty commonly used in the Jewish world at the time of the Apostles, the Septuagint, from Isaiah 40:13. But the question is a good one - who understands God? Who has known Him? Isaiah goes on to ask a number of penetrating questions about creation, to demonstrate how incomprehensible God is, when we consider His work and this world.

But, in one very important sense, the answer to the question is us! Because God has chosen to reveal Himself, His nature, and His will to us, we can lay claim to knowing God - not in His fulness, for that is beyond our finite frame, but we know Him in a way no other people know Him. Christians have His nature and His will revealed to them, and because He also dwells in us by virtue of the Holy Spirit who has been given to each one that believes, we also have the ability to understand His own revelation and believe it. Our theme this morning is knowing God.

We know God. Others guess, and sometimes their guesses are close to the truth, but usually they imagine God to be uncaring or absent or too far away to make a difference. They imagine that whatever one says about God is good enough. The line of reasoning seems to be that being God, He is so huge and has so much on His plate that He cannot be troubled by us mere humans. He doesn't care what we think of Him. He has no way of tracking each of us. He is pleased if we even bother to think about Him.

We have all encountered theologians of this type. They don't seem to be theologians because they have no intention of being theologians, but they hold forth on God and His nature and His identity as though they know something when they do not. These are Aunt Harriet and Uncle Clyde theologians, the man who works in the same office or buys coffee at the same coffee-shop theologians. They boldly assert that God is like this, or God would not consider doing that. "My God would not blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." "I have no time for a God who would do such a thing!" "God wants us to do this or tolerate that or cause this and that to happen!"

Trouble is, their pronouncements have no foundation outside of their own emotions or prejudices. There is no Scripture that asserts what they say, and there are typically plenty that directly contradict them. And God says He wants to be known for who He is. That is His name, after all! "I am who I am." The fact that He doesn't strike down every person who says something stupid about Him doesn't mean that He doesn't care, it means that He cares about them enough to give them space to grow and learn.

Also, the fact that there are so many wrong ideas about God floating about, and many having so many followers doesn't mean that no one can possibly know, either! It means that the Bible is right. Scriptures say that we hate God by nature. It tells us that there is a devil out there messing with us, trying to keep us from knowing the truth about God. God desires that we know Him, and understand Him and trust in Him. From Old to New Testament, that is the message: Isaiah 65:1, "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name." Up to the New Testament, 1 Timothy 2:4, "God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

God wants to be known and has revealed Himself. He insists on being known for who He is in truth and what He is like. Anything else is a false God, an idol, something that doesn't really exist, except in the minds of sinful men who are fleeing from the One who does exist. He tells us all about Himself as identification. What you say about God and what you believe about God is significant for your life and for eternity. It doesn't change God, but it can shape your relationship with Him – or determine whether you actually have one or not. Jesus told us that: John 8:31-32, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Several times, the Apostles refer to Christians simply as those who "know the truth".

We call what we know about God a mystery. It is, in the sense that it is something we would never have reasoned our way to. It is the inner nature of God as He is, not something observable from the outside. God had to reveal it to us Himself. The Church coined a unique word for this unique revelation: God is a Trinity, which is a noun, or Triune, which is an adjective. The word itself is not from the Bible, but the Latin words for three and for one pressed together into one word to encapsulate the revelation that God is Three Persons in One Divine Being or essence. Having said that, we have just scratched the surface. We have already read, this morning, what is arguably the best description or definition of God's nature in the Athanasian Creed. We can talk about God, but even as we do, we don't clearly understand how it works – or how He works. And that is okay.

God should be somewhat beyond our complete comprehension. Nevertheless, He tells us this much, more than we can actually process in our brains, as a form of identification. This, complex and somewhat confusing as it is, is the real deal. Anything simple and direct, something that makes perfect sense to us, is a counterfeit. God want us to know Him, and trust Him, For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images." Remember, the word translated "LORD" is the name of God, "I am who I am", abbreviated into one word. That is also the basis for God's authority and relationship to the people of Israel - I am the Lord! It is the reality of who He is that is the foundation for His glory and His authority. He speaks and we listen because He is the Lord. That title is a relationship, one that we honor when we speak of Jesus Christ as Lord.

The relationship of the Old Testament was built on the Lord being who He is, and on all that He had done for His chosen people. It was a relationship of choice and grace and love, on the one side, and faith and fear and receiving on the other. Today, in Jesus Christ, we see the fulness of the nature of God more clearly, but the relationship is still one of grace and love from God and by God. Only, today, we can see the depth of that love so much more clearly. We do not know God as the One who thunders at the top of a mountain and causes plagues to force others to set us free, or causes manna to appear on the ground each morning. We know Him as a loving heavenly Father, who sent His Son to become one of us and share in what it is to be human and the troubles of this world. The Father sent the Son to live without sin and earn what we did not and could not, and then to die as we have earned and deserved, taking our place in death and under the righteous judgment of God against sin and the sinner.

Our knowledge of God is the knowledge of the cross and the empty tomb, of forgiveness of sins, and the free gift of eternal life to all that believe. We know Him through the work of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who has given us the Word and faith and hope and brings us the grace of God in Word and Sacrament. That is God as we meet Him here in His Word and in His Worship. We understand that God has the entire universe to run, but He has shown us that He is not too great or grand or busy to humble Himself to be born of a virgin and walk the earth as a man, to redeem us from our sins and rescue us for life in glory with Him.

Some people suggest that God has bigger fish to fry, and cannot be paying attention to each of us. But think about that. We humble humans can develop systems to track millions upon millions of cell phones and digital devices and to monitor them and see who is talking terrorism and who is plotting crimes, but somehow we imagine God cannot be up to the task of looking down on each one of us, caring for us and guiding us and listening to our prayers and answering? Talk about human arrogance! We can do it, but God cannot?

God has spoken to us through the Scriptures and explained Himself and His will to us. And what is His will for us? [our salvation]

God is, by His nature, so much more complex than we can even conceive. But He tells us about it so that we will not be deceived by those who want an imitation that is simple and housebroken and stands in the corner and waits for us to acknowledge Him. That is the role of an idol. The God who reveals Himself in Scripture is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Triune. He has His eyes on us, and His heart is filled with compassion and love for us. He also has a plan for us, each one of us. That plan is, like God, infinitely complex and beyond our tracing out at times, but He has revealed that it is good and for our welfare and salvation.

In broad outlines, I can tell you that it is His will that you trust Him, and keep in the front of your mind at all times that He is with you and will preserve you. Then He would have you live your life in the light of that confidence and in connection with those whom He has called to faith by the preaching of His Word. You can identify that group by looking around you when in worship. It is possible that one or another of your fellow members is not sincere in their confession, but that is not our job to discern. God will do that. We are called to love one another and serve each other and encourage one another in the faith. We are to help each other walk in a manner worthy of the high calling which is ours in Christ Jesus.

And we are to be open, and up front about knowing God. We know Him as He is: loving, forgiving, attentive to us and present among us, three persons in One divine essence, and listening to our prayers. Our lives are not out of control, just out of our control. He is always leading and shaping and guiding us. What we are living in and living through is not always going to make sense to us, but it does to God - and He would have us trust in Him and walk by faith, and be faithful and steadfast in Him. We just need to remember that our lives are about Him, just as His life was all about us!

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)