Sunday, July 23, 2023

You Shall Surely Die

 Genesis 2:7-17

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.  And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there.  And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush.  And the name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."

Sermon for 7th Sunday after Trinity                   7/23/23

You Shall Surely Die

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever been around a curious child?  A little child asks "Why?"  They are new to the world and most things are curious to them – they want to know why.  Why is the sky blue?  Why does Grandpa have hair growing out of his ears?  Why is Mommy crying so much, Grandma has just gone to live with Jesus?  Why is sauerkraut so sour?

And when you answer a child's question, you usually get another "Why?" in response – wanting to know why what you have just said in response to their first question is so.  Adam doesn't ask the question in our text, but it seems like a fair question to me.  God places Adam in the Garden of Eden, and then He tells Adam that if he eats of a certain specific tree, he will die.  To his credit, Adam did not ask the question.  We want to look at it this morning, however.  Our theme is "You Shall Surely Die."

Our Old Testament lesson this morning is the account of the creation of Adam.  This is before Eve comes on the scene.  There is the story of Adam's creation, the planting of the Garden of Eden, and the command concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The part about the planting of the Garden is historical information, but it does us no good.  We cannot find the Garden.  We cannot find it, because it isn't there any longer.  The geographical data is from before the flood of Noah, when there was just one continent.

How do I know?  The description of the placement of the Garden tells me.  The river that flows out of the garden splits into four rivers which flow to or around various lands – and the lands named are not all on the same continent today.  I don't know for sure where Havilah is, but the river once known as Pishon which our text says flows around it, is today called the Ganges – the river in India.  The Gihon flows around Cush, which is modern day Ethiopia, which means that the Gihon would be the Nile, and the Nile does not flow around Ethiopia.  The Tigris and the Euphrates are also known rivers today, except that the Tigris in Eden flows to the east of Assyria, and the Tigris we know today flows on the west side of Assyria.  In short, these rivers, which all have their origin in Eden, identify rivers and places on three continents today, and they do not all share a common source today, as they did in the times of Eden, when the Bible tells us there was only one continent, and only one sea.  It would appear that the flood of Noah changed the earth's geography significantly, and scrubbed the Garden of Eden off the face of the globe.

So the part of this account that tells us something we can use today is the part which describes Adam's unique creation, and sets before Adam the command of God, coupled with the warning that on the day that he would eat of the forbidden tree, he would surely die.

God created Adam in a unique way.  All other creations were simply "spoken" into existence.  God planned them with almost unimaginable wisdom, intelligence, and complexity, and yet when they were created, the creation is spoken of as merely "saying" "let there be . . .", and they sprang into existence according to the wisdom and plan of God.  Man alone is spoken of as being "formed" by God.  How He did it, and precisely what the differences are, we cannot say with certainty.  The human body shares a great many design features with other creatures.  That makes sense.  If you build it to live in the same environment, and eat the same sorts of foods, you can use similar design features.  Why "re-invent the wheel" each time, so to speak?

Man's creation, however, was different, by design.  God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the "breath of life", and man became "a living soul."  The word for "breath" is also the word for "spirit."  God gave man unique physical attributes, and unique mental abilities, and then He gave man a spirit, and man became more than just an animal.  He became a living soul.  It is not said in this Scripture, but it is spoken in other places; the spirit in man is eternal.  The "living soul"part of this is the eternal part of man – the part that either lives forever, or dies forever.  It is in connection with the soul that the flesh of man was to live forever, because God had created man to be both flesh and spirit.

The warning about eating from the forbidden tree spoke about the life and the death of the spirit.  The death of the body was incidental.  It is absolutely sure, but it is connected to the spirit.  God did not say, "if you eat of it, your flesh will die."  The living soul – which was comprised of that marvelous body and the spirit of the man – would die.  And since the spirit is eternal, the death would be eternal also – not just dead and gone like the road-kill we pass every day, but eternal death.  Scriptures have taught us that this eternal death is what we call hell - torment and suffering of body and spirit, and complete and final and lasting separation from God, who is the Source and Fountain of Life.

The will of God towards man was good and was about life and communion - some sort of sharing and conversation together.  Look at the Garden!  It was filled with beauty and food, readily and freely available.  "And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food."  Sin is mankind's rejection of God.  God told Adam what would happen.  I don't think the tree had an intrinsic quality that gave the knowledge.  It was the Word and command of God.  When Adam avoided the tree, he knew by personal experience what "Good" was and what it was to be good.  When he ate from the tree, he learned what evil was, and what it was to be evil, and so the tree gave him the knowledge of both – filling in the blank of the one he had not known.

In a sense, Adam's sin was unbelief.  God warned him about the tree, but Adam ate anyhow, not trusting God or believing His Word.  As unbelief always does, it caused sin.  The lack of trust in God and in God's Word caused Adam to perform a sinful act.  Our sins are also the products of unbelief -- fruits, if you will.  We don't trust God in our lives, so we steal, or we lie, or we gossip.  Perhaps we don't trust God to take care of us.  Perhaps we don't trust God to work good and blessing in every situation.  Some situations are hurtful and frightening and we don't trust God to deal with it in a satisfactory way.  We don't trust God to be good to us or have a good will toward us, as He says that He does.  So, we take control.  We do what we should not do, or say things that we know we ought not to say.  The result of our unbelief is, as it was with Adam, sin.

When we sin, we are rejecting God in favor our ourselves or someone else.  When we reject God in sin, we step away from that Fountain and Source of life.  That is why You Shall Surely Die.  Sin breaks the connection between the sinner and Life itself.  It doesn't break the chain of existence, however.  That is why we face an eternity of death, of "fire and brimstone", according to Jesus, "of weeping and gnashing of teeth", "where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED."

Sin does that.  My sin does that.  Your sin does that.  If you end your time in this world and this life in sin, you shall surely die.  Your death in that case is not the one we observe here, with weeping and funerals and such.  It is the one God has warned us about, when all flesh shall rise from the grave, and bodies and souls re-united shall go to their final and eternal reward.  And we have no power to stop it, or to turn ourselves away from it.  It is like trying to resist tasting that delight when you are on a diet – only far worse, far less possible.  We cannot even cry out for help effectively by our own powers.

That is why the Gospel is so precious!  Without the Gospel, you shall surely die.  God understood that all along.  He warned Adam about it.  Now that we have all sinned, and each one of us personally deserves to die and face that eternal death, about which God warned us when He warned Adam.  The wages of sin is death.  Praise God, our Epistle lesson did not end with those words, nor does God's Word to us end there!

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The will of God is still good towards us, and His will is for us to live , just as it was with Adam.  Since we have sold ourselves into death by sin, God redeemed us, literally bought us back again, by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  He who is Life bore our sins to the cross and endured our death for us.  Now, to all those who know the truth and trust God and believe the promises of forgiveness and resurrection and life everlasting, God pours out all of those blessings.  Once again, it is life for those who believe God and take Him at His Word.  Forgiveness and life and salvation have been won for all people everywhere, but it is received and possessed only by those who believe.  It is by grace through faith.

And just as God gave Adam all sorts of good things in the Garden, He gives us good things here and now.  He has given us His Word, to teach us and through which He works within us.  He has given us one another to love, and to support and encourage one another.  He has given us this holy Meal.  Here He feeds us with the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He hides those very real treasures under the form of the bread and wine, but it is by the power of His Word and command that they are really there!  It is just as it was in the garden.  The fruit of the forbidden tree did not look deadly.  Adam could not see the danger and death that lurked beneath the form of the fruit.  And we cannot see the life and health and forgiveness and blessing that lie hidden by the forms of the bread and wine, but it is the Word and promise of God that those blessings are there, forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting!

Without those two blessings, you shall surely die.  But we are never without those blessings with the Gospel!  God gives them to us in our Baptism.  He pours out His grace upon us in the absolution -- and in the sermon.  He feeds us with the bread of life, as Jesus fed the four thousand in our Gospel lesson this morning.  Over and over again, God pours out grace and forgiveness and life and salvation upon those who believe.

Adam faced a unique choice.  He was holy and alive for eternity – unless he chose to turn away from God and walk in that place where God had warned him, and eat the fruit which God had promised on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.  You, too, are holy, by the gift of God in Christ Jesus.  You, too, shall live forever – unless you also make the choice of Adam, to walk where God has forbidden, and to eat of those "fruits" about which God's Word tells us that if we partake, you shall surely die.  

Come, let us walk together in love, and let us eat together this holy meal!

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

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Love Is a Verb

 Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  

"You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.  

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.   Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.   For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

"You shall not murder.

"You shall not commit adultery.

"You shall not steal.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house;

"you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Trinity                                              7/16/23

Love Is a Verb

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When I was a young pastor, one of the first really surprising and helpful things I remember learning from another pastor was that the Ten Commandments are not actually called "Commandments" in the original language.  The word for "commandment" in Hebrew is "mitzvah", like in "bar-mitzvah", the "son of the commandments" ceremony that we have heard of.  The word used in connection with what we call the "Ten Commandments" – used in every case throughout the Old Testament, is "dabar" which means "a word".  "The Ten Commandments" are really "The Ten Words".

Now, don't let that fool you.  If God says it, it is true.  If God says, "This is the way you are to behave," He doesn't have to call it a "commandment", it still is a command.  I just found it refreshing to think of the Ten Commandments as something other than mere orders which we were to follow.

Then I discovered that the Ten Commandments were not so much about legal obedience as they were about love.  Did you hear it in verse 6?   It is part of what we Lutherans call "The Close of the Commandments," even though it appears in the Bible just after the First Commandment.  Blame it on Luther and his Small Catechism.  In verse 6, God says, "but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."  There we see it.  The commandments are not about rules, so much, as about love.  Our theme, as we examine this text in this light, is "Love is a Verb."

The Commandments are all about love.  They talk about what it means to love God and to love your neighbor.  The first three, or four or five or six – it depends on how you number them – speak about love for God specifically.  We are never sure of how to number these ‘commandments' because the Bible calls them the "Ten Commandments" and yet they are not numbered, and there are twelve or thirteen "Thou shalt's" in the Ten Commandments.  But the first three, as we Lutherans number them, tell us how to love God, or what the love of God looks like.

That's another thing.  Most people are not used to talking about what "love" looks like.  Americans have gotten used to talking about love as a feeling.  You don't see feelings, you feel them.  But in the Bible, love is not a feeling, it is an action, or at least it demonstrates itself in actions.  Love is a Verb.  You DO love.  Love that is not seen acting in love is not real.

The first three commandments describe how love toward God works – or how it looks.  You can read these commandments as de-scriptive rather than pre -scriptive.  Then they would read something like this;

Since you are My people, and I am your God

#1.  You will have no other Gods, and
#2.  You will not be taking my name in vain, or using it as if I did not exist, or hear you, and
#3.  You will always remember My Sabbath, My day of rest, and keep it holy, separate and treat it as precious and unique, for My sake.

The obvious implication is that where we see those actions, we are seeing the love of God, and, one might assume, those who love God.  Conversely, where those behaviors are missing we are not looking at those who have the true God as their God.  Love for God is something that you do, not merely something you think – or feel.  Love results in behaviors.  It does things, and makes you do things.  It is a verb.

The last seven commandments talk about love for God from a different perspective.  They talk about love for God as it demonstrates itself in our love for, or toward, our neighbors.  You can really only love God and serve Him by loving those God has given to you to love – that is, the people placed about you in the world – and serving them.  The Apostle John said as much in his first epistle, chapter 4,verses 20-21, 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.

So, the next commandments tell us about loving God by loving one another.  With the sense of the commandments slightly expanded by Luther's descriptions in the Catechism, the last seven "Words" would read something like this: Because you are my people, and love me:

#4.  You will honor your father and mother, for they are my gift to you and they stand in your life in my stead, and
#5.  You simply will not murder each other, or permit yourself to hate one another, and
#6.  You will not violate the marriage bed, or misuse the my gift to you of the delight and pleasure of sexuality, and,
#7.  You will not be taking from one another what I have give to each of you, but will be satisfied with the blessings with which I have blessed each of you, and
#8.  You will not lie about each other, or speak evil of one another, or gossip about one another, and
#9.  You will not long for or lust after the property I have given to another, and
#10.  You will not long for, or try to obtain the people and servants and animals I have given to your neighbor.

Doing any of the things described (or "forbidden") is not love - not love for the neighbor, and not love toward God.  Even when we speak of forgiveness, we acknowledge that these descriptions are true.  Those who behave as unbelievers and pagans are not loving God.  We are not loving God when we sin.  Once we have confessed our sins and received forgiveness, the Law is still true.  We cannot turn around and begin doing these proscribed things again, or keep doing any of them even while we ask God to forgive us, without demonstrating by our behaviors that we do not love God - or our neighbor, nor care one whit what God wants or thinks.  

But then it is not the doing of the deed that is so damaging when we sin against the commandments.  What is so powerful and destructive is what it means about our love for God and our relationship with Him as His people.  Remember, He says that this is what love looks like – that if we are His people, these are the sorts of things that love for God works in us.  The contrary is also true – if we live in contradiction to these "Words" then the love of God does not abide in us.  If we do not live the sort of lives that show love for God, then we necessarily show contempt for Him and hatred, because in God's eyes, you either love Him or you despise Him.  There is no middle position.

Frankly, these descriptions are terrifying!  I don't know about you, but I do not live up to the love of God.  My life reflects way too much sin, and self-love.  I take comfort in the word in verse 6, "showing lovingkindness to those who love me."  Those words remind me of what God has done for me in Jesus Christ.  His steadfast lovingkindness has caused Him to send His Son into the world to rescue me – and you!  Jesus took all of my failures, all of my self-love, and all of my outright wickedness - to the cross.  He nailed them there forever in His flesh, and died, paying the full penalty of my sins – and yours.  When God the Father raised Jesus from the grave, He was declaring by action that our sins have been paid for and fully forgiven – just as Jesus declared it in words, when He said, "It is finished!"

This lovingkindness is for those who love Him — those who take Him at His Word and trust in His grace and forgiveness for Christ's sake.  That is also something that you do when you love God,  . . . faith.  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith."  But this salvation, this redemption, this forgiveness does not invalidate the Ten Words of God.  They are still true.  They still describe the people of God.  For those who know the secret of God's lovingkindness, the "Ten Words" no longer have the power to condemn us, but they are still true.  God's people still love Him in action – and, indeed, all the more.  They love Him in how they deal with Him, and His name, and His Word and worship.   In other words, Love is a Verb.

Those who love God also love Him by how they love their neighbor.  You cannot really love God while you are dealing with your neighbor in ways that deny love. 

You see, the Commandments are not so much about rules, especially for us, the people of God who stand in His grace and love.  Jesus has taken sin and the Law out of the equation of salvation by fulfilling all things for us.  But the Law is still true.  And love is not just a feeling.  It is not all locked up in your heart.  If there is love, it shows.  It acts.  You see, love is a verb!.

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

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Where Is God?

 1 Kings 19:11-14, 18

So He said, "Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the LORD."  And behold, the LORD was passing by!  And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.  And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.  And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword.  And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." . . .  And the LORD said to him, "I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."  

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Trinity                                             7/09/23

Where Is God?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our text this morning is just five of the 10 verses of the Old Testament Lesson.  So He said, "Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the LORD."And behold, the LORD was passing by!  And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.  And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.  And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword.  And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."  And the LORD said to him, "I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."  

What we want to consider from our Old Testament lesson this morning is the angst of Elijah, the answer of God, and what God reveals about Himself and where He is and what He knows about our troubles.  Our theme, this morning, is Where is God?

Elijah is an amazing prophet.  God did things through Elijah that would take your breath away!  This account comes right after the trial between the prophets of Baal and Elijah.  He prayed and God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering of Elijah, proving that He – and not the Baals – was the true God.  The Elijah commanded that the people kill the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of the Asherah, the fertility goddesses, 850 people in all.  They did that because the law of Israel commanded that the false prophet should die.

Then Elijah ended a three-year drought by prayer, and outran the chariot of Ahab back to Jezreel in a feat of God-given prophetic activity.  Of course, when Jezebel heard about the death of her favorite prophets, she promised Elijah that she would settle for nothing less than his immediate death.  So, Elijah ran for his life.

He ran a day's worth out into the wilderness, and collapsed of exhaustion.  God fed him miraculously, and the text says that Elijah ran in the strength of that food for forty days all they way to Horeb - Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God.  That is where our text picks up.  Elijah is complaining to God that his lot is hard, and his enemies are powerful and they seek to kill him.  Our text repeats his complaint.

The Word of the Lord comes to Elijah and tells him to stand outside of the cave and face God!  This is all amazing stuff!  I have no idea how the word of the Lord came to Elijah or what it was like.  The Bible doesn't give us that information.  It came, Elijah knew what it was, and Elijah obeyed.  The Bible says that the Lord was passing by.  Elijah stood there and a powerful wind blew.  It was so terrible that it broke rocks and tore up the landscape.  But God was not in that powerful wind.  Then there was an earthquake – but God was not present in the earthquake.  He caused it, but it wasn't the sign of His presence.  Then there was a terrible fire.  God often used fire, but He wasn't in the fire this time, either.

Then there was the sound of a gentle breeze blowing.  Elijah heard this gentle sound and knew by his prophetic vision that God was present in that still, small voice of the breeze, gently blowing.  Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, knowing that sinful man cannot come face to face with the holy God and live, and he stepped out to present his case before the Lord.  

Just as the blessings poured out on Elijah, and wonders worked through him, were great, so were his troubles.  All of God's prophets were gone.  He alone was standing for the Lord in an openly pagan nation.  Now the queen of Israel had promised to put him to death.

Elijah felt defeated and hopeless.  We might think that it was odd, considering the miracles God worked through him, but we need to remember the threats and dangers he faced, too.  He obviously felt alone.  He felt exposed.  He felt in danger.  He ran to find God.  In his time of need, it would be reasonable for him to find God in the powerful things – the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.  But that is not where he found God.  He found God in the sound of the gentle blowing of the breeze.  The power of the Almighty God was concealed in the seeming weakness of the gentle breeze.

We also need to remember that God's power is not necessarily evident in the big things, nor does His favor reveal itself in how well we are doing, or how comfortable things get, or how many people are with us.  The evidence of God's favor and love for us is the cross of Jesus Christ.  It was on the cross that God demonstrated His love by taking our guilt and shame and nailing it to the cross forever.  When Jesus rose from the grave, He demonstrated the truth of our forgiveness, and showed us both the power of God and the depth of His love for us.  Your sins have been forgiven!  God has poured out on each of us that believe His promise: the free gift of eternal life.  Actually He has poured it out on all men and women everywhere, but it can only be grasped and possessed by faith – by trusting God to deal with us as He has promised to deal with us for the sake of Jesus Christ.

When Elijah ran to God's holy mountain, God asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  He didn't ask because He did not know.  God had refreshed Elijah, and sustained him for the journey to the mountain.  No, the question was asked for Elijah, that Elijah could pour out his heart and his troubles, and then God could remind him that he was never alone.  God is always with His people, and He knows who His people are.

In the entire nation of Israel, several million people I would guess, there were only seven thousand who were truly God's people.  They were the ones who had not turned to idolatry.  They had not bowed to Baal – that means to worship him or pray to him – nor had they kissed him – another worship practice, showing devotion to the Baal.  In modern terms, they had not given up their confession, trusted expedience over God's truth, or given in to the temptation to be more "relevant", modern, or effective.

That's what the Baals stood for, you know.  They were fertility gods.  The Baals were the popular deities of the day.  They were fun to worship, and absolutely no one, but a few stuck-in-the-muds like Elijah, saw anything wrong with them, or spending their time and energy on them, or casually worshiping them.  It was the "in-thing" to do.  Many people probably did it without thinking much about it.  They couldn't see the harm.  They weren't really serious about it.  And everyone was doing it.

But God knew.  It was idolatry.  It was unfaithfulness.  It was the first commandment.  It made a difference with God.  Out of the whole nation, just 7,000.  Those were God's people.  The rest were not.  Bad news for the rest.  But good news (of a sort) for Elijah.  It meant that Elijah, who felt all alone, was not!  God was with him, and aware of his troubles, and protecting Him – and there were 7,000 others who were with Elijah.  They all felt alone.  They were a small and insignificant minority – insignificant to everyone but God, and one another.  And God had a plan.

So, we are Lutherans.  We are old-fashioned, confessional Lutherans.  We are not up-to-date.  We are not all modern and with it.  We still use the liturgy, still preach God's Word pretty plainly.  We sing antique hymns of the faith instead of modern "praise songs".  We cling to the ancient Christian practice of "closed communion."  And there are a lot of Lutherans, not to mention all the other Christian denominations, that don't still do what we do, and preach what we preach.  They are modern.  They are fun, or at least entertaining.  Women preachers, homosexual pastors, extra-marital sexual encounters, and open communion fellowship with just about anyone who wants to come are all the rage in the other churches.  Our kind of Lutheran is rare today, even in the Missouri Synod.  We take a lot of criticism and mocking – and sometimes some downright persecution.

God still knows.  God is still with His people.  God still knows who is faithful and who is not, and which people have kissed the Baals of our age and which ones have not.  He knows those who are His and He knows those who are not.  And God still has a plan.

We do not need to run to the mountain of the Lord.  We are the mountain of the Lord.  We don't need to go anywhere to find God, but to His Word.  And God is still asking us, "What are you doing here? " He isn't asking because He doesn't know, and He isn't asking to accuse you of anything.  He is asking to invite you to pray, to pour out your heart to Him, and then to hear that He has you in His sight, He loves you, and He has saved you and forgiven you and given eternal life to you.  He has a plan, and you are not alone.  God is with you, and all those other faithful people of God, many of them Lutherans, but certainly not all of them.  God knows those who are His and who trust in Him alone

Where is God?  He is in His Word, and in the Sacrament.  He is in His holy people.   He is here today – and in the midst of all those who call upon Him in humble faith.  Therefore, fear not!  God is not in the trappings of power or success.  He is hidden in the seeming weakness of His Word, of His Sacraments, and of the humble-looking groups of those who faithfully call upon Him.  He is hidden in the humility of Jesus and the apparent weakness of the cross.  But the weakness is only an appearance.  He is still the Almighty God, who has a plan, and that plan is our salvation!

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