Sunday, November 26, 2023

Looking Forward to Heaven

 Isaiah 65:17-25

"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing, And her people for gladness.  I will also rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying.  No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Shall be thought accursed.  And they shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build, and another inhabit, They shall not plant, and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity; For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them.  It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain," says the LORD.

Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year                        11/26/23

Looking Forward to Heaven

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

How would you describe the color of the sunset to a man born blind?  How would describe the delight of your favorite piece of music to a person who was deaf from birth?  The challenge in either situation is that the words we might choose to convey a concept would have no meaning.  Our references would have no correlation in the experience of the person to whom we are speaking.  Without vision, color is a meaningless word.  Blue is not cool, or berry flavored.  It is blue - but if someone has never seen anything, and has no experience of color or light, the words we could use to describe the sunset, or even just the single color of "blue" would be as empty of meaning to them as the incoherent babbling of an infant is to us.

That little exercise in imagination was to help you understand the difficulty confronting the Prophet as he tries to put into words the heavenly realities pictured for us in our text.  Now, Isaiah had help, great help.  God was inspiring him.  Still, the task exceeds the power of language to accomplish with any clarity.  God is describing heaven here, but He must use symbols and images that we can understand to describe a place that is largely unlike anything we have ever experienced.  This morning, through the words of Isaiah, and along with him, we will be looking forward to heaven.

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year, and so we are looking forward to the end of the world.  The odd thing about such forward glances, is that we are living at the very end of the world, so some of what the text describes is already, and some of it is not yet, because it looks past the end of this world and into the next.

It gets more difficult than that – and more delightful.  Most of what our text says applies both now and in heaven, after the end of the world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  What we discover, as we consider the Word of God, is that we are in heaven already!  It just doesn't feel like heaven, does it?  Nor does it look like heaven.  It looks like Bartlett Township.   But right now, for us, heaven is not a geographical place, entirely.  Heaven is where God is, and where His people are, and where His Word is preached and the heavenly gifts of God are handed out – gifts like Holy Baptism, the Holy Absolution, and the Lord's Supper.  So, heaven is in the Church.

Look closely at the text.  Gods talks about rejoicing in Jerusalem.  The Jerusalem He rejoices in is the Church.  We who believe in Him, we are what God rejoices in.  He doesn't rejoice in our sins, and our quarrels.  He rejoices in our faith, and in our belonging to Him.  He rejoices in His people that they can and do accomplish holy deeds, and work the works which He has planned for us.  They shall not labor in vain, He says.  That is just like the promise He speaks about His Word, which He promises will accomplish what He spoke it to do!

He also has a wonderful promise here about prayer. "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear."  This promise is for us, right here and right now.  God will answer your prayers.  He will answer according to His wisdom - and power - and our need – so that we may pray, and God will answer even as we pray, and may begin to answer even before the words are out of our mouths.

The reason that it is hard to distinguish between heaven to come and heaven right now is that the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything!  The old world ended and a new one began on that day.  Our sins were forgiven, and the Law of God was fulfilled for us.  Now the question of salvation, of where we will spend eternity, does not rest in our behavior, or on our accomplishing a standard of righteousness, or our repaying God for our sins, as in penance.  It is the gift of God, according to Ephesians 2:8.

Now God deals with us differently.  Jesus said it would be so; "Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name.  Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.  In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."

Now God is dealing with us as special, because we are His people through Jesus Christ.  He is blessing us, and He is guiding us, and He is using us to accomplish His work here on earth.  He favors us because we are His.  He loves us because we believe in Him and in His Son.  So, all of these promises of blessing are true right now to one degree or another.  This is heaven - particularly here, and now, in the fellowship of the saints, gathered to hear the Word of God and to receive His gifts!

Of course, then there is Heaven -- the one that is a geographical place.  This passage also points our hearts and minds forward to that new world which will follow this one, when Jesus returns.  God is urging us to expect that day soon, just as He does through the Gospel parable of the Ten Virgins awaiting the Bridegroom, and as He does in the Epistle, in which Paul warns us to be on the lookout for that day, which is coming like a thief in the night!  We are to be looking forward to heaven.

It is in describing the realities of the coming age that Isaiah needs all of the pictures, and none of them do it justice.  First, God tells us that there will be a new place.  It will be a planet, and a universe - new heavens and a new earth.  When it comes, the sorrows and the troubles of the past will be forgotten.  Those who wonder how they will feel about their family and friends who do not join them in heaven can find comfort here – "the former things will not be remembered or come to mind."  We will not know, nor sorrow.  All of God's people will be there, and it will be right and seem right to us.

All of the language about the youth dying at the age of one hundred and such is just a way of describing the incredible length of life in eternity with God.  What they called youth, we call teen-agers.  The prophet is picturing life so long that living what seemed to be almost unimaginably long in their time was just a short life.  That's talking about eternal life, when you begin to sing "We've only just begun to live" at one hundred years of age.

The promise is that in this new earth, "There will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying."  There will be no sorrow.  The New Jerusalem is for rejoicing!  Infant mortality will be gone.  I don't know if there will be any child-bearing in heaven.  The Bible is silent about that.  But in this world, babies dying is a major cause of pain and sorrow – and it won't happen there.  Nothing will make us cry.  Nothing will interrupt our joy!

It sounds like this "new heavens and new earth" will be a place of productive labor.  We won't just sit around on clouds, strumming harps.  We won't be laying on cushions and eating delicacies all of the time.  We will be doing stuff.  God created us to participate in His creation, to manage and to develop and to garden and to shepherd and to build.  So, I suspect we will be doing so there.  Our text says so.  "And they shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall also plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build, and another inhabit, they shall not plant, and another eat; for as the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My chosen ones shall wear out the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, and their descendants with them."

This is where prophecy gets tricky.  How much of this stuff is picture language, and how much is just what it seems?  It seems we will build.   It is clear that there will be no war, no stealing.  The evils that befall men in this world will not be there.  In these verses we are reminded again of the long life of the people of God who will be there.  You will outlive trees.  You will wear out the things you make - buildings and such.  And in heaven, I doubt that planned obsolescence will be part of the manufacturing strategy.  Some of the promises speak of descendants and offspring.  I am uncertain if there will be children born in heaven.  In the resurrection, Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:30, there is no marrying or giving in marriage, but [that we] are like the angels in heaven.  So, when the prophet writes about our descendants and offspring, he may be writing about those we have here, who follow us there.

In any case, it is a good place to go - and a wonderful promise.  A promise of immediate communication with God.  He will hear and answer our prayers there, too, only more immediately and more readily perceived by us there than here.  And peace shall be the rule.  Even the creatures of the wild will be calmed, and there will be no violence or death.  Lions will eat hay like cattle.  Wolves will graze next to rather than upon the lambs.  The powerful will not hurt or take advantage of the helpless.  The serpent will be no danger to anything anywhere.  The Serpent also points our minds to the great serpent, Satan.  He will be of no danger to anyone either.

Of course, we know that already.  He has been destroyed, robbed of all his power already by Jesus.  All of these wonderful promises, eternal life and happiness and peace and joy and contentment, all of these promises are because of the cross of Jesus, and guaranteed to us by Him.  He has won the battle.  He has paid the price!  He has done all that needed to be done, and made us His people, and pours out all of these riches for us.  Your sins, whatever they may be, are forgiven.  That doesn't mean that they were okay, or inconsequential.  It means that Jesus has been punished for them already, so that you don't have to be.  "Go, and sin no more."  That's how Jesus put it to the woman caught in adultery.  It is the faithful response to hearing the Gospel, that your sins have been forgiven.

Because of the cross you have been cleansed of guilt and sin by Jesus.  He has made you to be one of His holy people.  He makes these promises, and tells you what lies ahead, so that you will be always looking forward to heaven.  It is not an "iffy" proposition.  It is a sure thing for all those who trust in Jesus Christ.  They are the ones referred to in our text, this morning, as "My people" and "those blessed by the Lord."  You, you are the people God meant in this text, who he calls "My chosen ones."

These promises, Old Testament and New, are for you.  They are repeated so frequently in the Bible so that you will know that God has not forgotten, and that the promises are real, legit, valid, and that God will do them.  God knows that life is hard, and that we walk by faith, and not by how things seem.  That is what faith is about, and, frankly, life hurts often.  God wants us to know what good things He has prepared for us, so that we do not lose heart, and so that we are always looking forward to heaven.

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

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Let Us Give Thanks!

 Lamentations 3:22-25

The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day 11/23/23

Let Us Give Thanks

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our nation pauses once each year to celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. On the face of it, it sounds like a good idea – but it is religiously somewhat silly. We are to be a people of thanksgiving. Every day is Thanksgiving day for the child of God. We are instructed in Scripture to give thanks always, to thank God with all our prayers, to rejoice with thanksgiving, and to praise God for all His blessings – both temporal and spiritual. Simply setting aside a single day is unthinkable.

Then there is the question of encouraging everyone to thank whatever deity they might worship. It seems as though on this one day we pretend as a nation that all Gods are real, or all gods are equivalent, or all gods are the same God, which seems to me to be a denial of our faith.

Of course, most people don t think that way, and, frankly, most people don't really take the time to give thanks. Our nation has made this the holiday of parades and football games. Many people limit their thanksgiving to the table prayer at the big meal if they think to do it there. It makes one wonder if many people forget even to say grace before their meals in general.

So why do we celebrate this day? Because we have so much to give thanks for! Plus, we, of all people, will not be seen as those who do not care to thank God, for we know better than most who God is, what it is that God has done for us, and how richly He has blessed us! I mean, if those who do not know God and His love will pause for a moment on this day to offer some sort of thanksgiving to the air, we who do know God will surely take time to worship Him in the holy assembly of the saints, and to gather as His holy priesthood to pay our debt of thanksgiving in public – where the whole world may see how God's people truly give thanks!

Our text speaks about God's goodness and faithfulness, but it really doesn't say anything about giving thanks. You will notice that the text doesn't even use the word "Thanks," "thanksgiving," or even the word "praise." Nonetheless, it actually describes real Thanksgiving. And our theme, this morning, is, Let Us Give Thanks.

The verse that describes genuine thanksgiving is verse 24. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." Those few words tell us how to give God thanks. We give God thanks by confessing Him and trusting in Him.

The Lord is my portion, says my soul. That is confession. It is a confession of faith that sees the Lord as the Giver of every good. He is where our riches have come from – and we are rich, even if you don t feel that way. Many people in the world have only the clothing they wear. When they flee as refugees, they can carry all their belongings in their arms or in a cart which they can pull. We cannot. And very few of us have ever had to flee as refugees.

Most people in the world today do not own houses. Most cannot afford a car. Only a minority can have a telephone in their home, a color TV, or even a radio. Most of the world cannot go to the grocery store and buy the incredible variety of foods that we take for granted. When they can get food, they have to disinfect it and worry that it is safe to eat.

We grumble about health care costs and the inconvenience we face, but the vast majority of humanity cannot see a doctor, let alone go to a modern hospital, have expensive and extensive tests, and receive elegant and effective treatments for various aliments which were fatal even in our nation just a generation ago. Oh, how richly God has blessed us.

But best of all are the blessings you cannot stockpile in your pantry or save up in your bank accounts. We have the knowledge of the love and goodwill of God for us. Most of us have grown up in the presence of the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We have weekly services in which we can rehearse His great goodness His desire to save us, and the salvation which He has won for us.

Because God loves you so much, He sent His Son into the world to be a man. Because of His great compassion, He placed His Son under the burden of the Law – with the same promise of eternal life if He kept it, and the same – and to us more familiar – curse that if He should sin, He would die both physically and eternally. He desired our good and our salvation so much that Jesus never surrendered to temptation – and He faced it more directly than we, and more subtly than we have. He kept the Law and kept Himself pure and holy.

And because God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son to die in our place, to take on our sins and be punished for them. "He became sin for us, who knew no sin of His own, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." He paid the price, and now He declares that we are forgiven, freed from the punishment and penalty of our sins, removed from the power of sin to threaten and the power of the Law to force and coerce our behavior.

To those who know these truths and believe that God did these things, and raised Jesus from the dead, and who trust God to do the wonderful things He has promised to do because of Jesus, to them God gives eternal life and salvation. And every little bit of all of these blessings comes to us because of the goodwill and the overwhelming love that God has for us.

So, yes, the Lord is my portion! He is the one sure thing in this world. His love is proven over and over again in the furnace of affliction and shines forth in the sheer wonder of His gift. How can we help but confess such a good God and such a rich and giving Father? How can we do anything but thank Him? Let us give thanks! And the truest thanksgiving we can give is to know Him as He reveals Himself in His Word, and confess out loud, not just in church but in my daily life that the Lord is my portion, and I owe all that I have and all that I am to Him!

How sad it is to consider how few of those who claim to know Him take the time on Thanksgiving to gather with His saints to worship Him and demonstrate by their worship that the Lord is truly their portion. The nation, an institution that cannot be Christian, can set the day aside to give thanks, but the people of God often cannot be bothered. How can His children treat Him so?

But thanks be to God you are here! You have come to lift up His name and cry aloud, as our text says, that the Lord is your portion. So, that you have the opportunity once this day to say it, please say it out loud, "The Lord is my portion, says my soul."

He is the Giver of all things, and the One who watches over our lives to rescue us, therefore I have hope in Him. It is because we know of His love and particularly because we know about Jesus and all that Jesus has done for us and won for us that I have hope. Let us give thanks!

— * —

Your heavenly Father will not fail you. He will not let you slip and fall from Him. He will bless and keep you. How do I know? I look at what He has done already. Then, I remember how deep and consistent His love has been. Finally, I remember His promises.

We can give God no greater thanks than to have hope in Him. I place my trust in Him and I look at all of my life through His grace. How can illness or trouble really hurt us if God is on our side? How can our adversaries triumph over us if God is with us? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Obviously, no one can. God has given us everlasting life, and He tells us of His forgiveness even before we can understand our need. In our troubles, God comforts us with the promise that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that He will reveal to us and in us through Jesus Christ. When we are grieving, God promises a day of resurrection filled with profound joy that will outweigh all of the sorrows you may feel.

In sickness, He tells you that it is not for your death, even if this body should die. He assures us that it is not His anger that we feel, even in when we experience pain and weakness, but the power of the enemy which He has overcome for you. We will live with Him eternally.

He also says that He knows that we cannot see or feel the reality of these truths today, but He calls on you to trust His love and His promises – not blindly, but with the cross of Jesus Christ in full view.

In the day of trouble, He tells us that we can dare to trust Him. He will rescue, and He will provide. He has a plan for each of us that cannot fail, and it is a plan for our welfare and our blessing. Therefore we can give Him thanks no more clearly than to fix our hope completely in Him. Faith is the real thanksgiving, a faith that speaks about what God has done and which lives in complete confidence in Him.

That is what God desires for us and in us. He wants us to "fear not", but rather to trust in Him. How can we thank God more sincerely than to live in His promises, and face the life He has given to each one of us to live with the confidence that He has already saved us, that He does love us, and that your life and your times are in His hands for good and not for evil?

And so the real thanksgiving is not simply a table prayer before we eat until we cannot move without pain, although the prayer is a part of it. It is not simply coming to church, although that is surely appropriate as a part of it. Our real thanksgiving is faith which finds hope in our troubles and sicknesses and comfort in our sorrows in God's promises and blessings. Therefore, let us give thanks with both lip and life. Let us speak boldly of His love, openly praise Him for His blessings, and let us live in his good and saving will deliberately and consciously.

It is true, you know, what the Prophet said, The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. So we will wait for Him, and seek Him in prayer, and always give thanks for all His mercy and goodness!

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

Sunday, November 19, 2023

How Dare You Not Trust God?

 Isaiah 51:9-16

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.  Was it not Thou who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?  Was it not Thou who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?  So the ransomed of the LORD will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion; and everlasting joy will be on their heads.  They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

"I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, And of the son of man who is made like grass; that you have forgotten the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, as he makes ready to destroy?  But where is the fury of the oppressor?

"The exile will soon be set free, and will not die in the dungeon, nor will his bread be lacking.  For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name).  And I have put My words in your mouth, and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'"

Sermon for The Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year                   11/19/23

How Dare You Not Trust God?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the most intimidating phrases in the English language, and probably in any language, is the phrase "How dare you!?".  It is challenge at the most fundamental level, and it carries with it the implicit accusation of wrong doing.  It is simply powerful.

Unless, of course, the one so challenged has a reasonable and fit reply.  "I dare, because . . .".  When the power of "how dare you," is released, the answer that what I have dared is good and right and proper adds power to the one challenged, and hurls the challenge back at the challenger, even when it remains unspoken.  There is nothing quite as intimidating as the challenge, and nothing quite as satisfying as the fit response.  To challenge makes one feel powerful, and rightly so.  To have that challenge properly answered humbles one in a unique and remarkable way.

Our text this morning is God speaking that challenge to us.  In Isaiah's day, it was aimed at the people of God caught in fear about what was happening around them and to them, and their failing faith.  We will ignore that because they are gone, and their circumstances are gone, and frankly we couldn't understand them from our place in history and our staggering wealth and comfort today.  The challenge of the text is never aimed at someone else, it is always aimed at those who hear it, and so, today it is aimed at you.  Our sermon theme paraphrases the challenge of God to His people – "How dare you not trust God?".

God didn't say it just like that, He asked, Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies?  Who are you that you dare to be afraid in the presence of God?  How dare you not trust God?

You might be thinking, "Who says we don't trust God?" The answer, of course, is, you do.  Some of you say it right out loud.  "We can't trust God to deal with this . . .  or with that."  Some of you say it by stating that you are worried about this or that.  Most of you simply say it by how you live, and by your stewardship of what God has given you – time, talents, and, of course, money.  You live as though God won't take care of you.  You act as though it was all up to you, or the stock market, or your doctors.

You fear.  You worry.  You live in the midst of the greatest blessings ever enjoyed by man on earth, among the more prosperous half of those people, and yet you are afraid, worried, not confident that God will take care of you, or your family, or His Church.  You need to prepare, scheme, plot, plan, manipulate and message things to make sure you will be okay, that things will go just right, and in the process, you say by your conduct that you don't trust God.

Some of you may be thinking that Pastor Fish is simply taking advantage of his position and using the pulpit to beat up on you.  That is simply not true.  When I prepared for this sermon, I recognized that this text spoke to some of you, but it spoke even more to me.  I did not choose this text – it is the Old Testament Lesson for the day, chosen centuries ago by the Church.  If you doubt that, turn to page 160 in The Lutheran Hymnal, and check what the appointed lesson for the 24th Sunday after Trinity is – Isaiah 51:9-16.

More to the point, however, is that this lesson hits me first.  Many of you are aware of the division in our congregation, of which our newly elected president spoke so eloquently at the Voters' Meeting and in his recent article in the newsletter.  You are probably aware that once again it is a controversy over the pastor.  Honestly, I have to tell you that the circumstance are frightening for me, and stressful.

So I read this text and I hear God asking me, the pastor, "How dare you not trust God?"!  "I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, And of the son of man who is made like grass; that you have forgotten the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, as he makes ready to destroy?  But where is the fury of the oppressor?"

That is what fear and worry in the presence of God does, it turns away from God, and fails to trust in Him – and when are we not in the presence of God??

God says the same sort of things in other places – for example Psalm 56, or Psalm 118, which says, "The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?" or Psalm 27, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?"  Or Psalm 46, "God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea."

It is fundamental to our faith to trust God.  The First Commandment, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  We start with God - and there should be nothing we fear as much as much as we fear His wrath, and there should be nothing that we fear more than we trust God.

So, my fears and anxieties accuse me.  And so I preach this sermon to me.  Actually, I preach most of my sermons to me – it is just that we are alike so often, you and I.  We are sinners.  We have the same sorts of problems with God and His Word.  We face many of the same sorts of temptations, so that when I preach to me, you think I am preaching to you.  Well, this morning I am not.  I am preaching in your presence, but I am preaching at me

How dare you not trust God?  Who is greater than God?  The answer, of course, is "No one."  There are few who can see how these words apply directly to them as easily as I can.  God says, "And I have put My words in your mouth, and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people."  I am the one that God has called here to proclaim this wonderful truth -- you are God's people, all of you who trust in Him.  Throughout this text, God reminds us of our blessings as part of that which should make us confident in His protection, and we in America live in the midst of blessings unheard of and unimagined even just a couple of generations ago.  How dare we not trust God?

Our Gospel lesson reminds us of the power God for our good.  The Gospel tells us about two healings - the woman healed from a long illness (12 years of bleeding) and the raising from death of the daughter of the Synagogue Official.  Our God has all the power He needs to meet each and every need we may have, and to cure any illness, and to stop any trouble in its tracks.  How can we fear anything with God on our side, unless we do not trust God to take care of us, and to work His good and gracious will for us.

But our Epistle lesson reminds us that God has already worked His good and gracious will for us.  The Epistle speaks of us being qualified for the inheritance of the saints in light by God,  and being delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His Son.  It also talks about being strengthened with all power according to the might of God.  How dare we not trust God?

Not only has God created the world - and most of us are pretty pleased with what God has done - but God has also called us His own people.  "You are My people."  That is what God has called me to say.  There are people on earth who are not His people, by their own choice.  They are Moslems, or they are Jews, or they are Hindu's, or they are Buddhists, or they are just unbelievers.  But all of these others are pagans, living in the active rejection of God, or of His truth, and of His marvelous grace and love.  They are not His people, but you are!

He has purchased you at a terrible price – the life and death of His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Look at the cross!  It wasn't counted as too much for God to pay to redeem you from your sins, and give you eternal life.  So now, by His doing, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."  He has claimed us and made us His own, and strengthens us with all of His power to be His holy people in this world.
That doesn't mean that life is going to be just the way we want it.  It means that life is going to be just the way God causes it to be for us, and four those around us.  It is going to be as God knows it needs to be for our blessing and for the success of the work which God would work through us.  After all, we already have the victory, as long as we remain in Him.  Faith is the hand that receives God's promises.  Unbelief finds nothing but death and sorrow.  So, how dare you not trust God?

Of course, when we think about it, not one of us wants to fail in our confidence in God.  The problem is that life and its pains and its temptations are so real that we sometimes forget, and fail to remember God.  "Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, And of the son of man who is made like grass; that you have forgotten the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; that you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, as he makes ready to destroy?  But where is the fury of the oppressor?"

God tells it like it is.  We have forgotten Him and His power and His love for us in the face of the pressures of the moment – whether those pressures be the "oppressor" or they are just the needs of the moment, and the things our culture has taught us to want – or to fear.  But fear is about what we think might happen, and what could potentially come.  God has proven Himself by what has actually happened, and by what we have already seen and received.  The question, "But where is the fury of the oppressor?", really asks us to remember that what we fear is future and not real, yet.  What we have hope in, the God we trust, is real.  He has already proven Himself – in creating this world, on the cross of our salvation, and in all of our abundant blessings that we enjoy from day to day.

We have the victory in Christ.  It was given to us in our Baptism.  It is strengthened in us in Holy Communion.  It is ours today, even though we cannot feel it or taste it today.  But when we remember what God has done already, and when we consider His great power which He uses on our behalf, and when we call to mind the wonderful promises that He has made to us for Christ's sake, Who are you that you are afraid?  In other words, How dare you not trust God?

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

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Gotta Get Me Some!

 Proverbs 8:11-22

"For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her.
"I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly. I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.

"The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old."

Sermon for Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity 11/12/23

Gotta Get Me Some

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Once again, our text is from Proverbs. Once again, the topic of the text is "Wisdom". Solomon, the wisest man of his time, and reputed to be the wisest man that ever lived, had a great deal to say about wisdom. But these words are not just Solomon's. They are the Word of God, and we believe that they are inspired for us to read and consider. When I read these words about the great value and the wonderful advantages of wisdom, the one thought that strikes me is, I want some. So our theme this morning is, "Gotta Get Me Some."

The first thing that we want to remember is the Psalm (111:10) (and Proverbs 9:10) which says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Job 28:28 says that the fear of the Lord IS wisdom, and Proverbs 15:33 says that the fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom. So, when we begin to talk about wisdom, we must understand that the entire discussion, in the Bible, is in the light of faith. There is no wisdom outside of faith, as far as the Bible is concerned.

"God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise." "The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men." These are truths taught to us by the Bible, so, when Solomon writes about wisdom, we must first know that he is speaking about a wisdom that is grounded in the knowledge of God and trust in Him. The exhortations to wisdom are really exhortations to faith and to life lived in the conscious exercise of faith.

What a wonderful treasure wisdom is! "For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things can not compare with her." Many people would differ from Solomon on this point. Lots of people prefer wealth and jewels and good stuff! Solomon is writing from the perspective, however, of a man who possesses both. He is king. He has wealth and glory that was world-renowned. When the Queen of Sheba came to see Solomon, she said that she had come to see if all that she had heard about his wealth and glory were true, so expansive were the tales, and that she had not even heard the half of it! When Solomon said that Jewels and wealth and all desirable things did not compare to wisdom, he knew what he was talking about from personal experience. I do not seem destined to have great wealth so when it comes to something I can get, and something that is better than wealth, I gotta get me some!

""I, wisdom, dwell with prudence." Prudence is sound judgment. Prudence is caution and circumspection. It means living life with all of the realities of life around us taken into account. Prudence means careful management. These are good things to have. I want my life to make sense in the context in which I live it. I want to do the right things, and I don't want to go around creating havoc - and I am sure that most of you feel pretty much the same way. I want to be prudent. Of course to be prudent, I need to know what is going on around me, and Solomon says that with wisdom, one find(s) knowledge and discretion. I gotta get me some!

I want to know. I want to know what is real and what is not. I want to know and understand how things work. I want to know the secrets of life - how to work, how to be happy, and how to make it work for me! Wisdom does that! Wisdom – beginning with faith – opens up reality, and teaches us that what we see is not always real. Boy, isn't that important in our day and age? We can fake pictures. We can make a movie or a video of someone doing something that cannot be done, in places that they have never been. Someone recently released a Beatles recording that no Beatle participated in, and it sounded authentic. There has never been a time when you could believe what you saw, or what you heard, or what you read as little as you can today. I want to know the truth, so that I can be discreet - so that I can act carefully and do what is proper and appropriate in each circumstance and situation.

And doesn't Jesus say that if we continue faithfully in His Word, that we shall know the truth? And doesn't He say that this truth shall set us free? This is what wisdom promises to those who seek her, and who cling to her. So how do we find wisdom? How do we identify wisdom when we meet her?

Solomon tells us, by God's own inspiration, that "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil." Since the fear of the Lord is wisdom, wisdom is to hate evil! Where we see holiness and the rejection of evil, we are dealing with or facing wisdom. Where we see evil practiced, we can be clear that there is no wisdom - and therefore also no fear of the Lord. But specifically, what should we be on the lookout for?

Solomon wrote, in our text, the judgment of God: "Pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate." Pride and arrogance is when someone takes themselves too seriously. It is easy to do, and people around you will usually recognize it before you do. It is easy to assume that because of age and life's experience and success in past endeavors we are smarter, more capable, and have a better grasp on things than we really do. It is all too easy, and quite natural, to forget that all of our success and wealth and every good thing is from God and by His giving and choosing, not by our own native intelligence or ability.

The Evil way is whenever we speak or act in ways that God has forbidden, or in ways that deny Him and His place in our lives. It is listed in the text this way because pride and arrogance usually lead to the evil way. One of the temptations we all face daily is to be wiser than God in our own estimate and to know a better way to do things than God's own way. That is where the perverted mouth comes in so often. We say things we should not say. We say things to the wrong people. We do not bring our troubles to ones with whom we have the problem, so very often, but we tell our friends, and those we know might be sympathetic to our pains and frustrations. These things have nothing to do with wisdom, however. At least not with this godly wisdom.

Godly wisdom brings direction, clarity, and understanding. That is what Solomon is writing about when he writes, " Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding." Knowing God, knowing His will for us, and His love for us, and trusting God helps us make sense of things, even the difficult and painful things. It gives us the authority to live our lives boldly and confidently. Solomon writes, "Power is mine."

Now Solomon did not mean simply the power of a life lived confidently in the grace of God and in faith – but that's a pretty good thing! He actually meant the sort of power that kings exercise. "By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly." But take note that it is not merely that they rule, but that they rule wisely, they decree justice, and they judge rightly. In other words, this wisdom, founded in the fear of the Lord, enables leaders to lead well. We have only to look at our world and its crazy leaders, and the violence and destruction so many of them spawn, to see that ruling without this wisdom is not just or profitable, or admirable to anyone.

Then God says something, through the pen of Solomon, that is really important: "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me." What that tells us is that this wisdom is not hard to find, nor is it locked up somewhere for only the few. It is the wisdom of faith, after all. Already in Old Testament times, God is telling us that those who seek it will find it.

It is the word, "diligently," that should catch our eye, however. Many people take a stab at finding it, but they are content with a counterfeit. They are happy with a religion that doesn't quite trust God, nor listen to His Word with any care. They often proceed on the basis of the Law, and not the Gospel, or apply principles of the business world where the principles of faith and of the Word of God are more fitting.

But if you are diligent about your search for God's wisdom, if you aren't willing to settle for counterfeits and imitations, God will show it to you. God's promise is that if we seek Him, He will show Himself to us. He will send the Missionary. He will send the pastor. He will cause His Word to be preached in its truth and purity. If we listen, He will pour out that wisdom of which our text speaks. If we resist His Word and merely tolerate it in our churches, we will miss that wisdom.

And that wisdom is grounded in the Gospel. God says, "I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice." That righteousness is the righteousness which is by grace through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ, and His death on the cross. The justice is that our sins have been punished, and so, when God forgives us, He doesn't simply pretend we did not sin. He forgives us because the atonement has been accomplished, the redemption price has been paid, and our sins have been covered by the death of Jesus Christ.

That is why He inspired Solomon to write, "Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than choicest silver." What is greater wealth than everlasting life?? Jesus said it, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8:35-37) There is no greater wealth than salvation. But salvation is like an investment in the stock market. It doesn't necessarily look so good, or have much value day to day. It has its greatest value at maturity – it is when you need resurrection and life eternal that salvation will deliver its true worth! That is why I say, I gotta get me some! It may be the only sort of wealth I may ever know.

And this has been the plan of God from eternity. The New Testament says that God made this plan, and chose us from the foundation of the world — that is, from before He started creating. Here He reveals it in the Old Testament, and tell us here, by the pen of Solomon, that this plan, this "Wisdom" has been in His mind and in His heart from eternity. "The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old." The verse just before our text begins the thought of our text, and provides us with a good summary – "Take instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold, for wisdom is better than jewels." This is true wealth, true wisdom, and life eternal in Jesus Christ. Every child of God shares the goal of our sermon theme, I gotta get me some!

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

Sunday, November 05, 2023

What Does God Require?

 Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high?  Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?  Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Sermon for Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity                    11/05/23

What Does God Require?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Guilt is a monster.  When we feel guilty, we will do almost anything to assuage our sense of guilt and feel better.  That is part of the problem in so many broken homes, today.  One parent, or maybe both, feels guilty for what the division of their family is doing to their children, so they try to make up for it.  Now, I am not saying that they maybe shouldn't feel guilty about what they are doing, and what their decisions in life are working in the lives of those around them – and not just the children!  But the response is frequently wrong.

Too often, parents coddle a child who needs discipline.  They create an atmosphere around the child, particularly if the parent is the non-custodial parent, that injures the child by too much pampering, too much patience with wrong-doing, with too little normal life and too much of living every day as an exception to the rules.  It does something to the minds of the poor children.  Plus, many divorced parents continue their battle through the children, saying things to their kids, or in their presence, that children should not have to hear – about themselves, about the other parent, about the dissolution of the family.  Guilt makes people do really unfortunate things, at times.

We all stand guilty before God.  Guilt will work on us and our relationship to God and to everyone around us who is connected to us and to our relationship to God.  Once we believe that we are guilty, our hearts cry out with the words of our sermon theme, "What Does God Require?"

Our reactions to guilt are as varied as our personalities.  I am going to assume that each of you here is guilty, and knows it.  I know that you are guilty, and I assume that each of you senses that guilt to one degree or another, for one sin or another – probably many more than one sin.  I assume that you are aware of your guilt because you are here.  This is the guilt place - where we learn of it, and where we learn what to do about it.  If you have no guilt, admit no guilt, and sense no guilt, then you do not belong here.  Your presence here, among us sinners, marks you as a hypocrite!  It means that you are here pretending, for some reason, what the rest of us are sincere about.

Now, I didn't say that you all felt guilty.  I was careful not to say that.  Some of you know that you are guilty, but you don't feel it.  When I preach the law, and it strikes too close to home, you are the ones who get angry.  You know that you are a sinner, but you have quieted the feeling of it down, or learned to ignore it.  You can sense it, but you just don't want to.  That is just one response to guilt.

Some of you may not want to be made aware of your guilt because you intend to continue in your sinning, and you don't want the guilt to stop you until you have accomplished everything you aim to do.  Businessmen who are doing something under-handed – or under the table – are often like that.  They want to "do the deal" or make a lot of money, or simply don't want to acknowledge what they know to be true about the way they do, or their company does business.  So they deny it to themselves, they block the sense of guilt out, and they chafe mightily when someone, like me, brings their guilt into sharp focus.

Adulterers are often like this.  They want to believe that they are still Christian, that their circumstances are utterly unique, and that they are not guilty.  Gossips are the same.  Everyone knows the pain of being gossiped about, lied about.  But Gossips pretend that what they are doing is NEWS, that they are just speaking the truth, and that somehow, in their case, the evil of Gossip, listed in Romans one as several steps below homosexuality in the list of sin and corruption there, is a good thing, and that their wickedness is justified and holy.  Pretty much anyone who wants to do what they know is wrong and evil will try to bury their sense of right and wrong, and ignore their own awareness of guilt.

But guilt will come to the fore, if not now, then later.  Guilt is a monster.  It is like a living thing, and once it has its teeth in you, it is almost impossible to shake.  So, eventually all Christians – and many who are not Christian, and never become Christian – find themselves facing the question of our text, "what does the LORD require of you?"  It is uncomfortable to face that question, but it is the best thing in the world, if you face it honestly, and listen to God's own answer.  Our text does little more than ask the question, particularly the way our guilty souls ask it, and then gives the godly answer.

Micah approaches the question like this, "With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high?"  

How . can . I . face . God?  

How can I go to church and worship, as guilty as I am?  Then Micah explores the normal responses of the guilty human heart, "Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves?"  This is the first answer.  Shall I just go to church?  If I am really sincere, and if I do everything that my religion says I should, and if I pour myself into the worship service, then I will feel better.  Human experience, and the Word of God, teach us that this is not enough, and we will not feel any better.  Nor will our guilt be assuaged.  Micah says, "Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil?"  These are rhetorical questions – questions that the writer assumes the reader will answer in a specific way.  The obvious and anticipated answer to these questions is "No."  God does not take delight in the sacrifices of the unrepentant, nor can He be ‘bought off' with our meager gifts and efforts.

The problem here is the nature of sin – something we just don't want to face.  Sin is always against God.  You may do it to me, but you sin against God!  Joseph in Egypt understood that when he rejected the temptation of Potiphar's wife, saying, "How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?"  It is still true – sin is an assault on God, Psalm 51:4, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Thy sight, So that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, And blameless when Thou dost judge."

Micah then cranks it up a notch: "Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"  He asks the question of the super-works of repentance.  He asks if he goes far enough, does something great enough or hard enough, will it make Him right with God?  He talks here about sacrificing one's own child for one's sins.  Would that be enough?  Again, his question is rhetorical, and he expects us to shout "NO!" back at Him.  God doesn't want, demand, nor will he accept such payment from us.  Nothing we can do is enough.  So, what does God require?

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?"  What does God require?  He wants you to do justice.  Don't worry about making up for the past, just do what is right and good and just from this moment on.  Do justice.  It is a simple concept, and yet it is one that we so often overlook.  We want to do something showy, something noteworthy, something BIG.  God lives in the details.  If you do justice every day, in all your stuff and in all your doings, God will make the big picture work out.  It's called faith.  On the other hand, if you do the big things, and ignore or fail to do the daily, small things, those big things make no difference at all.

Then God says "to love kindness."  It's like the Golden Rule – Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.  Be the sort of person that you personally want to deal with.  Love kindness.  He doesn't mean simply to enjoy it when others are kind to you.  He means love doing kindness.  Be consistently kind in thought and word and deed.

A member of one of my previous congregations, Chris Horton, once wrote something to me in an e-mail about how when he gets good and angry and is about to say something unkind to his wife, she cools him down by asking if what he is going to say is really something he wants to say to someone that he loves.  That is the sort of thing that "to love kindness" means.  It means to think about what we are doing, and what we are saying, and measure it by the question of whether it is kind or not?  Is it something that you would want to say or do to someone you really loved?

All of the conflicts of our lives could be eased if we began with these two principles - do justice and love kindness.  If we did that, and followed the last instruction of Micah – "to walk humbly with your God" – we would be doing all that God requires of us.  We would be doing everything we can to battle the monster of guilt.

Walking humbly with your God is just as easy – and just as hard – as it sounds.  "Walking humbly" means, at least in part, repentance.  It means that we face the truth of our sins, and humble ourselves before Him in repentance.  We need to come to the point that we ask God for forgiveness for all of our sins, not just the ones that we are comfortable admitting.  Walking humbly also means that we surrender to the idea that God is right, and we are wrong any time we disagree with Him or withhold ourselves from Him.  God's Word is right and true, even when it doesn't seem expedient or effective in accomplishing what we want to accomplish.

We need to confess our sins, and ask God's forgiveness.  That, and that alone, will effectively deal with guilt, because only when we humble ourselves, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness does God pour out on us personally the forgiveness we need and for which we hunger.  He has won it for us already.  Jesus paid the price with His death on the cross.  Our sins have been forgiven already!  We simply cannot apply that forgiveness to ourselves until we trust in it, and we cannot trust that God has forgiven us when we deliberately hide sins from Him and from ourselves, and pretend that ungodly behavior is okay, or, worse yet, it's the right thing to do.

When we confess, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  That comes from 1 John, chapter 1, verse 9.  God stands ready to forgive us, and cleanse us, and comfort us, and to put the monster of guilt to sleep, and ultimately to death, when we trust in Him, and walk humbly with our God.

God speaks His forgiveness to us in the absolution, and He gives it to us to eat and drink and take personally into ourselves in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in this blessed Sacrament.  He doesn't ask a price.  There are no hurdles to jump over to get to the altar.  You don't have any great works or supererogation to perform so that you might be acceptable to God.  Jesus Christ has done them already, and God is giving to those who take Him at His Word all of the righteousness and life and salvation that we need.  If is a free gift by grace, through faith.

Walking humbly also means not taking yourself too seriously, or counting yourself as more important or worthy of the attention and admiration of others than anyone else.  This life in Christ is a team sport - God never intended us to go alone, and He is the leader.  Each of us is but a member of the body and support for others just as they are to be support for us.  Walking humbly with God means following His example - who did not count Himself too prestigious to save us, but humbled Himself, and became one of us to save us all.  We walk with Him - in the path that He walked, when we humble ourselves to be of service for others, and give of ourselves to help and support them.

These three steps are everything we need to lead God-pleasing lives.  These three principles are also the foundation for a truly godly congregational life: do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

And they are the answer to guilt from God Himself.  He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?  Do justice.  It is so right.  Love kindness.  It is so good.  And walk humbly with your God.  God grant each and every one of us the gift of Holy Spirit that we may do what God requires – that is, that we may believe, and so be saved.

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