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)