Trinity 2 – 2021 LSB #’s 497, 622, 818
Text – Luke 14:17-18a
And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses.
HOW BUSY ARE YOU?
Doesn’t it sound like you’re about to get hit up to help with something? How busy are you? It’s the essential question of our day. We fill our lives with things to do whether they are productive or not. In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus delves into that question & points out where the priorities of our lives should be centered. In fact Jesus points out where life is!
Huge numbers of people have been deceived into thinking that they already have life, or they’re this close to achieving it. Another great percentage of people have been fooled into thinking that there is no chance in hell that they will ever find life. That roughly summarizes the two main camps that Satan is trying to herd us into. How busy are you?
The setting, as Luke begins this section, is that of a banquet being hosted by a Pharisee. We know this was a wealthy man because the guests are reclined on couches at his table. The average person of the day could not afford a table. The setting also tells us that a trap had been set for Jesus with this invitation. We know that because a man with dropsy is at the banquet.
Dropsy is what, in our day, we call fluid retention, often due to heart disease. A man like that would be an outcast from society & never be allowed in the house of a prominent Jewish leader, especially on the Sabbath. That he is there tells us that the Pharisees are up to no good, waiting to see if Jesus will break the Sabbath law against healing. Jesus does.
After healing the man, things get a little testy, with Jesus asking some very pointed questions that highlight the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Maybe to break the tension, “When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 14:15 ESV) It was a common thing to say in their culture & the expected response would be something like this: “O Lord, may we be among the righteous & be counted without blemish, worthy to sit with the men of renown on that great day…” But instead of easing the tension, Jesus tells a provocative parable!
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘A man once gave a great banquet & invited many.’” In their day this invitation alerts people to the fact that a banquet is coming. An RSVP is expected so the host can determine how much food to prepare, but since they didn’t have microwave ovens, it was more difficult to predict exactly when the meal would begin.
When the food is finally ready to be served, a 2nd invitation goes out to those who replied that they would attend. It’s sort of like the invitation you got from mom when she’d been cooking for an hour & said, “Dinner is ready!” That meant you better come to the table right now because the food is hot, & because mom has worked hard at preparing it.
In constructing His parable, if Jesus were playing nice, everyone would have come to the banquet. The problem is, that would have been a lie, & Jesus is not simply the Way & the Life. He is also the Truth, though with it He brings the ultimate degree of love! Jesus tells the truth in order to save us from eternal destruction.
In the culture of the day, it would have been unheard of, after sending in your RSVP, to not attend the banquet. Only the most extreme circumstances would have been an acceptable excuse. Yet, everyone who sent in their RSVP, tells mom basically, “We don’t want to eat dinner with you!” With verse 18, Jesus continues:
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The 1st said to him, ‘I have bought a field, & I must go out & see it. Please have me excused.’” To our 2021 ears, in a culture that knows little of agriculture, that doesn’t sound too unreasonable. But to the people of Jesus’ day, it was a totally preposterous excuse. In the Middle East, no farmer in his right mind would buy a piece of land without first inspecting it & learning the entire production history of that acreage. This excuse was a bold-faced lie & everyone listening to Jesus would recognize it as such. It was clear that the host of the banquet was being intentionally insulted & disrespected.
Likewise with the man who bought five yoke of oxen & claimed that he needed to now examine them. This is another transparent lie. And the 3rd man gives his excuse that he just got married & doesn’t even bother asking to be excused, he simply states he will not be there.
The original audience that Jesus was speaking to would easily have identified the theological movement of the parable. The eternal banquet of heaven has been announced. The hour has come. All is now ready. Let the feast begin, & it begins with this Rabbi called Jesus. Those who seek to eat bread in the kingdom of God should follow Jesus.
Yet, not in the parable, but in real life, the Pharisees have come up with a stream of excuses. They complain that Jesus not only eats with sinners, but actually welcomes them. And since He healed the man with dropsy, Jesus clearly does not keep the Sabbath in a strict fashion. Neither does Jesus fulfill their expectation that Messiah will restore the nation of Israel to power.
The parable is informing them that as they reject Jesus, they are rejecting the great banquet of salvation promised by God in the OT. This banquet table has been set through the presence of Jesus in their midst, but this great feast is just not a distribution of free rations. To enjoy it you must come in to the banquet hall.
Do you remember the Pharisee who tried to break the tension with what he thought was a safe & innocuous statement: “When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 14:15 ESV) What this Pharisee was failing to recognize is that the kingdom of God is already making its claim on him now. Now, in the person of Jesus “the kingdom of God” is already in the midst of them while he & his fellow Pharisees, without realizing it, are actually refusing to eat bread in the kingdom of God. The Pharisees are living comfortable lives so they neither perceive their need for a Savior, nor for the banquet of life that Yahweh is offering to them.
Jesus Himself is God’s invitation to the feast. To evade or ignore Him is to be excluded from the great banquet of God, from the eating of bread in the kingdom of God. What Jesus is teaching here is what St. Paul wrote of, concerning God, in 2 Corinthians:
“For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, & in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2 ESV) Psalm 23:5 paints this picture of salvation: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” The threat of death is erased if you’re invited to this banquet!
Back to the parable. After receiving the insults of his well to do guests, the host’s anger does not result in revenge, but in grace. He has the poor, the maimed, the blind & the lame invited to the banquet. Their suffering & need was twofold. They were already broken in body & mind, but they were also ostracized from their community because of their brokenness.
As we heard in the OT reading, verse 4: “‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread & drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, & live, & walk in the way of insight.’” (Proverbs 9:4 ESV)
That causes a problem for sinners because we don’t like to acknowledge being simple. We prefer to think much more highly of ourselves. In our sin we are far off from God, but as St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (2:13 ESV)
In verse 17, Paul writes of God, “He came & preached peace to you who were far off &
peace to those who were near.” And finally in verse 22: “In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Our busyness can carry us far off from our Savior. How busy are you? The food is ready! Jesus is waiting. Won’t you join Him? Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, You have prepared this feast for our salvation; it is Your body & Your blood, & at Your invitation as weary souls, with sin oppressed, we come to You for needed rest, for comfort & for pardon. Grant that we worthily receive Your supper, Lord, our Savior, & truly grieving for our sins, may prove by our behavior that we are thankful for Your grace & day by day may run our race, in holiness increasing. Amen. LSB 622:1, 7.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 5) LSB #’s 908, 589, 655
Text – Genesis 3:8
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, & the man & his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
HEARING THE SOUND OF GOD
Because cats prefer to hunt just after sunset, it’s not uncommon to be out walking our cat in the dark. One of the things that’s very interesting, to me anyway, is the tremendous level of alertness he displays. In fact, his persona inside the house is almost like death compared to his persona outside in the dark.
His ears are on super high alert, as every sound I can hear & many, many more that I cannot, attract his attention. If he turns his head & locks in, I know from experience there is certain to be something there. One night, in those circumstances, I turned on the flashlight only to find a skunk about 20 feet in front of us.
Cats have hearing that is 3 to 5 times more sensitive than human beings have. It also ranges too much higher frequencies & is more sensitive even than the hearing of a dog. With such poor hearing, relatively speaking, it should be no surprise that human beings have trouble hearing the sound of God. Jesus Himself confirms this in Matthew 13:
“This is not why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, & hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (13:13 ESV) Jesus is making the point that even more detrimental to us than our poor hearing is the fact that you & I are extremely adept at actively tuning out the sound of God.
In just the 3rd chapter of the Bible Adam & Eve had already tuned out this helpful advice from the 2nd chapter: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” You know what happened from there, & another familiar event begins with the closing words of helpful advice in Exodus 31:
And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel & say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me & you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the 7th day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me & the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven & earth, & on the 7th day He rested & was refreshed.’” And He gave to Moses, when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (31:12-18 ESV)
Again, if people disobey the advice of God, He warns that death will come. And what do the people do? Chapter 32 begins with their classic response:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron & said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, & your daughters, & bring them to me.” And he received the gold from their hand & fashioned it with a graving tool & made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (32:1-2, 4 ESV)
Talk about actively tuning out God, the people He rescued from Egypt were masters at it. So, how would you rate your ability to ignore the reality of God? If you heard the sound of God, would you be afraid & try to hide? Sadly, we know that we do.
Every time we struggle in coming to grips with a particular sin, & the guilt we feel because of it, we experience, to a degree, what Adam & Eve felt. There’s was far worse because they went from being perfect & holy to completely depraved & sinful in one fell swoop.
All that you & I have ever known is the brokenness of sin, & the road back to holiness is a long & treacherous one. Jesus described it this way, “For the gate is wide & the way is easy that leads to destruction, & those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow & the way is hard that leads to life, & those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV) Satan is hounding us every step of that way, always trying to lead us astray, chanting his mantra, “Did God really say? Did God really say?”
Have you been listening for the sound of God? Do you know what He sounds like? When you hear Him, what emotions does it bring to the fore?
Personally, when I hear the Word of God it often shakes me to the core! There are plenty of times that I sense the power & the majesty of the Almighty Creator when I read the Bible lessons or stand here in the pulpit. It can be very unnerving.
The men who serve as elders here have all commented that the 1st several times they helped serve communion was an unnerving experience that they did not expect. One of my former pastors made ‘hearing the sound of God’ a frequent experience for me when he was preaching. I’ve also experienced that ‘hearing’ while singing in a church choir.
Since God created everything there is, it’s not unreasonable to think that we should hear the sound of God from His creation. Maybe the stars sing to you on a cold, clear winter night. Maybe you hear the sound of God in the cry of an eagle in flight. Psalm 29 tells us:
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,… The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;… The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth & strips the forests bare, & in His temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (29:3-9 ESV)
And there are always the classic words to the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:
“And he said, Go forth, & stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, & a great & strong wind rent the mountains, & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: & 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: & after the fire a still small voice.” (19:11-12 KJV)
Once they heard the sound of God, Adam & Eve attempted to hide themselves from
Him. In the next verse, God asks, “Where are you?” Given that God surely knew where they were, this question has richer intent. Certainly, God was reinforcing the reality of how His children had distanced themselves from God by trying to hide. However, behind that word of rebuke it seems that God’s question implies an invitation that His children come back to Him.
What makes this astounding is that this is the 1st word spoken by God after He speaks all creation into existence. This new word, this rebuke & yet invitation, sets the theme for all the rest of Scripture – a recital of God’s desire to bring his children home.
And if they do not come home, God will find ways to come into their world to bring them home. He will send patriarchs & matriarchs, prophets, judges, elders & in the fullness of time, His Son. God’s “Where are you?” marks the 1st step toward the supreme gift of God’s love for the world, the gift of Him who came “to seek & to save that which is lost.”
When Adam & Eve broke God’s creation, the obvious question confronting them was this, “How is God going to deal with this Genesis 3 world – that is the now fallen & sinful world?” You & I have the same question when we surrender to the devil’s temptations or to our sinful desires. God’s answer is always to seek us out in order to save us.
Sending His Son is the supreme revelation of God’s answer to the problem of a broken world. Sending His Son is the supreme revelation of God’s love for us. Sending His Son is the supreme revelation that we need never be afraid even when we have sinned.
It is that love which changes our hearts & minds so that once again we will hear the sound of God & not be afraid. Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me; let Your words in me take root. May Your Spirit e’er be near me that I bear abundant fruit. May I daily sing Your praise, from heart glad anthems raise, till my highest praise is given in the endless joy of heaven. Amen. LSB 589:1, 4.
Holy Trinity Sunday – B LSB #’s 507, 388, 822
Text – Acts 2:36
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord & Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Cowardice & Denial
In the yard behind our home is a large oak tree. When the first frost kills the leaves on the other trees, they quickly fall from their branches. Yet, the oak leaves cling to their tree even though they are as dead as all the other leaves on the ground. Then come the sharp winds of winter, & they too are powerless to shake the grip of those dead oak leaves.
In the following months come snow & sleet & ice. Their efforts are equally futile. Once spring arrives, & the sap begins to flow from the roots of the oak tree, the new leaves push forth & the dead leaves finally fall away. The new & living growth prunes away the deadness of the past.
So it is with the Spirit of God who replaces, in you & in me, the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. The new & living growth caused by our union with Christ prunes away the deadness of our past & our present. As St. Peter preached this sermon there was a lot of deadness in his past to be pruned away by the living growth of the Father’s Spirit.
From Matthew 14: “Peter answered, ‘Lord, if it is You, order me to come to You on the water.’ ‘Come,’ He said. So Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, & went toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was frightened & started to sink.” (14:28-30a NET)
From Matthew 16: “Peter took Him aside & began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned & said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (16:22-23 ESV) From Matthew 26: “After a little while the bystanders came up & said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself & to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out & wept bitterly.” (26:73-75 ESV)
Cowardice & denial were frequently put on display by Peter. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. One time in Luke 5, he even realizes it: “And when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Depart from me Lord, because I am a sinner.’” (5:8 ESV)
In our worldly sense, Peter had opened his mouth & once again made a fool of himself. Upon realizing that, Peter confesses his sin & asks Jesus to leave. Yet, that is exactly when our Lord draws closest to us, when we turn to God & confess that we have sinned. Hopefully, these words from 1 John are familiar:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, & the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful & just, will forgive our sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:8-9 ESV) In our worldly sense, it is confessing our sins that is foolish. Satan would have us practicing a cowardly denial of the truth so that we suffocate in them.
From God’s perspective, it’s just the opposite. Confess your sins & your heavenly Father will remove them as far as the east is from the west. In the 2nd chapter of Acts that is exactly what Peter is finally preaching with boldness & with authority:
“This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan & foreknowledge of God, you crucified & killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23 ESV)
The cowardice & denial of Peter’s past had been pruned away by the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. He was a changed man, living a new life. He’d gone from hiding out in fear to preaching in the name of Jesus that his audience had killed the long-promised Messiah of God. Messiah was the fulfillment of their national purpose & they had turned Him over to the Romans demanding that He be crucified. Still today, it takes tremendous courage & conviction to preach that message to any Jewish audience. The sins of Peter’s past were being pruned away by the living growth brought through the Holy Spirit.
That same Holy Spirit is working in your life, placing the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead right before your eyes. If you believe Jesus is your Savior, from your sins, then the life He brings to you is pruning away the deadness of your past & of your present. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart each & every day of your life to give you life.
For each of us there is plenty of deadness in our past that is stubbornly clinging to us, refusing to drop away. The same is true of our moments & days right now. Our relationship with the Creator of our body & soul is not something that is one & done. In order for you & I to actually be alive that relationship needs to be a continuous one, moment by moment, day by day.
Daily we need the living growth of the Holy Spirit to be flowing through us that the deadness of our past, & of today, might be pruned away. And that is the promise of Pentecost. The flames of fire that appeared on the heads of the disciples were a sign that God’s Spirit was flowing through them & out into the people & into the world around them.
We have that same Spirit flowing through us, giving us life & pruning away the death of our sins. We received that Spirit by the promise of God at our baptism. Two verses after the Epistle reading for today, Peter preaches that answer to his audience:
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent & be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, & you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you & for your children & for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.’” Many, in the crowd Peter was preaching to, were not present for, nor directly responsible for the death of Messiah, & yet their response, in many cases, is one of repentance & faith. They realized that their sins were responsible for the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We also need to know that we are responsible, due to our actions & our attitudes.
Furthermore, we often do not believe that God has forgiven us these sins & as a result we do not live to spread the wonder of this forgiveness to others. Peter says, “Repent.” Repent of it all &, “...be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38).
His sermon had accomplished the first part. Confronted with the truth of God, his hearers were drawn to repentance. We read how, “They were cut to the heart.”
They did not do this themselves. They did not reach the conclusion by themselves, but the Word of God, the Law of God, worked within them by the Holy Spirit, accusing them, condemning them, & bringing them to repentance. The Law is the Holy Trinity at work.
Because Peter has received & known the righteousness of Christ, he relieves those in the crowd who repent by offering them forgiveness & a new start in baptism with the Holy Spirit. The action here is entirely from God towards us. This is what sets it apart from every religion & philosophy as the Gospel — good news, as opposed religious obligation.
The good news here is that the kingdom is restored because the King Himself is risen. Therefore, all who have faith in Jesus, do not need to fear His reign, but can rejoice in His victory over sin, death & the grave. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful & just & will forgive our sins, & cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Amen.
Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills & everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born! Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born; & God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills & everywhere; go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born! Amen. LSB 388:3.
Pentecost – B LSB #’s 497, 490, 924
Text – Ezekiel 37:1
The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
IT WAS FULL OF BONES
One of my former electrical customers was a veterinarian. Working in the attic one day, pulling wires for a new x-ray machine, I came across a box full of bones. It was pretty obvious they were not from an animal, but a human being.
Sort of made me wonder what kind of sideline business the veterinarian was involved in. But I didn’t ask lest I end up in a similar sort of box. That’s my one story about finding the literal “skeleton in the closet.” Have you ever come across a skeleton in someone’s closet? You know, the sort of occasion when you asked the wrong question at the wrong time.
I did that during my vicarage. I asked an innocent question about one of our worship practices. My supervisor’s reaction made it very clear that I should never ever go there again, unless I wanted to be the next skeleton in his closet.
In the OT lesson, God has an entire valley full of bones that He wants Ezekiel to see. They are very dry, lifeless, even disconnected bones. This vision represents the nation of Israel as found in exile in the pagan country of Babylon. The spiritual nature of God’s chosen people was that dead, beyond dead even – just a valley full of very dry bones.
“Can these bones live?” the Lord asks Ezekiel. We might say the Lord is asking that same question of us today. Can St. Matthew Lutheran Church live? As I look across those of you gathered here, a case could be made that it’s nothing more than a bunch of old bones lying in a valley, getting bleached by the sun.
And apart from the congregation, in our own personal lives, each of us struggles with
issues – weaknesses, frustrations, temptations, & sin. Any of those can make that personal area of our lives appear as hopeless as a valley full of dry old bones. And the greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.
So, we go back to Ezekiel’s valley: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
What comes to mind when you hear those words? Probably not a picture of lush, green vegetation, or a scene of abundant life. To our way of looking at things that text paints a very bleak picture, one of foreboding & danger & certainly death. Since the wages of sin is death, it’s natural to see only suffering & condemnation in that valley full of bones.
So it is with our problems & struggles. It’s easy to see only the condemnation, only the failures & the pain caused by sin. At those times people commonly ask God, “Why? What did I do to deserve such misery?” The OT records many such complaints from the people of Israel, even though they had been disobeying the Lord for centuries.
Finally, their faith in God dies. The mightiest nation on earth, led by Nebuchadnezzar, is sent to destroy Jerusalem while taking God’s people into exile & slavery. It’s like Egypt all over again. They will never escape on their own, & it was their God who sent them here. Things could not have looked more hopeless, & the valley full of dry bones illustrates it well.
What is it in your life today of which the valley of bones reminds you? Is it your church? Might it be your health or a broken friendship? Could it be your husband or wife? Maybe it’s an addiction, or an illness? Any of those can feel like an entire valley full of dry old bones, bleaching in the blazing sun. The whole house of Israel said, “Our bones are dried up & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (Ezekiel 37:11b ESV) But God comes to you in His Word today & the One who crucified His own Son out of love for you asks this, “Can these bones live?”
You have failed your Creator time & time again, yet He comes to you & asks, “Can these bones live?” And it’s not because He has a cruel sense of humor. You see, when God looks at that valley full of bones, He does not see death as you & I do. Yahweh sees life!
The Lord God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, & say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. …I will cause breath to enter you, & you shall live… I will open your graves & raise you from your graves… Then you shall know that I am the Lord...’” (Ezekiel 37:4-5, 12, 14 ESV) But to be brought up from the grave – first you must die!
We must die to our sinful nature, to know that the One who raises us is the Lord. It is He who raises us out of our pride & refusal to change, because dry old bones cannot choose to live. The picture of God breathing life into these dry bones should bring to mind how God first formed man of the dust of the ground & breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
But we struggle with believing that God will give us life now, don’t we? Sure, most of you probably accept that one day you will be raised from the dead. But isn’t that day far off in the future, as you picture it? Will you live this afternoon, & this evening like God has just breathed into your nostrils the breath of life? PAUSE
In chapter 36 of Ezekiel God is reprimanding & disciplining Israel for its sin, for its failure to obey. In chapter 37 God then promises to restore them through breathing life into their dry bones, & still Israel refuses to believe. Here & now, what do you believe? Can the dry bones of your daily world live already today, & not just after the final resurrection?
Is there hope for the struggles of your life that seem to have no end? Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me & drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38 ESV) Jesus is speaking in the present tense, but those streams of living water are not what the world views as ‘the good life.’ That’s why God disciplines us, to train us not to think as the world thinks. The world wants a life of ease & pleasure. Psalm 23 gives a very different view, with another valley illustration:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...” (23:4 ESV) Those words make a popular reading at funerals, but they are not only speaking of the last few weeks or days before our death. They speak also of every day of life on this earth.
In this life we are always in the valley full of bones – the valley of the shadow of death. We die a death every time we sin. It’s the nature of a sinful world. It cannot be otherwise. That’s why God will destroy this heaven & earth at the last day. They are corrupt & broken & must be eliminated so they do not infect the new creation to come.
Likewise, your hopes of being worth anything in this life must become as dead & devoid of hope as a valley full of very dry bones. I said earlier, “The greatest danger is not even from the sin itself, but from our refusal to face the fact that we have a problem.” Through Baptism, God gives the ability to see our lives for what they truly are:
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, & He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord & set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, & behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, & behold, they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2 ESV)
Once we realize just how dead we are, in our sin, when God puts breath in us, when we come to life again, then we will know that the One who raises us is the Lord. For where there is death, there is finally also, the hope of true life – life given to us by God. And when our God given faith speaks, we shall answer, “Yes, even these bones can live!” Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
7th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 842, 532, 680
Text – 1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.
SHARING THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
I arrived at boot camp in May of 1978, assigned to a company of around 70 other recruits with whom I’d go through training. One of the first things our company leaders screamed at us is this, “If one of you messes up, in any way, you have all messed up. And you will all share in the suffering that follows!”
Not that the Navy approach was unique. I’d already experienced that in high school gym class, but then it was only an hour a day, Monday through Friday. Boot camp took sharing the suffering to a whole ’nother level. However, there you could at least look out the windows, & you even got to spend time outdoors, marching somewhere of course.
Living on the submarine it was literally true that if one guy messed up everyone on board could really be messed up, sharing in the suffering & dying a cold & miserable death. If those words strike you as too harsh & cruel to hear in a sermon, then you missed the point that God Himself was trying to teach when His Spirit inspired the apostle Peter to write:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) Human beings, weakened by sin, have a difficult time confronting the harsh reality of suffering & death. And that, in spite of the fact that our world is filled with it – everywhere.
The headlines are all about conflict, suffering & death. People gawk at it, are amazed by it, & still have no clue what to do with it. Now, the media loves to rub our face in it because that is what sells. It doesn’t matter if it’s big tech & instant social media, or the slow moving & old fashioned newspaper & magazines. They highlight the horrors of life & provide no solutions to it. In fact, a solution to the very real horrors of suffering & death on this earth would destroy the profitability of the media. In the big picture, they have little interest in solutions. They need conflict & suffering & death because they make money off of it.
But the media is not the Church, & the media’s mission is not the sharing of the Good News that Jesus Christ has provided a solution. That is the purpose for which Jesus created the Church – to share that amazing & totally unique news. Nowhere else in the world is there a true solution to conflict, suffering & death.
But people have no desire for God’s solution as long as they are able to deny the true nature of the problem. It’s part of our corruption by sin to ignore, avoid & deny the harsh & cruel reality of suffering, especially when it looks like it’s going to be personal. Thus the Spirit inspired Peter to write:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12 ESV) And a chapter later are more words on the topic: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
The recent sinking of the submarine from Indonesia is an example. The Palestinian-Israeli war is another. The Covid 19 pandemic, & the killing of George Floyd, are others. Each of us also has our own personal losses & frustrations that bring suffering into our daily living. Each of us are under attack by the devil as he looks to devour us through our suffering.
Our knee jerk response is to attack suffering, to fight against it & work toward eliminating it. The sinful nature cannot accept suffering as part of my own reality. That refusal is not entirely wrong, but if it is our only plan to deal with suffering, then what do we do when cancer wins, & your loved one dies, especially after months or years of suffering? If your loved one dies of cancer, or Covid 19, or an accident, does that mean you have lost? Does it mean that God has failed? Can suffering be part of God’s plan? Can there be a place for it in God’s plan? As challenging as they are, the answer to those questions is revealed on the cross.
Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour not just you, but your loved ones, your parents & children & friends. So God warns us not to be surprised by suffering & He points our eyes to reality beyond this life: “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) And after warning us that the devil is like a roaring lion, St. Peter continued:
“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen & establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9-10 ESV)
The cross answers our question, “Can there be a place for suffering in God’s plan?” And it is the empty tomb that points to a glorious reality beyond what we can see or imagine today. It’s in light of that revelation that Peter wrote: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
Suffering does not mean that God has permanently abandoned you. That fear is from the roaring lion, sent as a temptation. Even in our suffering the children of God can live a life of hope that is evident to the people around us.
A struggle that American Christians have is that, relative to Christians in the less developed countries of the world, we have not had a lot of suffering in our lives. This makes it more difficult for you & me to accept this particular Word of God from St. Peter. Poorer Christians in this world are used to living lives of hope in spite of all the suffering in their daily world. Another struggle that American Christians have is developing the Holy Spirit’s gift of humility. Because our culture is no longer Christian in any respect, virtues like humility have gone out of style! Of course, to the sinful nature, humility has never been in style.
Realizing that Satan is like a roaring lion looking to devour us should encourage humility in us. It may be the only attitude that can suffer with joy. Peter urges us to humble ourselves under God’s authority in order to pass through the test of suffering & persecution.
Instead of rebelling against God for allowing our suffering we will subject ourselves to His will & wait patiently for God’s time to deliver us & restore us to His glory. Do you see how that viewpoint is focused upon God & not upon me, myself & I?
It is God’s will that we train ourselves to wait patiently for the Lord. The Holy Spirit is working this in us at all times, since it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It’s easier on us if we work on this along with the Spirit instead of fighting it. Of course, our sinful nature will never see it that way. It is our saintly nature that is being trained to share the sufferings of Christ.
Navy boot camp was 43 years ago & I hated it then. Now, I can see the good that God accomplished & be thankful for it. Faith in Jesus as Savior brings good out of suffering. No faith in Jesus as Savior leaves the suffering as nothing more than that – suffering. It is the perverse nature of a sinful world that God must use suffering to draw us to Himself.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice & be glad when His glory is revealed.” Amen. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now; a royal diadem adorns the mighty Victor’s brow. The joy of all who dwell above, the joy of all below to whom He manifests His love & grants His name to know. They suffer with their Lord below, they reign with Him above, their profit & their joy to now the mystery of His love. Amen. LSB 532:1, 3, 5 .
Pastor Dean R. Poellet