Life Sunday #2 – 2015 LSB #608
Text – Isaiah 40:1-2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
MATTERS OF THE HEART
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to God’s people. These words are not his because they come from the heart of God. The words, Isaiah & the other prophets had to speak, were not always words of comfort. Sometimes they were words of judgment to turn people away from sin. Did you know that the primary origin of sin is a matter of faith, & a matter of the heart?
The unique & defining attribute of Judeo-Christian faith is monotheism – belief in one God. Yahweh’s people lived in a pagan culture that worshipped many gods. It was tempting to be “of” the world & pursue the gods of the surrounding culture.
The chosen people of Israel often yielded to that temptation & their idolatry made necessary the call of the prophets. They had to recognize the foolishness of their behavior, to repent & return to faith in the only true & life-giving Lord.
Now, fertility of the soil is essential to an agrarian people. Their crops & herds are most easily seen as their source of sustenance & wealth. As such they’re easily seduced & attracted to pagan fertility gods & goddesses. In that culture, as others, prosperity was a sign of value & of importance.
Fertility gods like Baal, Ashtarte, Dagon, & Milcon were worshipped when people brought offerings & participated in sexual acts with the priests or priestesses at the temple. They did this because the temple was where the image or statue, of the idol, was kept.
Productivity & success were connected to perverse displays of human sexuality, contrary to God’s Word & to God’s will. The abuse of human sexuality was never more apparent than in the worship of Molech. This idol was worshiped either by offering your children to grow up as temple prostitutes or as a human sacrifices, consumed by fire. Our heavenly Father’s absolute prohibition against such behavior is recorded multiple times in Leviticus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos & Malachi. It was considered far worse than a transgression of the commandments.
This act is considered so atrocious that to engage in such activity is to profane the name of God, to profane His character, His very person. It was considered so egregious because it was contrary to the essence of our Creator, who is pure & holy.
At chapter 44, Isaiah comments on the nature of these idols. People shape these gods from wood. They use some of the wood for heating their home or cooking their food & with the rest of it they fashion a god. They attribute power & greatness to this image thus deceiving others into trusting it, worshipping it & serving it.
These idols were shaped into the form of human beings “in all their glory.” The images were sexually explicit, crafted to encourage people to pursue sexual pleasure & gratification, thus legitimizing it as a form of worship. Yet these gods cannot see. They cannot understand. They are as blind & ignorant as those who create them.
And if they are nothing more than an invention of human beings, then worshiping them is nothing more than the worship of human beings, along with an excuse to indulge in shameless immorality. The true idol is human sexuality & the promotion of licentious behavior. Instead of giving life, these gods destroy it & the relationships around it.
The worship of idols destroys our relationship with the living Lord God as well the people closest to us. It made children, the by-product of those sexual acts, mere offerings to be consumed or objects to be used for even more perverse sexual indulgence. You & I live in a world that has been equally deceived; a culture that is sexually charged & explicit. People are reduced to nothing more than their sexuality. The entertainment industry flaunts the idols they want us to worship & desire, encouraging us to act on our desires, to fulfill our lusts & to pleasure ourselves no matter how perverse or contrary to the will of God.
Addiction to pornography & participation in prostitution are growing. Instead of sources of shame, they’re lauded as legitimate business, or as a first amendment right – the freedom of speech.
Abortion is equally connected to our sexually charged culture as both devalue human life & relationships for the sake of momentary pleasure or selfish fulfillment. The horror of abortion is no less egregious than the behavior of those who worshipped Molech by sacrificing their children to the idol of human sexuality. Our nation’s people desperately need Isaiah’s words.
The greatest temptation for God’s people is to engage in self-deception – believing it’s possible to balance the idolatry of the culture with their faith in the Lord God. I’ve heard Christians say this – they support a woman’s right to choose, even though they personally would not have an abortion.
They believe they can embrace the surrounding culture with its idolatry while at the same time they can remain faithful to their Savior. St. Paul points out to the church in Rome how impossible this merging of belief is. Attempting to do so creates greater separation & alienation from our Lord. The Apostle wrote:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, & their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, & exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man & birds & animals & creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie & worshiped & served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1: 21-25)
Paul is pointing out that all sexual sin is a symptom of a greater problem. The Bible
reveals that our main problem is refusing to find satisfaction in God’s beauty & goodness as the center of our existence. Rather, we horde the gifts of creation & we treasure them over the Creator to whom they point. These gifts were given by our heavenly Creator to bless & remind us of why He alone is worthy to be loved with all our heart & mind, soul & strength.
The seductive focus on the gifts of creation, such as sexuality, instead of on the Creator, produces within us a spiritual disorientation. That then spills over into every aspect of our existence. We soon find ourselves participants in life-destroying behaviors, having alienated ourselves from the only true source of life & love.
Reflecting on the need for celebrating Life Sunday we acknowledge that all of us are participants in a culture which promotes values that lead to the acceptance of abortion as a right. In many ways we’ve failed to speak up in opposition. We’ve accepted it as inescapable.
We’ve compromised through believing it’s possible to live by the values of the secular culture & Christian faith. Instead of pointing the finger of judgment at others, we too are convicted by the wise counsel of God through the prophet Isaiah. We need to hear His words.
This is truly a matter of the heart – yours & mine! This is a matter of the heart that is more than a book by Danielle Steel, more than a song by Tracy Chapman. It is more than our feelings, our pleasure, or preoccupation with our own desires. This is really the greatest matter of the heart – the Lordship of God in our lives. It is the issue raised in the 1st commandment.
What place does God have in our lives? Luther made it clear in his explanation to the 1st commandment. An idol is anything we give priority over God’s rightful place. That can be a New Year’s Eve party over the worship service. It is a matter of the heart to admit that God is in control. He is King of kings & Lord of lords.
Yahweh has no limitations & is without equal regarding influence or power. So consider
what the Bible declares about His rightful place in our heart: “God is above all things & before all things. He is the Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end. He is immortal, & He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. (Revelation 21:6) “God created all things & holds all things together, both in heaven & on earth, both visible & invisible.” (Colossians 1:16)
“God knows all things past, present & future. There is no limit to His knowledge, for God knows everything completely before it even happens.” (Romans 11:33) God can do all things & accomplish all things. Nothing is too difficult for Him, & He orchestrates & determines everything that is going to happen in your life, in my life, & throughout the world.
Whatever He wants to do in the universe, He does, for nothing is impossible with Him. If God has that position of lordship in our heart, then He alone rules our lives. His Word guides & directs our behavior, thoughts, emotions & desires. His Word shapes our values & decisions. When His Word conflicts with the values of the world we oppose the world & follow Jesus.
Above all else, His Word proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the profound nature of His love for us. In the life, death & resurrection of Jesus we receive the promise of salvation & redemption. His love for you in Christ has the power to free you from bondage to any idol, all competing cultural values, all self-destructive behavior. That is the greatest word of comfort.
“Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” The Holy Spirit is the Comforter Jesus promised to send. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms your life & guides you in paths of righteousness. To those who admit their sins & who struggle to turn in the direction of faith in Christ Jesus, we are called to “speak tenderly.”
To those who grieve the fact they’ve compromised their faith to worship idols, embraced culture above Christ, or joined in perverse sexual activity, God speaks a tender word into your heart. If your words & deeds have contributed to the acceptance of abortion & you now long for transformation & the redemptive embrace of Jesus, God speaks a tender word into your heart. Yahweh commands Isaiah to cry out to His people saying their warfare has ended. Inside each of us is a spiritual war for 1st place in our heart, for who or what will be god in our lives.
When we arrive at the place of repentance, knowing we cannot save ourselves, we’ve reached a point of surrender. There’s no longer a need to resist or rebel against our Creator. God wants us to be absolutely assured that our iniquity is pardoned, our sins forgiven. That work was finished on the cross.
If we had to pay the price for our own sin the demands of justice would require us to forfeit eternal life. Instead, Jesus offers His life for ours. He pays the price for our forgiveness. There is no greater word of comfort we could receive.
Yet, though we receive forgiveness, the consequences of sin often exact a huge toll. So the final phrase of the sermon text has double meaning, “she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Thinking about abortion, I realized people receive double for the sin.
They must live with the fact that they have participated in the death of a child, the deaths of countless children across our land for generations. In addition to that, they also grieve the loss of countless relationships, the gifts those children were designed to bring into our lives, the contributions they could have made to this world.
Yet, the greater & life-giving truth of the Grace of Jesus is that it is always sufficient, more than enough. From the cross of Jesus, our Lord gives not just twice as much Grace as we need but Grace to infinity – always more than we deserve or can imagine. In this Word of God through Isaiah “Comfort, comfort my people” we receive true comfort for our heart & soul.
In The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther taught that the only way we can truly trust in these promises, which bring such comfort & assurance, is to also believe in God’s absolute lordship in all things:
“When He makes promises you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, & can & will perform, what He promises; otherwise, you will be accounting Him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief, & the height of irreverence, & a denial of the most high God! And how can you be thus sure & certain, unless you know that certainly, infallibly, immutably & necessarily, He knows, wills & will perform what He promises?”
It is God’s absolute lordship that brings true comfort in His promises, because Yahweh’s lordship cannot fail us. It is His lordship that gives us confidence to follow Jesus, to risk obedience to His Word & will, in spite of the influence of our culture to the contrary. His lordship gives us courage to live in opposition to the emptiness of the world.
The sanctity of life is not for human choice or sexual freedom. It is for the lordship of God over all matters of living – including our sexuality & our morality. It is possible for us to have an appearance of obedience without true obedience. So our heavenly Father does not only take our behavior into consideration, but also our thoughts & our motives.
The Bible says that although people look at the outward appearance to make judgments about others, God looks at the heart to draw His conclusion. For God, heart matters are the heart of the matter. So we thank our Lord that these words of Isaiah were written for us:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Amen.
Lord, to you I make confession: I have sinned & gone astray, I have multiplied transgression, chosen for myself my way. Led by You to see my errors, Lord, I tremble at Your terrors. Yet, though conscience’ voice appall me, Father, I will seek Your face; though Your child I dare not call me, yet receive me in Your grace. Do not for my sins forsake me; let Your wrath not overtake me. Lord, on You I cast my burden – sink it in the deepest sea! Let me know Your gracious pardon, cleanse me from iniquity. Let Your Spirit leave me never; make me only Yours forever. Amen.
 Jeremiah 32:17
 The Bondage of the Will; pp. 83-84
Life Sunday #1 – 2015 LSB #761
Text – Isaiah 40:1-2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended that her iniquity is pardoned that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
MATTERS OF THE HEART
Today we’re going to focus on those things often referred to as “life issues” – crisis pregnancy, abortion, post-abortion syndrome, assisted suicide & euthanasia. A list like that might cause some red flags to go up. Maybe it did for some of you.
Words like ‘controversial,’ ‘hot-button’ & ‘political’ may come to mind & that leads to a conclusion held by many, “We should not be talking about that in church.” A conclusion like that would be true if indeed the life issues were only controversial & only political.
And yet, if these issues are also matters that touch a person’s heart, with life & death decisions, thus challenging their faith in Jesus as Savior, would we not be compelled to speak of them in the church? Are the life issues matters of the heart?
The word “heart” for the Hebrew man or woman described a person’s inner being or soul. Various Hebrew idioms reflect this. Joy may be expressed as a “leaping heart;” grief as “evil of the heart” & a guilty conscience as being “struck by the heart.” The author’s favorite is the idiom used in today’s sermon text to offer comfort to someone.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” is literally, “speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” And what a message those hearts would hear! God’s people experienced much “evil of the heart” & they were “struck by the heart” because of their many sins & their constant rebellion. Yet God, in His mercy & grace, wants to give them a “leaping heart” once again.
Listen to the joyful message He brings: “Her warfare is ended,” “her iniquity is pardoned,” “she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (40:2b) In other words, if they deserved X amount of punishment because of their sin, they instead were given 2X the amount of grace! They would not get what they did deserve, & they would get twice as much of what they did not deserve! You can see why the devil despises God’s formula. He wants you & me to suffer hell along with him, not mercy & grace.
Twice as much grace – we could use that as well. We are so much like ancient Israel – rebellious sinners, chasing after other gods such as love of money, love of possessions, love of self, love of pleasure. We could all make our list, for we know in our heart our sins, & we know in our heart our love of sinning.
Our sins flow from a corrupt heart – “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, & they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
And something else flows from a bad heart – nothing. Failing to do what we know is right, failing to love & help others, is not often a spur of the moment decision, but a deliberate one. John put it this way, “But if anyone has the world’s goods & sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
Now, if the life issues are merely political issues, then we have no need to discuss them in church. But if they are matters of the heart that touch a person’s eternal soul, putting our brothers & sisters in need, then what? If we have what it takes to deal with matters of the heart – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – yet close our hearts to doing so, how can God’s love abide in us?
Are the life issues matters of the heart or political issues? You be the judge. She is 16, pregnant & frightened. She knows she made a big mistake but doesn’t want anyone to know. Abortion seems like a quick & easy solution. Yet deep down she struggles with such a decision.
She is confused & feels so alone. Is that a political issue, or is it a matter of the heart?
Every single day in this country similar confusion & fear leads to nearly 3,000 babies being brutally destroyed through abortion. These are babies created by God, babies for whom Jesus suffered & died, babies God wants to call into an eternal relationship with Him. Are all of those situations nothing more than a political issue, or are they a matter of the heart?
Another situation: After the abortion she felt relieved that the problem was gone & she could get on with her life. But it didn’t work that way. Thoughts of the abortion haunted her. On the day her child would have been born she was physically ill & could not go to work. The guilt gnawed away at her conscience. Sometimes a drink or two helped, but only for a while.
As a Christian, she knew of God’s forgiveness in Jesus in a general way, but she had never heard anyone talk about being forgiven for this specific sin. Perhaps it’s too big to be forgiven, she thought. Are her struggles only a political issue? PAUSE
At first he panicked when his girlfriend said she was pregnant. This would ruin everything. He would pay for the abortion. Later, he realized this was his child. The circumstances weren’t ideal but how could he pay to have his son or daughter’s life ended? He vowed to do what he could to help his girlfriend & protect his child.
Then she called & told him the ‘problem’ was over. She had an abortion. Now, he was crushed, filled with guilt, & wept uncontrollably. A political issue or a matter of the heart?
His beloved wife had a stroke. Recovery seemed so slow. She could eat, but needed assistance. The wheelchair helped with mobility, but with only one usable arm she found it difficult to do much on her own. Her speech was slurred & had not improved for a long time. This wasn’t the quality of life he knew she wanted.
Assisted suicide was legal in their state so he wondered if he should bring it up. Being
Christians, what could be so wrong with sending her home to be with Jesus? Is this a political issue, or a matter of the heart? You know, whatever your political leanings are, these are clearly matters of the heart, & God designed His Gospel message to reach them. God’s people deal with these circumstances. We have what it takes to speak to them & to help them.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is tailor made for issues of life & death, suffering & pain, grief, guilt & regret. The Gospel speaks to the heart of that pregnant teen. It speaks forgiveness & offers the presence & the strength of Jesus. The Gospel speaks to the heart of that post-abortive woman & man. It speaks of forgiveness that is big enough for any & for all sin.
The Gospel speaks to the heart of those in situations involving disease, pain & suffering. It speaks of a God who, as long as He gives life, also gives that life meaning & purpose. The Gospel speaks of a God who demonstrated His ability to bring good out of suffering through the crucifixion of His own Son.
How can we possibly label these “political” & withhold the only thing that can speak to such matters of the heart? Politics does not heal. The Gospel is designed to speak to hearts, to your heart, my heart, the heart of every man, woman & child. The Gospel calls us to repentance, because the Gospel has the power to cleanse our heart, & to forgive the sins that flow from it.
The Gospel speaks to our heart these wonderful words, our “warfare is ended.” Through Christ God is at peace with you. He loves you & nothing can take away that love. We can trust Him & turn to Him, rather than to death, as the solution to our problems.
The Gospel speaks to our heart, our “iniquity is pardoned.” Please note that is past tense. The forgiveness of our sins is an objective fact of history! It does not depend upon whether you “feel” forgiven. It does not depend upon whether you can forgive yourself. It depends upon trusting in the atoning work of Jesus that is already accomplished. The Gospel speaks to your heart. Instead of the punishment we so richly deserve, we receive from the Lord’s hand twice as much grace that we never deserve! We receive it in overflowing waters of baptism. We receive it through His abundant & Holy Word. We receive it in His lavish & holy Supper. We live surrounded by this “double grace” & nothing can touch our lives without passing through it.
The Gospel speaks to your heart & calls you to action: “Comfort, comfort my people says your God.” “Speak to My people & the matters of their heart.”
How do you do that? First, be informed about how God’s Word speaks to the life issues. Lutherans For Life can help with resources that are always Bible-based & Gospel-centered. Be informed & then speak to people’s hearts. Speak through your prayers for those you know who are dealing with matters of the heart.
Pray for our country that we might be restored once again to a respect for the inherent dignity of all life, black or white, young or old, healthy or ill. Speak to fellow Christians & show how these issues are indeed matters of the heart. Speak with your actions. Walk beside those who have made mistakes, in order to strengthen & encourage them.
Forgive them, love them & help them in real, practical ways. Support local pregnancy centers. There’s one about a mile from our church. Speak through your compassion for those dealing with end-of-life concerns. Visit our shut-ins & those in nursing homes. Help them see that the body of Christ does care. Support the families of these people.
Lutherans For Life has a booklet entitled How You Can Speak (SHOW SLIDE) which gives over 200 practical ways you can speak to these matters of the heart by sharing the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, in word & in deed.
Many congregations, when they recognize the importance of applying the Gospel to these matters of the heart, form Life Teams to assist in this on a regular & ongoing basis. Perhaps that is something this congregation needs to consider. If anyone is interested, let me or Rich Greiner or Dorothy Zink know of your interest & concern. Lutherans For Life can also help establish & train such teams.
I pray we have all grown in our understanding that the life issues are more than political issues. They are matters of the heart that touch real people’s lives very deeply. But the good news is, well, the Good News! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is tailor made for matters of the heart. May it speak to your heart today with its message of forgiveness, comfort & hope. Amen
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water & the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt & power. Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, & Thou alone. Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace …. To get us into our meditation, let me share a short itinerary of the Lord’s work in the gospels leading up to the text I’m using.
First, let me speak to the campaign that comes to a close today. Three years ago a capital campaign was begun with the high ideals of we the members of St Matthew. Those ideals were motivated with a vision of providing much-needed funds for repairs,(1) educational benefits for our school children,(2) benefits and much needed pay increases for our staff,(3) and government-imposed facility upgrades.(4) This capital campaign was built around the prospect of the ministry our Lord has given us as we perceive it. The vision was stated this way: Moving Our Heritage in Christ Into the Future. [SLIDE 1] It was forward looking, positive, and optimistic.
In some ways I truly think our optimism was a lot like the disciples as they followed Jesus around the countryside, being awed by the healings, the raisings of the dead, the words He spoke to them personally, and just being close to Him, as they were right there in His presence day-after-day. Let me provide just a few snapshots of that day-to-day presence.
· The Lord blesses five loaves and two fish and the disciples feed over five thousand people.
· The crowds of people who were fed want to exalt Jesus to be their earthly King.
· But Jesus tells His disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
· While He goes off to be by Himself to pray.
· The disciples fight the wind and waves of the sea.
· The disciples then see Jesus walking on the water.
· And Peter wants to walk on the water too so he asks, “Jesus, call me to come to you on the water.”
· Jesus does call Peter with a simple word “Come!”
· Peter walks on the water toward Jesus but seeing the tumult around him, begins to sink. [Look at the footsteps of our visual. If we consider those footsteps the footsteps of the campaign. Why did they stop? Why did Peter begin to sink?
· Even in that stormy and momentous malaise Peter still has the sense and the eyes to see Jesus and cry for help.
· A wonderful phenomena occurs in a rather staccato fashion next: Jesus immediately reaches out to Peter
· And immediately they are in the boat.
· Immediately and miraculously, the winds and waves are calmed and stilled. Peace settles over the sea.
· Immediately the boat lands on the shore near Gennesaret.
That brings us to the point and theme of our meditation: THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! The text for our meditation follows the sequence of events just mentioned and is taken from Matthew’s account of what follows when the boat landed at that place Gennesaret.
Matthew 14:34–36 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized him, [Jesus] they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Now doesn’t that look like a successful ministry? People hustling all around, brining others to where they could be in the presence of Jesus. People maybe even struggling to just touch the fringe of His garment, the outer cloak He wore. Why? Because they expected something for their effort. They had heard about Jesus, the feedings, the healings, the teachings, and now it was their opportunity to be with Him and to receive whatever He might do for them. And as the scripture says: “as many as touched [the fringe of his garment were made well.” Success! Right! … But wait till you hear the rest of the story. Multitudes turned away at Jesus’ teachings which are harder to digest than the food and drink and the healings.
What follows all the good in Gennesaret is Jesus saying to the multitudes who were following him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26–27 ESV) I’d like to pose this question for all of us to think on if I may. Q: “Are we following Jesus simply because we want Him to satisfy our temporal, earthly desires?”
Again Jesus said to them: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV) We have all heard the saying, “Never say never.” Yet Jesus says that here, and he means it. The question that raises in human hearts and minds is, Q: “Do I truly believe this?”
Probing into the darkness of human hearts is bound to stir trouble. Sure enough Jesus stirs trouble when he teaches the people this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58 ESV)
The darkness in human hearts says, “Cannibalism!” How can he give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink? We are back to the first question. Q: “Are we following Jesus simply because we want Him to satisfy our temporal, earthly desires?”
If so, we are numbered with those who said: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60 ESV) and when they had said it, they left Jesus. The footsteps stop! …
Likewise here. We can look at all the good things that have occurred in the past 50 years right here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and rightfully say, “Those were great days!” Indeed, those days are marked by a strong evangelism outreach and teaching ministry that built this facility we worship in. The school served as an evangelistic tool to further populate the congregation and grow God’s kingdom. Many, over the years have been moved by St Matthew Lutheran Ministries to undertake a vocation of serving the Lord as professional church men and women. Many here today have, and some still are volunteering many hours at no pay as a way of using themselves to serve the Lord in the best way they can and know. And what else can be said of the LWML, the Mission teams, and ECC, the schools, and, well, you get the point. All of these things are as if Jesus had landed right here at our doorstep and allowed us to touch the fringe of His garment. By His grace we have all been healed, enfolded into his outer garment, made righteous by his blood and challenged to follow him. We have all tasted the bread of heaven and drank of that precious cup through the written Word and His commanded Sacraments that carry with them the promise of forgiveness and power and strength for godly living.
Even so. Even for all the good that has come out of this congregation, the Step Out … Pass It On capitol campaign comes to a close with what some might call a total failure. If we count success by the numbers, I suppose that might be correct. But isn’t that trusting in dollars and cents, numbers and temporal earthly things? Let’s thank God for what has happened and bring this Step Out … Pass it on campaign to a blessed end, and say, “To God be the glory!” THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Amen.
The end of Step Out … Pass it on is not the end for St Matthew Lutheran Ministries. Like Jesus in Gennesaret, there are still people all around that are in need, THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! We are not alone. We are not without hope. His mission and ministry is never stagnant, never stale, never without change or challenge. His disciples simply go where Jesus goes to do what Jesus does. Even though the multitudes turn away because Jesus’ teachings are too difficult, they will never change. Thank God for that! The world and all that surrounds us will always be changing, but our God and our Savior and His Word remains steadfast, inviolate, and faithful to the purpose for which it has been given.
We are here like the disciples of old in this regard, assured and content by His presence with us. What will come next, only He knows! Therefore, let us always seek His way and His will as we go about doing our work in the world today. We live in a broken world that needs healing. That’s our purpose as the body of Christ, as the Church of God, as people moved from the status of death to that of life. That’s our mission here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church which is stated in our own mission statement: “To Know Jesus & to Let Him Be Known.”
Like the apostles, after Jesus ascended into His glory and poured out His Holy Spirit on all His disciples, every believer has the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. This is precisely why we do not measure success by dollars and cents, or numbers large or small. Success is measured by one thing only, the presence of Jesus!
· [SLIDE 6] When people hear the gospel of salvation so that they might come to faith in Christ, that’s success! That means there can be new growth on the true vine, and new birth by the Spirit of the living God. That’s how God measures success.
· [SLIDE 7] When God’s Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity in a public place like this, that’s success! Praise be to God when receptive hearts dwell read, mark, and meditate on that Word.
· [SLIDE 8] When the water and word of Holy Baptism is administered according to Jesus’ own command, that’s success! Praise be to God when it takes hold of a soul by faith.
· [SLIDE 9] When the eternal word made flesh comes to His people in His own Body and Blood to forgive, nurture and nourish their faith in Him, that’s success! For by it they can grow in the grace and favor of God and man, just like Jesus; and that regardless of their age.
It is the Word of God that motivates believers to action. But just hearing the Word won’t do a thing, even though “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 ESV). With faith there is the realization that trust in God also acts. Faith always arouses obedience and obedience always arouses faith. That’s the point Paul makes in verses 10 and 11 of today’s epistle lesson: “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10–11 ESV).
THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! In Christ Jesus we have died to sin and are alive to God. That means a new status, a new life, not because of our holiness and righteousness, but purely and solely because He who is with us is Holy and Righteous.
Therein is our life, our purpose, and our heritage. It is all in Christ! It is He whom we serve as His forgiven and honored children. We are the ones who have touched the fringe of His garment and have been brought from death to life, from darkness into light, from sin into righteousness, if, we feed the Spirit living in us, and not the flesh. THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us!
In His sermon last week our pastor challenged us to act out our faith. I believe he did that not to lay a burden on us that God has not intended, but for Jesus to lay more blessing on us that God certainly has intended. This is how he challenged us:
“Christians today are still unpacking these inexhaustible Christmas gifts from our heavenly Creator. Like Mary, we too should treasure up all these things in our hearts. In that vein, I’m challenging each & every one of you to make it your New Year’s resolution to give up the six Wednesday nights of Lent to Jesus so you can attend the worship services here.” THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Let us hear Him!
Our pastor as any pastor worth his salt would, went on to say:
“Pray about & anticipate the blessings & fellowship Christ will deliver to you, here in His Father’s house. Pray that He will give you a greater ability to understand Jesus, & the love He has for you. Pray that you will be healed of the damage caused by your own sins, as well as that caused by the sins of the people around you. Then he spoke this prayer: “O Lord, the answer to our poverty is not wealth. The answer to our sicknesses is not health. The answer to our sadness is not happiness. The answer to everything that life & death can throw at us is Jesus, & Him alone.”
Here in a very real way, the fringe of our Lord’s garment is still exposed for any who we might bring to him. His footsteps will not stop until he has accomplished all things written in the scripture. We are His footsteps for He is dwelling in us. [SLIDE 10] THE BOAT HAS LANDED, Jesus is With Us! Amen! The peace of the Lord …
2nd Sunday after Christmas – B LSB #862
Text – Luke 2:49-50
And He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.
Do any of you remember hearing that Bible reading, especially the last sentence, & wondering to yourself, “How on earth did Jesus’ own parents not get it?” “…they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them.” Over the years that particular verse has captured my attention & I have to say, I couldn’t understand how Jesus’ parents did not understand.
After all the miraculous circumstances around His birth, the encounter at the temple with Simeon & Anna, the visit of the Magi, the escape to Egypt so Herod wouldn’t kill Him, & what must have been obvious to them every single day – a child that never sinned – after all that, when they find Jesus in the temple they don’t understand that Jesus must be in His Father’s house.
The Bible says Jesus was 12 years old at the time. Maybe after He turned about five, the next 7 years were mostly a routine childhood. Maybe Joseph & Mary sort of got lulled into accepting Him as a good boy, but not all that different from the rest of the children in the village.
After all, the angels & the prophets told them He was the Son of God, yet it took them three days to even consider the fact that He might be in the house of God, otherwise known as the temple. I think we could make the case that Joseph & Mary were just a little bit dense during this entire episode.
Jesus said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And His parents did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. Why didn’t Jesus’ parents get it? What was it about the Son of God being in the house of God that they did not understand? As usual, a good honest look at ourselves will provide the answer. How much do we really understand Jesus? I grew up in a family, so did all my cousins, that went to church every Sunday of the month, not just 2 or 3 of them. We went to church for every single Advent & Lenten service, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Maundy Thursday & Good Friday. We even went to church services on Ascension Day.
At that point in my life, I didn’t appreciate all that time in God’s house, nor did I understand it. It’s apparent that the same thing is true for many of the people who belong to this congregation. We’ve already moved the Thanksgiving Day service to the night before so being in God’s house doesn’t interfere with all the ‘cooking.’
Nevertheless, at most, 45 of you showed up, in God’s house, that evening. It was quite apparent, that just like Joseph & Mary, most of you do not understand the saying Jesus spoke to His parents: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Okay, so I can hear your excuse already. You’re going to claim that you are not Jesus.
I get that, but aren’t you children of God, daughters & sons of God, just like Jesus is? If being in His Father’s house is good enough for our Savior, why is not it good enough for you? Or is it that, exactly like Joseph & Mary, you don’t understand Jesus either?
You see, even in the secular world, everyone realizes that marking the end of one year & welcoming in the beginning of another, is a big deal. There’re parties all around the world, the ball drops in Times Square, & people celebrate everywhere. Very little in those celebrations remembers our heavenly Father’s role in all that, but you expect such things in a secular crowd.
In a Christian community, however, you’d think people would want to honor & thank their Father in heaven for the blessings of the past year. You’d think that mature Christians would understand the importance of ringing in the New Year by seeking their heavenly Father’s blessing for the 12 months to come. We even moved the time of the service from 7 to 6:30 PM to make it more family friendly, so the younger children wouldn’t be out so late. We had something like 31 members of our church show up on New Year’s Eve. Almost no one had to work the next day & there wasn’t even a tableful of turkey & all the fixins to cook the next morning. I wonder how many invited Jesus to their year-end celebration through a prayer?
We should give Joseph & Mary a little slack, when we wonder, “How on earth did Jesus’ own parents not get it?” It seems pretty clear that 90 percent of our congregation does not understand the saying that Jesus spoke to His parents: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
We may be thankful for all that God does but we still resist the idea that we have a duty as His children to respond with more than thanks & praise. It is that ‘serve & obey’ part we wrestle with.
In the same way, we’re delighted God has paid the price to make us His own, but we’re not so delighted in the living under Him & serving Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, & blessedness part. I speak here not to you, but from the perspective of my own stubborn heart & will. I want to belong to God as long as being His does not conflict with my lifestyle.
It seems pretty clear that attending church on Thanksgiving Eve, & on New Year’s Eve, does conflict with the lifestyle of many of you. Along with Joseph & Mary, there is plenty of guilt to go around with the poor understanding that you & I have of Jesus. We want Him to save us from our sins, but wanting Him to change how we live – not so much!
We want to receive what our Savior has to offer, but we find it a stretch to aspire to, or reach for, the saintly lives that befit our identity & calling as the children of God. Jesus wants all His brothers & sisters to be here, along with Him, in His Father’s house. It’s that message His parents do not understand. How about you? Do you get it? Are you in God’s house every opportunity you have? Last Wednesday evening, what was so important that you did not have time to spend 45 minutes in God’s house? At the very least, in line with the sermon hymn, “O Blest the House,” this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke is about parents raising their children in the faith. Being the Son of God, Jesus had to instruct even His own parents.
In all four of the Gospels Jesus is recorded as saying, “Follow me.” Anybody that calls themselves a child of God likes to think they follow Jesus. In today’s reading, Jesus chides His parents with the words, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Is it too inconvenient for you, to follow Jesus in that way? If so, where are you following Jesus?
The sand in the hourglass will not slow down for anyone – threescore & ten, perhaps 80 years, but not much more than that. Even after a whole lifetime of scurrying about, our long list of accomplishments, the things that cause us to burst with pride, will amount to nothingness or, at most, the sweat accumulated on our brow.
As generation follows upon generation, what is it that makes the human condition so helpless & hopeless? In Psalm 90, Moses remains relentless in his honest appraisal of life in this world. The entire problem from beginning to end belongs not with God, but with us.
The problem always has been our guilt – sin which is nothing less than the cause of mortality for the entire human race. Even our secret sins are laid totally bare in God’s sight. You & I have built up the brick wall of death with our own hands, yet we are entirely powerless to tear down that wall. It’s in God’s house that Jesus tears down that wall for us.
If you feel like a guilt trip has been laid upon you for not attending the New Year’s Eve service, consider that the work of God’s Holy Spirit, convicting you of your sin. If you are a child of God, you already know the answer to the guilt trip. It’s found right here in God’s house. Baptism, & God’s Word, create faith in the hearts of God’s people. Along with that faith comes a repentant heart – the ability to repent of our sins. Like all abilities, if we don’t use it, we lose it. The Bible calls that hardening our heart. Pharaoh was very good at it, & he paid the price. So was Judas, & though Jesus called him friend, Judas would not trust in Jesus’ promise to him.
As the closing verses of today’s Gospel reading show, Jesus does leave the temple & go to Nazareth with His human parents. In other words, the unveiling of God’s Son as a boy in the temple was neither complete nor permanent. For now, He returned to the “normal” life of a 12 year-old Israelite boy in 1st century Galilee.
This episode is a glimpse into the deep truth about the person & work of our Lord. We have what’s been called a “secret epiphany,” a brush with things that are not yet fully revealed. Yet God’s insistent mercy drives forward to their fulfillment in the suffering & death of Jesus for the salvation of the world.
Our heavenly Father’s self-revelation in Christ is a glorious mystery that has been proclaimed in all the world. But it is not self-evident, not even for those who saw these things with their own eyes, or heard them with their own ears. There’s more in this Gospel reading than meets the eye or the ear.
Christians today are still unpacking these inexhaustible Christmas gifts from our heavenly Creator. Like Mary, we too should treasure up all these things in our hearts. In that vein, I’m challenging each & every one of you to make it your New Year’s resolution to give up the six Wednesday nights of Lent to Jesus so you can attend the worship services here.
Pray about & anticipate the blessings & fellowship Christ will deliver to you, here in His Father’s house. Pray that He will give you a greater ability to understand Jesus, & the love He has for you. Pray that you will be healed of the damage caused by your own sins, as well as that caused by the sins of the people around you. “O Lord, the answer to our poverty is not wealth. The answer to our sicknesses is not health. The answer to our sadness is not happiness. The answer to everything that life & death can throw at us is Jesus, & Him alone.”
Your Word reminds us, Lord, that there is a time for everything. That truth highlights the changes of our lives as times come & go. As the year has now changed, we come to You seeking Your direction & presence, for if You do not go with us, how can we move forward? Strengthen all who counsel & encourage others with Your truth, & keep us true to You. Amen.
Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, where Jesus Christ is all in all! A home that is not wholly His – how sad & poor & dark it is! Oh, blest the parents who give heed unto their children’s foremost need & weary not of care or cost. May none to them & heaven be lost! Then here will I & mine today a solemn promise make & say: Though all the world forsake His Word, I & my house will serve the Lord! Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet