Life Sunday #2 – 2022 LSB #’s 496, 698, 707
Text – Deuteronomy 30:15
See, I have set before you today life & good, death & evil.
Think about a journey you once took. You may not remember it. It was a long time ago, & you have never been back to that place. You almost certainly made this journey; nearly everyone has. It was a voyage by water, a marine expedition; actually, submarine.
When you were smaller than a poppy seed, you sallied forth. You embarked on a roiling, cascading, four-day journey down a fallopian tube. I know this is strange to think about. It’s strange to talk about. It pushes the envelope of our ability to see & embrace the truth, but this really was you.
No one asked if you were ready. You received no instructions. No one asked, “Do you want to be born? It’s entirely up to you, you know.” No one showed you how, but you put to sea. For the first days of your life, you floated free.
Imagine you had been conscious. They say consciousness flickers in at 24 weeks, but imagine you’d been fully conscious from the beginning. An embryo – a tiny cluster of cells – you spin, you twirl, you tumble at the mercy of forces beyond you.
Had you been conscious, you’d have come to one of two conclusions: Either a merciless current is sweeping me away, or a guiding current is carrying me to where I need to be. In other words, you would have had to make a choice – panic or trust.
But for now, as a tiny embryo, it’s not your choice to make. You can only float – allow the current to carry you. It’s as if the dial has been preset for trust, as if reliance on a power greater than yourself has been prearranged. At the beginning, you did not have the ability to say “no” to your own life. God said “yes,” & that was that. God wanted you, so He did not put that choice in your hands, not just yet. In fact, God commanded you to be. In the exact cadence of His words at the beginning of creation itself, God said: “Let there be Abigail. Let there be Ramon. Let there be Maya,” & it was so. You came to be & God saw that you were very good.
Comes a time, though, when you do – when you must – choose. “I have set before you life & death,” says God. “Therefore, choose life, that you & your offspring may live…” Then God tells you how to make that choice: “But if your heart turns away … to worship other gods … you will surely perish.”
In other words, the way to choose life is to never choose death. Never turn away from God. The dial is preset for life, for trust – keep it there. Your life has been designed for trust. Yes, it is a perilous journey – like tubing on a raging river – but keep trusting. Don’t panic.
Just as He did on the embryonic leg of your journey, the Lord is guiding you still. Just as He did when you cascaded down the fallopian tube, the Lord carries you still. You were created to listen to the words of the Lord. Hear the One who knows you, the One who knows your entire journey. Jesus truly has been there & done that.
But this is how we choose death: We start taking our cues from the impressive powers of a sophisticated world, also known as “other gods.” “Surely you are no longer a child,” beckons the worldly voice. “Surely you have arrived at maturity. Take matters into your own hands. You must, of course. You have no choice. No one else will take care of you.”
And we said, “Of course! You’re right. Oh, the matter is delicate. We’d like to trust God, but with this? I had best see to it myself.” In so doing, we said “no” to trust, “no” to God, & therefore “no” to our own God-given life. We broke away from the guiding current of God’s Word. We chose death.
Picture Mary, a tall 26-year-old from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Already in the 6th
grade, Mary wanted to be a nurse like her mother. She watched strangers greet her mother with tearful gratitude; she watched her mother love them generously. Mary could see that her mother was someone who made a difference. That is what Mary wanted.
After high school, Mary went to Villanova. She not only excelled in her classes; she led a campus organization called Nurses Without Borders. She came to see nursing as more than the practice of medicine. Nursing, she saw, needs to wade into the inescapable issues of social justice.
In her senior year, Mary began to think God might be calling her – if there was a God; sometimes she wondered – she thought God wanted her to make a difference on a larger scale. So, Mary went to the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a PhD in Community Health. Along the way, however, two things happened.
First, she realized healthcare is a global issue. She applied & was accepted to the London School of Economics. The 2nd thing was Michael. She met her soulmate. Michael received his MBA from Penn & was able to secure a position with a large firm in London. They found a flat, & Mary flew over to start classes while Michael wrapped up things at home.
The day before Mary’s classes began, Michael called. He was not moving to London. He’d been offered a job in New York, a position too good to pass up. The phone call got ugly & Michael broke up with the woman he loved. Mary was furious & sick to her stomach.
Sick to her stomach, Mary wondered: “Am I feeling queasy because my life is falling apart? Or am I queasy because…” She got a pregnancy test. It was positive. She panicked. “My life is going down the tube!” she cried. “What’s happening to me?” For half a second, she entertained the notion of having the baby.
“Wait. Am I out of my mind? Michael’s baby? That jerk! And besides, I can’t make a
global difference & raise a child, too. But wait. Couldn’t God have prevented the pregnancy?” She’d figure it out later, but she would get the abortion as soon as possible.
The next morning on the subway – in London they call it “the Tube” – Mary panicked again. “I’m on the wrong train!” Just then a Metronet worker strolled down the aisle. “Is this the train that carries me to the London School of Economics?” Mary asked. “You’re just where you need to be,” said the worker.
When Mary saw the worker’s name on her badge – Cecelia – her thoughts jumped to the word “cilia.” They are hair-like structures which line a fallopian tube. They wave back & forth creating a current that guides the embryo to the uterus, where it needs to be. Mary’s favorite professor once compared cilia to cheerleaders for the embryo, “Go, little person, keep going.”
There ought to be cilia somewhere to guide adults, Mary thought. Just then a woman slid onto the seat beside Mary. “Hi, I’m Liz,” she said. It turned out Liz was also enrolled at the London School of Economics & she was easy to talk to.
As they walked from the Tube to the school, Mary & Liz passed a towering church. Mary thought she might go in sometime to pray. But she must have gazed at the cathedral a moment too long. “Do you go to church?” Liz asked. “Almost never,” said Mary. “I’m a Christian,” Liz replied. Before they parted, they agreed to meet for lunch.
I wonder if Liz was named after Queen Elizabeth, thought Mary as she walked on to class. Then it struck her: Elizabeth. In the Bible, that’s who Mary told about her pregnancy.
Oh, God, no, Mary thought. No! I am not telling anyone. How can I even think of having a baby? No friends, no family & my life, my career, my calling. It’s impossible. I have no choice. I have to take matters into my own hands.
But we do have a choice. “Therefore choose life,” God said, “that you & your offspring
may live.” The way to choose life is to trust. Don’t panic. Have you thought that human life is humanly possible? It’s not. It was never meant to be. Guiding a human being through the journey of life is possible only for God. That’s why the only way to choose life is to trust, to trust its Creator.
Yahweh gives no one a possible life. The call of God is to an impossible life. Otherwise, why trust? And life was created for trust.
At lunch, did Mary pour out her soul to Liz? Did Liz take her hand & say: “I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together.” Did Mary have her baby? Did Michael come to his bloody senses, quit his job, fly to London, beg forgiveness from the woman he loved, open his hand to reveal a beautiful ring, finally asking her to marry him?
Is Mary trusting God for the wellbeing of her child, for her own education, for her calling, for her entire impossible life? Was it through this very experience that Mary finally discerned God’s call?
Is that how she devoted her life to formulating & advocating for pro-human, pro-life public health policies grounded in economic realism, global responsibility, & community resourcing?
If so, this could only have happened through the “cilia” by which God guides us: the people who love & cheer us on, the Word of God in Church, & the sacraments of Baptism & Holy Communion. Through these, God nudges, guides, & carries us, ever unfolding the astonishing journey He has created for our one & only lifetime.
Or did Mary abort her baby? Did she believe the lie that even God could not find a way to carry both her and her baby on the journey? Did Mary trade trust for panic? Did she take matters into her own hands? Was it after the abortion that she began to slip into that church every afternoon to pray: “Oh, Christ, love me again. As you have always carried my life, carry also my sin; carry it to the cross & suffer it away.” Kneeling in that cathedral, does Mary now look up at the statue, at those nail-pierced hands, & plead that somehow Christ still holds her baby in His hand?
Was it through this experience that Mary finally discerned God’s call? Is that how she devoted her life to formulating & advocating for pro-human, pro-life public health policies grounded in economic realism, global responsibility, & community resourcing?
If so, this could only have happened because even though every human being has turned away from Him in panic & rebellion, the heavenly Father found a way – the cross – to carry us still in the strong current of His abiding Word, His pure & amazing grace.
Those two choices are vastly different: to give birth to a child or to abort a child. But one thing is the same: to choose Jesus is to choose life. Jesus holds every life – even the tiniest ones – in the nail-scarred palm of His hand. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill & do on earth our Father’s will as angels do above; still walk in Christ, the living way, with all Thy children & obey the law of Christian love. Spirit of life, of love & peace, unite our hearts, our joy increase, Thy gracious help supply. To each of us the blessing give in Christian fellowship to live, in joyful hope to die. Amen. LSB 698:1 & 3.
Life Sunday #1 – 2022 LSB #’s 735, 573, 922
Text – John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
God Chose You!
Life is filled with so many choices! Depending upon where you live in the world, you may have a greater volume & variety of choices than others. In America, we have choices that people, especially in third-world countries, cannot even imagine. From the moment the alarm rings in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night; our days are filled with choices.
Will I get up or hit snooze on the alarm? Will I have breakfast or not? What will I wear? What will I do? If I leave home, will I do homework or yardwork or housework when I get back? Will I use an app to have dinner delivered or will I dine out or fix dinner at home? Will I watch TV or read a book or go out? Will I go to bed early or late? So many choices!
Listening to this sermon, the choices in that list may seem insignificant. Not all choices are. Many of the things we choose can have life-changing consequences for us & for others; especially if we fail in allowing God to guide our choices.
Does a time come to mind when you regretted a choice you made after you saw how selfish & damaging that choice was? If we’re honest with ourselves, we have all been there & done that. We, & others, have the physical or emotional scars to prove it. We are in company with the rest of humanity, going all the way back to the 1st human being created by God.
“The Lord God took the man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & keep it. 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’” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV). The Lord gave Adam & Eve a multitude of choices in the Garden of Eden. They could eat from a wide variety of trees, yet God made their choices simple. Just avoid eating from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good & evil. Make your choice in line with God’s will, & you will live. Make your choice outside of God’s will, & you will die. The choice was simple until Satan slithered into the garden.
Sadly, Adam & Eve chose to listen to Satan’s voice instead of God’s. By choosing not to follow the design of their Creator, they chose the way of sin & death. Their sin-corrupted DNA has passed on to each one of us.
The choice for Adam & Eve was simple. They had only one tree to avoid. Our choices don’t often seem as uncomplicated, do they? In our time & culture, we are bombarded with countless choices. The sheer volume can be overwhelming & the Covid pandemic exacerbated all of it. More & more of our choices are coming with significant consequences.
Add to that the choices confronting us because technology & science can race ahead with life-altering choices before our culture even considers the potential consequences they have on us & others. Just because we are able to choose something does not mean we should choose to do so, especially before we know the consequence of that choice.
Like Adam & Eve, we often find ourselves playing god, thinking we know better than our Creator what to do with our lives & with the lives of others. We make wrong choices because we’re guided by convenience & comfort & control instead of by the conviction that God is in control & His Word offers the courage & clarity we need to make right choices.
Wrong choices come back to bite us, just like they did with Adam & Eve. Thankfully, the God who chose to create us chose not to let us die in our sin. He chose instead to redeem us so we could be reconciled to our Creator. God came looking for Adam & Eve in their garden of sin, death & despair. He gave them hope when He said to the serpent Satan: “I will put enmity between you & the woman, & between your offspring & hers; he will crush your head, & you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). For all the times our life choices have crushed us with guilt & shame & regret, God chose to send His Son to crush Satan & to be our Savior!
The God who chose to give us life at the moment of fertilization is the same God who chose to rescue us & redeem us for eternal salvation. He did that by sending His Son, Jesus, to experience every stage of human life so we could be forgiven & receive life everlasting with Him! Every stage of human life truly is life.
Jesus could have chosen to remain in the comfort & glory of heaven, leaving us to deal with the consequences of our choices. And who could blame Him for choosing to do that? Yet, because of His love & compassion for His creation, Jesus chose to become one of us so He could provide salvation for all of us.
Jesus chose to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be crucified, to die & to be buried … for us. Three days later, Jesus chose to rise from the dead … for us. Jesus chose to rescue us & restore us so we could be God’s forgiven children & heirs of life everlasting in the new heavens & new earth.
Aren’t you thankful that Jesus chose to do this for you & me & the world?! “You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you that you should go & bear fruit” (John 15:16).
In love & grace, God chose you before the creation of the world to be His child. In Baptism, we were claimed by God the Father to be His children, we were connected to the saving work of His Son, & we were converted into temples of the Holy Spirit.
The God who created us & redeemed us, who lives in us, has put His seal of ownership on each one of His precious children! He has chosen you & appointed you for a purpose – to live as Jesus’ disciples by bearing fruit for His kingdom. By God’s grace, & by His power, we will bear good fruit & make God-pleasing choices that glorify our Lord & Savior who chose to create us & to save us! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for Thy grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 398:1-2, 5, 395, 394
Text – John 2:1
On the 3rd day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, & the mother of Jesus was there.
ON THE THIRD DAY
It seems like an obvious reference. When you mention the 3rd day to any Christian there is one common thought that comes to mind – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So it is rather striking that the apostle John would use that phrase leading into the events of the wedding at Cana. On the 3rd day, when the wine ran out it was a major catastrophe & embarrassment.
It would be an ominous sign for the marriage to have such an obvious & public failure already on the day of the wedding. Would their life together go downhill from there? Some scholars like to debate what possibly could have caused such a humiliating shortage of wine. Scholars also have a tendency to get lost in the weeds & miss the main point.
Clearly, the point the Apostle John was making had nothing to do with the cause of the shortage or he would have mentioned it. God’s Holy Spirit was inspiring him to write, after all. What might the opening phrase have to do with a wedding & the lack of wine?
Think specifically of the struggles of your life – the low points, the sorrows, the humiliations. Have you had any ominous signs in your life which gave you doubts about your future? How have you dealt with them? Have you found answers? Have you learned anything from them? Have you regained a sense of hope for your tomorrow?
Guests look forward to the day from the moment they hear of the engagement, because a wedding is a time of great joy & celebration. Since I grew up in a large extended family, there were a lot of wedding celebrations & the reception always included loud polka music, lots of dancing & great amounts of food & beer. Wine wasn’t such a big deal in that culture.
A toast to the bride & groom always occurred at midnight & the party didn’t usually
end until about 2:00 AM. Those receptions were a time for people to forget all their troubles & all their sorrows as if they were nonexistent. In Jesus’ day those celebrations could last 2 or three days & they also were a time for people to forget their troubles & sorrows as if they did not exist. Holy Scripture uses the well-known event of a wedding celebration as a picture of heaven.
But the point would go in one ear & out the other if there were no antagonist to create some unforgettable drama. At this celebration everything comes to a screeching halt when the wine runs out. John hits us with that detail at the very beginning of the celebration’s narrative.
He writes, “On the 3rd day.” He states that Jesus & His mother are there. Then comes the punch line, “When the wine ran out…” Catastrophe has struck. Satan has attacked. They can’t just make a trip to the local party store & buy more wine. That sort of luxury did not exist in their day, but you can imagine the finger pointing going on concerning who was at fault!
All of us know, from personal experience, what the finger pointing is like. And because sin has completely broken this creation there are plenty of opportunities to point fingers. It gets ugly, & that’s on top of the failures which initiate the finger pointing. Like the hosts of the wedding at Cana the humiliation of our failures is often plain for everyone to see.
How do you respond? Do you get angry when circumstances turn against you? Do you fall into depression? Do you withdraw from the world & long to hunker down in a cabin in the mountains? Do you go on the offensive in order to get them before they get you?
Jesus knows the brokenness of the world in which we live. He knows the pain & the suffering, the heartache & the betrayal. He also knows that fighting fire with fire only increases the inferno of sin. Jesus knows that withdrawing from the struggles of life often leaves those who love you to struggle & to suffer on their own, without your support.
So on the 3rd day, while Jesus was at a wedding celebration that had gone terribly wrong,
He gave a sign that is foreshadowing a future 3rd day. In English we translate it as the first of Jesus’ signs, but it could also be translated as the chief of His signs. In other words, changing the water into wine is representative of the creative & transforming work of Jesus on every level. This sign is not simply about saving face at a wedding, but about life as God created it to be.
This being the chief sign, it also points ahead to what John wrote towards the end of the Gospel, in chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, & that by believing you may have life in His name.” (20:30-31 ESV)
Children of God do already experience that life here on earth, in bits & pieces, but it is a far cry from the life we will experience for eternity. In Revelation 21, the Apostle John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away…” That new heaven & earth is what the sign at Cana pictures for us.
In the new heaven & earth we will not have to forget all our sorrows & troubles because there will be none. Life there will be like a perpetual wedding celebration. On a more concrete, here & now, level we’ll also look at a 3rd day reference in the OT, because as long as we are still alive on this earth, there will be more suffering, sorrow & betrayal to endure.
On the 3rd day Abraham arrived at Mt. Moriah to sacrifice Isaac. That’s recorded by Moses in Genesis 22: “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes & saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I & the boy will go over there & worship & come again to you.’” (22:4-5 ESV)
Before Abraham could enjoy the utter glory of having his son delivered from death by the substitute ram caught in the thicket, before that time of unadulterated joy, Abraham experienced an enormous temptation to fear. It was just as the master of the feast observed at the wedding at Cana, “Everyone serves the good wine first, & when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
Instead of receiving the good wine first, & then the poor, Abraham first had to endure the poor wine as he obeyed God’s command to take his son to Mt. Moriah & sacrifice him there. Upon Abraham’s obedience, then, & only then, he, along with Isaac, received the joy of being set free. This is exactly along the lines of what Jesus said at John 16:33 ESV:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Compared to heaven, all of this life is the poor wine. Tribulation will never cease, but one day the good wine will come, & Jesus will bring it with Him as He returns to take us into our heavenly home.
Some people have the impression that once you follow Jesus you will live happily ever after. Jesus was at the wedding at Cana & they still ran out of wine. Jesus is with you in the day to day affairs of your life & you still have struggles, sorrows & humiliations. That does not mean that God hates you, or is punishing you for your sins. It’s the reality of a broken world.
However, even this broken world is not without meaning & purpose. Sin does not have the final trump card. God’s love does! However, because of our sinfulness, if all we received in this life were good things, we quickly come to expect & even demand them. Dictatorship is not simply a problem that wayward politicians are tempted with. We all know that temptation.
The struggles, sorrows & humiliations of life are allowed, or even sent, by our Creator to teach us humility. Yet, He never teaches without also offering His love. God allowed the wine to run out at the wedding, but He also sent His Son to provide the best wine for the last. Now that His Son has ascended to heaven, God is working through you & me to reveal His love.
First the poor wine, then the finest. First the cross, then the glory. First repentance, then
forgiveness. The heavenly Father is keeping the new creation until the day of our resurrection, but until then He promises that He is working through us & in us. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, on the 3rd day, is proof that God can overcome all things in order to keep His promises.
That is what God offers you & me that we might regain our hope for each new day, no matter what the problems are that we face. It doesn’t mean that life here will go on happily ever after, but it does mean that life in heaven will.
A wedding is the central prophetic symbol for the peace & prosperity that God’s salvation will bring. Most especially, weddings became an OT symbol of the union between God & Israel which would result from Yahweh’s steadfast love for His people.
The world uses many “signs” to predict the future & to give its citizens hope that if they just follow a particular ‘sign’ then all things will go well. The sinful world, & the sinful nature within us, is always looking for a sign that will bring security & happiness. Jesus gave us one, of many, at the wedding at Cana.
It was given that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, & that by believing you may have life in His name. And that life which Jesus gives to us includes a repentant & kind heart. It includes hope for an eternal future of peace & joy. With Jesus’ gift of life, we receive patience & self-control.
Do we use all those gifts well, & all the time? Of course not. That’s why Jesus came. He knew that we needed Him to rescue us, & not just at weddings. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Come, heavenly Bridegroom, Light divine, & deep within our hearts now shine; there light a flame undying! In Your one body let us be as living branches of a tree, Your life our lives supplying. Now, though daily Earth’s deep sadness may perplex us & distress us, yet with heavenly joy You bless us. What joy to know, when life is past, the Lord we love is first & last, the end & the beginning! He will one day, oh, glorious grace, transport us to that happy place beyond all tears & sinning! Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Crown of gladness! We are yearning for the day of Your returning. Amen. LSB 395:2 & 6.
Baptism of Our Lord – C LSB #’s 605, 358:8-9, 12-15, 922
Text – Isaiah 43:1
But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
CREATED BY GOD
Has the thought ever crossed your mind that God hates you? The devil would love for you to believe it. It might be that God also wants you to consider that question, “Does God hate you?” The sermon text is the answer, it is God’s answer, to those emotions!
This should help clarify in your mind what’s going on as the prophet Isaiah writes to the people of Israel. You see, at this point in their long history, they are convinced that God hates them. They aren’t even sure anymore if He’s real, but if He is, the recent years of their history make it clear that the heavenly Father is out to destroy them.
It’s like this – the people of Michigan, you & me, & everyone you know who lives close to you, are the chosen people of God. We’ve been told that for hundreds & hundreds of years. But one day, the evil governor of New York sends his armies to ransack the state of Michigan, to plunder all of our wealth, & then to cart us off to sweat shops & slavery in New York City.
When the armies arrive in Michigan they capture our governor, line up all of her sons in front of her, & execute them. And to make that horrific sight the last thing she ever sees, they gouge out her eyes, carry her back to New York City & imprison her until she dies. Finally, every last building in the city of Lansing is burned to the ground.
Through all of that, the people of God never once repented or sought to turn back to Him for deliverance. And that was the culmination of 30 years of warfare & destruction, right there in the promised land. That is how the city of Jerusalem, & the nation of Judah, came to its end under King Nebuchadnezzar. As chapter 42 comes to a close, this is how Isaiah
summarizes the situation:
“They (Israel) were not willing to walk in His roads, they would not hear His teaching. And He poured upon [Israel] wrath, anger & the fury of war; it blazed all about him, but he did not know; it burned him, but he did not take it to heart. And now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, & who formed you, O Israel. ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by my name: You are mine! When you pass through the waters, I am with you, & through the rivers, they do not overwhelm you. When you walk in the midst of fire, you are not scorched, & in the midst of flame, it does not burn you.’”
Did you notice the turn in the middle of that quotation! It was not the nation of Israel that turned, but God the heavenly Father. As chapter 42 draws to a close, He has finished His alien work of bringing death to the sinful nature of His people. As chapter 43 begins, Yahweh has returned to His proper work which is to create life – abundant life.
Jesus makes that point in the Gospel of John, “I came that they may have life & have it abundantly.” (10:10b ESV) Unfortunately, because of man’s fall into sin, we twist & turn that life away from its Creator. We don’t simply wander off the path, we run away from it, headlong into the wilderness of sin, & in Isaiah’s day, God’s people had been there for a very long time.
Our nation, our culture, the people of our land, compared to our past, appear to be going to hell in a hand basket. Rebellion against God’s creation is no longer simply a matter of promoting the theory of evolution. Rebelling against God’s creation no longer has to do with merely rejecting the spiritual identity that Yahweh has given to His people.
In our nation today, rebellion now has to do with rejecting the physical identity that God has given to His people. In the very 1st chapter of Holy Scripture, Yahweh teaches the truth that is now being rebelled against by so many in our nation: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)
The question that is looming over Christianity in America is this, what will God do next? In the little picture, He is always doing both His alien & His proper work. In many small ways, Yahweh is always bringing death to sinful natures & life to saintly natures. The question, however, concerns the big picture. Is our nation doomed, or will God relent? Americans have turned against Him in so many ways, yet the greater sin is that in too many situations we no longer even consider God to be relevant. Not knowing our exact future, our call is to be ready!
After the vigorous denunciation of Israel as chapter 42 ends, there is a very sharp transition as chapter 43 begins. Clearly, Israel has done nothing to earn salvation. They have not chosen to follow God, but have rejected Him instead. Still, Yahweh turns back to them with His proper work of creating life. Punishment alone will never return God’s people to Him.
At God’s direction, Israel had been carried off into exile in a foreign land. Now, the Lord’s alien work of discipline had run its course. The testimony of the OT never has to do with Israel’s faithfulness. They have none. Instead, the OT chronicles the faithfulness of Yahweh, who created & formed Israel to begin with.
How effective was Israel as God’s witness? While He summoned the nation to be His servant, Israel entraps itself in idolatry thus giving a completely negative witness of truth to the nations. Unable to see or hear, it fails miserably. Therefore, Yahweh chooses another Servant to stand faithfully & in the place of Israel. Through Him, the final creation begins.
Yahweh claimed Israel as His own in the Exodus from Egypt & it’s particularly portrayed by Israel’s passing through the waters of the Red Sea. The same God claims us in Holy Baptism, again as we pass through the waters to which His word is connected. When they accepted God’s claim on them, Israel was filled with hope. The same is true for us.
Such a response to what God has done for us is called faith. Faith is a relationship in which was yield ourselves to Him & to His will for us. Not to listen, always to be speaking, to want to retain the initiative, always to insist on defining ourselves is to reject God. It reveals a rebellious spirit. It sounds a lot like what is being promoted in & by our culture today. It is God’s desire that His people be molded & formed in accordance with His will, which sometimes requires the fires of affliction. His faithful are facing these fires in an increasing number today.
These fires may be the result of one’s own sin; the by-product of the sins of others, or simply part of the situation in which the Lord chooses to place us. Yet, we should realize that it is always God’s intention to bring us blessing through whatever affliction we may be called to endure. Chapter 42 of Isaiah speaks of affliction which was to prepare His people for grace.
Chapter 43:1 begins with the language of Genesis, & verse 7 includes those words again, “…thus says the Lord who CREATED you, He that FORMED you…”
That 2nd verb suggests His control over the development of each of His creatures. Not only does existence begin as a result of His command; all the many elements that enter into the life of one of God’s children are supervised & controlled by the Creator.
The word REDEEMED follows & it pictures the reclaiming of a person by making a payment or by providing a substitute. The result, not only has God created Jacob & developed the nation, He is even ready to redeem it after it has been lost through its own sin.
Thus, when God’s redeemed people go through fiery trials, they can know that He is with them to lead & to protect. God’s creative power is necessary to turn us from darkness to light, from the realm of Satan to the realm of Yahweh. Under Satan’s dominion we become nothing just as we were nothing before God created us or called us into being.
Therefore, if infants are baptized, then God is at work calling them, creating them again, in the 2nd birth. Also, these words of the OT reading are a doubling of the encouragement, in verses 1 & 5, “Do not fear.” In addition, V. 5 foreshadows the church as the assembly of all believers in Christ, the true Israel, founded by Jesus – Jew & Gentile alike. It foreshadows God’s final gathering of the elect from the four corners of the earth. The Christian church today is the new Israel, the fulfillment of ancient Israel that failed to follow Yahweh’s teaching. And this church is founded on Jesus Christ. After His suffering, death & resurrection, a new Israel is incorporated into the covenant & becomes a righteous witness to the nations.
God’s proper work is that of giving life to the new man that He creates within us. His alien work is that of bringing death to the old man within us. That is the work that causes us to believe that God hates us. Yet, both need to occur in order that we be saved. So Isaiah writes:
“But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” Amen.
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest, through whom the sinful world is blest! You came to share my misery that You might share Your joy with me. Ah, Lord, though You created all, how weak You are, so poor & small, that You would choose to lay Your head where lowly cattle lately fed! And so it pleases You to see this simple truth revealed to me: that worldly honor, wealth & might are weak & worthless in Your sight. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child, prepare a bed, soft, undefiled, a quiet chamber set apart for You to dwell within my heart. Amen. LSB 358:8-9, 11-12.
2nd Sunday after Christmas – C LSB #’s 367, 387, 379
Text – Ephesians 1:4 NIV
For He chose us in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy & blameless in His sight.
BEFORE THE CREATION
How are the Christmas presents holding up? They can have a rather short-term life. I bought a godchild of mine a car racetrack set one year. It was broken within a month. And older people tend to complain that things don’t last like they should. So you may have heard the phrase, “They just don’t make ’em like they used to!”
The United States is known as a society of people who not only seek but demand instant gratification. In a humorous play on that tendency, where I lived in Colorado there was a restaurant with this sign, “We guarantee fast service, no matter how long it takes.” At the opposite extreme of our impatience is a story I heard regarding life in ancient Korea.
There, when the father died, the eldest son was expected to mourn his father’s death for three years, & their tradition required that he do so 7 days a week. The son would often build a small house near the grave & he’d live there the entire 3 years. That’s quite a lesson in being patient & looking at life with a long-term outlook.
That happens to be one of the points made in the sermon text today. Paul writes that we were chosen already before the creation of the world. He is trying to help the Ephesians adapt to the concept of Christian hope which is a long-term outlook. In the city of Ephesus the concept of ‘fate’ was seen as ruling their lives.
‘Fate’ is capricious, it is moody, it is fickle & unpredictable. The whys & wherefores of curse or blessing are a continual mystery. With ‘fate’ as their highest god, people tend to live very superstitious lives & good fortune always has strings attached. There are no guarantees with ‘fate,’ & without a guarantee there’s little point in taking a long-term outlook. ‘Fate’ has no history or track record as Yahweh does. The God of Abraham & Isaac & Jacob has a history of making prophecies & fulfilling them. People with faith in Christ are able to trust in Him because He always follows through, no matter how long it takes.
In our economy, computers become obsolete the moment you walk out of the store with them. A new car loses several thousand dollars of value the minute you drive it off the lot. Even particular models of running shoe will be phased out, after only two or three years, purely for marketing reasons.
As far as attitude is concerned, Americans have a lot in common with the people of Ephesus. We’ve surrendered to the natural tendency to focus on a short-term outlook. If we don’t see results within a few weeks we bail out. It’s our sinful nature to demand instant gratification. It takes discipline & training to practice delaying gratification.
Today’s younger generations need to be taught from Ephesians, about delayed gratification. The older generations need to brush up on it, & to practice it in all areas of their lives, not just those which suit their fancy. Our Father in heaven chose us in Christ to be holy & blameless in His sight, not just in our own sight.
Our lives leave a lot of room for improvement in respect to being holy & blameless. Those are such perfect standards that they are not attainable. Anyone who realizes the implication is forced to confront a struggle. Because of their short-term worldview, the Ephesians struggled with the concept of being at peace with God on a long-term basis.
Americans struggle with that concept too, & the majority of them today are coming to the conclusion, “Why bother?” They figure God can get along without them. They seem to view Christianity as being more about a lifestyle than about a relationship. It’s like Christianity is about trying to be holy & blameless, rather than about being a child of God. Viewing religion as if it’s about trying to be holy & blameless leads to all the wrong conclusions. It’s easy to develop a false sense of righteousness. It’s easy to develop a false sense of hopelessness. Either case leads to a short-term outlook on life, because neither case depends upon an eternal God in order to make it through the day.
Instead, people look to the stars, in horoscopes & psychic readings, to discover their ‘fate.’ People look to the events of their life to find purpose & meaning. For satisfaction, we look to how much we accomplish, or to get by with doing as little as possible in order not to be the fool who always gets taken advantage of.
Being so focused on the short-term, we fail to see the forest for the trees. In that shortsighted, & sinful, view all the details of earthly existence end up becoming the only substance of our existence. God fades out of the picture & we wind up worshipping the created things instead of the One who created them.
The 1st chapter of Ephesians opens by worshipping God. Paul expresses thanks to God the Father for choosing us already before the creation of the world, before any of the events of our day. That means our value & worth is not intimately connected with the details of our earthly existence. It is not dependent upon our lifestyle, but upon our relationship.
It is God the Father who establishes that relationship through His act of choosing us. He chose you to be His adopted sons through the holy & blameless life of His begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Once we understand that life & religion are not about trying to be holy & blameless, then we can truly relax & rest in the love of the Father who adopted us.
Then we serve Him joyfully, not out of fear or compulsion like those who serve ‘fate.’ Then we do not need the advice of horoscopes, because we know that God the Father has our life in His almighty hands. He has plans already from before the creation to give us hope & a future. And He is not a capricious & moody lord as ‘fate’ is. We can never know the will of ‘fate’ but we do know the will of our heavenly Lord, because He revealed it to us in His Word.
New Year’s Eve has come & gone, & it is common to picture that event with an hourglass. The sands of time keep slipping through the hourglass of history, but the children of God have a foothold on something rooted in eternity. We live in this world but are not of it. We live in time, but are not imprisoned by it.
Others may fear what awaits us tomorrow, next month, next year, but Christians may face the future calmly because our safety, purpose & identity are based in God’s action, NOT ours. Fear comes from the knowledge that we can & we do fail. It comes from the realization that we cannot predict exactly when we will fail.
Heavenly joy comes from knowledge that God knows all our failures ahead of time & they do not catch Him by surprise. His long-term outlook includes all of history, & for us He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Heavenly joy rests in the fact that all of our failures have been forgiven & forgotten by Jesus.
A long-term outlook is able to look even beyond sickness & death to the resurrection & eternal life. For the joy set before Him (meaning our resurrection & eternal life) for that joy Jesus endured a torturous death on the cross & even the hell of being abandoned by His Father. All that so He could speak these words:
“…I am the resurrection & the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; & whoever lives & believes in Me will never die…” (John 11:25-26) It was for that which God chose you & me even before the creation.
Your life is not plan B. It is not ‘fate.’ Your life is not God’s 2nd choice, or all that was left. We can truly take a long-term outlook already today, because as God’s children we will never die that eternal death. Christ has won the victory & His resurrection from the dead guaranteed you that victory for all eternity. If the people you know insist upon speaking of ‘fate,’ then tell them that the only ‘fate,’ which exists for the children of God, is the ‘fate’ of eternal life.
So how are your Christmas presents holding up? Yes, that was a trick question. I’m checking to see if you’re learning to think with a long-term outlook instead of a short-term one. I’m not concerned with any of the earthly presents you received, all of which will one day be destroyed. I mean, “How are the blessings of forgiveness & eternal life holding up?”
That is a good question to ponder each & every day of the year. Amen.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room & heaven & nature sing… No more let sins & sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found… Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, while fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains repeat the sounding joy… Amen. LSB 387:1, 3 & 2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet