4th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 611, 609:1, 3-6, 570
Text – Luke 15:1-3
Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees & the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners & eats with them.” So He told them this parable:
EATING WITH SINNERS
He had the haunted look of an ex-con. What he was an ex-Marine. A city kid who’d grown up hunting each fall with his relatives in South Dakota, he was a good shot. The Marines had put him to work as a sniper in Vietnam. He could kill from nearly 300 yards away, but he told us, he found that he didn’t like killing. He wanted out.
He spoke about the Marines with a mixture of affection, pride & bitterness. “They was the best family I ever had,” he said. “A good family, but,” he added, “when I got out, what could I put on a job application for my past experience? Sniper? That don’t look too good.
He had found work as a day laborer & long-haul trucker, & finally had settled into a steady job as a car mechanic. He said things were looking up. He was on his 1st vacation in a long time, & thought he might go home to see his folks.
“Me & dad,” he told us, “we never got along. He was in the Corps & proud of it. When I signed up, he told me, ‘You’ll never make it as a Marine.’ It’s been years since I seen him. Maybe it will be better now...”
It was getting late & we prepared to leave. The young man reached into his pocket & drew out a medal. David was clearly impressed since he recognized it as an Expert Marksman’s Medal, & said, “Wow. You must have been good. They don’t give these away.” But we both demurred when, in the tipsy fervor of the moment, he tried to give us the medal.
“No,” we said, “you earned this; it’s yours.” But we finally accepted it, resolving to give it back to him the next day, after he sobered up. As it happened, we didn’t see him that day, or ever again. When he returned to Minneapolis, he knocked on the door of his parents’ apartment, & called out. His father opened the door with a gun in his hand & shot his son in the heart at point-blank range. Some fathers do not always welcome their children home!
That is a jarring opening for a sermon, but it illustrates what Jesus encountered in His ministry: “…the Pharisees & the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners & eats with them.’ So He told them this parable.” Jesus proceeds to tell them the parable of the Lost Sheep, then the Lost Coin & finally the Lost Son.
All three parables address the same issue, the grumbling of the Scribes & Pharisees, because Jesus was welcoming home those who were sinners. In the parable of the Prodigal, or Lost, Son, the action begins with someone who’s basically grumbling. He’s not satisfied with his life so he tells his father, “Give me the share of property that is coming to me.” (Luke 15:12a)
Things reach a climax with the older son telling his father why he’s not satisfied: “Look, these many years I have served you, & I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30)
In this chapter of Luke there’s a whole lot of grumbling going on. Jesus tells a parable about two grumbling sons to address head on the grumbling of the Scribes & the Pharisees. If you notice, the younger son grumbled that he was not happy at home. The older son grumbles that the younger son is home, & his father is eating with him who is clearly a sinner.
It is easy, in this broken world, to become cynical, to know for certain that someone will never repent. The older son was seeing the kingdom of God in action & he could not recognize it. God eating with repentant sinners is a picture of heaven, because repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit restoring the kingdom to the Garden of Eden. The repentance of the prodigal son forces the climax in this parable. It draws the older brother’s lack of repentance out into the open & highlights his failure, his unbelief. It drives him over the edge & he humiliates his father in front of the guests. Still, the father welcomes this son as well:
“…Son, you are always with me, & all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate & be glad, for this your brother was dead, & is alive; he was lost, & is found.” (Luke 15:31-32 ESV) And that’s where Jesus allows the parable to end, on the Gospel note of welcome to the older son. The Pharisees & Scribes, you & me, are left to wonder, “How did the son respond?”
We are left to ponder, “How do we respond?” Are we like the younger son, a sinner who repents? Are we like the older son, a sinner who is still undecided? And if we do believe in Jesus as Savior from our sin, do we forgive others & welcome them home with no strings attached? In other words, what kind of parent are you? What kind of child are you?
Lutherans for Life operates a ministry called “Word of Hope” that helps men & women who’ve been involved in abortions to receive healing from Jesus. Their theme is Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted & binds up their wounds.” Many of the people who take part in violence against life feel like prodigal children.
Our Lord never ceases to see Himself as Father even to these. God breaks His heart open as much for them as for their victims. He keeps reaching out in reconciliation with the relief, healing & peace that they seek. We know the way to our generous Father in heaven because He has guided us on that way Himself.
We find that happening at the very beginning of Luke’s chapter 15: “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].” (15:1 ESV) That is not simply the “hear” of our language, as in, “Yeah, I hear you!” The Greek word includes the idea of obedience to what is heard. So we know these particular sinners had more going on than simple curiosity. In the verses right before the Gospel reading for today, as chapter 14 drew to a close, Jesus had been talking of the cost of discipleship. He then speaks the words that the sinners & tax collectors were responding to: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So Chapter 15 begins: “Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].”
Those sinners had heard the Good News Jesus was preaching about the forgiveness of their sins. They believed it & were drawn to it. So they drew near to Jesus to receive it. God’s Son would gladly bless them by taking away their guilt & their shame. He would welcome them home to life in the kingdom of God.
The three parables about the LOST each revolve around the idea of welcoming, & being in fellowship with, sinners who have seen their need & turned to God for that need to be met. For us to offer the grace of God’s forgiveness to others is a costly undertaking. Though the forgiveness is free we may pay the price of humiliation & betrayal. Jesus certainly did.
The season is often held up as a time to “give up” something for Lent. In essence that tradition speaks to the idea of recognizing & paying the cost of discipleship. It’s meant to help us learn that following Jesus will make demands upon our time, our talents & our treasure. Throughout history there have been people who paid with their lives for following Jesus.
Have you had ears to hear? Have you been drawn to Jesus through His message of turning back to your heavenly Father, as the “Prodigal Son” returned to his? Now, you can show others that way.
Maybe you’ve been like the older son, always doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, thinking it’s ‘what you do’ which makes you valuable to your Father? Have you been jealous of those who are being ‘let off the hook’ in spite of their poor decisions, or lack of effort, as they are forgiven & welcomed home? Have you struggled to accept people who value things differently than you do, especially if some of their ‘things’ are destructive, or even outright evil? If you find yourself in any of those ‘places’ this teaching from Jesus is for you. This demonstration of your heavenly Father’s love is meant to encourage you toward repentance. Is your heart turned toward Jesus, or is turned away from Him?
While this world still exists, the heavenly Father’s heart is reaching out, even running towards you, & welcoming you! No matter what you’ve done, or failed to do, you can be restored to the status Yahweh created for you as His child – an heir of the kingdom of heaven. Don’t drag the struggles & bitterness of this life into the next. That is Satan’s plan for you.
It seems that St. Paul was applying the lessons of this parable when he wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. …Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a, 17 ESV)
Repentance is about returning to the ‘new you’ – the new creation which the Holy Spirit is building you into. And even though some earthly fathers, due to the brokenness of sin, do not always welcome their children home, the Father in heaven will never snuff out a smoldering wick. He always welcomes home every one of His wayward children who turn to Him.
God the Father sent God the Son to suffer the humiliation of our sin, through death on the cross, so that justice was served, God’s honor was upheld. It is fitting to celebrate & be glad since at one time we were dead & now are alive; we were lost, but now we are found. Amen.
Sheep that from the fold did stray no true shepherd e’er forsaketh; weary souls that lost their way Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh in His arms that they may live: Jesus sinners doth receive. Oh, how blest it is to know: were as scarlet my transgression, it shall be as white as snow by Thy blood & bitter passion; for these words I now believe: Jesus sinners doth receive. Amen. LSB 609:3, 5.
 Norris, Kathleen, Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), p. 322-323.
Midweek 4 – 2019 LSB #’s 433, 722, 709
Text – 2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
GOD’S WILL & MY SUFFERING
Five people sit on the floor in a semi-circle. It’s dark & they’re in an upstairs room of an abandoned house in Crestwood, Missouri. They’ve come to hear one woman speak & are mesmerized by her story. Week after week, they return for an hour as she tells them about her near death experiences. She has died & been brought back to life – again & again.
That is the basic premise of a 2016 drama released on Netflix, but you don’t need to turn to fiction for stories of near death experiences. Tune in to Afterlife TV where Bob Olson, former private investigator, now conducts interviews with those who have had near death experiences. He calls himself an Afterlife investigator who seeks to weed out the facts from the fiction.
If this all seems strange, like something that only happens out there in the world, don’t forget that the church herself has published stories of those who’ve returned from experiences of life after death. In July 2010, you had The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. It was the story of Alex Malarkey who visited heaven after a tragic automobile accident.
Four months later, you had Heaven Is for Real, the story of Colton Burpo, who visited heaven when he came close to death during an appendicitis operation. There he met his great-grandfather & an older sister he never knew about. Whereas Alex Malarkey later recanted his story, Colton Burpo’s story was made into a major motion picture.
Whether it’s fiction or factual investigation, whether it’s the culture or the church, there has always been an interest in the afterlife. People are wondering if heaven is for real. The reason I bring this up is that it helps us understand what’s so amazing about the text from the apostle Paul. As Christians, we are familiar with Paul’s words about his thorn in the flesh: “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me . . . three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me, but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” We are familiar with these words, but we are not always familiar with their context.
When you hear these words in their context, you can’t help but be amazed at the spiritual wisdom of the apostle Paul. He had an amazing story to tell. It was not a near death experience yet Paul had visited heaven; to be more specific, “the 3rd heaven” – the place where God dwells.
Fourteen years before he wrote this letter, Paul was taken into the heavenly realms. Whether it happened in his body or out of his body, he’s not sure. What he does know is that he was taken up into “Paradise” & heard things from God.
We are also familiar with Paul’s Damascus road experience, the moment when Jesus appeared to him & brought about his conversion. Paul frequently refers to that when asked about his apostleship. But, after his conversion on the Damascus road & before his 1st missionary journey, Paul had another experience – this experience of heaven.
Before Paul made any travels as a missionary in the world, he travelled to paradise to be with the Lord. Paul, indeed had an amazing story to tell, & he had a good reason to tell it. The Corinthians were troubled by false teachers – super apostles – apostles “beyond measure.” These were false teachers, preaching a different Jesus, a different spirit, a different gospel.
They boasted in their visions. In fact, they used their visions & their extraordinary experiences as proof that they were indeed sent by God.
That gave Paul the perfect opportunity to tell about his vision, about his experience of heaven, about the time when God took him into Paradise & spoke directly to him. Paul has the perfect experience to point to. He had been to heaven, in the presence of God, heard his voice, been told mysteries, & he could reveal exactly what it was really like. But, even though Paul had an amazing story to tell & had a good reason to tell it, he chose not to talk about heaven. Instead, Paul talks about earth, about his thorn in the flesh. Imagine that!
That would be like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon & then going into a 5th grade science class & talking about the rocks in his backyard. It would be like going to the Grand Canyon & spending the day taking pictures of the trash in the dumpsters. It doesn’t make sense.
You’ve had this amazing experience of the heavenly realms & you want to talk about your earthly struggles? Why? Could it be that Paul knows something? Well... he knows someone – Jesus, the crucified Lord. By dying on the cross, Jesus experiences sin’s punishment & removes it from us. By lying in the grave, Jesus experiences death & delivers us from it.
By rising from the dead, Jesus defeats Satan & brings life to His people – life that cannot be defeated – though sin, death & the devil do the worst they can do to us. In Christ, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, but that power to protect us is made known in our weakness.
For that reason, we see God not when we stare at the light but when we gaze into the darkness. At a conference on Theology & the Arts, a woman made this visible. She was painting Psalm 23, but it didn’t look like Psalm 23.
As you glanced at the canvas, you couldn’t see a shepherd & you couldn’t see sheep. There were no green pastures & no still waters. Instead, on a large canvas, before an audience, the artist was painting with harsh strokes of black paint. On one side was a mountain – dark & foreboding. On the other side was another mountain – darker & more foreboding still.
In between the two mountains was a very small pass &, in that place, was standing the figure of a very small child. It was a child abandoned in the darkness. It was difficult to keep looking. But, as you did, you began to see that the child was not alone. Within the dark figure of the mountain, what formerly had looked like ledges, now appeared to be a hand leading the child. And what had previously looked like a rock formation jutting into the sky began to look like the curve of a shepherd’s crook.
In the darkness of this valley of the shadow of death, a figure appeared – a shepherd leading a child. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me. Your rod & your staff, they comfort me.” That was the verse the artist was focusing on. After painting, the artist talked about her work.
She said, “Psalm 23 was one of my favorites. But I was always struck by what I thought did not belong in that psalm. You start with such a wonderful vision of green pastures & peaceful waters. Then you come across the valley of the shadow of death. ‘Why does that have to be in there?’ I asked myself. I wanted to just take that part out of the psalm.”
“But then, one day, I noticed something. When you read the psalm, you start out with a shepherd & sheep. When you get to that part of the psalm – when you get to the valley of the shadow of death – suddenly, this shepherd is talked about in a personal way. Psalm 23 does not say, ‘I will fear no evil for the shepherd is with me.’ No, it says, ‘for You are with me.’”
“Suddenly this shepherd is ‘You.’ God becomes personal in the midst of suffering. That’s what it’s like in the psalm & that’s what it has been like in my life.” Can you see what the apostle Paul is teaching us today? God makes His strength known in weakness. God’s power is perfected in weakness. His power comes to its fulfillment there.
You see, God’s power is not for Himself alone. It is a power used in love for the sake of His people. When you reach that point where there’s nothing left to hold on to, then you can realize there is someone holding on to you. For this reason, Paul refuses to talk about his glorious visions & focuses instead on his gracious experience of God who works in the midst of suffering. Rather than inviting us to contemplate the rich realm of paradise that he saw in his vision, Paul asks us to see the wonderful realm of grace that he constantly experiences in daily life especially in this world.
The God of all things offered Himself in love for His people, rose from the dead & now rules, coming again & again into our daily lives to make His wonderful love known there. Just as Jesus reveals Himself to His disciples by showing them His wounds, He continues to reveal Himself to His people today in places of weakness & suffering where His love is at work.
A pastor once had the privilege of seeing God at work when visiting a couple from his congregation. Harold & Esther were in their late eighties. Harold was hard of hearing, suffering from early signs of dementia, & Esther was facing congestive heart failure. Their future was precarious to say the least.
Esther was in bed with the flu when the pastor came to visit. After he prayed with the couple, Harold wanted to take Esther’s temperature to see if she was any better. Esther smiled at the pastor as Harold walked out of the room. Evidently, this was a repeated ritual of his. After he put the thermometer in her mouth, they sat & waited.
The pastor heard the thermometer beep but saw that Harold wasn’t taking action. Esther then reached up & touched her husband’s sleeve. She pointed to the thermometer. So Harold nodded & took it out. While he was reading her temperature, Esther looked at the pastor with a smile & said, “He’s hard of hearing.”
The pastor realized that he’d just been privileged to see one small glimpse of the power of God. No, it was not like seeing a sudden deliverance from death or an amazing rescue by helicopter from flooded waters. It was just two elderly people, caring for one another, as best as they knew how, in the normal routine of daily life. But that is the place where the Shepherd comes. Our Creator knows the life span of sparrows, numbers the hairs of our head, & sees something as small as Esther’s flu with Harold’s feeble care. The Lord of the universe was at work in the lives of Esther & Harold.
As the pastor left that visit, he marveled at the strength of God as it was present in the midst of their weakness. They’d been married for over 60 years: “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness & in health.” They were approaching the moment when death would part them. Yet, there was a strength present that was a gift from God.
God was working through His gift of marriage. He had made them one, so that they knew each other’s weaknesses. The way in which they cared for one another, accommodating for & working through their weaknesses, taught the pastor the beauty of God’s gift of marriage. God’s power was indeed being perfected in the midst of this weakness.
God makes His strength known in weakness. He did it for Paul. He did it for the artist. He did it for Harold & Esther. He does it for you.
Our world is interested in near death experiences. They believe that in focusing on what happened after an experience of death, they’ll gain a glimpse into the ways & the wisdom of God. The apostle Paul encourages us not to be interested in near death experience, but rather to keep one death experience near – the death of Jesus.
Through His death & resurrection, we are brought into the wonder of the kingdom of God. And so, during Lent, we come to remember the passion of our Lord. Here, we see God’s strength in the midst of weakness; hope in the midst of heartache; help in the midst of despair.
Here, we receive once again the assurance of God’s love & the knowledge that no matter how great our needs, no matter how strong our suffering, God’s grace is greater, & God’s love is
stronger. For God makes His strength known in our weakness. Amen.
Lord, when the tempest rages, I need not fear, for You, the Rock of ages, are always near. Close by Your side abiding, I fear no foe, for when Your hand is guiding, in peace I go. Amen. LSB 722:2.
3rd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #685
Text – 1 Corinthians 10:11
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
LIVING IN THE SHADOW
In case you haven’t heard of it, Ken Ham & the Answers in Genesis ministries have built a full scale, life size model of Noah’s Ark. About an hour south of Cincinnati it is a sight to see. You can spend hours exploring the inside of what is actually a museum explaining how the Ark might have operated, & how those living in it might have spent their time.
For just over one year it was a sanctuary for all the land creatures that were tasked with repopulating the earth after The Flood. Having spent four years stationed onboard a U.S. Navy submarine; I know something of what the hardships of life would’ve been like on Noah’s boat. I spent plenty of tedious months out in the ocean & I had zero desire to ever go back.
Then, I stepped on board the Ark. When you arrive, there’s a place at one end where you hear the narrative of The Flood read to you as recorded in the book of Genesis. At appropriate times you hear the rains fall, the raging winds blow, & I felt the darkness of that day of death descending upon the land. I could almost feel the boat lifting off the bottom as if to float.
In that moment I sensed the power & majesty of God in a way that drew me back to that great & terrible day when God acted to save Noah & his family. And it was the 1st time, since I vowed never to set foot on the ocean again, that I could say, “It would have been an incredible experience to ride that boat to sea.” It was a monumental event in the course of world history.
If you’re wondering yet, what this opening illustration on the Ark has to do with St. Paul writing in Corinthians about the end of the world, listen to the words of 2 Peter 3: “[Scoffers] deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of His command, & He brought the earth out from the water & surrounded it with water. Then He used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens & earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the Day of Judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.” (2 Peter 3:5-7 NLT)
The destruction of the world through The Flood, according to St. Peter, is connected to the destruction of the world on the coming Day of Judgment. A few verses later Peter continues:
“…the Day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, & the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, & the earth & everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy & godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God & hurrying it along. On that day, He will set the heavens on fire, & the elements will melt away in the flames.” (2 Peter 3:10-12 NLT)
St. Peter could be a fire & brimstone preacher, but his point is this: “What holy & godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God & hurrying it along.” And the Apostle Paul is expanding on that idea in the sermon text for this morning when he writes: “…but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”
For thousands of years con artists have come & gone predicting the end of the world down to the day & the time. Every one of them has been wrong, but the prophets & apostles of Holy Scripture are not crackpots trying to con us into giving away our possessions for their own gain. The vast majority of them were willing to die for the truth they taught & believed.
St. Paul is warning the Corinthians of his day, & you & me in ours, that religion is serious business that should be undertaken with fear & trembling. Human beings are totally incapable of determining reality without the help of God. Without Him, no matter how sincerely you believe you’re following the truth, you are nothing more than the blind leading the blind.
Our culture & media are full of it these days – spiritual blindness leading to death in all sincerity. They plead so earnestly for us to follow their enlightened & awakened thinking while they totally reject the very foundational teachings of Holy Scripture. That is, all people have sinned in thought, word & deed. We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition, & yet Christ Jesus has called us to take refuge in the infinite mercy of God; to seek His grace for the sake of Jesus. That means we should follow the teachings of Jesus & not those of the world.
The Bible was given to us by Yahweh that we might know the truth through His intentional revelation to us. We cannot know truth apart from Him, yet people are telling us all the time that the OT only applies to the people of thousands of years ago. Jesus would not agree. St. Paul did not agree. Their words in the NT back that up & prove it.
In the Epistle lesson for today, Paul takes the 1st four verses to list many of the blessings the Israelites received on their way out of Egypt. Yet, verse 5 concludes, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” That’s a polite way of saying their lives came to an end because they despised the gracious will of God.
That attitude is not only foolish & dangerous, it is deadly. The Word of the Lord warns us against it. Following verse 5 Paul makes reference to several vivid pictures of the suffering & death caused by sin. Immediately after Israel set out from Mt. Sinai, the rabble yielded to an intense craving for the meat & fresh vegetables that were plentiful in Egypt.
Not only did they complain about what they lacked, they complained bitterly about what they had – the manna from God’s hand. In response, the Lord gave them quail, but He also struck many of them with a plague. So the name of that place was called Kibroth Hattaavah, or ‘the graves of craving’ – because there they buried the people who had yielded to craving.
The meat & fresh vegetables they desired were not evil in themselves. They became evil because of their association with the idolatrous land of Egypt, & because the people preferred them over what the Lord was graciously giving them in the wilderness. What do the people of our culture today crave besides the Word of the Lord? What do we ourselves prefer instead of what the Lord is giving us? Do you long for the forgiveness Christ offers to you through the waters of your Baptism & the Body & Blood of His supper? Do you hold the preaching of His Word sacred & gladly hear & learn it?
How about that part in the OT where God declares that He created us male & female? Is that too constrictive & unenlightened in our day? Can a person defy our heavenly Father’s will in areas like that, which seem to be on the fringe of what’s important in matters of faith, or spirituality? Has the craving for sexual immorality become the Kibroth Hattaavah of our day?
At verse 8 of the epistle reading Paul reminds us, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, & 23,000 fell in a single day.” They died of a plague that God sent upon them. After two more examples of temporal judgment Paul summarizes by writing:
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV) The Apostle makes it clear that the OT times weren’t just an aberration due to an angry God. Yahweh’s people of the NT cannot ignore the example of His dealing with our ancestors in the faith.
Those events were real, not fiction, but they were also recorded so we could learn from them, because the end of the ages has come. Another translation puts it like this, “…but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the goals of the ages have come.”
In other words, all the ‘ages’ of this universe, all the different epochs, have by God’s gracious provision reached their common goals – their consummation in Jesus’ death & resurrection. We now live constantly in the shadow of the last great day, the Day of the Lord, the Day of His final coming.
The goal of the ages is the perfect Son, which Adam failed to be, but Jesus accomplished
perfectly. Thus we live in the shadow of Christ! A good place to be! Mindful of this we should not be complacent & arrogant. In spite of all the self-importance of the powerful people in our world there is a day coming when they will pale in comparison. As at the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth will quake once more as it is rent asunder on that day at the end of the world.
Do you realize that every single moment of your life is lived in the shadow of that Day? No, you don’t, & you can’t possibly grasp the magnitude which that Day will bring. Once in heaven we may look back on it & marvel how we could have been so blind, so dense, so self-absorbed. The magnitude of that Day is what struck me inside the Ark.
I felt the darkness of that day of death descending upon the land, but it was not only a Day of Judgment & death. It was also a Day of salvation for anyone who would listen. The tragedy is that, in Noah’s day, only 8 souls were willing to trust the Word of God against the word of man. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
If you trust the Word of God against the word of man, there is nothing for you to fear either. That applies to anything threatening you in this life or the next life. Hell still threatens even if you do not belong to it. It’s like the raging wind & the waters outside the Ark, you’re safe from them as long as you don’t go overboard.
Until we reach our final home, God’s house is here to provide you with shelter & safety. If you spend time here, there are people who will say you’re foolish to believe those old fairy tales about heaven & hell. You’ll hear that you should be enlightened & awakened to the new reality, but those are just the same old lies the devil has been telling for hundreds of generations.
In the Flood & the Ark God was at work to save His people. On that day it was visible & obvious to the naked eye as all things will be in heaven. Until then, we are left living in the tension between God’s promises & His fulfillment of them. So Jesus has sent His Spirit to walk with us, to guide us & even to pray for us when we don’t know how to pray. If our parents are following Jesus, we receive that Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism, as Archer Greiner did earlier in this service. The water of Baptism saves us from slavery to sin as surely as the waters of the Red Sea saved the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians.
That’s because our Father in heaven has promised to work through water, & He has commanded us to baptize for salvation. That is the promise. The fulfillment comes on the Day of the Lord when He returns to take us home. For those who reject Him it will be that final Day of death descending upon the land for eternity.
For those who believe in Jesus as Savior from sin that final Day will be a joyful day of deliverance & salvation, the completion & fulfillment of all God’s promises. The children of God are the goal of all of history. Christ came to earth & took our place that He might be the true & faithful, firstborn Son of God that Adam failed to be.
In Baptism we are made to be His brothers & sisters. We are called into the kingdom of God. For us who believe that is no reason to be afraid of the Day of the Lord. It’s that which I felt that 1st time I was on the Ark – the power & majesty of God which draws all His children to Him. May all of us be those upon whom the goals of the ages have come. Amen.
Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow His example pure, through a world that would deceive us & to sin our spirits lure. Onward in His footsteps treading, Pilgrims here, our home above, full of faith & hope & love, let us do the Father’s bidding. Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide. Amen. LSB 685:1.
 1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV
Midweek 3 – 2019 LSB #915
Text – Romans 9:21
Does not a potter have the right over his clay to make out of the same lump of clay one thing for a noble purpose & another for a lowly purpose?
GOD’S WILL & MY EXPECTATIONS
Nestled among towering spruce & fir trees, at the base of the Chugach Mountains in south-central Alaska, sits a rustic cabin. It’s a modest structure. Not much to look at. Those who fish in the nearby salmon stream probably don’t even know it’s there.
From the outside, this cabin looks like any other, but the inside is quite different. It isn’t filled with hunting or fishing gear. It’s not furnished for the weekend explorer. It is the home of a potter. Peter Brondz is his name, & he’s been throwing pottery in this cabin for more than three decades.
Now, there are many different types of potters producing many different types of pottery. Some craft fine & fragile works of art, which you can barely touch without holding your breath. Other potters are interested in durability & functionality. Peter Brondz is that type of potter.
Shaped by childhood memories of hefty crocks & sturdy bowls on the kitchen table, he designs his pottery for daily, practical use. But make no mistake, Peter Brondz is an artist. His pottery isn’t merely functional. It is also beautiful, & you don’t have to visit Alaska to know what goes on inside that cabin. Words can paint that picture.
Imagine a man in his late fifties pulling up his stool to his well-used pottery wheel. His graying curls are as unkempt as his frizzled beard. His light blue coveralls, which haven’t been washed in months, are dusty & worn. Before him lies a lump of clay. He sits there for a time, quiet & thoughtful, looking at the shapeless lump. Gradually, he begins to see something.
It’s something that does not yet exist, but soon enough will. He stretches out his hands &
reaches for the clay. Notice those hands. They are strong, but gentle, steady & deliberate. Scraps from yesterday’s work still hide under his nails. He’s thrown thousands of pots with those hands. They know how much pressure to apply, & exactly when to let up.
With those careful & caring hands, the potter picks up his clay. The wheel begins to spin, & the shapeless lump is transformed into something beautifully useful. It’s an inspiring image; a reminder that behind every piece of pottery there is a caring & capable craftsman.
In the 9th chapter of his letter to the Romans St. Paul calls to mind just such an image – one of a potter & his clay. But Paul doesn’t use this image to inspire. No, he calls to mind the potter & his clay in order to rebuke.
Paul wasn’t the 1st to use this image. Indeed, potters are as old as dinner, & the prophets weren’t afraid to use them as illustrations. Isaiah describes a potter & his clay to emphasize our accountability to God (29:16); to call out those who question the ways of God (45:9); & to highlight our complete reliance upon God (64:8).
In Jeremiah 18 God tells the prophet to visit a potter’s house. Jeremiah obeys & takes a fieldtrip. As the local potter spins at his wheel, Jeremiah watches him work a piece of clay that isn’t turning out right. So the potter changes his plan, starts over & reshapes the clay into something entirely different.
After this God told Jeremiah: The people of Israel are as dependent on God as clay is in the hands of a potter. Therefore, when Paul describes our relationship to God with this image, he continues a long tradition of prophetic vision. God is a potter & He’s in charge. He decides what to make & how to make it. As for us, we are the clay.
That’s a fine image, as long as God behaves properly, as long as He does what we think He should be doing. When He doesn’t, the image turns distressing. Some people at the Roman church looked at the ways of God & took offense. God isn’t fair, they claimed, & found plenty of examples. Take Pharaoh, for instance. God used him to demonstrate His power & glory, but then He punished the very same Pharaoh as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. How is that fair?
Or, consider Jacob & Esau. Jacob was a liar & a thief – a conniving little brother. Yet, God gave him the blessing that belonged to his older brother. Where’s the justice? All the way back to Abraham God made an incredible promise to bless all nations through him. But that promise passed through Isaac & Sarah, not Ishmael & Hagar. Where’s the justice?
The Christians in Rome looked at the ways of God & came to an understandable conclusion: God isn’t fair. But God didn’t take kindly to this criticism: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay…?” (Romans 9:20-21a)
To those presuming to know better than God, the image of the potter & the clay is a sharp & stinging rebuke. God is in charge. We are not. It’s that simple. We have no more right to object than the clay in the hands of a potter. Yet, there is something else in this image, that is more than a rebuke.
What was it in the heart of the potter that led him to create each piece in the 1st place? Surrounding & overshadowing the rebuke in Romans 9 is a heart of mercy, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” God says, “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
Out of mercy God made this world & everything therein. Out of mercy God came to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob with a promise to bless the nations. Out of mercy God remained with His people even when they rebelled against Him. The story of God’s dealing with humankind is a story of overwhelming & recurring mercy. It is the story of a potter who mercifully chooses to turn shapeless lumps of clay into beautiful & useful works of art. It’s most obvious when we look at His hands – the hand of Jesus, I mean. They were strong, but gentle, steady & deliberate. They were the hands of a carpenter, a craftsman, yet so much more than a craftsman.
Jesus lifted His hands above the storm, & the storm dissolved. Jesus placed His hands on lepers & the lame, & their disease dissolved. He reached out His hands to the little girl who had died, & lifted her from the bed & from the dead. With His hands Jesus blessed the children. With His hands Jesus welcomed sinners. With His hands Jesus broke bread & gave us Himself.
This son of a carpenter knew how to work with His hands, & He wasn’t afraid to get them dirty. He wasn’t afraid to get them bloody. The same hands that reached out to the children stretched forth on that dark Friday. The same hands that calmed the storm calmed the fears of the disciples in the upper room on Easter evening, nail marks & all.
God the potter was unwilling to give up on the clay that would not turn out right, so He sent forth His Son to reshape & reform & recreate you & me: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, & I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Romans 9”15) God the potter had mercy on the Romans, & He has had mercy on each of us.
“Thy will be done.” We say those words every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, & I think we mean them. As children speak to their dear father, we trust that God knows best. But there are times, in your life & mine, when God’s will doesn’t seem right. At such times this image of a potter & his clay can be extremely difficult to comprehend & accept.
However, it is precisely then that the image of God as a potter can also be comforting. God the potter makes beautiful pieces of pottery – beautiful & useful works of art. Every single one of us is the evidence. Our very existence, our presence here this morning, our coming together as the body of Christ, it is all evidence that God the potter has been at work. He has shaped us & formed us to this point, & continues to shape & form us according to His will. What is His will? In a word, it is mercy – mercy to us & mercy through us. That is where we see the beauty of the work of our Father in heaven. Yahweh’s will begins with mercy to us.
Through His Son & in His Spirit, God comes to us in mercy. He comes to forgive our sin & receive our prayers. He brings us in to His presence & seats us at His table. We have not turned out right in so many ways, yet God the potter does not throw us to the scrap pile. He takes us again in His strong, gentle hands, & in mercy He steadily & deliberately recreates us.
But His mercy doesn’t stop when it comes to us. It continues as He has compassion on others through us. That’s actually why He continues shaping & reshaping us throughout our lives – so we might be useful to others. And sometimes God uses us in unexpected ways.
Her name was Pam. By the world’s standards she was no longer beautiful. Neither would many have called her useful. Four decades of battling cancer had left her a shadow of her former self. For the last ten years she was confined to the hospital or the home, in great pain & in greater weakness. Finally, at the age of 67 (& probably the same weight), Pam died.
She was fairly new to her congregation, so it was a bit of a surprise when the sanctuary was packed for her funeral. It wasn’t that she had so many friends. Indeed, many of the people at her funeral had never met her. But they had heard from her. You see, Pam refused to let her pain & confinement prevent her from caring for others.
Because she couldn’t get out to visit anyone, Pam made it her mission in life to write notes. Not emails. Not text messages. No posting on Facebook. She wrote the old-fashioned kind that require envelopes & stamps. She’d send cards & letters of encouragement, written carefully & lovingly & painstakingly by hand.
If you were friends with her children, if you worked with her husband or joined her
congregation, Pam would write to you. The notes must have taken hours to write. Her weak hands showed in her shaky handwriting. But with those shaky letters she sent out messages of hope & joy & love that she had found in Jesus. That was her ministry. That was her vocation.
During the funeral sermon, the pastor described a note he’d received from Pam. He spoke of how her joyful words in difficult circumstances inspired him in his ministry. Then he asked the people in that packed sanctuary to raise their hands if they had received one of her encouraging notes. Almost every hand went up. The response was visibly moving.
The pastor had no idea how many lives she had touched. He had no idea how useful she had been as a vessel of God’s mercy. Often you & I are clueless as well when life does not go the way we expect. We face difficulties & disappointments, pain & heartaches. As a result, our plans & accomplishments fall far short of our hopes & dreams.
In those times, it seems like God’s will is either left undone, or He’s left us out of the picture. But make no mistake, brothers & sisters; God is a careful & caring potter. He shapes & molds us according to His merciful & compassionate will. He makes us, & remakes us, again & again – even here tonight – into beautiful & useful instruments of His mercy.
When God’s will & His actions seem difficult to understand, it’s easy for the clay to get confused; for what is molded to speak back to its molder. Yet even in the midst of our confusion that wants to call God unfair, He remains the potter: the faithful, compassionate, & merciful potter, who shapes in you again & again renewed trust in His will & mercy.
He won’t give up molding us, for we are His dearly loved clay – the beautifully useful work of His hands. Amen.
Today Your mercy calls us to wash away our sin. However great our trespass, whatever we have been, however long from mercy our hearts have turned away, Your precious blood can wash us & make us clean today. Amen. LSB 915:1.
2nd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 511, 513, 673
Text – Jeremiah 26:8-9a
When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
IT SHALL NOT RETURN EMPTY
New York, London & Paris – you’ve heard the names of these famous cities & may have a picture that comes to mind with them such as the Empire State Building, Buckingham Palace & the Eifel Tower. What if I mention the city of Shiloh? Anything? Probably not, unless you remember it as a famous Civil War battlefield in SW Tennessee.
Long before that, Shiloh was a city serving as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. It was the major Israelite worship center before the 1st Temple was built in Jerusalem. Did you catch the name as I read it in the OT lesson, “Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
You see, Jeremiah was prophesying that the current capital of Jerusalem was going to end up being destroyed as Shiloh was & the people weren’t happy about it. It’s sort of the equivalent to saying that Washington D.C. will end up like Hiroshima. In the days before David was king, when Samuel was prophet, (about 1060 BC), the Ark of the Covenant was there.
That was God’s dwelling place with men. It was the Mercy Seat where atoning blood was splashed & from which God spoke & forgave sin on earth. (Exodus 25:21-22) It was a spectacular place! What came of this city that housed God’s mercy? It was completely destroyed. Psalm 78 tells us why.
God’s people rebelled against Him, ignored His Word, & angered Him with their false worship of Canaanite idols. So the Lord “full of wrath... forsook His dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where He dwelt among mankind.” (Psalm 78:59–60) The Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines & when the high priest Eli heard about that he fell over in his chair & died of a broken neck. His two sons were also killed in the battle along with 30,000 soldiers of the Israelite army.
Fast-forward a few hundred years (640 BC) to the temple in Jerusalem, where Jeremiah could just say “Shiloh” & everyone immediately understood (& hated him for it) as he preached against their idolatries: “This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant.” Could this sturdy temple in Jerusalem really end up like Shiloh? Yes, & it did.
That brings us to the question, “Could Washington D. C. end up like Hiroshima?” We’d be foolish to think it cannot. Much closer to home, what will people say years from now when they hear the name of this place, this congregation?
Will it be but one more monument to human faithlessness, or still a place where our Lord proclaims His Law that brings to repentance, & His Gospel that forgives? In this season of Lent will we remember that Jesus willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance? Repentance is a gift that God gives to His children & He longs for us to make constant use of it.
Since a repentant heart believes it is forgiven it turns away from its sins through leaning upon Jesus. Key to that is recognizing that every aspect of our lives falls short of perfection, so each aspect of our lives needs repentance on our part. When people demand their right to do whatever they please it’s a clear sign they do not understand what it means to lean on Jesus.
Demanding my rights makes it obvious that I’m still leaning upon my own abilities to get through life. Do you remember the prayer of the tax collector? It’s a perfect illustration of someone who is leaning on Jesus & Him alone: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13 ESV) He’s not demanding his rights. He is surrendering them all as he begs for mercy. And I know for a fact that the sinful nature in you hates to beg, because so does mine. All have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God. Our sinful nature is totally aware of that & despises the reality. The question is, “What to do about it?”
By the time Jeremiah was sent to preach to God’s people, they’d already decided what to do. They had moved on to other gods, gods invented by sinful human beings who would satisfy their every sinful desire. The nation of Judah had tired of living in the tension of being repentant yet forgiven sinners. Our nation, our people, & ourselves included, struggle with the same issue.
There will come a day, as it does in every nation, when Yahweh can no longer tolerate the rebellion of His creatures. In the OT He warned the people that once they are in the land of milk & honey they will grow complacent & satisfied. He warned them in order to help them stay on the straight & narrow. He warned them of the danger they were in because He loved them.
Yet, the majority of the people were so far gone that they threatened to kill the messenger as you heard earlier: “…then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of [Jeremiah], saying, ‘You shall die!’” Even the Gentile city of Nineveh repented when Jonah warned them to turn from their sins so they might live. The hearts of the people in Judah were already dead.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus also was being threatened with death for warning the people about the dangers of not taking God seriously, & at His word. This is how St. Luke recorded it, “…some Pharisees came & said to [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” With Jeremiah & with Jesus, the Word of God goes forth & does not return empty.
Both of them understood that even if they were killed, Yahweh would rescue them for speaking the truth. The heavenly Father certainly speaks strong words, & that annoys those who have rejected Him. Our words are often wishy washy & filled with weakness, but when Yahweh speaks it is to uproot the sin in your heart & mine. He speaks to tear down, destroy & overthrow the sinful nature in us. Before He brings life, first He must bring death to the rebellious soul that demands to have its rights guaranteed. Before He speaks the Good News there is the command of Yahweh. Grass fades & the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
For the people of Jeremiah’s day, when the judgment came there would no longer be a priesthood, no temple, no liturgy, no city, no government, no sacrifices, no more Promised Land. But they would still have the written Word of God, & it never returns to Him empty. If the people take it to heart it always brings life everlasting.
If they reject it, at Judgment Day that same Word will bring everlasting condemnation, as it bears witness against their refusal to lean upon Jesus. Until then, Yahweh does everything necessary that everyone might be saved. When Shiloh was destroyed, rather than sending the people into exile, God sent the Ark of the Covenant into exile in the hands of the Philistines.
Years later, when Jerusalem is destroyed, a remnant of the people is sent into exile in the nation of Babylon. Finally, years after that, God the Father would send His only begotten Son into exile here on earth & then, on the cross, in order to suffer the death that was truly our right. At Golgotha, Jesus became desolate & abandoned, suffering the curse of all mankind.
That is the Good News that comes after the command of God to obey. During this season of Lent, will you hear the Good News? Will you allow that Word to take root in your heart & produce fruit in keeping with repentance? How often, & in what ways, do we respond to the call to return to the Lord, to listen & turn from our evil ways, to walk according to His will?
If we can’t answer that question, we are still clinging to our own & old way of life. That type of living does not include leaning upon Jesus for all things. One way to answer that question would be to remember the public confession we, as a church, make at the beginning of our services. For example, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” It’s not uncommon to hear people complain about those words. They say things like, “I’m not a poor miserable sinner! I’m forgiven!” What they seem to miss is that if you are forgiven, you have to be a sinner in the 1st place.
In this life, confessing our sins will never be easy. Our sinful nature is too strong, yet, just as God’s Word will not return empty as it judges people, His Word also will not return empty in the hearts of those who believe & trust in our heavenly Father.
Paris, London & New York will one day be gone like Shiloh, if not sooner, certainly when the world is brought, by God, to its end. That God is almighty is something we really struggle even to comprehend, yet alone believe. On the Last Day we may well see the true power of His Word as the old heavens & earth pass away & the news one arrive.
The Words of St. Paul in today’s Epistle reading from Philippians are comforting & encouraging as they describe what is to come for us who trust in Jesus alone:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, & from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love & long for, my joy & crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1 ESV) Amen.
The clouds of judgment gather, the time is growing late; be sober & be watchful, our judge is at the gate: the judge who comes in mercy, the judge who comes in might to put an end to evil & diadem the right. Arise, O true disciples; let wrong give way to right, & penitential shadow to Jesus’ blessed light: the light that has no evening, that knows no moon or sun, the light so new & golden, the light that is but one. Amen. LSB 513:1-2.
 Jeremiah 26:9 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet