3rd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #589
Text – 1 Peter 1:24
All flesh is like grass & all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, & the flower falls.
WITHERING GRASS & FALLING FLOWERS
As with any very gradual process of change, I believe we started to notice things subconsciously at first. At that stage you have the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it, on what it is that’s bothering you. They’re the kind of details that only became apparent, & fit into the puzzle, when looking back in hindsight.
Next, we began to notice things like a hole in the wall, at the bottom of the stairs, about the size of a human head. We definitely did not notice that subconsciously. Couple it with the erratic driving that had been scaring us half to death, along with a phone call from an uncle, & the picture was beginning to take shape.
Next in the progression was the car accident, 80 mph around a curve that ended with the vehicle upside down in the middle of the road. With not a broken bone to speak of, & no one else hurt either, it was clearly time to end the driving privileges before something worse happened. Still, the falls continued, all of them with nothing more than minor skin abrasions.
So there were doctor visits & questions about what might be wrong. What kind of treatment plan could be put in place? We kept hoping that with the correct diagnosis & treatment things would get better. Yet, there was frustration because we saw no progress being made in any positive direction. No certain diagnosis was ever arrived at.
A couple months later I was talking to the neighbor who was telling his story about how the realization finally hit them – things were not going to get better. This was the new normal. That hit me like a ton of bricks. It was our situation exactly. Wishful thinking was the rut that we were stuck in. That was our diagnosis. So the falling continued with no end in sight. It was like the grass was withering & we were past the point of no return. There would be no treatment or cure. It was obvious now that a decision had to be made. The only question was, “When?” So a lady was hired to provide in home care several days a week, & to keep an eye on things.
Answering the question of “When?” became easy after the phone rang one day & I drove to the hospital yet that evening. We got home about 1:00 AM with nothing more than a lot of stiches to repair the head wound from a fairly serious fall. But the problem only got worse while I was sound asleep.
At 5:00 AM the bloody clothes were placed into the sink with the water running, to help in getting out the stains. The problem was – the water wasn’t shut off again until 7:00 AM. By then the sink had long overflowed & flooded the condo. When I got up at 8:00 AM my first step into the basement bathroom went – Splash! Water was dripping out of the ceiling light fixture.
Slowly but surely the grass was withering. Within a month the move was made into an assisted living home. The condo was cleaned out & put up for sale. Going through so many of the things of my past – familiar to my childhood – pictures of long ago days & long ago people – items handed down from generation to generation – was a sobering experience.
Life was shrinking down before my eyes like a thriving lawn of green grass withering to brown in the hot July sun. And the falling continued. Gradually, over the next year, a cane had to be used. The year after that a walker, more hospital visits & rehab came into play. Email was very much in use for awhile, but then the passwords could not be typed correctly anymore.
The hearing aids were less & less functional as they came apart from too much fidgeting. The cell phone & cordless phone could no longer be used because of problems holding them. A larger handset came next, the old fashioned kind, so the mouthpiece wasn’t covered by a hand while in use. In spring of the 3rd year at assisted living, a major hospitalization occurred due to low hemoglobin. Upon leaving the hospital a wheelchair & oxygen were needed. In spring of the 4th year a fall caused a broken neck which necessitated wearing a neck brace for about five months, along with all solid foods being puréed & all liquid foods being thickened.
This spring brought another fall, another hospital visit & a move into memory care at the assisted living home. In early March we were cleaning out the old room to downsize for the new. Once again, going through all the things that at one time had meaning & purpose that now were useless & forgotten. The ‘stuff’ that fills our lives shrivels up & withers away like grass.
It is sad. It is humbling, to see a life reduced to the last few bits & pieces that make up a room in the memory care section of assisted living. And the crazy thing is this, even if you see it, you cannot appreciate it, until you have started down that very same road yourself. Little by little you can no longer do the things you used to, you can no longer use the things you used to.
The brevity & the vanity of life becomes clearer & clearer as the years pass by. “For ‘All flesh is like grass & all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, & the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’” (1 Peter 1:24-25 ESV) That is the punch line for the entire sermon. And hopefully it is the punch line for your entire life!
It is sad & it is humbling to watch someone die! Supporters of euthanasia have used the slogan Death With Dignity. Let me tell you, there is no dignity with death, because for that time death is totally in control. It is a pitiful affair, which is why Peter, & Isaiah before him, add the punch line, “but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
Because of Jesus Christ, death does not have the final say. Even during the corona virus pandemic, with death arriving by the thousands, with people panicked across the world, it is still true that the word of the Lord remains forever. That is our hope, not social isolation. The word of the Lord is our hope, not the N-95 mask. The word of the Lord is our hope & thank God that our hope does not rest with politicians, or with government. Aging & death march on, the coronavirus has swept across the world, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
As children of God, that is our punch line that is our hope because Jesus Christ has been there. He suffered every last one of the indignities of death in our place. In human flesh, the very Son of God took His last breath & died. The people who were there definitely did not notice His death subconsciously. But Jesus did not remain dead!
When Adam & Eve chose to disobey their Creator they were choosing death. Yes, Satan deceived them, but it was still their willful choice. Americans love choices, but being pro-choice is not always a good thing. Satan invented that slogan for the 1st temptation. Jesus came to undo the damage because sin has corrupted our ability to make good choices.
The heavenly Father chose to send His Son to rescue us because there was no other way to release His children from the grip of death. When you watch someone die it is clear that there is nothing they themselves can do to stop it. Our only hopes lies with our Creator, & the choice that He makes. We see that choice in the life, the death & the resurrection of Jesus.
Now that we’ve been set free from death as our end, we are no longer slaves to sin. We’ve been “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [grass or flowers] but with the precious blood of Christ.” Our heavenly Father has bought us back from the old world, from its old ways & from its old lords.
As children of God we are not captive to a decaying & dying world even though, by a certain age, we do see our bodies withering away. The pitiful state of death has now become our gateway to the next life, to the perfect life, to our true home. When St. Peter wrote that ‘all flesh is like grass,’ he was comparing sinful human beings to what is temporary. Grass comes & goes. So do we. Human beings are born, we live, we die, & what is left behind, in a material sense, are the things that at one time had meaning & purpose, but as our death approaches those things wither away, becoming useless & forgotten. With the resurrection of Jesus a new world has dawned.
We can now honestly look at death, recognize it for the abomination that it is, & yet not allow that to drag us into depression & despair. There is a life after death & it is a far, far better & richer life than the one we know all too well here. This life that we know is temporary. Like the grass, all of it, & all of us, will one day wither away completely.
But the Word of the Lord remains forever & just as that Word created the heavens & the earth the 1st time, The Word will one day create a new heaven & a new earth. There, the grass will never fade & the flower, & people too, will never fall. Neither death nor sin shall threaten or harm any of God’s creation.
“And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! Oh, what blessing to be near You & to listen to Your voice; let me ever love & hear You, let Your Word be now my choice! Many hardened sinners, Lord, flee in terror at Your Word; but to all who feel sin’s burden You give words of peace & pardon. Amen. LSB 589:1-2.
 1 Peter 1:25b ESV
2nd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #’s 525, 461:1-3, 5, 8, 490
Text – John 20:28-29
Thomas answered Him, “My Lord & my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.”
SEEING IS BELIEVING!
The pastor’s family had gotten home from church & it was time for dinner. Still in their ‘Sunday go to meeting’clothes they waited for the signal from Mom. The sign that dinner was ready was the dreaded command, “Boys, be sure & wash your hands. We don’t want any germs at the table. Use soap & hot water.” That wasn’t what the boys wanted to hear.
Washing was a nuisance & seemed so pointless. All this talk about germs, what were they anyway? Was this “germs talk” just a trick to get us to wash our hands so Mom’s white tablecloth would stay clean? The 7 year-old reluctantly made his way toward the washroom mumbling, “Jesus & germs, Jesus & germs, that’s all I hear, & I never see either of them.”
Can you relate to the boy? Is your faith one in which you need to see in order to believe? Or, if you believe without seeing, you might be taken as the gullible type! In the Gospel reading for this Sunday Jesus says that those who believe without seeing are blessed!
That’s a handicap for someone like me because I am a visual learner. Show me a picture & you can save yourself a thousand words. But if you expect me to learn something just from hearing you talk, you have your work cut out for you. Business will go much more efficiently if you write things down.
Maybe some of you struggle as well with believing something when you have not seen it. You may recognize “the Show Me state” as the slogan for people from Missouri. It’s on their license plates. We have phrases like, “Put your money where your mouth is” & “put up or shut up.” They all have the same thing in common. People naturally want to see the “proof in the pudding” before they accept something as true. That’s a common sense approach to life, which we learn from experience. You get burned often enough & the lesson sinks in. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.
Everything operating on the principles of this world is reflected in those rules of thumb. Doubting Thomas had learned his lessons well, & that is where problems for Christians begin. As we’re confronted with things that operate on God’s principles, we, like the Apostle Thomas, have some major gear shifting to do.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.” That is counting your chickens before they’re hatched. It is not worldly wisdom, & it starts already the very day we’re baptized. Think for a moment, what do you see happening with your own two eyes at infant Baptism? You don’t see any kind of immediate transformation do you?
In fact, years later it may still be extremely difficult to tell that anything changed when the person received that unseen blessing from God. That’s why many Christians even do not accept infant baptism. They have not seen the results with their own two eyes. How many Christians do you know that don’t live like they are children of the Almighty God?
Now bring to mind some occasions when you did not believe simply because you could not see? I remember when a friend of mine was married; many people could not see that marriage lasting. This summer will be their 30thanniversary.
When my home congregation got their new pastor in 1990, people said, “He’s too good. We can’t see him staying more than 5 years.” He didn’t leave until almost 12 years later. I used to think that people who went running for exercise were about as crazy as a person could get. Then, I started running five days a week.
At the beginning of my 4th year at seminary some of the students, 10 – 15 years younger
than I, asked if I’d play soccer with them. I said they must be really hard up for players to be asking an old man like me. A month later I was playing & loving the game. The 1sttime it occurred to me that God might be calling me into the ministry I could not see it. I also never believed that one day I’d be leading Bible studies at the county jail. I did that for 2 years in ND.
If you think awhile you’ll realize just how many situations have occurred in your lives that you would not have believed until you saw them. Yet, they happened even without your seeing them in advance. They happened not because you made them, but because God did.
In other words, we don’t have to see the future in order for it to occur. Jonah never saw himself going to Nineveh, but God did. Each of us has failed in living like we are the children of an Almighty God. Far too often we demand of God to see, before we will believe.
To someone who’s watching none of us has given absolute proof of the power of God’s Baptism. Therefore each of us is guilty of teaching others to act just like Doubting Thomas: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, put my finger where the nails were, & put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25 NIV)
We live as if our God is a puny, no account weakling. We don’t trust Him; we don’t believe His promises & we forget that He even exists. When things don’t go well, we pat ourselves on the back as if we’ve learned some great lesson, like a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Such wisdom may be fine for worldly things, but it fails miserably in the spiritual.
Remember this from Scripture, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men”? (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV) Our wisdom is passed on through many clichés, yet none of them stand the measure of God’s Wisdom. The problem with a saying like “Seeing is believing” is that as human beings practice & experience it, it’s a lie.
First of all, how many times have two people seen that their love for each other will last
forever, & then been wrong? As many times as there have been divorces. How often has someone found a deal that could not miss, only to have the business fail in short order? Even what we do see is not always the truth.
Secondly, seeing is not always believing. The OT records the history of Israel as they were delivered from Egypt by great miracles, yet an entire generation of them died in the wilderness for their unbelief. They saw, but refused to believe. Just weeks before He was crucified Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Again, many saw & still refused to believe.
And for those of us who do believe, faith easily becomes an end in itself as so many of us show by the life we live & by the thoughts we express. NO! We do not graduate at confirmation. Faith in Christ is the means of bringing people LIFE. God wants us to live that life, not to graduate from it!! Jesus died that we might live the life He gives to us.
We let doubt & cynicism rule the roost, & then we call it being practical, sensible & realistic. We are confusing worldly lessons with spiritual. We are making excuses for our unbelief. Like Doubting Thomas, our sinful nature takes over & we are left clueless. We think that in being practical we’re being good Christians. The fact is we’re just the opposite.
We read of how practical the disciples were in the 20th chapter of John: “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, & Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came & stood among them & said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (20:26 ESV)
Earlier in the chapter it tells us the doors were locked for fear of the Jews & that seems practical since the Jews had just crucified their leader. But the fear & common sense of the disciples were not able to keep Jesus away. Thomas has little time to take it all in though because as Jesus appears He addresses Thomas personally.
He even echoes the very words that Thomas used in his refusal to believe that Christ had
risen: “Put your finger here, & see my hands; & put out your hand, & place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27 ESV) Thomas finally sees the light: “My Lord & my God!” (John 20:28 ESV) Imagine the witness Thomas made from then on, “What a fool I’d been to doubt the resurrection.”
Now, Thomas must be thinking, “How can I ever repay the gracious love of my Lord & my Savior?” He had learned a new spiritual lesson, one that was in direct opposition to what we learn from our world. A person must believe before they can truly see. Now that Thomas believed, he could see exactly, & clearly, just who this Jesus was. He was his Lord & his God.
At the sight of Jesus, all doubts vanished. He didn’t need to apply any of his tests. In this, Thomas epitomizes both the bad & the good: Unbelief and Confession; the constant battle in all Christians between belief & unbelief, saint & sinner. Faith is something we view not only as an accomplished fact, but also as something that is alive, & either growing or dying.
Not seeing & yet believing is the very essence of faith, because our lives are lived with so many unknowns. The virus pandemic has highlighted that. Learning to lean on & trust in God, without seeing what tomorrow holds, is one of the greatest struggles for us as His children. So the Gospel of John tells us where our faith & trust in God comes from.
Chapter 20 closes with these words: “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.” (John 20:30-31 ESV)
Whether you are a visual learner or not, whether you’re a realist rather than an optimist, & even if you are a pessimist, Almighty God is able to create & sustain the kind of faith in your heart that does not need to see in order to believe. That faith then, which the Holy Spirit creates within you, believes in the very means by which the Spirit does His work: God’s Word, Baptism & Holy Communion. If God’s Spirit can work in stubborn & defiant Doubting Thomas, He certainly can work in any of us. Which bring us to closing with the words of a man who also struggled greatly under trials in this life. Yet he believed, even though he could not see why those trials had come upon him. From the 19th chapter of the book of Job:
“Oh how I wish my words were written, that they were inscribed on a scroll, that with an iron pen & lead they were engraved in the rock forever! I know that my Redeemer lives, & that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own two eyes.” (19:23-27a)
That is the hope to which we’ve been called. A hope that although we cannot at this time see the future with our own two eyes, there is a day coming when our flesh, like that of Christ, shall be raised from the dead. On that day all who believe in His name will see Him with their own two eyes. Yes, Thomas, by the power of our Almighty God, believing is seeing! Amen.
He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same; Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” Amen. LSB 461:8.
Easter Sunday 2020
Text – Exodus 15:4-5
Pharaoh’s chariots & his host He cast into the sea, & his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.
AGAINST ALL ODDS!
If you buy a lottery ticket, what are the odds that you will win a multi-state power-ball lottery? They are one in 185 million. If you play baseball in high school, what are the odds of playing in the major leagues? One in 6,600. Those are the same odds of someone guessing your four-digit PIN on the 1st try.
What are the odds that you will be struck by lightning? One in 3 million. By the way, a man named Roy Sullivan holds the world record for being struck by lightning. He’s been struck seven times. You might want to practice social distancing if Roy is around.
And the most important “what are the odds” question is this: What are the odds that a man, brutally beaten & then crucified by the Roman Empire, would come back to life? The odds are astronomical, but get this – it happened! It really happened! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The goal of this sermon is for us to profess Easter & to possess Easter. Easter happened. That’s profess. Easter is happening in me. That’s possess!
Wrapping up the sermon series on the book of Exodus we come to chapter 15. What are the odds that a group of Israelite slaves would defeat the most powerful military force on earth – the Egyptians led by that mean & mighty Pharaoh?
The drama began in Exodus 1:11, “The Egyptians put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor who worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick & mortar & with all kinds of work in the fields.” It gets worse! “No longer supply the people with straw for making bricks. Let them go & gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota” (Exodus 5:7–8). Pharaoh is using bricks, whips, & his best tricks! But it gets worse! As the Israelites flee Egypt they look back & see Pharaoh madly chasing after them screaming, “You’ll have hell to pay!”
It gets even worse than that! The Israelites become surrounded & stuck on all sides. Exodus 14:11, “They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?’” So when the odds were completely against Israel we come to Exodus 15:4–5:
“Pharaoh’s chariots & army He cast into the sea, & his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.” No wonder the Israelites sing, “The LORD is my strength & my song; He has become my salvation!” (Exodus 15:2) This is the first Hallelujah! Then, in Exodus 15:3, “Yahweh is a Man of War. Yahweh is His name!”
All of this, though, is just a peek, a prelude & a preview into the Bible’s greatest against all the odds story. Opposition began early in Christ’s ministry. Pharisees plot with Herodians. Detractors say he’s demon possessed. Scribes test Him with Torah trivia. His brothers ride & ridicule Him. Sadducees posture with pentateuchal pride.
And it gets worse. Christ Jesus will have hell to pay! Once arrested, Jesus is bound, accused, blindfolded & mocked. It gets worse. They strip Him naked & beat Him into a bloody pulp. It gets even worse. Jesus is blood-soaked & spiked to a tree for six hours – crucified, died & buried. Just when everyone thought it was all over, the angel announced:
“He is not here! He has risen just as He said!” Mary shouts, “Rabonni!” Then Thomas announces one for the ages, “My Lord & my God!” Against all the odds, Jesus lives! Hallelujah! So the goal of this sermon is for us to profess Easter & to possess Easter. Easter happened. That’s profess. Easter is happening in me. That’s possess! However, there are at least three common barriers to possessing Easter.
Maybe we grew up in a family that didn’t work. Sometimes we meet people who are walking zombies because when they were children something was broken inside. Now they’re a third or halfway through life & starting to think that what’s broken will never be fixed, what was lost will never be found.
I’m thinking of the 1 in 3 people whose parents got divorced. I’m talking about the 1 in 4 women who were sexually abused as children. I’m thinking of the 1 in 7 who grew up with an alcoholic parent. I’m talking about those who grew up in families with screaming parents, absentee dads, controlling moms, abusive siblings. You feel as though the odds are against you.
Maybe we experienced a devastating loss. For some, this means your spouse died, your marriage died, your child died, your father died. For others, it means your dream died. I’d venture to guess that for some your will to live has died. Most days it feels as if Mt. Everest sits on your chest, crushing what’s left of your life. You feel as though the odds are against you.
Maybe we are crippled by a destructive habit. What is it for you? Gambling? Drugs? Alcohol? Pornography? Work? A guy once said,
“I spent my entire childhood feeling invisible. There was no abuse or stuff like that. I just felt invisible. I wanted to say, ‘Hello! I’m here! I am a person with a love-starved heart. Would you please notice me & see me & convince me that I matter?’” It never happened.
Now he’s addicted to his boat & his booze & his big bucks. Can you relate? You feel as though the odds are against you. All the odds truly were against a man named Lee Capps. Lee, who did not know how to fly, took off in a private plane with a friend who was a pilot. When they got to cruising altitude Lee’s friend, the pilot, had a heart attack & died. Lee grabbed the radio & cried for help. An air traffic controller in Renton, Washington, heard Lee’s cry. He said, “This is your lucky day. I’m not only an air traffic controller; I’m also a flight instructor. Would you be interested in a flying lesson?” Being otherwise unoccupied, Lee Capps said, “Sure! Why not?”
The air traffic controller said, “Lee, you will have to take a shot at landing the plane. No practice, no dress rehearsal, no spring training!” Lee Capps came in like a drunk duck. He was all over the place, & he hit the runway hard. But Lee Capps walked away from it all with only a few minor cuts. Afterwards, the air traffic controller was interviewed by several TV stations:
“Did you think he’d walk away alive?” The air traffic controller responded, “Folks, Lee Capps made it against all odds!”
I know. I know. Stuff is going on – a whole lot of stuff is going on in your life, & it not just the virus pandemic. You are circling the runway & trying to land. Your greatest fear is that you will crash & burn! So let me remind you of two honest-to-God facts. Against all odds, Israel made it out of Egypt. Better yet, against all odds, Jesus Christ is risen today!
We profess Easter with every ounce of our being! But we also long to possess Easter with every ounce of our being! Paul says we can! “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).
Through the presence & power of the Holy Spirit, Easter can happen in you. God promises resurrection for everything that looks lifeless, hopeless & dead! Ask the Holy Spirit to make all of this real for you. In John 14:19 Jesus puts it this way, “Because I live, you also will live.” Easter happened. That’s profess. Easter is happening in me. That is possess.
We live now & we will live forever. We have a word for all this. What would that be?
Palm Sunday – 2020 LSB #809
Text – Exodus 34:9-10
And [Moses] said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, & pardon our iniquity & our sin, & take us for your inheritance.” And [God] said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
A NEW BEGINNING
Jimmy Wayne learned never to trust a soul. That’s why he never unpacked his bag. We can’t blame him. Jimmy Wayne never knew his father. His mother spent more time in jail than out of jail. When he was a small child, his mother got out of jail again & took up with a troublemaker again. They loaded Jimmy into the backseat of their Oldsmobile Delta 88.
For a year the car was Jimmy’s home. He learned never to trust a soul. That’s why Jimmy Wayne never unpacked his bag. After living in the back seat of a car for a year, Jimmy Wayne was dumped off at the train depot in Pensacola, Florida. His mother & her boyfriend sped away in their Delta 88. Jimmy Wayne desperately needed a new beginning.
This is the 7th installment in the Book of Exodus called Let My People Go! Today we look at Exodus 34 which is all about a new beginning. After the Golden Calf, Israel’s high priest, Aaron, needs a new beginning. So does Israel. And – most certainly – so do we!
A new beginning is absolutely necessary. Why? If you heard the message last Wednesday, you remember that in Exodus 32 Aaron & the Israelites were faced with a huge crisis. They hadn’t seen Moses for 40 days & 40 nights. Was he dead? Did Moses skip town? Aaron & the Israelites grow impatient so they make a golden calf & they worship it!
Like them or not, in a huge crisis the IRS knows exactly what to do. The IRS Handbook states, & I quote, “During a state of national emergency, the essential functions of the IRS will be as follows; assessing, collecting & recording taxes.” While everyone else panics, the IRS knows exactly what to do! Get our money!
But when faced with the huge crisis of not having Moses, Aaron & the Israelites have no
idea what to do! That’s why they build a golden calf & worship it! What does Moses do when he comes down from Mt. Sinai? Moses smashes the Ten Commandments, grinds up the golden calf, mixes it with water, & makes the people drink it! We pick up the narrative in Exodus 34:1,
“Then Yahweh told Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the 1st ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed.’” (Exodus 34:1) The Ten Commandments have been smashed! So a new beginning is absolutely necessary.
We’re not much different than Aaron & the Israelites, are we? What do we do when faced with a crisis? We turn to our golden calves & look to them for salvation. Like now, with church services off limits due to social distancing, are we turning to God, such as through live-stream services? Or, are you telling yourself “I’ll get back to church when this is all over?”
God – the holy & righteous & perfect God – Yahweh has every right to dump us off at a train depot in Pensacola, FL & ride off into the sunset. But He does not! Our God doesn’t do that! A new beginning is totally possible: “Then Yahweh came down in a cloud & stood there with him & called out the name Yahweh” (Exodus 34:5).
Yahweh frequently comes down in the book of Exodus. In 3:8, Yahweh came down in the burning bush. At 19:20, Yahweh came down on Mt. Sinai. In 40:34, Yahweh came down to fill the tabernacle with His cloud & His glory. Get it? We can’t go up to God. That’s why God comes down to us, right where we are – in the basement of our broken commandments.
And what does God do when He comes down? Scold us? Shame us? Berate us? Reject us? Condemn us? No! God cries out, “Yahweh! Yahweh! The compassionate & gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast-love & faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, & removing wickedness, rebellion & sin.” A new beginning is totally possible! That new beginning begins with a compassionate God.
The word in Hebrew (rachum) is closely related to the Hebrew word for a mother’s womb (rechem). The idea of compassion, then, expresses the emotional connection that a mother has for a child in her womb. That’s how God feels about you! The Flamingos, in 1959, got it right. God says, “My love must be a kind of blind love. I only have eyes for you!”
Our new beginning begins with a God who is slow to anger. If He were quick to anger, His compassion wouldn’t last a second in my life. If God shot rockets of wrath every time I sinned, I’d be blown to smithereens. But God shouts from Sinai, “I am slow to anger!” So our new beginning begins with a Father who is abounding in steadfast love.
“Abounding” announces that God’s steadfast love is not limited. God is like the federal government. Whenever there’s a need, He just prints off more steadfast love! But there is a difference! God has an infinite treasury of steadfast love to cover all the currency He prints. God’s infinite resources of steadfast love will never run out! God go bankrupt? Never! Ever!
Removing wickedness, rebellion & sin is another way that our new beginning begins with God. There are only three Hebrew words for sin & God uses all three right here. Why is that? To show that He removes every type of sin. There are no categories of unforgivable sins. Yahweh removes wickedness, rebellion & sin.
“Wickedness” means twisted depravity. It means we are crooked & bent. Rebellion refers to treason against our covenant King – Yahweh. “Sin” means to miss the mark. The Ten Commandments are the bull’s eye. We take aim & miss them far too often. Yahweh removes wickedness, rebellion & sin. Where does He put all of it? That brings us to Palm Sunday. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on a Sunday because the following Friday He’s going to lift up the huge mess & place it where? Jesus will shoulder it Himself – all wickedness, rebellion & sin! Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh:
“…the compassionate & gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast-love & faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands & removing wickedness, rebellion & sin.” Jesus teaches this love. He lives this love. Jesus demonstrates this love by shedding His blood on the cross for you. Palm Sunday announces it. Good Friday shows it. Easter Sunday celebrates it!
One day, while aimlessly walking around Pensacola, little Jimmy Wayne spotted a man named Russ working in his garage. Soon Russ & his wife Bea invited Jimmy to live with them. The home was like heaven! A hot bath, hot meals, & even television! Jimmy Wayne, though, had learned never to trust a soul. Jimmy Wayne still would not unpack his bag.
The new beginning is entirely optional. We can refuse to unpack our bag. We can reject divine love. You & I can be callous & aloof, but that’s not Moses! “Moses immediately threw himself to the ground & worshiped” (Exodus 34:8).
I invite you to follow the lead of Moses. Trust that God is who He says He is. Repeat “Yahweh, Yahweh” until it surpasses the voices of fear & shame or guilt & blame! Throw yourself before Yahweh!
To put it another way, be a sponge & not a rock. If you put a rock in the ocean, what happens? Its surface gets wet, but the inside of the rock stays untouched. Yet, if you place a sponge in the ocean, what happens? It absorbs water. The ocean saturates the sponge.
God’s abounding steadfast-love surrounds you & I like an ocean! Palm Sunday – Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Easter Sunday. Totally amazing! What is your response? Rock or sponge? Jimmy Wayne had been rejected so many times that he was much more like a rock – a hard, unmoved rock. We get that. We really do. That’s why Jimmy had never unpacked his bag. It took another month before Russ & Bea convinced Jimmy that their love for him was real. So finally, finally – Jimmy Wayne unpacked his bag!
He is now a famous country music singer & songwriter. But his new beginning began when he learned to trust – when he finally unpacked his bag. His songs speak of his past & of his new beginning, like he really lived them.
It’s Palm Sunday! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Our past is behind us. God’s grace is before us. A new beginning awaits us. So now what? Even in this time of a coronavirus pandemic it is still time to unpack our bag! Why do that? Because we finally have a home. Where? With Jesus! And heaven will be a totally new beginning. Amen.
Midweek 6 LSB #570
Text – Exodus 32:4-6
[Aaron] received the gold from their hand & fashioned it with a graving tool & made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation & said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day & offered burnt offerings & brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat & drink & rose up to play.
DIGGING OURSELVES INTO A HOLE
It was the annual Lessing family vacation – version 2006. It was late December & they were in Florida. They couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Then it happened! Just north of Daytona they saw the ocean. Everyone said, “Dad, take a left turn & let’s hit the beach!” So he did what any good dad would do. He took a left turn so they could hit the beach!
They hit the beach, all right, & they hit sand – some really deep sand. Bam! Everyone lurched forward. Four sets of eyes glared at him. Now, a lesser man might have told everyone to get out & push. Not him. No siree! He would get them out the manly way. He hit the accelerator, full throttle. The van did not budge, & neither did he.
He hit the accelerator again, confident that they’d get out this time. The result? They ended up going even deeper into the sand. Lisa blurted out, “Reed, what are you thinking?” That was the problem. He was not thinking! They were stuck with no way out. Aaron, the older brother of Moses, he also knew what it feels like to be stuck in the sand.
In this series on the book of Exodus we’ve come to chapter 32. First, Aaron takes a wrong turn. Second, Aaron gets stuck. Third, Aaron hits the accelerator & ends up digging himself & the Israelites into a huge hole. Can you feel his pain?
Here’s the context. The golden calf episode is sandwiched between God’s instructions to Moses about the tabernacle & the tabernacle’s construction in Exodus 35–40.
The crisis arises, “When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back
down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “‘Come on,’ they said, ‘make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 32:1). Moses had been on the top of Mt. Sinai for 40 days & 40 nights. People were getting impatient: “How much longer?”
You know that feeling. So do I. We see how long it takes to get through school. We see how long it takes to build a marriage. We see how long it takes to raise children. We see how long it takes to save money. We don’t like a God who makes us wait. We want a god who can satisfy right now! That’s what Aaron offers:
“‘Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives & sons & daughters, & bring them to me.’ All the people took the gold rings from their ears & brought them to Aaron. Then, he took the gold, melted it down & molded it into the shape of a calf” (Exodus 32:2–4). Aaron offers a god who can satisfy right now! With that, Aaron takes a wrong turn. And next – Aaron gets stuck.
His claim! “Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, ‘Tomorrow will be a festival to the LORD!’” (Exodus 32:5). Did you notice his stunning claim? Aaron calls the calf “the LORD.” Aaron is digging deep now!
So, how often do we exchange the real God for a fake one & then claim that the fake god is the real God? Answer. We do this way too often. We do this far too often! What are the top fake gods in America? Money, sports & jobs. Money, sports & jobs promise everything. In the end money, sports & jobs deliver nothing.
Aaron takes a wrong turn. Aaron gets stuck. Aaron then hits the accelerator & ends up digging himself & the Israelites into a huge hole! And what would that be? “The people celebrated with feasting & drinking, & indulged in pagan revelry” (Exodus 32:6). Pagan revelry means “sexual immorality.” When Paul reflects on Exodus 32 in 1 Corinthians 10:8 that’s what
he calls it – sexual immorality. Spiritually speaking, Aaron had just dug a giant hole!
The come-on. It starts out just like it did with Aaron. We get impatient: “How much longer!” We take a wrong turn. We get stuck. Then we’re tempted to hit the accelerator by disregarding the 6th commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
Someone slides a room key in our direction. Someone shows up on Facebook & just wants to talk. Someone offers a listening ear, a gentle touch, or more. Justifications & rationalizations pop up like weeds after a summer rain. “No one will know. I won’t get caught. What’s the big deal? I’m only human.”
We don’t like the God who makes us wait. We want a god who can satisfy right now! Let me say this as clearly as possible. Do not hit the accelerator! If you are stuck in an emotional, financial, or relational hole, don’t make matters worse by doing something you will regret for the rest of your life.
Here’s a suggestion. Make a list of all the people you would hurt by doing something immoral. The author has his list – his wife, three children, a son-in-law & granddaughter; every person who has read his books, colleagues in ministry & the dear people of his congregation. One bad decision is a poor exchange for a lifetime of lost legacy.
Dads, would you intentionally break the arm of your child? Of course not! That would violate every fiber of your being. But if you engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, you will bring more pain into your children’s lives than a hundred broken arms.
Moms, would you force your children to sleep outside on a cold winter night? Certainly not! But if you have an affair, you will bring more darkness & chill into the lives of your children than a hundred polar vortex winters. If you are unmarried, would you desecrate a Bible or make a mockery of the cross? No way! Yet, when you are immoral, you break God’s heart. In Exodus 32:21, 30, 31 Moses calls Israel’s sexual immorality a great sin. It’s a great sin because of who committed it – Aaron, the high priest, & the Israelites, the chosen people of God. It’s a great sin because of where they committed it – at Mount Sinai, God’s holy mountain. It is a great sin because of when they committed it – right after God delivered them from Egypt.
If I were Moses I’d wash my hands of the whole mess. But Moses does not. Moses doesn’t do that at all! What He does is pray, because the covenant is the answer.
Moses prays to Yahweh, “Turn away from Your fierce anger. Change Your mind about this terrible disaster You have threatened against Your people! Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac & Israel” (Exodus 32:12–13). When you are in a hole, claim the covenant! What covenant? God’s covenant with the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac & Israel.
What happens then? “The LORD changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people” (Exodus 32:14). The covenant with Abraham, Isaac & Israel is an everlasting covenant sealed in blood – that’s what Genesis 15:10 tells us.
Sin cannot break this covenant. Idolatry cannot nullify it. Death cannot defeat it. And a huge hole cannot swallow it up. The covenant that God made with Abraham, Isaac & Israel is fulfilled in the death of Jesus. God’s covenant promises are sealed forever in Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross, for you; & that blood announces that God is always loving.
He is always kind. He is always forgiving. God is always abounding in grace & mercy. We’ve all taken wrong turns. All of us have built golden calves. We have worshiped other gods. We have known the hell of the hole, but it doesn’t matter how deep our hole is, we are not stuck. We are not stuck in a hellhole forever!
What can we do? We can do what Moses did. Claim the covenant. Claim Christ’s new covenant promises delivered to us in His cleansing, powerful & renewing blood. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet