2nd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 4) LSB #573
Text – Galatians 1:10
For am I now trying to persuade people or God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a slave of Christ.
SEEKING TO PLEASE
Do any of these statements describe you?
• Tired of living under too much pressure.
• Looking for a way to get out from under all the stress.
• Wanting to try something different.
Do you regularly feel like you could: a) kick the dog; b) use a stiff drink to calm your nerves; c) hit someone; d) run somebody over with your SUV; e) chuck everything & walk away; f) scream at the top of your lungs. Being a people-pleaser can lead to every one of those emotions. Being a people-pleaser to the extreme is self-destructive.
Many pastors suffer from that damaging tendency. They enter the ministry because they yearn for the outside validation that comes from helping others. Their personal feeling of security & self-confidence is based upon gaining the approval of others. At the core, people-pleasers have a difficult time believing that they can be part & parcel of anything good.
Lack of confidence comes in several different ways as the result of sin. First off, knowing that we are sinners makes us aware of how often we fail at what we attempt in life. Secondly, lack of confidence comes from a fear of putting all our trust in the ability of the Triune God to work through even failures like us.
The constant striving to gain the approval of others is what then feels like living under pressure. People pleasers to the extreme can never get enough validation to overcome their feelings of insecurity. They can never gain enough approval to overcome the temptation to doubt their value & their worth. They are tempted by the devil & their own sinful nature to believe that anything which goes wrong in this life is somehow their fault. People-pleasers suffer from a twisted understanding of sin. People-pleasers agonize because of a corrupted appreciation of what gives life on earth its value. Being a people-pleaser to the extreme is a violation of the 1st commandment – “You shall have no other gods.”
If I’m a people-pleaser who is my god? Is it the people I’m trying to please? That answer seems logical, & there is some truth to it. Yet, the true idol behind an extreme need to please others is self. If you are an extreme people-pleaser, you are your own god. It’s you that you’re trying to validate. It’s you that you’re trying to build up & gain approval for.
If you are always seeking to please others you are confused about where the people around you begin & about where you end. Setting healthy boundaries simply means having a realistic understanding of you can, & what you cannot do. Are you seeing now how that ties in with the 1st commandment?
Believing it is your responsibility to keep everyone happy is to take the place of God. Setting limitations on your availability may seem callous yet, it is simply an acknowledgement that you are not God. If you don’t set limits, others will, & chances are their limits for you will be as wide & as broad as their own needs.
It’s not like God didn’t set the precedent. After all, what are the Ten Commandments if they are not healthy boundaries? You shall have no other gods, not even yourself. Honor your father & your mother. Don’t kill, steal or covet. Those are half of the commandments. Hopefully, you can name the others.
In St. Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he is refuting the charge that he’s a people-pleaser: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Did you catch Paul’s acknowledgement there of the 1st commandment? If I were a people-pleaser, I would not be a slave of Christ. But Paul is a slave, & as such he is following the healthy boundaries set by his heavenly Father. The apostle Paul is fighting against his desire to find validation in what he does. He has given up works righteousness & is relying only upon the grace of God to find value & worth in his living. He wrote, “For to me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)
But the people at the church of Galatia were being taught that Paul was being too easy on them. People were accusing the Apostle of being a people-pleaser just so he could gain converts. This business of trusting solely in the grace of God could not be the whole story, they said. Each human being still had to do something to earn God’s validation.
As it turns out, it was the Galatians who were being people-pleasers. They had given up the truth of God’s salvation message in order to accommodate their culture. For their false teaching, St. Paul calls down the curse of God upon them. His words remind us of Jesus’ warning in Mark 9:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck & he were thrown into the sea.” (9:42 ESV)
False teaching is not to be taken lightly. By definition, it leads people away from the truth. Therefore, it leads people away from God, & the only place in all the universe that is away from God is hell. Since God is good, & God is love, & He is the same yesterday, & today & forever, then hell can only be evil, filled with hatred, & it must be so forever!
All human beings are sinners. We are born natural people pleasers. We love to put & keep ourselves at the center of our universe. We love to get a pat on the back, & detest having a kick in the rear, but as sinners discipline is necessary for our salvation. We are born headed in the wrong direction, away from God, & only our Creator can turn us around, turn us back.
People pleasers to the extreme can never get enough validation to overcome their
feelings of insecurity, no matter how many good things they do, even in the Church. Their problem is that regardless of how hard they work, they are headed in the wrong direction & therefore, will always end up in the wrong place.
Hard work is necessary in a broken world. It is God who tells us for this life, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Our eternal future, however, has nothing at all to do with hard work on our part. That is entirely a gift from our Creator, given to us by Jesus, who recreated the saintly nature within anyone who believes in Him.
If we want to “feel” validated, we need to look at the price Jesus paid to redeem us. When tempted to doubt our value & worth, seeing Jesus hanging on the cross is what tells every child of God exactly how much value & worth we have as God’s children. The love displayed on the cross, & that love alone, is what draws us back, what turns us back, to what is good.
In each of Satan’s lies, there is a little bit of truth. People-pleasers or not, we are tempted by the devil, & our sinful nature, to believe that anything which goes wrong in this life is somehow our fault. There is truth in that lie because some of this world’s brokenness is a result of our lack of love for God & for others.
The lie is that not everything is our fault, & the lie is also that we are responsible for doing something to make up for it. We can’t fix the brokenness of this world. We can’t fix even one sin. All of us together can never make up for all the hurt & agony & pain of this life. In that context, what validation can we possibly find in what we do?
Every single hour & every single day brings more heartache & sorrow to someone, somewhere. If we can’t fix it all, how are we validated? If we can’t fix it for everyone, what value & worth can we find in what we do? Only the Creator of all there is can be the answer. “In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth,” & before the beginning He already had a plan for rescuing, delivering & re-creating every thing there is. The Word of God tells us about this plan. The Word of God tells us that it is finished.
On the day of Pentecost, it was an incontrovertible fact that Jesus had risen from the dead. Sadly, it is also an incontrovertible fact that many, throughout history, have chosen not to believe that fact. That unbelief continues to this day. To the people of his days, & ours, to believers & to those who have fallen from the faith, St. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ & are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you & want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)
That is strong language, the likes of which we are no longer accustomed to hearing in our politically correct society. Mainstream politicians, even if they are children of God, are loathe to take such a clear stand. Priests & pastors across Christianity are loathe to make such a clear & pointed case. We can find people-pleasers anywhere we look.
The only ‘unforgivable’ sin, in the eyes of our world, is to call someone else’s religion wrong, or false. Yet, false religions are leading people to hell every hour of every day. All gods claim to be true, but only one God has sent His own son to die in our place while we were yet evil. That the true God did so leaves no room for doubt in your heart about anyone’s worthiness.
Our salvation is not about our “worthiness.” If believed, that gives us the ammunition we need to fend off Satan’s temptations to validate ourselves. People pleasing can go by the wayside while sacrificially loving & caring for people takes its place. All of that is possible when you are secure in the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for you. When you find your value & worth in the fact that our heavenly Father took the time to personally create you, & to prepare good works in advance, for you to do, then you don’t have to find value & worth in what sinful human beings think of you. It is our own sinful nature that is the source of all our insecurities. Jesus has overcome that sinful nature by living a perfect & holy life in our place.
The Gospel as good news is a familiar theme for Lutherans. We hear it, & we hear it again; the news that Jesus died for our sins & then rose from the dead. For Jesu’s sake, sins forgiven, peace with God, eternal life. We become so accustomed to hearing it that it’s not surprising we sometimes wonder, “Is that all there is?”
Do other religions, spiritualties, beliefs, pieties, or churches offer more, add something? Should the gospel be “updated,” made more palatable to a wider range of people, a bit more cosmopolitan & inclusive? It’s a quest so modern, yet so ancient too.
Certain teachers, trouble makers, showed up in the churches of Galatia founded by St. Paul. They pressed to accommodate within the gospel of Jesus & His righteousness, just a few strains of man’s good works to be saved. Shall we have the gospel as it is, or a revised gospel to please more people?
St. Paul, by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, said, “No! Hell is at the end of that road. Turn back while Christ is still calling you. Let those who willfully deny the truth be damned.” Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know, could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I every live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for Thy grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2
 2 Thessalonians 3:10b
 Genesis 1:1 ESV
Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22–36; John 8:48–59
Grace, Mercy, and Peace be multiplied to you all from God the great “I Am” and Jesus Christ who said, “I Am.” Amen.
Sermon Text: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”” (John 8:58, ESV)
Sermon Title/Theme: “Jesus said, “I am!”
Growing up in a Christian home and going to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School in my childhood was not all that memorable to me. I mean, that’s the reality of it. I don’t remember people, names, or what we had for snacks or projects. What I do remember however, were those special encounters with the divine, (I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time), but they were times that my heart would kind-a melt and my mind go searching for more answers about things I was hearing about people and stories from the bible. That’s what I remember. One of those times is when the story of Moses at the burning bush was told. I thought, “How can a bush burn and not be consumed (burned up)?” Over the years more information about all of that was added to my understanding. Then I realized that the story is about how God is revealing Himself to Moses and preparing Moses for some works of faith. Moses would go to Pharaoh in Egypt and lead the people of God (Israel) out of their cruel enslavement under Egyptian task-masters. I also learned how the sinful nature is less than gleeful with God’s call to faith and obedience. Moses’ response is less than receptive to what must have seemed grandiose, even superhuman plans. Moses replies to God, as any of us might,
“Who am I that I should go …?”” (Exodus 3:11, ESV) Moses apparently is thinking about that Egyptian task-master he had murdered so many years before. An act that caused him to flee the land of Egypt. “Who am I” indeed! Nevertheless, God, in turn, tells Moses,
“But I will be with you.”” (Exodus 3:12, ESV) God promises to be with Moses for this assignment. But, still unconvinced that God’s assuring presence is of value, or will be of any help. Moses says:
“If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”” (Exodus 3:13, ESV) Now, it is right here, that the rubber meets the road so-to-speak for us. Who is God? Isn’t that the question of our own day?
Today we hear so many saying “God is One,” like the Jews Jesus was speaking to. Even so, like then, even now, so many, although they profess to know God, do not know who He is. They live in utter darkness and sin and are being reserved for that which has been prepared for them. And that is not heaven.
So what does this mean for us? Is not God calling to us to make His great name known among the nations to bring them out of their slavery to sin and darkness? There are more and more people choosing Islam today who once professed to be Christian. Expect that to increase. The eternal lie of Satan has never gone away or changed. Just listening to the publicity of such converts screams the words Satan used against Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Hast God truly said?”
Even so, God is not hampered by such enticements. What He Himself has determined to do, will be done. He is the potter. We are the clay. So, like He did with Moses He also does with us. He not only assures us of His abiding presence, but of His eternal name to carry with us.
“I am who I am.” … “Say this to the people …, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”” (Exodus 3:14, ESV) In other words, He is the One who exists. He is the One without beginning or ending. He is the One by whom and through whom all things exist. He is the only One to whom worship and adoration is owed and from whom life exists. We owe no religion anything! We owe God our faithful obedience and worship. To Him be all glory and praise and honor due His Holy name.
Now, why is this important to my message for today, and how does it play out in real life? Well, think about this; All religious behavior is manmade. Worship of the true God is not. In order to worship God, a person must know who the true God is. According to our sinful human nature, we humans derive for ourselves many gods, that are really no gods at all, including any other gods named by any other name than the one revealed to Moses.
Even so, that reality is missed by the very people Jesus comes to save. Yes, I did use the present tense, and for good reason. Jesus is not in some far off land as though He is out of reach and out of touch with our humanity today. That’s the point the Lord God conveyed to Moses when: “He said, “But I will be with you, (and He even gave Moses the sign that would be given that the God had sent him): when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”” (Mt. Horeb). (Exodus 3:12, ESV)
You see, when God says He is present, that He exists, then we can litereally count on His existence “with us!” God with us will make things happen, just as He has said, specific to His Word. We can trust it. We can trust the Word that has come forth from His voice and Spirit.
It is the presence of the Lord God that is with Moses.
It is the presence of the Lord God that is with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And it is the very visible presence of the Lord God Almighty that the Jews dismissing Jesus as a half-breed Samaritan are rejecting.
It is the very presence of the Lord in the water and the word of Holy Baptism, and in the Bread and Wine of the Holy Supper, not because men have said so in so many doctrines and teachings, but only because Jesus said, “I Am!”
Jesus is the one who sets His presence in these things. How very comforting and assuring this can be to needy souls. And, who has more need than a person blinded by the darkness of sin? Such a person needs to be enabled to break their bonds of slavery to sin. And who, other than God, is the true enabler for breaking the bonds of sin, death and hell, in the truest sense of the word enable? There is no other!
This is clearly revealed when Jesus tells the Jews: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. (then get this; Jesus says) He (Abraham) saw it and was glad.”” (John 8:56, ESV) That is true enabling. The great “I Am” enabled Abraham to see the day of God’s vengeance and justice, the great and glorious day of the Lord, long before Jesus was even born. Even so, the language Jesus uses says, Abraham saw it, that is, he saw Jesus’ day that we know as the life and times when Jesus walked this earth. Amazing! What, exactly, Abraham was given to see is a matter of divine revelation! It is by divine revelation that you and I also are given to see Jesus as Lord and God, as the “I am” who spoke also to Moses.
But, for unbelieving ears, this just sounds like WAH, WAH, WAH. Thus, the unbelieving respond to what Jesus is saying with this, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”” (John 8:57, ESV) Hardened, unbelieving hearts bear their own guilt. God is never responsible for that guilt, or its result, which is eternal death and separation from “I am.” I find it interesting that the Jews don’t question how Abraham could have seen Jesus’ day?
When the presence, and the person and work of “I Am” is not believed it is never the fault of God who has done all things necessary for a person to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. You see, God’s Word always does that for which it is appointed. It all rests with Him, not with us. That is so reassuring and emboldens the trusting heart.
“I Am” gives us new life. That new life by its very nature cannot remain inactive. It has been called by to be alive in living worship in and to Him.
That reality comes most assuredly in the written Word which is God’s revelation of Himself and His relationship with mankind. From Proverbs we learn that “When he established the heavens, I was there; (“I Am”) when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Proverbs 8:27–31, ESV)
Is it any wonder that “Jesus said, ‘I Am,” to the blind Pharisees? Was it to condemn? Not at all! It was to lead them in a most profound way to the truth. God desires that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Even so, unbelief only sees the human Jesus, not the God-man who reconciled mankind to God through His own flesh and blood. Many religious people only see the human Jesus. Even so God still reveals His name in the whole person and work of Jesus. As a human being He truly is, the great “I Am” of the Holy Scriptures who spoke to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Prophets and Evangelist, and still calls people to be His messengers today. God is truly with us.
This is what POBLO International is all about; making God’s name known. This Christian organization has made it their goal to be friends with those who do not yet know the name of God. It reaches out to immigrants and refugees especially from the Middle East, India, and Persia; the Hindi, and Muslim. POBLO International dwells on the need of people coming to make a new home, a new life among us. Like Jesus who is “I Am,” the heart that motivates POBLO is this: It wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
So let me share with you how Jesus, the great “I Am” is still at work among these foreigners today. Karim Musa is an Iraqi refugee who came to United States in 2005. Prior to arriving in the U.S., he served as an Islamic leader in Syria and Jordan. It wasn’t until three years after being in the U.S. that Karim started questioning his Islamic faith and wanted to learn more about Christianity. He called an Arabic Christian television station and explained that he was searching for truth. Over the course of several months, he read the Bible eight times and corresponded with the individual he had spoken with from the Christian TV station. Through his reading of the Bible, Karim came to believe in Jesus as His Lord and God, which is the point of knowing His name. Now, he serves as a POBLO missionary in Dearborn Michigan, where he shares the Gospel with Muslims. He also hosts a globally-broadcasted television and radio show, where he discusses Islam, the Qur’an, Christianity, and the Bible, sharing the Gospel message and answering questions from Muslims wanting to learn more about Christianity.
Karim is just one of many being led by God’s Spirit to the truth of who Jesus Christ truly is. Things like this happen only because “Jesus said, “I am!”
Then there is Joy Markus and Sarah Christian. You will be able to meet and hear the testimony of these two women next week at the pot-luck. Both are educated women. Joy was a teacher and lawyer in Sharia law from Kuwait. When it was found out that she was being educated by a Christian pastor in Kuwait, she was nearly beaten to death before being smuggled out of the country to the safety of POBLO’s open arms.
Sarah, was a primary school teacher in Saudi Arabia. When her mother caught her viewing Christian material, she was severely beaten. Now both are in protected refugee status being trained for missionary work at POBLO International.
These women will share their stories of how their belief changed and faith in Jesus Christ was enjoined in the heart through friends and people like you who were bold and willing to see a need, be a friend, and reach out. May God, the eternal three in one be forever praised. Amen!?
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep our hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus the Great “I Am” now and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Pentecost – 2016 LSB #545
Text – John 3:17
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
BUT IN ORDER THAT…
A grove of scrubby black oak trees surrounded the school. When the 1st frost killed other leaves & they fell from their branches, the oak leaves clung to theirs, even though they were as dead as the leaves on the ground. The sharp winds of winter came. They too were powerless to shake the hold of the oak leaves. Later came snow, sleet & ice; their efforts – equally futile.
Then came spring; in the heart of those oak trees the sap began to rise. New buds leafed out & the old, dead leaves finally began to fall, making room for the new. So it is with the Spirit of God, who replaces our dead works of the flesh with the living fruit of the Spirit.
“The Spirit breathes where He wills, & you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes & where He goes. So is everyone who is begotten from the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who brings life out of death. Spiritual life moves spiritual death out of the way, thus creating a beachhead for the reign of God.
Saving human beings from hell is the chief purpose for which Jesus was sent to earth. He took on human flesh in order to create a beachhead for the reign, on earth, of His heavenly Father. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17 ESV)
When you or I touch something contagious we become like the diseased. When Jesus touches a leper, not only is Jesus not contaminated, but the leper becomes clean. Spiritual life pushes spiritual death off to the side, & out of the way. It is a process of division. It’s one thing to see it occurring in a tree. Among human beings it is heart breaking. One family member has a falling out with another & the impact is felt across many relationships. Those divisions are often the result of sinful actions, by self-centered human beings. Yet there are times when God does things that separate people. We struggle in seeing that. We struggle in living it.
For those who are already children of God, it is a much loved verse. It is pure Gospel as it describes what our heavenly Father has done for our salvation: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” For that reason we seldom see it in this light, but John 3:16 is a verse of division.
As the Word of God, it is a two-edged sword. It creates what it says, in those who hear the voice of Jesus. It divides human beings into two vastly different camps – those who shall not perish & those who shall. You see, John 3:16 is the beginning of a commentary on the words of Jesus given to us in verses 14-15:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The problem is that some do not believe. Jesus is teaching Nicodemus that the Spirit of God is at work in the world bringing new life which necessitates pushing out the old. Some people reject that new life.
It was because of the signs that Nicodemus came to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs (σημεῖα) that you do unless God is with him.” John’s Gospel refers to miracles with the word ‘signs.’ Nicodemus admits that in those signs he felt the presence of God, but he doesn’t seem to be convinced that Jesus is God.
After all, how could Yahweh Himself literally be standing before his eyes? It’s an earth shaking thought, & it’s turning the world of Nicodemus upside down. There are many in his party, the Pharisees, who do not believe such foolishness. Concerning Jesus there is division in the ranks. In Luke 12, Jesus Himself confirms the effect that He has: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law & daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:51, 53 ESV)
Nicodemus had felt the presence of God, but as to the identity of Jesus, it appears that he was still on the fence. So Jesus presented to him one of the OT events where the people of Israel are complaining against God & Moses. “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, & they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:6 ESV)
When those who were left repented, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent & set it on a pole, & everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” God was confronting His people with a crisis that demanded & elicited either faith or disbelief, resulting in life or death. Those who believed God looked to the serpent & were healed. Those who didn’t – died.
In the wilderness, the Holy Spirit was using the new life that was springing forth to push death off to the side & out of the way. It was God who brought that crisis which forced the people to respond to Him. Because Nicodemus came to Jesus asking, the Son of God compared Himself to that OT crisis:
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” The crucifixion of Jesus would be the final & ultimate crisis. It would confront every human being, demanding faith or disbelief & resulting in ultimate life or death. Jesus doesn’t simply welcome Nicodemus. He challenges him.
If Nicodemus desires a sign of God’s kingdom & salvation, then he will need to be confronted with the cross. It is the consummation of all the signs that Jesus performed; the greatest demonstration of God’s power & glory & kingdom. That same sign confronts you & me today. New life is sprouting forth, pushing the old & the dead off to the side to make room for the new. As the Book of Lamentations tells us: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” (3:22-23)
Jesus did come to earth to bring division, but the division is not His doing. As the sermon text makes very clear, God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. The division comes from the fact that many people irrationally choose death over life.
Salvation or damnation lies in our posture toward the crucified Jesus. No one comes into this world good, or even neutral. We all came into this world under the curse of condemnation because of sin. If we refuse to look upon the crucified Jesus with spiritual eyes, we remain in that state of judgment. That is the crisis before all of us.
There is no getting close, as in horseshoes & hand grenades. There is no being in the neighborhood, no existing on the fringe. It is darkness or light, belief or unbelief & the two cannot coexist. Life is offered freely, with no cost to us, no price to pay, no work to accomplish. Jesus has done it all. It is finished. Hopefully, you are not.
You aren’t condemned to being finished. The Spirit of God is able to bring light out of darkness & life out of death. He is working even now to push out the old dead leaves within your heart that the new life of Christ may blossom in your lives. Amen.
Word of God, come down on earth, living rain from heaven descending; touch our hearts & bring to birth faith & hope & love unending. Word almighty, we revere You; Word made flesh, we long to hear You. Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation, Word that came from heaven to die, crucified for our salvation, saving Word, the world restoring, speak to us, Your love outpouring. Amen. LSB 545:1-2
 John 3:8 Weinrich W. C., translation
 John 3:2 ESV
7th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 861, 468, 856
Text – Acts 1:26
And they cast lots for them, & the lot fell on Matthias, & he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
AND THE LOT FELL…
Casting lots appears at least 70 times in the OT. In reality there’s nothing all that special about it. It’s just a means of making a selection. In our world, children use rock, paper, scissors. Lining up & counting off by numbers was a common method in my high school gym classes. Then, there’s the time-honored method of having a volunteer step forward.
I was on our volunteer fire department at the time. The ambulance had just arrived with a shooting victim & we were waiting for the helicopter to land. It was going to transport him the rest of the way to the hospital. Four of us were standing there when the ambulance driver said he needed a volunteer to do chest compressions on the victim.
The other three men with me immediately took a step backwards, thus ‘selecting’ me as the chosen one. You could say, the lot fell on me, but there wasn’t time to waste griping about it. Another time I was on the board of trustees & elections were coming up. As the board was voting for its chairman I ended up getting two of the five votes.
It had never occurred to me that I’d even get one. I was only 28 years old. Everyone else on the board was 60 & older, so much more experienced. There’s no way I should have been voted for, & while I wasn’t elected in that case, I had time to feel put upon. Drawing the short straw is not considered a blessing, because it means you’re getting “stuck” with the job.
That’s often how we look at it. There was a guy in the OT named Jonah who strongly agreed with us, so much so, that he got on a boat & sailed in the totally opposite direction. Fortunately for him, God did not strike him dead, but gave Jonah time & incentive to change his mind while he was in the belly of a great fish. We can also remember Lot’s wife. She too was chosen to escape the fire & brimstone destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah, yet she was disappointed in being chosen, & it cost her her life.
“And they cast lots for them, & the lot fell on Matthias, & he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Matthias was never heard from again. At least, the Bible never mentions his name after that illustrious election. So why all the bother & trouble to choose someone who would replace Judas, if he never has another word written about him in all of Holy Scripture?
Actually, it’s a common technique used by the Holy Spirit as He inspires the writing of God’s Word. We see it clearly in the parable of the Prodigal Son. As Jesus nears the ending, we hear the older son berating his father for celebrating when the derelict younger son returns home. Then, we are left with these final words from the father to the older son:
“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 15:1 ESV) Nothing is said of how that son responds. The conclusion is left hanging because the intent of God’s Spirit appears to be this – You are to place yourself into the older son’s shoes.
The derelict younger son was indeed dead, but now he’s been found alive. Can’t you celebrate that good news? The Gospel message has done its work & brought the younger son home, to life & to salvation. That same Gospel message is inviting you. How will you respond? What is your answer? Will you join the celebration?
Going back to this morning’s reading from the book of Acts, what happens to Matthias is never reported. Again, we’re left hanging. Nothing is said of how Matthias responds. Could it be that we are meant also to place ourselves into the shoes of Matthias? How would we respond if chosen to be one of Jesus’ disciples? What is your answer? What will we do with the good news, & with the blessings, each of us has received from our Father in heaven? Do we respond with feelings of having been ‘put upon’ by Christ? Do you react with the feeling that you have been ‘stuck’ with the job?
Mother’s often get ‘stuck’ taking care of business – doing laundry, cleaning the house, chasing after all the activities the children are involved in. Like Matthias, they frequently receive little credit for their effort. However, at Mark 9:35, Jesus encourages them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all & servant of all.”
Doesn’t that sound like a job description for mothers? So we celebrate Mother’s Day to thank them for coming through in the clutch. But that doesn’t leave the rest of us children of God off the hook. The love Jesus displayed on the cross motivates our saintly nature as well.
We too are compelled to respond by what God’s Son did for us on the cross, for we too have been chosen. Sure, our sinful nature always feels put upon by God’s love. It feels put upon for being chosen. Our saintly nature disciplines itself in order to turn away from our selfish desires & looks out for the good of those around us.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That is what Jesus chooses us for. He’s already prepared the good works in advance that we are to do. All He asks of us is to make ourselves available. Don’t run away. Don’t make excuses. Just step up & answer His calling. Our heavenly Father provides the strength. He provides the courage.
What is your answer? That seems to be the message with the choosing of Matthias. Now, what will you do with the good news, with the blessings, each of you has received from our Father in heaven? In the Gospel of John, Jesus explained God’s plan this way:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you & appointed you that you should go & bear fruit & that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV) Jesus himself had called Judas & numbered him among the twelve. Yet, Judas betrayed His Lord & Master. His story serves as a warning to every follower of Jesus to “take heed lest he fall.” It calls for daily repentance & belief in the forgiveness of sin.
Satan is at war with us, even if we don’t believe we are not at war with him. The battle is ongoing. Will you be a victim? Will your children, or grandchildren? Imagine how put upon you’d feel then? Nevertheless, we are impossibly weak & incapable of the battle. Our Savior has already won the war, but battle still rages on. How do we keep going?
You might remember these verses from the book of Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, & sin which clings so closely, & let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2 ESV)
For the joy that was set before Him, Jesus endured the suffering & death that was ours. The reading this morning from Revelation gives us a glimpse of that joy which was set before Christ. It’s a rendition of the life each of us has been chosen for:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God & of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God & of the Lamb will be in it, & His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, & His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, & they will reign forever & ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5)
That is the life we will be ‘stuck’ with in heaven. It’s easy to celebrate that on Easter morning, because everything is geared up for that big day. So what about this morning? If you don’t feel all that special today, if you feel ‘put upon’ & the lot has fallen on you, are you still able to rejoice at the good news that Jesus is risen? Can you still worship Him this here & now? Yes, Jesus has won the war, but the battle is ongoing for every last soul. We should look forward to the glorious life of the heaven to come, in order to keep running the race with endurance. Our salvation does NOT depend upon it, but we have the Good News which other people need to hear so they can join us in heaven.
In today’s reading from Acts 1, Peter’s message doesn’t spend much time recounting the past, or dwelling on the pain of Judas’ betrayal, or trying to explain it away. Peter notes the pain simply & quickly as a reminder of the fulfillment of the Word of God in their midst. Even the betrayal was foretold, & God’s prophecy had come true.
Then Peter turns to the hope of their future. He uses the pain to focus on the resurrection. He uses the death of Judas to focus on the new life. The remaining 11 disciples had spent three momentous years with him. They shared an incredible journey, & he was as close to them as a blood brother.
The sole reason Peter can preach a word at all in the trauma of betrayal & death is because of the other dead Man they had spent three years with – the dead Man who is raised from the dead. Peter & his fellow disciples have hope in the face of the one man’s death because they are witnesses to the other Man’s resurrection.
“And they cast lots for them, & the lot fell on Matthias, & he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Could it be that the reason we never hear of Matthias again is because his story is our story? And with Jesus, what a story it will be! Amen.
I am content! My Jesus is my Light, my radiant sun of grace. His cheering rays beams blessings forth for all, sweet comfort, hope & peace. This Easter sun has brought salvation & everlasting exultation. I am content! At length I shall be free, awakened from the dead, arising glorious evermore to be with You, my living head. The chains that hold my body, sever; then shall my soul rejoice forever. I am content! I am content! Amen. LSB 468:3-4
 1 Corinthians 10:12
 Acts 1:26
6th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #906
Text – John 5:9
And at once the man was healed, & he took up his bed & walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.
That Day Was a Sabbath
An old man turned 98. He won the lottery & died the next day. It’s a black fly in your chardonnay. It’s a death row pardon, two minutes too late. A traffic jam, when you’re already late. A no smoking sign on your cigarette break. It’s like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife. It’s meeting the man of your dreams, & then meeting his beautiful wife.
It’s like rain, on your wedding day. It’s a free ride, when you’ve already paid. It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. And who would’ve thought it figures? And isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
Those are lyrics from a 1995 song by Alanis Morissette. The song’s title was – Isn’t It Ironic? That is definitely where the last sentence of today’s sermon text leaves us – with irony. “Now that day was the Sabbath.”
Jesus had just healed a man who’d been an invalid for 38 years. The problem is, the Word of God, which healed the man, also told him to take up his bed & walk. The verse right after today’s Gospel reading tells us, “So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, & it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’”
Hopefully, you recall the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 ESV) In Jeremiah, God expounded upon that: “And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.” (Jeremiah 17:22 ESV)
In the days of the OT it was clear. Mankind should not of its own prerogative choose to
work on the Sabbath. Where the irony comes in, is that it was God who gave the command to remember the Sabbath, & in the Gospel reading from John, it was also God who gave the invalid the command to take up his bed & walk.
In light of the 1st commandment, Yahweh has the right to do that, & in light of His love for us, Jesus commanded the invalid to do what was considered to be work on the Sabbath. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28 ESV)
In other words, the Sabbath is a servant to man, not the other way around. The Sabbath was given to us by our Lord to be a blessing, rather than a burden. Do you see the irony in the Pharisees reprimanding Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, for telling a man He’d just healed to carry his bed?
You & I are able to see because we believe that Jesus is Lord almighty, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, Creator of everything there is. This text from the Gospel of John makes clear that the Jews did not believe that Jesus was Lord.
Of course that fits right in with what John recorded of Jesus already in the 1st chapter: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, & the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, & His own people did not receive Him.” (John 1:9-11 ESV)
So how do we keep ourselves from ending up in the same predicament as the Jews that John wrote of in today’s Gospel lesson? How do our thoughts, words & deeds not end up as objects of irony? The simple answer is always to side with the truth. Fortunately, Jesus is the Truth. The struggle is that our sinful nature, like Satan, loves to hide behind lies.
The Son of God came to earth, not as some mysterious spirit or ghostlike creature, but
as an historical reality in human flesh & blood. Jesus was, & still is, bringing the truth to light – the truth that our heavenly Father loves us beyond what sinners are able to comprehend. In line with that, today’s Gospel reading reveals Jesus as He’s doing battle with Satan, by healing the invalid & by confronting the lies of those who would keep God’s children enslaved to sin.
Knowing the circumstances of this particular individual, Jesus approaches & asks, “Do you want to be healed?” It hardly seems that the question needs to be asked. It certainly does not appear to be the beginning of a battle between heaven & hell. Yet, if we had read on to 5:18, we’d have heard, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill [Jesus]…”
In chapter 4, Jesus had been talking to a woman, one on one, & she was a Samaritan woman at that. Now, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath by telling him to take up his bed & walk. If this ‘foolish young rabbi’ were smart, he’d fly under the radar for a while until he’d earned his stripes. Instead, he’s choosing to buck the system from the get-go.
What begins with an innocent question, “Do you want to be healed?” silently evolves into a full-blown confrontation. We aren’t just looking at a simple miracle event in this healing. The narrative bears within it a deep theological significance, which can easily be overlooked.
Next, this healing took place in the context of a “feast of the Jews.” (John 5:1 ESV) To the ear of someone in our culture that detail is completely ignored. However, during festivals the people of Israel were to recall God’s works of redemption of old, & to express their hope & prayer that God would continue to bless them with His presence & favor.
That John mentions the feast is a marker that in the healing of the paralytic Jesus is working as had the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob long past. This ‘foolish young rabbi’ is revealing Himself to be that God of Israel. To those steeped in the millennia of Jewish tradition that should have been obvious, yet, “He came to His own, & His own people did not receive Him.” Yahweh has come into the life of the paralytic at the time of a feast in order to bring physical healing, but also something far greater.
The healing of this invalid is meant by Jesus to be seen as our heavenly Father’s response to the problem of sin. God did not come in human flesh simply to make physical life better for the relatively few people He healed during the relatively short period of human history that He was living on earth.
After today’s Gospel reading, & after the Jews confronted the former invalid for carrying his bed on the Sabbath, Jesus found the man in the temple & said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Given the context, a more consistent translation would be, “See, you have become whole!” rather than, “See, you are well!”
When the Creator of the universe heals someone, we should not think of that only in physical terms. That would be to separate the healing from the forgiveness of sins. Basic to all biblical thinking is that the fall into sin brought the consequence of death. In other words, physical damage to our bodies, not just our soul, comes from sin.
The NT record of healings by Jesus are a reversal of that original fall into sin. The miraculous healings or signs, recorded in the NT, are thus a new creation brought about by the removal of sin & its effects. Jesus makes that connection between healing & forgiveness very clear in another incident, recorded in Matthew, where Jesus heals a paralyzed man:
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed & go home.” And he rose & went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, & they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:6-8 ESV)
The miraculous healings Jesus performed are an inkling of the coming resurrection of the
dead at the end of time. In His defense before the Jews, Jesus will associate the passing from death to life, by those who hear & believe His Word, with the final resurrection. On that day, those who are dead will hear His voice & be raised to life eternal, just as the man got up & walked when Jesus said to the invalid of 38 years, “Rise, take up your bed, & walk.”
In opposing this as a violation of the earthly Sabbath, the Jews are opposing the reality of the new & heavenly Sabbath which stands before their very eyes in the person of Jesus Christ. In this Gospel reading, John is highlighting, through the use of irony, that the Jews he’s writing about do not believe that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, & therefore, not Lord at all.
God’ Son specifically healed this man on the Sabbath, then told him to take up his bed & walk, because Jesus was challenging their refusal to accept Him as their Lord. He challenged them because He wanted to turn them away from their sin & back to their Creator. They were trying to find life in their keeping of the Law, instead of finding it in the person of Jesus.
In His 20th chapter John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, & that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31 ESV) Today’s Gospel reading is one of those signs.
When it came to the Sabbath, the Jews did not believe that Jesus was Lord. In what areas of our lives are we unwilling to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Could it be the financial offerings we struggle to give back to God? How about the giving of our time to the work & the mission of the Church? When it comes to our sexuality, are we willing recognize Jesus as Lord?
Living together before marriage has become the “normal” practice today, yet it’s a direct violation of God’s commands. So it shouldn’t be too surprising when people who’ve grown up in that climate refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord when He defines marriage as between one man & one woman. Nor should it be surprising to see the tremendous push in our culture to allow people to choose what gender they want to be, or which bathroom they’d like to use. All of those are simply manifestations of the same problem. We really struggle in allowing Jesus to be Lord of EVERY aspect of our lives.
That’s why the words, “You shall have no other gods before me,” make up the very 1st commandment. The words, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” support the 1st commandment in that Israel, & we today, demonstrate our identity as God’s holy people through our faithfulness to the Sabbath rest.
If being in Church on Sunday reflects heaven, what does our absence here say about our desire to enter the true Promised Land? As Jesus teaches about the end times, coming before the Day of Judgment, He says in Matthew 24:12, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” Is that what’s happening in our nation & in our churches today?
Those words should send a chill down our spine, because we are seeing them before our very eyes. On the issues of marriage, gender, abortion, tithes & offerings, sexuality, even church attendance, is our love for God growing cold in our heart? Is lawlessness increasing within each of us, as well as across our land? Are we siding with the truth, or hiding behind lies?
Next week, next month, next year, will Jesus find us in the temple, in church, in order to say to us, “See, you have become whole! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” As sinful beings, our thoughts, words & deeds will certainly end up as objects of irony.
Fortunately, like to the invalid in John 5, this very morning Jesus has come to us again & asked, “Do you want to be healed?” or, in an even better translation, “Do you want to become whole?” As those words of God fall upon your ears, they have the power to create faith, to forgive sins, & to bring life out of death, thus making you whole. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15 ESV) Let it be said of our time here this morning, “That day was a Sabbath.” Amen.
O day of rest & gladness, O day of joy & light, O balm of care & sadness, most beautiful, most bright; this day the high & lowly, through ages joined to bless, sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” the triune God confess. That light our hope sustaining, we walk the pilgrim way, at length our rest attaining, our endless Sabbath day. We sing to Thee our praise, O Father, Spirit, Son; the Church her voice upraises to Thee, blest three in One. Amen. LSB 906:1, 4
 Exodus 20:3 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet