Armed Forces Sunday – 2018 LSB #848
Text – Isaiah 40:31
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.
THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH
The prophet Isaiah calls to mind the desperate circumstances of God’s people in Babylon. The people of Israel were captured & enslaved because of their disobedience. They were in a foreign land, but the Lord reminds His people they are not forgotten or abandoned. He will soon rescue them from bondage. This is a foretaste of the future fulfillment with Christ on the cross.
Today is a great day – a day of thankfulness! As redeemed children of God in Christ Jesus, forgiven & restored, we take time to acknowledge & say, “Thank you.”
Thank you 1st to our Lord Jesus for coming into the world to redeem us from our sins. “Thank you” for the men & women who serve & have served our nation. “Thank you” for their families, who stand beside them while they enter military service, deploy in harm’s way & return home. We are indeed a thankful people because, & by way of, our redemption in Christ.
As we gather in worship we hear God’s Law & are reminded of our fallen humanity & our sinfulness – helpless & pathetic, beat up & tired, authors of our own misery & threadbare due to our fallen condition. We are sinners. We are miserable for it & we deserve nothing but death, yet, we are not abandoned!
Our Lord comes to us & saves us from eternal death. The Son of God takes on the form of a servant & is the sacrificial lamb. Christ Jesus took our sins – all our sins – & nailed them to the cross. We are forgiven, redeemed & restored to everlasting life. We are indeed a thankful people. We join in confession of sins & receive absolution. What a comforting blessing!
We are assured pardon & peace in the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus on the
cross. Earlier, we heard words of Absolution in the liturgy. Absolution – spoken by the pastor – bought & paid for by Christ. As we are repentant, the words ring in our ears with joy-filled resonance. Through Jesus, whose death on the cross redeems us, we are lifted up as on eagles’ wings, pulled out of the quagmire of misery & death. We are so thankful.
In humility & thankfulness, we seek ways to live a new life made holy through the work & activity of Christ alone. We, as a congregation, acknowledge, give thanks to God, & call to mind those who serve in the military. As Lutherans, the powerful theology of the cross allows us to recognize the role of the military, & service to country, as good & godly.
A military commander once came to Martin Luther with questions concerning war, its barbarity, & the role that service personnel have in military conflict. Luther saw many of the concerns the commander witnessed among the soldiers in Wittenberg.
In 1526, he wrote a short essay titled “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.” It spoke of God’s words of promise, the deep, rich theology of the cross we have as Christians confronted by war, & it gave advice from a caring pastor to both enlisted personnel & officers.
Never one to sugar coat the violence & brutality of war, Luther described the role of those in the military as holy, godly & instituted by the Lord Himself. The following is what he said about all who serve their country in the armed forces:
“… when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, & creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to the love of Christ. But when I think of how it protects the good & keeps & preserves wife & child, house & farm, property, & honor & peace, then I see how precious & godly this work is.”
Luther understood the world as a place of sin & fallen humanity. He knew of the violence of war & in how ghastly a manner it devastates nations, institutions, the land & its
citizens. For help, Luther turned to Holy Scripture & found that Romans 13 tells us with clarity that God honors the sword.
Like people in Luther’s day, we also know about sin. We know about dissension & conflict. We know about war. It is horrific & never glorious – never actively sought by a godly nation – never seen as a solution when other opportunities present themselves.
All of you know someone who served in the military. Many know of men & women who died in service to our country. Some of you know those who were wounded. Still others know men & women who returned from harm’s way & were never the same.
There is no greater way to thank God & acknowledge those who serve than sharing from the prophet Isaiah: “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (Is. 40:31)
The words of Isaiah recorded in the 40th chapter are among the most famous passages in Scripture. The soothing promises of God are so powerful. They resonate in a culture looking for peace & consolation. Many people in our American society today are simply tired. They are worn out & fatigued by what they hear & see around them.
The causes of being worn out are endless, but we understand it as sin & the consequence of living in a fallen world. The words of Isaiah are in Holy Scripture to give encouragement to God’s people. By the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, things looked dismal for the children of God.
As a consequence of their rebelliousness, they are ripped away from the land of Israel & Jerusalem. Its temple is destroyed. The people are locked away in a foreign land. The war brought desolation, slavery & death. It was a crushing, humiliating defeat. At the time of this prophecy, they are enslaved to the rulers of Babylon.
Far from home with broken hearts, they long for restoration with God. They are a tired &
defeated people, but through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks words of consolation, restoration & peace. Chapter 40 is all about comfort, the steadfastness of God’s Word & promise. The chapter points to the coming of Christ. It reassures the people of the supreme power of the eternal Lord over nations & powers. God keeps & fulfills His promises.
Isaiah brought encouragement, reminding Israel – you still belong to the Almighty. As those redeemed by Christ, we need to hear the same promises! Due to our fallen humanity, it is essential to recognize God is in control of every aspect of our lives. Knowing that is a great comfort to those in all walks of life, including those who serve in the military.
Our men & women who serve do so voluntarily & keep us safe from our enemies. As Luther said in citing the book of Romans, service in the military is a godly, blessed vocation. It is not without peril or self-sacrifice, but it is a good thing to serve your nation. Those who serve need to hear the Good News that they, too, are granted life eternal through Christ Jesus.
Talk with those who serve our nation. They’ve all had experiences of being alone while guarding the frontiers of our freedom. They understand what it means to be weary & tired – standing watch when fatigued – pulling guard duty while “bone tired.”
They’ve scanned a perimeter while suppressing thoughts of home to stay focused on the mission, or analyzed laborious data with their heart elsewhere. Military service can be routine & boring. Walking patrols or standing watch for endless hours – sitting & waiting for everything from food to fuel to transportation. The monotony is often broken by terror & destruction.
Many Christians serve our country as leaders in the military. Caring for people under their charge they shoulder a unique burden – it is the leader who decides whom to place in harm’s way. This is just a small snapshot of the sacrifices in military service.
Hearing the words of Isaiah 40, “they shall renew their strength,” is such good news & it
is rooted in Christ our Savior. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles” has even worked its way into secular society & contemporary Christian music, yet, they don’t get it right.
Posters of Isaiah 40:31 adorn locker rooms & places of business, often with a sweeping portrait of a magnificent eagle. The bird is lifting high, soaring above a rugged, impassable mountain. The phrase “on eagles’ wings” is scrolled on the poster in waxing calligraphy. It’s as if to say: “It’s going to be alright. Keep trying. You can do it.”
Eventually, you’ll soar above obstacles if you try hard enough. Your personal best will happen, & you will meet your sales quota.” So much more is going on in this verse than achieving goals & overcoming obstacles. This is a verse about God & His plan of salvation – a plan which you do not have the capability to accomplish.
“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint” is about the promise of God that frees the children of Israel from captivity.
It’s about the promise of God that points to the cross & the sending of a Messiah which free humanity from bondage & slavery to sin. That guaranteed freedom is the force & power behind words of such comfort & peace. As Christians, we know this well.
Hymn writers know the beauty of God’s promise in Isaiah 40. There are over 250 hymns in the English language attributed to it! Among the more popular are “Fight the Good Fight,” “From All That Dwell Below the Skies,” “On Eagles’ Wings” & “This Is My Father’s World.” All revolve around God’s promise & His activity to rescue humanity through Jesus.
Years ago, the Academy Award-Winning film “Chariots of Fire” used Isaiah 40:31 in an artistic manner. A picture was painted to illustrate human strength compared to & against the eternal might of God. Imagine if you will, the words of Isaiah 40:31 read aloud while scenes of the great hopefuls in Britain’s Olympic team suffer humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat. These strong, powerful men lose races, tumble over in mud-covered embarrassment, & are soaked in inconsolable grief – all those years of training & hopes crushed. The text of Isaiah 40, in this case, captures the themes of futility, loss & inconsolable grief.
The prophet Isaiah wants you to hear God’s Good News of “Christ alone” forgiveness. That is what strengthens us. That is what lifts us up. It is the greatest act of love in human history. It is Christ’s suffering & death on the cross that reconciles you to God. It is His wings! It is His bearing! God is lifting us up through Christ while He is on the cross.
Clearly, Isaiah prophesies about a great & wonderful act only accomplished by God. This magnificent deed is achieved only through Jesus. Hear again the words of Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.”
Today is a day of giving thanks. Be thankful for those who took up our country’s call to serve nation & family. Be thankful for the love of God in Christ Jesus, whom the prophet Isaiah personifies. By Christ’s death, we are renewed to life everlasting. We shall run & not be weary. We shall walk & not faint – in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. As we worship, grant us vision, till Your love’s revealing light in its height & depth & greatness, dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs & burdens Your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving, Your abundant life to share. Amen. LSB 848:1 & 3.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 6) LSB #693
Text – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Something that really hit me this year is that high school graduates are like a calendar. They’re showing me how much time has passed away since I arrived at St. Matthew. People like Nea Harris & Reid Thelen were only four years old when I became the pastor here. They weren’t even in kindergarten yet. Now, they’ve graduated.
Every day another day passes away, but taken 24 hours at a time it’s barely noticeable. If you take it in 14 year chunks, a lot of things have changed. For example, I’ve officiated at 64 funerals in that time. As seen by the world, there hardly is a greater change for any human being than transitioning from life here on earth to life in the hereafter.
Several prominent people have committed suicide recently so the media is all over that issue. It’s tragic because for the world there is little hope for a person once death arrives. That person’s creativity & gifts, whatever they may have been, are gone forever!
When it comes to important people, the world wishes it could stop such senseless loss. However, unimportant people die every day & the news media does not blink an eye. Further revealing a heartless nature, powerful forces in our culture encourage death as an answer to suffering. Assisted suicide laws are promoted & held up as the answer to your pain & misery.
On the other hand, Jesus taught, “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) God’s Son does not close a blind eye to our suffering, & He does not encourage us to die just to get away from it. Instead, He tells us to take heart. He encourages us not to be afraid because He has overcome world. What Jesus means by that is this – He has overcome everything that brings suffering in this life. Whether that is cancer or mental illness, selfishness or greed, tyranny & war & betrayal, all of them have been overcome. Name the worst thing that has ever happened to you, or the worst thing that ever could. Jesus has already overcome that very thing.
It’s not that difficult to agree to in theory. It’s when trying to put it into practice that problems arise. Emotions get in the way. Other people get in the way. Satan begins to stir the pot. You start to feel like you’re being taken advantage of. You feel as if life is starting to slip away because old age takes its toll on your abilities.
It’s just human nature in this broken world – we tend to focus so much on what is passing away, on what we are losing, that we totally ignore & miss what it is that we are gaining. There’s a saying meant to help us come to grips with that: “If one door is closing, another one is opening.” Don’t kid yourself, it is a battle not to lose hope because of the effects of sin.
You experience that warfare on a daily basis even if you are not consciously aware of it. Even if you do not connect the dots from the problems of life to the Word of God, the Bible is all about the spiritual warfare going on in your life. But the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write so you would be encouraged in your daily walk with Jesus.
Paul wrote that the old things of sin, death & the devil have passed away, because they are only temporary. They have nothing at all to do with the glorious life that awaits us in heaven. Don’t bother your soul by worrying over the things that are passing away. Stay focused on the things to come, & then consciously be about the work of God’s eternal kingdom.
Everything you spend money on in this life will one day be gone. Yet, the talents & abilities that our heavenly Father has given to you will not be gone once you die. We will have all of forever & ever to put them to use to the honor & glory of Yahweh who created us. So if you believe God’s Word that your old self has passed away, that the self-centered you is dead, then what is alive within you? Our Creator tells us: “[Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died & was raised.” Does your living bring honor & glory to the One who rescued you from sin & death?
When thinking about the calendars you are using to evaluate the blessings of life, do you mainly focus on that which you are losing, or on that which you are gaining? Do you focus on the past, or do you focus on the future? Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday & today & forever! He is there with you no matter which calendar you measure your life by.
Whether we realize it or not, we choose our attitude on many occasions throughout each & every day. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That is what Baptism, in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, has done to you. The new has come.
The specific problem that St. Paul is addressing in the reading from 2 Corinthians is twofold: some Christians have not accepted the responsibilities of being an ambassador of Christ; others have lost sight of the reason for their serving as an ambassador of Christ. Without a proper focus on Jesus, it becomes easy to do nothing at all, or to serve for the wrong reasons.
Jesus love, demonstrated by dying for us on the cross, is the source of our reconciliation to God. As Jesus passed away, so did the old life that we used to live. We are no longer afraid of our future, nor are we afraid of losing our past. In Jesus they are the same, forever! That is true because our identity is defined by our Lord’s love for us.
You & I are not defined by what we do, nor by what we fail to do. Either of those would leave us without our Creator for all eternity. We are defined by the fact that Christ Jesus chose us to be His own in His kingdom, & He made that costly choice by shedding His blood. Taken 24 hours at a time His choice is barely noticeable to us. If you take it in 14 year chunks, the almighty God has accomplished a lot of things through you. The entire Sonshine Childhood Center program did not exist here 14 years ago. The enrollment at Holt Lutheran School has gone down & up & down & is currently on the upswing again.
Many people that were with us 14 years ago have now safely reached the shores of eternal life instead of the shores of eternal death. The entire, eternal future of children who’ve gone through our programs has been changed dramatically. Vacation Bible School has become Soccer Camp. A congregation of Ethiopian Christians is worshipping God in our building.
Members have grown in their faith through serving on boards & committees, as well as through serving in hundreds of different ways in meeting all the needs of operating a school & childcare center. People of all ages have gone on mission trips to foreign countries; & served right here in Michigan, or other areas of the United States.
Members have gone on to be pastors & teachers & family life ministers. Members are raising children to know Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior. They are also caring for aging parents, or aunts & uncles. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
And the new keeps on coming, each & every day, new life, new faith, new blessing! Yes, we still see our sins. We feel them. We suffer from them & with them. But we also know that they do not define our lives. We now perceive the world differently because we are secure, no longer driven by fear. Such faith is of God & belongs to His new creation.
You see, salvation is not merely a matter of bookkeeping. Yes, your sins have been erased, but the effect of that is so much more than just an entry in God’s ledger book. It changes your heart & you see things differently, in a way that was not possible before Christ saved you. When God reconciles us to Himself by forgiving our sins, He is not employing an accounting trick. He is giving us a new identity. You are a new creation because He says you are. A new identity brings with it a new way of looking at the world. Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a ESV)
What sort of things serve as calendars in your life? What do you use to measure the passage of time? Then, how do you respond to it? Certainly, all of us are getting older, every second of every day, which means we are getting closer to passing away. We can focus on, & regret, what we seem to be losing. Or, we can focus on & look forward to what we are gaining.
Just one chapter earlier St. Paul wrote:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Amen.
Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar & will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, & I myself will plant it on a high & lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches & produce fruit & become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, & make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, & make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it.” Amen. Ezekiel 17:22-24
 2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
 2 Corinthians 5:16-18 ESV
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 869, 615, 689
Text – Mark 3:28-30
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, & whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
THE ETERNAL SIN
I was visiting at the county jail, in Rugby, ND, & as we were discussing the ways in which God had blessed one of the men there, one of the other inmates started scoffing & laughing: “God & the Bible, all that stuff’s a crock. It’s just a bunch of myths & fairy tales. Where’s God? What good has He done you? You are in jail!”
That 2nd inmate is an obvious example of unbelief, & most of us in the church seldom encounter unbelief that blatant, because we don’t hang out with that sort of person. It was rather surprising to me because even at the jail, it was the 1st time I’d had the opportunity of talking to someone that willing to outright condemn God & Holy Scripture.
Listening to this man, you quickly find out that he’s very intelligent & not afraid to speak his mind. However, he lacks the fear of the Lord that brings wisdom according to what Scripture so clearly teaches. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to talk to him because of his honesty. He wasn’t playing games trying to convince the “pastor” that he’s actually a good guy.
Yet, beneath all the facade of his gruff attitude, it seems that he really was interested in learning what our church teaches. That’s actually a lot more than I can say for many so-called Christians I have known. As C. S. Lewis wrote, many Christians seem to have been inoculated with just enough religion to keep them from getting the full-blown variety.
The unbeliever at jail wasn’t afraid of sin because he did not believe in it. Many
Christians though also live their lives without fear of sin; at least of certain sins – ones like failing to keep the Sabbath day holy, or failing to hold Scripture sacred & gladly hear & learn it. Those sins bring no fear to many Christians I know, & it hurts to watch them recklessly endanger their spiritual lives in that way. At least the inmate at the jail was honest about it, & willing even to discuss it openly. In only two one hour sessions, he asked me far more questions about theology than a lot of church members have in 19 years of being a pastor.
I don’t believe that’s because those other people already know everything they need to, & given their general lack of interest, their actions prove them no better than a rank unbeliever, locked up in jail.
Unbelief is an insidious problem. It creeps into even the lives of baptized children of God. It sneaks in & when we’ve been seduced into thinking everything is okay, when we’ve become complacent & disconnected from our Lord, then it strikes with a vengeance. Its victims often have no idea where to turn, because they are no longer familiar with God.
For 8 years, Sally had been the Romero family pet. She was only a foot long when they brought her home, but she grew & grew until eventually reaching a length of 11 feet & weighing 80 pounds.
One day Sally turned on 15 year old Derek & strangled the unsuspecting teenager to death. Police said that the Burmese python was quite aggressive, hissing & reacting when they arrived to investigate the boy’s death.
Sin, is like that snake. When a particular one first enters our lives, we think of it as harmless, almost cute. Yet, it doesn’t stay small. Sin has a way of growing, & though we think we can handle it, in fact, it begins to handle us. And it always leads to death; sometimes physical but often to emotional death.
If sin & unbelief are not confessed & forsaken, they will bring spiritual death. That’s why James warned us that sin, when it’s full grown, brings forth death. His purpose in saying that was not to spoil our fun, but to preserve our lives & the fun that God alone can give. The fun that our heavenly Father gives is the true joy, peace & contentment of being in Christ.
Are you living your life in Christ, connected to Him daily? Have you drifted away, unnoticeably? Is your Bible in mint condition? Is the snake growing in your life, waiting for that opportune moment to strike for the kill? When is it that a Christian crosses that line from belief to unbelief? How close are you to that line?
Most of us are closer than we care to know. I don’t believe there’s that much difference between you & me & the inmate who was scoffing about fairy tales in the Bible. Today’s gospel lesson speaks of Jesus’ own family thinking He was out of His mind. If His own family thought that, it shouldn’t surprise us to find ourselves in the same boat.
What kind of priority does the mission of your church take in your daily schedule? Or, does it seem ridiculous that God should expect you to make painful sacrifices in order to serve Him? Does God’s command to worship Him every Sunday seem like a fairy tale? Maybe that inoculation against the effects of true Christianity has taken hold in your life.
Even though you may be a Christian, unbelief still exists in your heart. The seed is still there, waiting to be watered, waiting for the opportunity to grow & take over your soul. Have you been taking for granted the forgiveness of your sins? Have you been abusively taking advantage of Christ’s death through an unfaithful life?
The pastor at my home congregation once attended the funeral of a young man who’d been living life in the fast lane. His priest said that he knew little of the man because he was seldom in church. This man’s life ended on a fast note, crashing into a train while leaving 91 feet of skid marks on the road behind him.
The danger of ignoring God, & continuing in your sin is that when you live your life that
fast – & you suddenly realize you are heading for a train – 91 feet of locked up brakes is not enough to turn your life around. Unbelief can take over your soul, & eventually, God gives people over to their sinful desires. He will only brook rejection for so long.
Where do you stand today? Is God just a crock in your life? Do you believe His promises are nothing more than fairy tales? Are His laws just the words of some kind of self-righteous control freak?
The teachers of the law, in the Gospel reading, claimed that Jesus was casting out demons by the prince of the demons, rather than by the Holy Spirit. It was some kind of set-up to deceive people. No one could truly drive out demons. That idea was only a myth. As such, those teachers were blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
That sin is eternal because refusing to accept the Holy Spirit means that you’ve rejected God’s means of grace. Yahweh has chosen to create faith in a person’s heart only through the work of His Spirit. As long as you reject that Spirit, you remain in unbelief. No man is able to come to faith of his own accord, & without faith, a man is truly dead.
Thus it is at the end of the gospel reading as Jesus’ family comes looking for Him again. Jesus answers, “Who are my mother & my brothers?” Here they are, as He points to those seated around Him, intently listening to His words & following His teaching.
They believe in Christ as their Savior, unlike His mother & brothers, who consider Him crazy, & unlike the Pharisees who claim that Jesus is in league with the devil. They are lost in their unbelief & will remain there as long as they continue to reject the work of God’s Spirit.
The same is true today of anyone who rejects the Spirit God. Our Lord has promised to send Him through the preaching & the teaching of His Word, through the waters of baptism & through the body, blood, bread & wine of His Holy Supper. That Spirit, working through those
means, teaches you who Christ is. Who is this Jesus? That’s the main theme of the book of Mark. As of the 3rd chapter, the Pharisees & Jesus’ own mother & brothers cannot answer that question accurately. Jesus rejects them as His own. They are guilty of that eternal sin called unbelief.
Though you have been brought to faith through the power of God’s Word & God’s baptism, you can fall away & Scripture records that such a person is worse off than before they were ever converted. That’s a fearful thought, & entirely opposite of God’s will for His children.
This morning, Jesus is pleading with you to gather around Him faithfully, listening to His Word & partaking of His body & blood for the strengthening of your physical & spiritual selves. He’s calling you to forsake your sinful desires, to persevere in the race to the crown of life. He’s gone there ahead you. He’s defeated the powers opposed to you.
But, He does not treat you like a slave & control your obedience. He allows you to respond willingly to the love that He’s shown you. He guides you, He protects you & He blesses you, all out of love for you – His creation. He’s awaiting you at the final resurrection, & He has already guaranteed you a room in His mansion. Will you believe?
Don’t wait until the train of death is only 91 feet away. Jesus has already sacrificed His life. Will you believe that the blessings of Jesus are more than a fairy tale? Amen.
Then is our comfort this alone that we may meet before Your throne; to You O faithful God, we cry for rescue in our misery. Amen. LSB 615:2.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – B TLH #’s 227, 422, LSB # 731
Text – Mark 2:27-28
And [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
LORD OF THE SABBATH
Due to the vast changes in our culture the past 100 years, there’s a lot of debate in churches today. Much of that debate has to do with how congregations worship. A large part of the argument, for those proposing the changes, centers on getting more people in the church. The Gospel reading this Sunday looks at God’s motives behind this Day of Rest – the Sabbath.
One day, while walking through the fields, the disciples of Jesus pluck some heads of grain in order to eat them. Seems like a pretty minor crime, if you’d even call it that. Yet the Pharisees jump all over them. They say to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV)
If you’ve been listening, you’ve no doubt heard similar law-oriented comments in the church of today. A man in the seminary class after mine was labeled the antichrist for some of his actions regarding worship. Maybe you know of someone who’s left a particular congregation because of changes in the worship style.
At any rate, many of the arguments revolve around what is considered lawful, & what is not. Also, in spite of the many heated arguments & harsh words, actions that betray the truth, few are willing to see their position as extreme. The vast majority of people involved will be sure to tell you that they are moderates, not liberal & not right wing. That would be bad.
But with all the animosity & defending of one’s rights, it’s clear that the arguments are frequently based upon what individuals perceive to be the rules. What can we get away with, & what are we supposed to do. Those two extremes commonly form the outline of the debate & we find the Pharisees to be no different: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV) Much of human disagreement centers on what is allowed & what is not. Too often we focus on limitations rather than possibilities.
My nephew used to say of his sister, “She always, & I never.” Wouldn’t you agree it’s our sinful nature to seek & demand that limits be placed upon others, but not on ourselves? Legalism is the natural attitude of mankind, so Jesus addresses it head on. To paraphrase a little, He replies:
“You want to debate what’s lawful. Okay! Let’s talk about David. He was your great king whose glory days you’d like to recreate for the nation of Israel. When he & his companions were in need, what did he do? He entered the house of God & ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.” (Matthew 12:3-4)
The great King David broke one of the laws of the Sabbath. That’s kind of like saying, what about your sports hero, the one caught with a corked bat. You idolize him even though he broke the rules. So why are you being inconsistent with, “But the law says?”
Haven’t you ever caught yourself, or had someone else catch you, being inconsistent? You know, not practicing what you preach! If you can’t relate to that question, you must not spend much time considering your motives & your actions. The way we live our life leaves evidence everywhere of our self-centered nature.
When my nephew whined, “She always & I never…” you don’t think he was complaining that his sister got the short end of the deal, do you? No! It was his selfish nature speaking. Now he was only 5 years old, & not yet aware of how obvious it was when he complained that way.
People older than five have learned to hide their selfishness with clever disguises. The
Pharisees’ trick was to make it look like they were concerned with the ‘precious’ Law, which God had given – “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
I find it difficult to believe that they were really concerned about God getting hurt through the breaking of His law. Seems more likely they were trying to maintain control of things for their own selfish desires. The law was simply a useful tool in their bag of tricks.
Or so they thought, but Jesus takes the Law right out of the picture when He tells them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, we are not servants to any law concerning the Day of Rest. This Day of Rest was created for our benefit. It exists to be a servant to God’s children, & is not to be used for making them feel guilty.
God’s motivation for giving us the Sabbath is found in His love for us. Today is to be a blessing, & not a burden to keep. By Jesus’ time, the Jews were finding their identity in laws & ritual. Jesus was reestablishing our identity in freedom, because of, & through, the payment of His life for our sin. That payment fulfilled the Law.
For this reason, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus’ disciples were able to do what was supposedly unlawful on the Sabbath; Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He created it, gave it to us for our benefit, & fulfilled the laws regarding it for our benefit.
In His debate with the Pharisees, Jesus was establishing that He is Lord because He rescues us from our inability to keep the Law. It’s on that basis that He has authority to determine what is, & what is not, appropriate on the Day of Rest.
If you look at the Gospel reading you’ll find that it closes out chapter 2. At the beginning of that chapter we also find the Pharisees questioning Jesus’ authority. At verse 7 it reads, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus answered, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” Authority, & who has it, is what the anger of the Pharisees is actually about. And that leads to the question, “Can you feel at peace & at rest, even when you are not in charge, when you are not the authority?” Remember, rules are often used to hide our selfishness.
What if someone else is in charge? Then the safety that rules provide, goes out the window unless the One in charge can be trusted. The Pharisees couldn’t find rest, because they did not trust Jesus, but only themselves. That’s why their argument revolved around what was lawful, or not. The Pharisees were unwilling to concede that Jesus had the authority of God.
And that’s where arguments about worship practices also fall apart. They fail because they are often constructed upon the concept of rules. The true authority, Jesus Christ, is frequently left out of the picture completely, even though He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He’s the One Who created it & Who gives it to us for rest.
Rules & obligations are also where our church attendance practices fall apart. It would be a pretty sad relationship if the time you & your best friend spent together was merely determined by rules. Far better to get together because you want to, rather than “have to.”
So what are God’s motives behind the Day of Rest? The OT reading says: “…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, & the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand & an outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) The Lord of the Sabbath wants us to remember that He has rescued us from slavery to sin & death.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 ESV) In their approach to the Sabbath, the Pharisees were burdening the people with a yoke of slavery. Yet God has given His only Son to set us free so we might find rest on the Day of Rest.
When declaring Himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus makes the point that His work is
the defining characteristic of our identity, not our work. And if our actions do not define us, then we can stop chasing after the winds of self-fulfillment.
The last Sabbath under the ceremonial law was held as Jesus was resting in the grave on the Sabbath after His crucifixion. Therefore, the Day of Rest is also a shadow of the things to come, that which we were saved for, the Great rest in Christ at the end of the world, not merely the end of the week.
The Sabbath is meant to help you focus on something besides what you “have” to do. It’s meant to prepare us for heaven, which is something that we will want to do. Can you imagine saying, “I don’t think I’ll make it to heaven this morning. I have too much to do.”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV)
Those are the words of Jesus, & at some point we have to face the fact that we too are not willing. Put all the excuses aside. The reason we do not seek out God on a regular basis is only because we do not want to. Our love for God is lukewarm at best.
The cheerful little girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them, a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box.
“Oh Mommy please, can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?”
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box & then looked into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl’s face. “A dollar ninety-five. If you really want them, I’ll think of some extra chores for you & in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday is only a week away & you might get another dollar bill from Grandma.”
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank & counted out 17 of them. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores & went to the neighbor, Mrs. McJames, & asked if she could pull dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill & at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up & grown up. She wore them everywhere, Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was to go swimming or take a bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving father & every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing & come upstairs to read her a story. One night, as he finished the story, he asked, “Do you love me?”
“Oh yes, daddy. You know that I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh, daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my very favorite.”
“That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s Father asked again, “Do you love me?”
“Daddy, you know I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She’s beautiful & you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper.”
“That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Your Father loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her Father came in, Jenny was sitting on the bed. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling & one silent tear was rolling down her cheek.
“What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?”
Jenny didn’t say a word but lifted up her little hand, & when she opened it, there was her pearl necklace. With a quiver, she finally said, “Here, daddy, this is for you.”
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s Father reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, & with the other hand he reached into his pocket & pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls & he gave them to Jenny.
He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store imitation so he could give her the genuine treasure.
So it is, with our Heavenly Father. What dime-store excuses keep you from receiving God’s eternal treasures? “Come to Me, all who are weary & heavy-laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NASB) That is God’s motive for giving us the Sabbath. Amen.
I love the habitation of Your house, O Lord, & the place where Your glory dwells. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet