10th Sunday after Pentecost – A LSB #’s 783, 915, 698
Text – Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those He is calling according to His purpose.
CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE
Shortly after arriving in North Dakota, I began spending a lot of time calling people I attended seminary with but had not seen since graduation. We were all new to the ministry, yet each of us already had unique stories to tell. It was fun hearing their voices again & laughing with them. For friends, living thousands of miles apart, the telephone is a tremendous blessing.
And, as with all blessings, there comes a price, but I’m not thinking of the phone bill. Telemarketing is the slick name for the price you pay of having a phone. Most people react negatively when they’re on the receiving end of that kind of call.
There’s disappointment; 1st because we hoped it might be a friend calling & it wasn’t, & 2nd, because we don’t want to hear the sales pitch. We do not enjoy being manipulated. Do you ever get that feeling of being manipulated when someone is talking religion?
Perhaps you find sermons to be like that? There goes the preacher again, up on his high horse, trying to tell us how to live & how not to live. Why should I stick around for that? I have got better things to do!
I’m still suspicious of religion that way myself. And there are far too many preachers out there simply trying to manipulate you for their own purposes. Some years ago, there was one who had an air-conditioned doghouse for his pet. He was manipulating people in order to serve himself.
However, since God is the active force in our salvation, in many respects it does not matter what kind of preacher you have. It is God Himself who is calling you, regardless of the manner in which He does it, or through whom He calls. The sermon text states that God is calling you according to His purpose. Are you listening? Are you paying attention?
I used to work for a customer that, when he received a call that was a sales pitch, he’d simply state, “I don’t take solicitations over the phone.” Then he would hang up. And there are plenty of other times that we’re on the phone when we really don’t want to be.
Maybe the kids are screaming in the background, or you’ve just gotten home from an exhausting day. Maybe we’ve had a few hours where everything we tried went completely wrong & we are at the end of our rope. Hanging up on whoever is calling can become a very tempting option.
But if you were to answer the phone & it was God on the other end, would you hang up? If you were able to believe it, & to keep your senses, would you even dare to think of such a thing? The answer appears simple & obvious, “No.” How could I dare to hang up on God? Still, before we become too proud of ourselves, let’s examine our lives more closely.
Actions speak louder than words, & what exactly do our actions reveal? Maybe you’d rather not look, but that’s where this sermon is going. When is the last time you were regularly involved in Bible study? That’s always an easy one for the pastor to throw out there. That isn’t really hanging up on God, is it?
Another solution would be to study God’s Word on your own. Our denomination offers tons of Bibles, booklets & devotional aids to use in personal study of Holy Scripture. But, even in personal study of God’s Word you can get off base, & it’s so difficult to relate those old stories to my life in the computer age.
Hopefully, you’ll get to thinking, “Well, all right, my excuses are sort of like hanging up on God.” So God does not call to us in only one way. We have three means of grace that Scripture teaches about & God comes to us in all three. He promises to be with us in Holy Communion. How often is it that you come to the Lord’s Table? Do you take God up on His personal promise to meet you there, & erase your sins through it? When you understand how sinful you are, & what God is offering there, you’ll want to commune as often as it’s offered.
Or is it that you don’t feel all that sinful? Has the devil convinced you that you’re okay? Have you adopted the attitude that you’re no worse than anyone else, so everything should be all right? If you’re blowing off God’s invitation, to receive His Body & Blood, you are hanging up on God. PAUSE
After God’s Word & Communion, the 3rd means of grace is Baptism. Luther taught that through it we have an ongoing, day-to-day death to our sinful nature. In other words, everything that we’ve done wrong, in every instance that we have fallen short of perfection, in each area where we’ve failed; Christ has already paid for it, & God has already forgotten it.
Are you unable to forget that you aren’t as good as you’d like to be? Because of pride, are you still trying to make up for your own failures? Are you suffering from regret for the many times you’ve hurt someone, or hurt yourself? Do you still punish yourself by trying to pay for your own sins?
Maybe you look at the pastor & excuse yourself by saying, “I’ll never be good enough to be like that!” Holy Baptism was given to you by God, to reassure you that every day He forgives & forgets your sins. God Himself promises that in His Holy Word. God declares you “good enough.”
The devil is the one trying to convince you that eternal life depends on what you do, or don’t do. But it doesn’t. It can’t. If it did, there would BE NO salvation. Satan is the one giving you the sales pitch. The heavenly Father is calling you according to His purpose. Though your baptism occurred years ago, He is still calling to you, through your baptism, every day. At baptism His Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart. He lives there. God wouldn’t live inside you if you were not worth the death of His only begotten Son. Yahweh chose you, & He loves you. Why do you ignore His call?
The Holy Spirit, living in you, creates that inner longing to follow Jesus & to be conformed to the likeness of that same Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit who motivates you to answer when God calls. In order to hang up on God, you have to go against the Spirit that lives in you. As you grow in your faith you will recognize that battle more clearly.
One of the things the Missouri Synod has taught very strongly, throughout its history, is that God only promises to heal us in His Word & in His Sacraments. You may find God out in nature or while meditating, but nowhere in Scripture does He promise to heal your soul there.
The devil wants you to doubt God’s promises. He’ll offer you another promise, just like he did to Adam & Eve. And then, when you’ve taken up Satan on his offer, he’ll pull the rug out from under you leaving you stranded. He’ll even turn on you & accuse you of being a fool.
Suddenly, the wide & easy path, that Satan tempted you with, will seem much closed in & narrow, a tunnel leading nowhere but straight to hell.
That’s why it’s so important to know God’s Word, & to place your faith in it. It’s there that God reveals to you His love & His way to eternal life. When we read of Jesus’ struggles, with the weak & foolish disciples, we can see the truth of our own lives right there in God’s Word. At times, it’s like God is telling my own story, of my foolishness, & of my doubt.
Maybe you’re confused about God’s plan for your life. I’ve been there & done that. I can sympathize with you because, quite frankly, it stinks. Maybe you just don’t feel certain about where to turn to for help. Even as Christians, God will allow times like those in our lives, in order to teach us how to trust Him. Through times of struggling & doubt our Lord teaches us to recognize His call, & He teaches us to trust in Him alone. PAUSE
Here’s a story to illustrate that point. A boy is caught at the window inside of a burning building. Smoke is billowing up into his eyes. As his father calls to him, the boy says, “Dad, I’m afraid to jump, I can’t see you.” But his father calls back to him, “It’s okay son, I can see you & I will catch you. Jump!!”
That Father is your almighty, perfect, & loving God who always sees you. He’s calling you through His means of grace & they’re found right here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Jesus is calling you to trust in Him because He will care for you & He cannot fail.
If you jump from the things that are convincing you to hang up on God, your Savior will come to your rescue. In fact, He’s already here waiting. When your Lord calls it’s not like a telemarketing call. God’s calling has the power to make you what it is that He is calling you. God’s Word has the power to make things come into being from nothing.
Telemarketers don’t give you the money to respond to their offer. God does. He gives you the faith, the hope, the belief in His promises, & it’s God Himself who makes you His child.
In the Epistle lesson, Paul wrote, “And those whom He predestined, He also called, & those whom He called He also justified, those whom He justified He also glorified.” Those verbs are in the past tense. Paul is speaking of our glorification as something already done. That’s how certain Paul is of God’s calling. For him our resurrection is already a done deal.
Today, here & now, God offers to you that treasure, the very Kingdom of God. He’s offering it to you in the waters of your baptism, in His Word, & in the very Body & Blood of His Son. The God who created you is calling you to receive eternal life, the renewal of your soul, & the removal of all the sin & death rotting away inside. In the 24th chapter of Luke it reads, “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer & on the 3rd day rise from the dead, & that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations…’” (24:46-47 ESV)
That forgiveness has been proclaimed to you this morning & through the power of that proclamation, He calls you to eternal life. That is God’s purpose for you. Amen.
Today Your gate is open & all who enter in shall find a Father’s welcome & pardon for their sin. The past shall be forgotten, a present joy be given, a future grace be promised, a glorious crown in heaven. Amen. LSB 915:2.
 Romans 8:30 ESV
9th Sunday after Pentecost – A LSB #’s 733, 575, 746
Text – Isaiah 44:8 TLH #’s 376, 370, 123, 372
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old & declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.
SMART LIKE ROCK
Email was a big deal back in the day, & a lot of messages you’d get were jokes. Some of them made the rounds more than once. If it was popular, you could receive the same joke, over & over again from various different people over a period of years. Most of those jokes quickly became old & were no longer amusing.
On the other hand, there are some jokes that I still find amusing no matter how often I hear them. The one I have in mind this morning is actually a one liner, rather than a true joke, but I’m using it to lead us into this morning’s topic.
Have you heard it said that someone is, “Smart like rock, & swift like tree?” That’s the phrase, & for some reason every time I hear it, it makes me smile. The humor in it is, for me, very enduring.
Endurance is the theme for this morning’s sermon, & rock is known for being a very enduring material. That’s one reason it’s used for tombstones & monuments. People want those things to last a long time in order to preserve the memory they are honoring.
However, if the phrase ‘smart like rock’ is applied to you it isn’t exactly an honor. And yet, in the 108 times that the word Rock appears in the OT 33 of them are in reference to God. Obviously they aren’t referring to God as being dimwitted. The Rock of the OT is spoken of in much more complementary terms.
Yosemite National Park is known world wide for its rock. The symbol of the Park is Half Dome – a huge granite dome that dominates the view from the valley floor. El Capitan is a sheer granite cliff, jutting up almost 3000 ft. from the floor of the valley. While hiking along the trails, you’ll encounter freestanding boulders that are easily as large as this chancel area.
There are domes, cliffs & boulders like that all over the park & those “rocks” of Yosemite have been there thousands of years in all their impressive grandeur. It would not be exaggerating to say that I have been awestruck by the beauty & the permanence of that valley, along with its rock formations. They make me feel small & insignificant when I’m there.
Among those rocks at Yosemite, there is for me, an overwhelming sense of the power & the majesty of God. It is from those impressive & enduring characteristics of rock that the word, used to speak of God, draws its Biblical meaning. PAUSE
And how do we compare? Can any of us be described as a rock in that sense of the word? A rock musician named Bob Seger wrote these lyrics to a song:
Stood there boldly Sweatin’ in the sun Felt like a million Felt like number one. The height of summer I’d never felt that strong Like a rock. My hands were steady My eyes were clear & bright My walk had purpose My steps were quick & light And I held firmly To what I felt was right Like a rock. Like a rock, I was strong as I could be. Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me. Like a rock, I was something to see. Like a rock.
Sounds like a man that’s pretty high on himself doesn’t it? But towards the end of the song the lyrics take a different turn: “Twenty years now. Where’d they go? Twenty years I don’t know I sit & I wonder sometimes where they’ve gone.” PAUSE
The following words were written by Benjamin Disraeli, but they summarize the lyrics written by Bob Seger. “Youth is a blunder, manhood is a struggle & old age a regret.” It is natural for people to look back on their lives with regret. Bob Seger wrote the words to that song when he was 38, but he was speaking of how he remembered things to be when he was eighteen. Our lives also can be full of regrets & rose-colored memories of the good old days. We prefer to live as if we are strong & independent. We like to think of ourselves as a rock, as people who are able to endure forever. But the truth is never as pretty as the dream. Honesty might be the best policy, but it sure is difficult to live with. Our failures & our mistakes are often all but impossible to admit. That’s because the truth does hurt & it’s tough to face the pain. It’s not illegal if you don’t get caught is a policy that prevails throughout mankind. Yet what sort of rock is that? At the first, often slightest, temptation we cave in. We surrender to our whims as readily as a sand castle does before the tide. Yet, when trouble comes our way, we somehow believe that we can handle it, & handle it by ourselves. We’d rather not endure the humility of asking for help.
But then we start making excuses for why we have to lean on things like alcohol to get through the day. A friend of mine goes to the mountains every weekend in order to get away from it all & relax. The mountains are her crutch. Do you volunteer for so many important things that you have no real time to spend with the people who love you?
And, how about work? Does what you do for a living make you feel worth something? Is that what strokes your self-esteem? Do you get your self-worth out of what you accomplish in life? Does your life always have to be in perfect order, & under your control, in order for you to feel good about yourself?
As with the email jokes received over & over again, all those strategies eventually become old. They lose their ability to keep your act together. Eventually, regrets creep in & our goals & desires in life are no longer satisfied. Honesty is always whispering in your ear: “You have failed. You are not the rock you think you are.” PAUSE
I once read an article on extreme long distance running. The people are called ultra-runners, because we’re talking about someone who can run 100 miles in one race. The good runner does that in about 25 hours. Endurance is obviously the key to success. Yet even there, the human potential for endurance fails. They can only race that way for about ten years. After that their bodies can no longer endure the damage done to them by such running.
When life doesn’t satisfy you & you feel alone, where do you turn for help? Is it your work or television, the mountains or your car, shopping or sports? On what seems like a better note, maybe you turn to your parents or your children, to your husband or your wife.
The problem is that even those solutions eventually fail. None of them endure forever, but our problems exist as long as we are alive. In spite of wishful thinking our sinful nature never goes away, & neither do the struggles.
God gives many earthly blessings in life, & He expects us to use them & enjoy them. However, He does not expect those blessings to cure our problems or remove our sin. Those blessings will not end our failure to endure all the things that come our way in this life. Those blessings are not to become our gods. They are only temporary.
In the OT reading, God said, “apart from me there is no other god.” We can try all we want to, but making gods of the blessings our Heavenly Father has given will always fail. We can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we have it all together, but the fact will remain that we do not. The honesty will creep in: “I am a failure. I am not the rock I think I am.”
Have those thoughts entered your mind – that nagging doubt that maybe you aren’t well liked, or maybe you really aren’t good enough to handle the task at hand? If you have ever struggled with doubts today’s sermon text was written for you:
“Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old & declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV) That is your Heavenly Father talking, & He is talking to you. Two verses earlier He said, “I am the 1st & the last.” Doesn’t that remind you of an impressive, huge, unmovable Rock – a 3000 ft. high granite cliff of enduring strength? God represents Himself as functioning throughout the entire course of history. A God who will always be there, in good times yes, but especially in the bad times as well.
The true God is one of strength, power, might & endurance. That is the God of the OT, & David ends Psalm 19 with a prayer to that God: “Let the words of my mouth & the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock & my Redeemer.”
That very same Rock is your Creator God, as well as the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. That God is faithful even under pressure, the kind of pressure that forms rock.
Human philosophy says, feel life, taste it, savor it. That is what life is all about. Go for the gusto. Doesn’t that philosophy fail to satisfy? King Solomon uttered that very thought in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“All things are wearisome… The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. I’ve seen all the works which have been done under the sun, & behold, all is vanity & striving after wind.” (1:8 & 14 NASB)
Faith in Christ gives us a loftier, more satisfying reason to throw back the covers each morning & put our feet on the floor. “We will serve the Lord!” We will serve the Rock. Life with God is a matter of getting our bearings, understanding our purpose, & celebrating our commitment to Him.
Through the failures in our lives, God is at work taking ourselves out of the middle of those lives. Through our suffering Jesus is enthroning Himself there, & then life is not as much of a struggle. You & I were created for God, & in serving Him we find purpose & meaning & satisfaction. Feeling small & insignificant is something that many psychologists & counselors will tell you is bad for your self-esteem. But when I’m at Yosemite, in the presence of those rocks, feeling small & insignificant, I don’t feel badly at all. Those rocks are comforting to me as they remind of the never failing power of the God who created them; the same God who loved you enough to send His only Son to die in your place.
In the presence of those granite cliffs I sense the never ending strength & might of a God who is undoubtedly capable of saving us from all the failures, struggles & sins of our lives, & He is also capable of raising you to eternal life. That’s the kind of God I want to worship, a God whom I can trust to endure, forever & ever. PAUSE
So, if anyone ever tries to insult your intelligence by saying, “You are smart like rock,” just smile & think of the Rock of the OT; the Rock who is the 1st & the last; the Rock who is your strength & your song; for He has become your salvation. Amen.
His oath, His covenant & blood, support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope & Stay. On Christ the solid Rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Amen. LSB 575:3.
6th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 10) LSB #’s 686, 655, 577
Text – Matthew 13:22
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world & the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, & it proves unfruitful.
In the OT & Gospel readings, we heard of a paradox. God’s Word is all-powerful & yet He allows it to be resisted. These truths seem to contradict one another. If God’s Word is all-powerful, then it cannot be resisted. If God’s Word can be resisted, then it is not all-powerful.
Nevertheless, the readings this morning call us, as followers of Christ, to believe in a paradox: God’s Word is all-powerful & it can be resisted. Hearing Isaiah speak in the OT reading, you learn how God’s Word is all-powerful. Using natural imagery, Isaiah declares that God accomplishes what God wants through His Word:
“For as the rain & snow come down from Heaven & do not return there but water the earth… so shall my Word be… it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose…” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV) God’s Word is all-powerful, & with it God accomplishes what He desires.
However, in the gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the sower & teaches His disciples that God’s all-powerful Word can be resisted. The sower goes out to sow & some of the seeds are snatched away, some are scorched, & some are choked. Only a portion of the seed produces grain.
When you hold these two readings together, you encounter a paradox of faith. God speaks an all-powerful word that can be resisted. It’s important for us to meditate on this paradox because it helps us make sense of the tension we see in the ministry of Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew thousands of years ago & in your life or mine today. Tension! You can feel it in our culture today. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has begun to encounter opposition to His teaching & His miracles. Earlier, Jesus spoke & disciples followed (4:18-25). Now, however, He’s beginning to encounter resistance. Pharisees challenge His miracles & question His teachings (12:2, 10, 24). Earthly rulers oppose the Kingdom (11:2).
Jesus warns His disciples of future opposition (10:16-25) & denounces the cities who reject Him (11:20-24). Yet, amidst demonic forces, earthly powers, & religious leaders who resist His teaching – Jesus continues on His Father’s mission.
So, this paradox Jesus offers His disciples, that God has an all-powerful Word which can be resisted, is not just an intellectual exercise. It is a spiritual reality. They have seen the Word of God cast out demons, still the storms, & heal withered hands, but they’ve also seen the powers of government, religious institutions, & indeed the Devil himself oppose such work.
How are they to respond to the tension between the forces of good & evil? In the parable of the sower, Jesus offers an encouraging word: God’s Word works, even amidst the tension & in the face of opposition. The Word of God can & will bear fruit.
Words such as those are powerful for us today. Christianity no longer has the status it once did in our cultural setting. While some might remember the good God has done through the church, others attack our beliefs as destructive of a common, public life.
Whether it be accusations that Christianity has been used to subjugate women, to silence science, to foster racism, to fuel homophobia, or that it has been used to cultivate self-loathing & a lack of initiative through calls for repentance & humility, news-feeds & Facebook posts resist the words & the works of Jesus.
Especially since it is such a drastic change from just 30 years ago, it is easy to wonder how long we can go on. With the parable of the sower, Jesus acknowledges our reality. God’s Word can & will be resisted. We are not missing the right communication techniques, or the appropriate public relations programs, or the gifted evangelists & missionaries who will turn everything around. No, we proclaim an all-powerful Word that can & will be resisted. We know in our own lives, in great detail, the power of such resistance. And the tension!
But… Jesus reminds us… God does have an all-powerful Word. Rather than retreat into the safe haven of our congregation, rather than hide our faith from public notice, Jesus encourages us to trust in the Spirit’s work through the Word. Even though this Word can be resisted, it remains all-powerful & will accomplish the growth desired by God in His Kingdom.
Jesus is the Word made flesh, who encountered deadly resistance. He died under the attacks of this world upon God’s Word. But God raised Him from the dead, as the beginning of the new creation. Then, Jesus sent forth His people proclaiming His Word to reach all nations, bringing the reign of the Kingdom of God to the ends of the world.
You & I cannot control the resistance of people to God’s Word. And yes, we can see them proving themselves unfruitful right before our very eyes. We know too well our own unfruitfulness & that vision, combined with our pride, magnifies the unfruitfulness we see in others.
We cannot control the resistance of people to God’s Word, but we can trust in God’s power & promise to work through His Word. In this parable, Jesus does not call us to turn our attention inward, to examine our hearts & question, “What kind of soil am I?” No, this parable turns our eyes outward, to the public conflict & tension of the lost sheep of our world.
It asks us to look outside the doors of our churches & see how the Word is being stolen away by Satan, how it is being scorched among others who begin to follow but fall away, & how it is being choked out by those who would rather have the pleasures of plenty than the poverty of the Kingdom. But if we continue to look outside ourselves, while seeing the suffering & resistance, we will soon see a familiar figure walking on the distant horizon. Jesus, the sower, continues to walk amid such great opposition, continues to speak His Word & do His work, trusting that, even though it is being resisted, this is still God’s all-powerful Word.
That Word is bringing about His Kingdom, where & when God desires. If you have ears, then hear that Good News & find rest in it. We cannot control the resistance of people to God’s Word, but we can still trust in God’s power & promise to work through His Word. If that is all we do, then we shall prove fruitful to the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word; curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from Your Son & bring to naught all He has done. Lord Jesus Christ, Your power make known, for You are Lord of lords alone; defend Your holy Church that we may sing Your praise eternally. O Comforter of priceless worth, send peace & unity on earth; support us in our final strife & lead us out of death to life. Amen. LSB 655:1-3.
Credit for this sermon belongs to Rev. David R. Schmitt, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 9) LSB #’s 816, 761, 704
Text – Romans 7:17-18
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
SIN LIVING IN ME
A man & wife were walking through the mall & stopped to watch the puppies & kittens in the front window of a pet shop. A multicolored parrot was perched near the door as an attraction to passerby. “Hey buddy!” said the parrot. “What?” the man replied. The parrot squawked, “You’re ugly & so is your wife.” “What?” the man said in disbelief.
So the parrot repeated, “You’re ugly & so is your wife!” The man was so offended that he stormed into the pet shop & demanded an audience with the manager, who was appropriately embarrassed & apologized profusely. He took a leather glove, grabbed the parrot, & severely disciplined the bird for his rude remarks. The customer, satisfied, turned to leave.
He’d walked only a few steps when he again heard the parrot’s shrill voice: “Hey buddy!” In disbelief the man turned & said, “What?” The parrot threw a quick glance toward the manager & then said to the departing customer, “You know what!” PAUSE
And just like the parrot our tendency to sin is so deeply ingrained that no amount of discipline, effort, willpower or prayer will break us free. The sin we try to avoid rears its ugly head & trips us up day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment. The burden of that struggle between my saintly nature & the sin living in me, that burden, makes me weary.
At least it makes us weary if we are fighting the battle. Many a person in whom God has created faith & new life has given up on the battle of that new life. They’ve slowly drifted away from God, & been gone so long, they no longer believe in their status as children of God. That failure to believe then condemns them. That failure to believe makes all of God’s blessings ineffective & renders them useless in their lives. And what wretched lives those become, because they no longer receive the strength, the peace or the forgiveness available to them from their Savior.
Other people still believe in God & His blessings but for some reason fail to use them. They find substitutes though poor ones at that. A woman once complained about how narrow-minded older people can be. I replied, “Well, they get set in their ways & they really can’t change anymore.” It is tough for an old dog to learn new tricks.
She replied that they could change, they just don’t want to. I had to agree with her, but later on the irony of her statement occurred to me as I remembered that she spent the afternoon burning down about three packs of cigarettes while becoming drunker than a skunk. She was blind to her own unwillingness to change, as she turned to things other than God for peace.
Rather than fight the battles of her life through prayer & meditation on God’s Word, she’d turned to nicotine & alcohol to relieve the pressures created by her battles. She may still believe in what Jesus has done for her, but she fails to make use of the blessings He gives. God intends, & allows, those struggles for strengthening our faith. They are spiritual exercise.
But that strengthening only occurs if our faith is being fed through God’s means of grace. If we are not feeding on His Word & Sacraments, then the battles weaken our faith instead of strengthening it. And a weak faith makes for a wretched life in this sin filled world. The battles never end, but many hopes & dreams do.
That brings us to you & me – the people who do attend church regularly. If you know my sermon style by now you know where I’m going with this. This is the point where I call y’all a bunch of sinners. This is the point where I include myself along with you. And this is the point where the Apostle Paul includes himself along with us. He wrote, “…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) That is the realization that even faithful Christians easily forget or choose to ignore.
We so easily recognize & lament the sin living in others, even legitimately feeling sorry for the plight of some, yet all the while failing to account for the sin living in us. How often do we volunteer for something that never quite seems to make it to the top of our list of priorities? How often do we make derogatory remarks about others who fail to keep their word?
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind & making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22-23 ESV) We can feel that law of sin as it works on us. I have an illustration from one of the mission projects in Tijuana.
It was our 4th day of building. We’d finished one house the day before & the 2nd home was down to needing just the shingles. It made perfect sense to complete the project that evening, but I’d already been up & working for 12 hours. My body was waging war against my mind. My legs were tired, my arms were tired, & my emotions were tired.
I just wanted to quit. We can come back tomorrow. It’ll be a short day. To top it off, I had 4 teenagers working with me, none of whom had any real experience with roofing. The rest of the crew was on the ground just hanging out waiting for us to finish, & the sin living in me said it was all so unfair. Why did I end up having to carry the load until the very end?
Sin living in me, the only thing it listens to or obeys is pain & suffering – kind of like taking cash out of a person’s wallet is often the only thing that gets their attention & gains obedience, however grudging that might be. What hope is there for Christians like us? Often, the harder we try the more our frustration grows, & the more apparent is our failure. The burden of that struggle between your saintly nature & the sin living in you, that burden makes you weary. So God sends, & allows struggles into our lives in order to bend us low, to weaken our pride that we might finally turn to & be closer to Him.
Have you felt in your marital or family relationships that you aren’t being treated fairly? How about in your career or even your congregation; by the coach on a sports team or by your supposed friends? Those are all battles caused by the sin living in you, & yet our Heavenly Father uses them to open our eyes to the reality of how certainly we need Him.
I’ve always liked this verse from the gospel lesson, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV) But for years I had a major misunderstanding of what that text is speaking of.
I assumed it meant weary & tired from things such as long, hard hours of physical labor, like building houses for 12 hours or more per day on a mission trip. But I’ve since learned that Jesus was talking not just of the physical burdens of life. More importantly He was speaking of the spiritual burdens & the warfare that make us prisoners of the sin living within.
People end up prisoners to addictions like alcohol or work. They end up prisoners to a belief that God either doesn’t care, or does not exist. Men & women end up enslaved to false teachings like Islam or reincarnation. Christians can end up as prisoners to a false sense of security, just because they were confirmed, or because they attend church services regularly.
When life is going well, it takes more effort on my part to focus on prayer & I don’t long for my devotional readings as I do when God is bending me low. I can’t say I enjoy the pain of the battle, or of God’s discipline, but I do miss the sense of closeness to God that comes along with them.
It is possible to take comfort in the fact that our Lord uses the weariness caused by the burdens of life to draw us closer to Himself: “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you & learn from Me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) He’s speaking of rest from the sin that lives within us & desires to control us.
Like Paul, we may not understand what we do. We have all experienced not doing the good that we want to, & doing the evil we hate. That tension & struggle can make us weary to the point of desperation; turning to almost anything we can find to relieve the pressure, the strain. It’s easier to surrender & give up than to fight the battle. What wretched people we are!
Who will rescue us from this body of death? Zechariah answered that question in the OT lesson, as he predicts the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous & having salvation is he, humble & mounted on the colt of a donkey.” (9:9)
Thus Paul ends his 7th chapter to the church at Rome with these words, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He has rescued me from the sin living within. Rather than surrendering to that sin & to that battle I can now surrender to my Savior, because He proved His victory through His resurrection from the dead.
Jesus also had the desire to do what is good, & He did carry it out, in your place. On the Last Day each of God’s children will be raised to a new & glorious body with not a single ounce of sin living in us. The battle will have ended & there will be no more tears or sorrow. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water & the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt & power. Amen. LSB 761:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet