13th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 16) LSB #’s 589, 862, 513 tune Ewing
Text – Isaiah 29:11-12
And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL
I remember it as an advertising slogan from years ago. As I considered the introduction to this sermon, I did some research & discovered that it’s actually a non-profit set up way back in 1966. RIF believes every child deserves an opportunity to own books, learn how to read, & obtain the fundamental building blocks to achieve their highest potential.
According to their website, 25 million children in the U.S. cannot read proficiently. RIF believes that together we can make a real difference & set our children on a path of growth & opportunity. And you know from your own experience in life just how fundamental reading is to almost everything you do. Without the ability to read living well is a lot more difficult.
Not surprisingly our heavenly Creator is aware of that as well. So God’s Spirit inspired Isaiah to use the illustration in the sermon text to make a point. The almighty & all loving God of creation had been trying to get the attention of His people, but they were not listening. No matter how many blessings God showered upon them they ignored Him.
As Jesus put it, in the Gospel reading, they were going through the motions, but their hearts were not in it. It was obvious that the blessings God was raining down on His people were having a counter-productive effect. Like over-watering a plant, somewhere along the way you end up drowning the poor plant & it dies. For it to live you have to know when to stop.
The heavenly Father decided it was time to stop drowning His people with blessings. The blessings were doing no good anyway. No one was actually listening to Him, even though they were pretending to. If God did not gain their attention soon, they would all be lost. These are His people. He created them. He chose them. He lifted them up before the world as a beacon of light in order to bring salvation & glory out of the darkness of sin & death. In spite of all that, this is how Isaiah describes the reality of how God’s people were living:
“Woe to you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, & who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’ O what perversity! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:15-16)
Those words were written of an entire nation, & they were written about 2700 years ago. Do those words strike you? Do they remind you of any nation that exists today? Are these words of Jesus applicable to people in God’s house this morning:
“…Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6-7 ESV) Where is your heart this very moment? If God is speaking to you right now what should your response be?
The people of Judah – the people God created & chose to rescue – are pictured as responding in this way:
“Astonish yourselves & be astonished; blind yourselves & be blind! Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, & has closed your eyes (the prophets), & covered your heads (the seers). And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’
God’s warning gave the people of Judah pause, but even the Word of God could induce no understanding. That’s because the people did not receive the word with faith in that word. All of which revealed that, in spite of their words, they did not have faith in the God who sent His word. The blindness of unbelief then makes people increasingly even more blind. It moves their hearts even further away from the source of truth & life. The hardening of one’s own heart leads deeper into the divine judgment of hardening. Those who prefer to be blind to God shall experience to the full what that means.
And in that blindness, the people are totally oblivious to the perilous situation they are in. They themselves have chosen death, yet in their perversity they truly believe they have chosen to live. In fact, they believe that they have given themselves life.
Specifically, in verse 11 of the sermon text, because the people have rejected God, even after His blessings & after His loving discipline, Yahweh is now bringing judgment upon them. He has sealed His own Word so that they can no longer understand it. That is part of the reason why St. Paul wrote these words:
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV) Dead or alive, you or I may not have tomorrow to repent & believe the good news.
In Isaiah, for the people of Judah, the Day of the Lord had arrived. Judgment Day was upon them. They had sealed their own fate. The Assyrians will be sent by God to destroy their cities & to rule over them. Those Assyrians were a pagan nation. There would be no more freedom of religion under that government.
Living in a free country, as we do, where we have the right to vote; where we the people are in effect responsible for our own government, it is our duty to gage the state of our nation. Have we as a nation become hypocrites who draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him? Have we chosen to receive the Word of God without faith in that Word?
Even more important, it is your duty & it is my duty under God’s mercy, to gage the state of our own heart. Have we too become hypocrites who draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him? Do we have mercy on the sinful people that our Lord has brought into our lives? Do we repent of our own sins & believe in the Word of God that forgives us? Do we remember our baptism where God washed away our sins? Do we put to use the Body & Blood of Christ as He offers them to us for the forgiveness of our sins?
Chapters 28-33 of Isaiah, are basically oracles of judgment on Judah & Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as the Book of Woe, because its six main prophecies are introduced by that word. Interspersed, however, are a number of alternating oracles of comfort & salvation.
Isaiah’s counsel is consistent, avoid entangling alliances with pagan countries & simply wait, trust & believe on the Lord. In our lives, we may not have personal dealings with pagan countries, but we are tempted to entangle ourselves in pagan thoughts & ways. Temptation often comes with good intentions, but with a lack of patience or willingness to wait on the Lord.
We too end up forgetting that God’s Spirit lives within us. Our body, soul & mind is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If we reject that too often, it will lead to an eternity without our Lord. Now is the Day of Salvation. Reading the Word of God is fundamental.
The people of Israel were the chosen people of God yet they walked away from Him & failed in their purpose – to be a light in the darkness.
So, the heavenly Father chose Jesus to take the place of His people. He created human flesh for His Son. He chose Him & He lifted Him up before the world as a beacon of light in order to bring salvation & glory out of the darkness of sin & death.
In the closing verses of the OT reading, Isaiah writes of a new day to come: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, & out of their gloom & darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, & the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV) Children of God long for that day, & what a
blessing it shall be. Amen.
Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, where Jesus Christ is all in all! A home that is not wholly His – how sad & poor & dark it is! Oh, blest that house where faith is found & all in hope & love abound; they trust their God & serve Him still & do in all His holy will! Then here will I & mine today a solemn promise make & say: Though all the world forsake His Word, I & my house will serve the Lord. Amen. LSB 862:1-2, 5.
11th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 14) LSB #’s 611, 704, 411
Text – Ephesians 4:19
They have become callous & have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Now, more than ever, in these United States of America, we need the children of God to live Christian lives. As the Holy Spirit guided St. Paul to write, “…walk in love, as Christ loved us & gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV) Walking in love is the Christian life. That’s what children of God do. If you resist that, you are directly resisting the will of our Creator.
Satan, & our own sinful nature, are constantly pressuring us, urging us, to resist God’s will for our daily decisions. You feel that pressure when it’s time to wake up on Sunday morning. You feel that pressure when you’re contemplating whether or not to give your offering. That pressure is squeezing you when you are over eating, or over drinking.
Satan & our sinful nature make their presence felt when someone needs the help that you can provide, but you already have your own plans. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Rome, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (7:19 ESV) Satan & our own sinful nature are quite effective at getting their way.
In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul is painting a line between our sinful nature & the new one given in Baptism. Yet, that line so far transcends each individual as to be cosmic in scope. All of creation is being impacted by the act of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And in a sense each of our lives is being torn in two by that new creation.
The Holy Spirit is at work ripping away from us the old sinful nature, & it is not going quietly; not if you are clinging to Jesus. Sadly, there are many people we know who are waving the white flag of surrender. All of God’s children struggle with sin each & every moment of our lives, but some people that you & I know personally are no longer struggling. Instead, they are giving up & surrendering to the culture. To highlight that shift, here is a quote from a member of the United States House of Representatives. This was in response to another member of the House who had just finished quoting from the Bible:
“Mr. Steube,” he said pointedly, “what any religious tradition describes as God’s will is no concern of this Congress.” What, do you suppose, the almighty God thinks of that opinion? Let’s compare your thoughts on that with those of the man who conquered death:
“Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.’” (John 19:11 ESV) St. Paul added to that reality, “For there is no authority except from God, & those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b ESV)
Now, it’s true that our nation’s founding fathers did not want our government to impose any specific religion upon our people. Yet, it is also true that they understood where the authority of government came from. And they also believed that the will of God was certainly a matter of concern to the Congress of the United States.
Balancing those two values together is difficult work at best, & there is always the temptation to simply things by surrendering one value or the other. When it comes to our spiritual lives, surrender is also an issue, but in that case balancing the two together is not possible. They are entirely incompatible.
Remember, in the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul is painting a line between our sinful nature & the new one given in Baptism. Those two natures could not be further apart. The difference between them is as vast as the difference between heaven & hell. You & I, & everyone else alive today, will eventually have surrendered to one or to the other.
This is how St. Paul was inspired to describe the way of death: “Now this I say & testify
in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous & have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19 ESV)
What does that last sentence, the sermon text for today, describe? Is it not a surrendering? They have given themselves us to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That’s what happens whenever God’s will is no concern to someone. They end up on the road called death, & even more sadly, they often take other people with them.
Parents take their children, one spouse takes the other, church leaders take entire congregations, all of them like sheep being led to the slaughter. And all the while, Satan is laughing every step of the way, because one day they will wake up from their deception & realize what they have done.
Take a good look at this picture – a visual illustration of what happens to people on the way of death.
This used to be perfectly good watermelon, & it did not end up looking this way overnight. It took time. It happened so gradually, that if you had been watching day by day, you would only with the utmost attention have been able to detect the daily differences.
However, the end result is unmistakable. When Paul wrote of those who were “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them,” he was painting a picture, that in one half, looked like this watermelon. Fortunately, Paul doesn’t end there. He also paints another picture – that of the way of life:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about Him & were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life & is corrupt through deceitful desires, & to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, & to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness & holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV) This way of life is not easy, but rather a tremendous struggle. However, it is the way a child of God lives. This way of life is a life of love – loving Jesus because of what He has done for us, & loving others also because of what Jesus has done for us.
The Apostle Paul is here encouraging us to surrender to the life that Jesus has already earned for us, & given to us. We receive that life in Baptism, & we receive it again in the Lord’s Supper. And we receive that life every time we hear the Word of God. And these are words by which we surrender to the Lord of our lives:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful & unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word & deed, by what we have done & by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” LSB p. 151. That is how we surrender to our Lord & Savior, through repenting of our sins.
Surrendering to Satan & our sinful nature only leads to more sin, more heartache & eventually to eternal death. But God has chosen, through the foolish things of the world, to rescue us from sin, from death & from the Devil. God has chosen to create within us a clean heart & He has renewed a steadfast spirit within us.
Because we are still saint & sinner it is really impossible for us to tell the difference in our lives by what we see & by what we hear. What St. Paul wrote is so very true, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19 ESV)
Living the Christian life is not a glorious & beautiful thing to behold with our physical senses. It is more like the ministry of Christ, filled with some successes, but ultimately it is filled with rejection, suffering & death. And then comes the resurrection. Until then, our lives are to exhibit forgiveness & mercy, which comes only after we hear Christ forgiving us: “Walk in love, as Christ loved us & gave Himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you & for His sake forgives you all your sins.” LSB p. 151. With faith in those words you & I can be assured that our heavenly Father is working in us & through us to bring about the glories of the eternal life to come. And to that His children surrender. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined by the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
10th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 13) LSB #’s 663, 587, LW #441
Text – Exodus 16:2-3
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses & Aaron in the wilderness, & the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots & ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
BY THE HAND OF THE LORD
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, & at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, & the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back & covered the chariots & horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh – that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right & on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, & Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. When the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord & put their trust in Him.
What a difference a month can make, because the sermon text occurs only 30 days after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Now we hear the Israelites grumbling in the desert, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt!”
So much for putting their trust in God. The people are already accusing Him of bringing the entire nation into the desert to be starved to death. What a difference a month can make. Back in February of 2020 we’d been hearing rumblings of a virus, but had no idea that 30 days later everything in this country would be shut down.
Whenever some monumental event occurs, 30 days prior can seem like ages ago. Think back to September 11, 2001. Think back to December 7, 1941. What are you unaware of
today that will be all too obvious in just one month? That question is uncomfortable to think about in any negative respect. It’s not that confusing to plan out the bill payments or the sermon schedule. But it is a lot more difficult to consider making out a will, or deciding upon a course of treatment for the cancer just found in your body.
A month can, & often does, make a huge difference in our lives & in our attitudes. Sometimes, we find ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites. If only we had died by the hand of the Lord. I have learned how difficult it is to minister to a man or woman who is bedridden & unable to help themselves.
By all the standards we normally measure life by, there’s nothing good that can come of that situation. The world of our consumer-oriented society & even the world of psychology have nothing to offer except euthanasia. And we as pastors, as we so desperately wish to make things better, find that we have no magic cure either.
It is human nature to want the power & control to manipulate our world; to make it the way we want it to be. And if we can’t have it our way, then we’re tempted to quit the game & take our toys home. Struggle & self-sacrifice are not things we naturally aspire to. The willingness to share, the ability to endure sacrifice or suffering, those must be learned.
And no matter how many times a person goes through that learning process, it never becomes easy. Not even when you trust God that the results will be to your benefit. That’s why it’s so important that we never drift very far from our Savior. Apart from Him, alone & unprotected, we can easily lose our faith in Jesus. We can lose our eternal life.
Their grumbling was merely a symptom of the growing distance between the Israelites & their Lord. And it’s not that God had moved. It’s the nation of Israel that was creating the gap. They were walking away from the God who’d just rescued them from the Egyptian army. That seems extremely foolish, until we examine our own lives. In our baptism God performed just as great a miracle by rescuing us from the clutches of hell. Yet, our lives are filled with grumbling as well. As stressful times come into our lives, we often wish that things would be like they were in the “good old days.”
Our faint hearts want nothing to do with the battle between good & evil that goes on all around us & even within. We’d rather ignore the struggle & the suffering. We’d rather stick our heads in the sand & pretend that there are no problems. The good old days seem as if they had no stress & the times were only good.
In the same way, the nation of Israel suddenly found itself in the middle of the desert remembering the good old days of Egypt: “…we sat by the meat pots & ate bread to the full… you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
How quickly they forgot the harsh & brutal treatment they received as slaves. How quickly they forgot the grumbling they did in regard to their Egyptian slave masters. How quickly they forgot the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. It was by their Lord’s hand that they’d been delivered from Pharaoh, yet God now bore the brunt of their complaints.
And that in spite of the fact that it was also their God who provided even those pots of meat for them in Egypt. How many of God’s blessings in your life have you already forgotten? Just like He did for the Israelites, our God has provided for us in those “good old days,” & continues to provide for us now. Nothing that we possess is of our own doing.
Everything we have is from the Lord’s hand, so Paul warns us in His letter to the church at Corinth, “Do not grumble, as some of them did – & were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples & were written down as warnings for us.
So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:10-12 NIV)
The Israelites were longing only for the material aspect of life, & had no interest in the
spiritual. Even though they were now free of the Egyptians, they were still slaves to sin, & they did not realize it. The people grumbling in the desert preferred their slavery in Egypt because they preferred the darkness of their sin.
Yet in this case, God is merciful to them, but not because they deserved it. The hand of the Lord delivered mercy rather than death, only because He chose to do so. In that sense this OT lesson provides a rich background for the Christian life as a journey toward heaven sustained by Jesus – the Bread of life.
The manna, which appeared on the desert floor six mornings a week, represents Christ. And as the Gospel reading explains, Jesus is the Bread of life. He who comes to Christ will never go hungry, that is spiritually. “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (John 6:27a ESV)
In the desert, God provided for the nation of Israel. At twilight, they ate meat, & in the morning they were filled with bread. God gave unto them all those things they needed, & He’s providing for you everything you need. If you’re not satisfied, it’s because you’re seeking the wrong things.
But even if you are dissatisfied, your Lord is still providing for you, & He offers much more than earthly possessions. He offers spiritual blessings that will never end. He offers you life for eternity, & that not simply in a neutral context. The only other option is death for that same eternity.
By the hand of the Lord, Israel was given life & delivered from the Red Sea. By the same Lord’s hand, the Egyptian Army was given death & swallowed up by the Red Sea. God painted for us a picture of the Last Day when Christ will return to permanently lead His people out of slavery to sin, & in to paradise.
In the meantime, until that Last Day, Jesus also provides for us in our wilderness wanderings here in this sinful world. Because we live in a sinful world, we will struggle & suffer; yet through those very trials God strengthens us & purifies us. By the hand of the Lord our faith is tested so we will know – Jesus is Lord.
With that knowledge, we are no longer condemned to fear, even if we’re diagnosed with cancer or struck down & bedridden for the remainder of our lives. And though it’s estimated that 4 million people have died from Covid 19, their families still have hope for seeing them again in the life hereafter, as long as they knew Jesus as their Savior from sin.
With the assurance that comes by faith, & with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can put off the old man which has been corrupted by the fall into sin. For as God made the manna fall from heaven, He will also make us new in the attitude of our mind. With Him, we are able to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness & holiness.
This new self, this new man living in us, is sustained by the Living Bread who came down from heaven. This new man has no desire to grumble, no need to fear, & trusts completely in the Lord our God. It is by the hand of the Lord that this new man is created in you & me, & it’s by the hand of the Lord that this new man is preserved & nourished.
Christ sacrificed His body in order that we might receive life from it. Christ shed His blood in order that our sins might be washed away & our souls made clean. “…Though our sins were as scarlet, they’ve been made white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Christ placed Himself upon the cross so that our grumbling & ingratitude might be forever erased.
No matter how quickly we forget that, the truth remains. We have been set free from
our slavery to sin. Let us not look back upon those days of old, whether good or bad. Let us ever fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before
Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, & sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
However menacing & frightening the wilderness may look, God has already prepared the way. No matter how bleak the situation may appear to our eyes, our soul will never die as long as we are in Christ. For it is by the Lord’s hand that we’ve been brought into the family of God, & it is by the Lord’s hand that we shall be delivered home to paradise. Amen.
Increase our faith dear Savior, for Satan seeks by night & day, to rob us of this treasure & take our hope of bliss away. But, Lord, with You beside us we shall be undismayed; & led by Your good Spirit we shall be unafraid. Abide with us, O Savior, a firmer faith bestow; Then we shall bid defiance to every evil foe. Amen. LSB 587:2.
 Exodus 14:29-31 NIV
 Exodus 16:3 ESV
 Hebrews 12:2
Pastor Dean R. Poellet