2nd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 511, 513, 673
Text – Jeremiah 26:8-9a
When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
IT SHALL NOT RETURN EMPTY
New York, London & Paris – you’ve heard the names of these famous cities & may have a picture that comes to mind with them such as the Empire State Building, Buckingham Palace & the Eifel Tower. What if I mention the city of Shiloh? Anything? Probably not, unless you remember it as a famous Civil War battlefield in SW Tennessee.
Long before that, Shiloh was a city serving as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. It was the major Israelite worship center before the 1st Temple was built in Jerusalem. Did you catch the name as I read it in the OT lesson, “Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?”
You see, Jeremiah was prophesying that the current capital of Jerusalem was going to end up being destroyed as Shiloh was & the people weren’t happy about it. It’s sort of the equivalent to saying that Washington D.C. will end up like Hiroshima. In the days before David was king, when Samuel was prophet, (about 1060 BC), the Ark of the Covenant was there.
That was God’s dwelling place with men. It was the Mercy Seat where atoning blood was splashed & from which God spoke & forgave sin on earth. (Exodus 25:21-22) It was a spectacular place! What came of this city that housed God’s mercy? It was completely destroyed. Psalm 78 tells us why.
God’s people rebelled against Him, ignored His Word, & angered Him with their false worship of Canaanite idols. So the Lord “full of wrath... forsook His dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where He dwelt among mankind.” (Psalm 78:59–60) The Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines & when the high priest Eli heard about that he fell over in his chair & died of a broken neck. His two sons were also killed in the battle along with 30,000 soldiers of the Israelite army.
Fast-forward a few hundred years (640 BC) to the temple in Jerusalem, where Jeremiah could just say “Shiloh” & everyone immediately understood (& hated him for it) as he preached against their idolatries: “This house shall be like Shiloh, & this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant.” Could this sturdy temple in Jerusalem really end up like Shiloh? Yes, & it did.
That brings us to the question, “Could Washington D. C. end up like Hiroshima?” We’d be foolish to think it cannot. Much closer to home, what will people say years from now when they hear the name of this place, this congregation?
Will it be but one more monument to human faithlessness, or still a place where our Lord proclaims His Law that brings to repentance, & His Gospel that forgives? In this season of Lent will we remember that Jesus willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance? Repentance is a gift that God gives to His children & He longs for us to make constant use of it.
Since a repentant heart believes it is forgiven it turns away from its sins through leaning upon Jesus. Key to that is recognizing that every aspect of our lives falls short of perfection, so each aspect of our lives needs repentance on our part. When people demand their right to do whatever they please it’s a clear sign they do not understand what it means to lean on Jesus.
Demanding my rights makes it obvious that I’m still leaning upon my own abilities to get through life. Do you remember the prayer of the tax collector? It’s a perfect illustration of someone who is leaning on Jesus & Him alone: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13 ESV) He’s not demanding his rights. He is surrendering them all as he begs for mercy. And I know for a fact that the sinful nature in you hates to beg, because so does mine. All have sinned & fallen short of the glory of God. Our sinful nature is totally aware of that & despises the reality. The question is, “What to do about it?”
By the time Jeremiah was sent to preach to God’s people, they’d already decided what to do. They had moved on to other gods, gods invented by sinful human beings who would satisfy their every sinful desire. The nation of Judah had tired of living in the tension of being repentant yet forgiven sinners. Our nation, our people, & ourselves included, struggle with the same issue.
There will come a day, as it does in every nation, when Yahweh can no longer tolerate the rebellion of His creatures. In the OT He warned the people that once they are in the land of milk & honey they will grow complacent & satisfied. He warned them in order to help them stay on the straight & narrow. He warned them of the danger they were in because He loved them.
Yet, the majority of the people were so far gone that they threatened to kill the messenger as you heard earlier: “…then the priests & the prophets & all the people laid hold of [Jeremiah], saying, ‘You shall die!’” Even the Gentile city of Nineveh repented when Jonah warned them to turn from their sins so they might live. The hearts of the people in Judah were already dead.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus also was being threatened with death for warning the people about the dangers of not taking God seriously, & at His word. This is how St. Luke recorded it, “…some Pharisees came & said to [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” With Jeremiah & with Jesus, the Word of God goes forth & does not return empty.
Both of them understood that even if they were killed, Yahweh would rescue them for speaking the truth. The heavenly Father certainly speaks strong words, & that annoys those who have rejected Him. Our words are often wishy washy & filled with weakness, but when Yahweh speaks it is to uproot the sin in your heart & mine. He speaks to tear down, destroy & overthrow the sinful nature in us. Before He brings life, first He must bring death to the rebellious soul that demands to have its rights guaranteed. Before He speaks the Good News there is the command of Yahweh. Grass fades & the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.
For the people of Jeremiah’s day, when the judgment came there would no longer be a priesthood, no temple, no liturgy, no city, no government, no sacrifices, no more Promised Land. But they would still have the written Word of God, & it never returns to Him empty. If the people take it to heart it always brings life everlasting.
If they reject it, at Judgment Day that same Word will bring everlasting condemnation, as it bears witness against their refusal to lean upon Jesus. Until then, Yahweh does everything necessary that everyone might be saved. When Shiloh was destroyed, rather than sending the people into exile, God sent the Ark of the Covenant into exile in the hands of the Philistines.
Years later, when Jerusalem is destroyed, a remnant of the people is sent into exile in the nation of Babylon. Finally, years after that, God the Father would send His only begotten Son into exile here on earth & then, on the cross, in order to suffer the death that was truly our right. At Golgotha, Jesus became desolate & abandoned, suffering the curse of all mankind.
That is the Good News that comes after the command of God to obey. During this season of Lent, will you hear the Good News? Will you allow that Word to take root in your heart & produce fruit in keeping with repentance? How often, & in what ways, do we respond to the call to return to the Lord, to listen & turn from our evil ways, to walk according to His will?
If we can’t answer that question, we are still clinging to our own & old way of life. That type of living does not include leaning upon Jesus for all things. One way to answer that question would be to remember the public confession we, as a church, make at the beginning of our services. For example, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” It’s not uncommon to hear people complain about those words. They say things like, “I’m not a poor miserable sinner! I’m forgiven!” What they seem to miss is that if you are forgiven, you have to be a sinner in the 1st place.
In this life, confessing our sins will never be easy. Our sinful nature is too strong, yet, just as God’s Word will not return empty as it judges people, His Word also will not return empty in the hearts of those who believe & trust in our heavenly Father.
Paris, London & New York will one day be gone like Shiloh, if not sooner, certainly when the world is brought, by God, to its end. That God is almighty is something we really struggle even to comprehend, yet alone believe. On the Last Day we may well see the true power of His Word as the old heavens & earth pass away & the news one arrive.
The Words of St. Paul in today’s Epistle reading from Philippians are comforting & encouraging as they describe what is to come for us who trust in Jesus alone:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, & from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love & long for, my joy & crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:20-4:1 ESV) Amen.
The clouds of judgment gather, the time is growing late; be sober & be watchful, our judge is at the gate: the judge who comes in mercy, the judge who comes in might to put an end to evil & diadem the right. Arise, O true disciples; let wrong give way to right, & penitential shadow to Jesus’ blessed light: the light that has no evening, that knows no moon or sun, the light so new & golden, the light that is but one. Amen. LSB 513:1-2.
 Jeremiah 26:9 ESV
Midweek 2 – 2019 LSB #436
Text – Matthew 26:39
And going a little farther He fell on His face & prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
GOD’S WILL, NOT MY WILL
“Nevertheless, Thy will be done,” is a beautifully awful prayer. “Thy will be done” is the most freeing & enslaving, constricting & liberating prayer we can pray. “Thy will be done,” brings both anxiety & peace.
On the one hand, it’s incredibly freeing to be released of the burden of running the world. On the other, it can be terribly frightening when you realize you’re not the one running the world. “Nevertheless, thy will be done,” all depends on the one to whom you’re saying it. It’s scary to entrust ourselves to someone else’s will, because they might not have our good in mind.
What if you are Rapunzel up in her tower? Have you’ve seen Tangled – the Disney movie? Maybe you’ve actually read the fairy tale in a book. The infant Rapunzel ends up in the possession of the evil witch Gothel. As the infant grows, the witch claims to be Rapunzel’s mother. She claims to be protecting her & providing for her.
The reality is that Rapunzel is being kept a prisoner for Gothel’s own selfish purposes. Poor Rapunzel doesn’t know any better: she is deceived & kept in the dark. When she asks about leaving her tower, she gets a lesson from her “mother” in the form of a song: “Trust me, pet, Mother knows best. Mother knows best; listen to your mother. It’s a scary world out there.”
You can hear Gothel using fear of exaggerated dangers to manipulate Rapunzel & maintain control. “Mother knows best. One way or another something will go wrong, I swear! Ruffians, thugs, Poison ivy, quicksand, Cannibals & snakes, the plague… Mother’s right here. Mother will protect you Darling. Here’s what I suggest: Skip the drama, stay with mama; Mama knows best!” In principle, it’s easy to agree with the premise. Children should trust their mother, & their father, but Gothel is not her real mother. Gothel is not to be trusted. She’s selfish. She’s deceptive. Her desire, her plan, her purposes, her will are not for Rapunzel’s good. And Rapunzel has no way of knowing it.
At the end of the song it takes an even more chilling turn. Gothel began by manipulating through imaginary fear. She finishes by manipulating with imaginary love: “Mother’s here to help you,” she sings sweetly, “All I have is one request… Don’t ever ask to leave this tower again.” Gothel ends the song with a treacherous kiss, & a veiled threat:
“I love you very much, dear… Don’t forget it. You’ll regret it. Mother knows best.” It’s creepy to think of such a wicked woman pretending to love & protect – pretending to be a mother – when she is keeping an innocent (& somewhat naïve) girl captive! That repulsive feeling that makes you want to rescue Rapunzel is exactly how some people see God & religion.
Here’s an anonymous quote: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, & by rulers as useful.” It’s similar to Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the people.” To them, any talk of God or religion is simply the strong deceiving the weak to keep them in line. It’s Gothel & Rapunzel all over again.
People in power stay in power by manipulating fear & faking love. Like we want to see Rapunzel rescued from the manipulating Gothel, the atheist who thinks their naïve friend is being “duped” by religion wants to see them “set free.” It’s why someone like Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller can say: “Love & respect all people. Hate & destroy all faith.”
Penn isn’t necessarily an evil person. It could be he’s simply afraid that weak people are manipulated & controlled by religion. We reject the basic premise of the atheistic quotes, but the problem is, people in power do sometimes use God & religion, even the name of Jesus, to stay in power, to manipulate fears, to feign love: the man who quotes Scripture as grounds for demeaning his wife; the cleric who inspires hate & fear of outsiders & foreigners; the mother who manipulates her children with threats of an angry god. The naïve can be manipulated. Faith can be used as a weapon.
To our deep grief, religion is sometimes warped to legitimize evil people doing evil things. And when you start to see God a lot like Gothel, then it makes perfect sense to say with atheist Richard Dawkins: “Faith can be very dangerous, & deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.”
If God is like Gothel, then Dawkins is right: you should not raise your children in the faith, because if God is like Gothel, you are left with no God you can trust => no God at all.
Placing your life in someone else’s hands is unnerving, because it might not be for your good. When we do trust someone else’s will, it’s more about trusting the person than about knowing the particular details of their plan. Here’s an example.
Two young children are fighting in the other room. By the time you get there, the toy is broken, both children are crying, neither one claims any fault, the other is entirely in the wrong, & both want you to deliver swift justice against the other. And they are all too eager to offer recommendations about the appropriate sentencing.
You separate them. You talk to them one on one, but it’s the same conversation. You ask what happened. You hear a one-sided story full of partial truths & blatant exaggerations. Then you offer resolution. Without getting into all the details, you simply say, “I’ll take care of it.” Then the debate begins…
“Are you going to make them pay for it?” “I’ll take care of it.” “But it was their fault, they should be punished.” “You don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of it.” “Okay, but what are you going to do?” “You don’t need to worry, I’ll care of it.” “I’m not worried, I just want to know.” “Do you trust me?” “Yeah, but…” “Then you can trust me; I’ll take care of it.”
In that moment, you don’t need to convince your child that your planned punishment is the most logical, or that the steps you’ll take to rectify the situation are based on the soundest reasoning. You don’t need to convince them to buy into your plan; you don’t need to share a single detail about what you intend to do.
In that moment, it’s not about the particulars of your plan. It’s about a relationship in which a child can trust their parent. When we are able to say to someone else, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” it’s more about trusting the person than their particular plan.
What if we looked at God’s will as if we were a child trusting a parent? There are situations where I don’t have all the information. I’m like one of those kids with a broken toy. When someone else offends me, I don’t see the big picture. I see injustice; things don’t always go my way; & I want to scream, it’s not fair! What is God going to do about this?
But if God is a loving parent who can be trusted, then I don’t have to demand that things go my way. Maybe trust isn’t naïve if it is placed in a trustworthy person. If God knows me & loves me, & knows the whole story in a way I cannot, maybe I don’t need to have the details of the plan as long as I know my Savior will take care of it.
Those are two very different ways of seeing God: it could be that God is actually like Gothel, Rapunzel’s evil captor. Maybe our prayers fall on deaf ears, & the selfish people who pretend to speak for a pretend god are manipulating our naïve trust.
But maybe there is a God who is loving, & His will for us is good, even when we do not understand it. And maybe this good God deserves all the naïve trust we can muster. Nothing in the world is as important as deciding between those two radically different views of God. So how do you decide? If you look to spiritual leaders, you run the risk of being taken in or disappointed when they turn out to be self-centered & sinful, like the rest of us.
If you look to your circumstances, your view can change drastically based on whether you are getting what you define as a good life or a life of suffering. Looking at other people or at your experience can always leave you questioning, am I being taken in? Is this all a hoax? For tonight, we’ll look at the Son of God in the Garden & hear the Gethsemane prayer.
Jesus was betrayed by the religious leaders. The suffering He faces next would make anyone question the reality of a good God. Yet, Jesus prays a prayer of faithfulness, a prayer that helps you & me enter into His decision to see God not as a distant, selfish, manipulative deity, but rather as a Father to be trusted even in the face of things we don’t understand.
Jesus takes a deep breath, exhales with a sigh, looks up to heaven, & with a confident nod He whispers, “Nevertheless.” He had just made His bold request to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me.” Father, you’ve prepared a table before me. You’ve filled this cup. You’ve poured your wrath into it & the scent of it makes me ill. The cup is filled to the brim.
It’s nauseating. The sight of it is awful. The smell turns my stomach. Let this cup pass from me. It reeks of idolatry. I can smell the ugliness of unfaithfulness. My nose burns with the acerbic odor of lies & murders, affairs & greed, hate & selfishness, the rotten, rotten evil that brought these grapes to fruition. Let this cup pass from me.
Then Jesus takes a deep breath, exhales with a sigh, looks up to heaven, & with a confident nod He whispers, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” It is a prayer of faith, & it’s the proclamation of the faithfulness of God.
The cup set before Jesus contained God’s burning anger against everything rotten in your life. If Jesus drinks that cup, it will kill Him. So He prays. He prays for another way: “Take this cup away!” But He also prays, “Nevertheless.” It’s the pivotal moment in this potent prayer – “Nevertheless.” In that one word, Jesus not only prays to the Father, but He proclaims to you & to me. In that one word, “nevertheless,” Jesus declares:
“God is a good Father. You can trust Him. His good will is life & love for His children. His good will is life & love for you.” “God is a good Father. You can trust Him even when your situation seems full of darkness & suffering. God is going to take care of it in ways beyond your understanding.”
“God is a good Father. Nothing can hinder His gracious will, & that will is forgiveness & life for His children. Even when we can’t see it, even when we can’t feel it, even when we can’t conceive of it, God’s will is best.”
Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” It’s the prayer of faith, & it’s the proclamation of God’s faithfulness. Then Jesus proved God’s faithfulness & drank the cup down to the last drop. With innocent trust, Jesus commended Himself into the Father’s hands, into God’s will, with His final breath.
What appeared to be His final breath turned out to be not so final in end. Because God’s good & gracious will is life & love for His children, beginning with His only-begotten Son, Yahweh began a new work that would be for all His children: resurrection to new creation life.
As we live the life of faith today we lean into the ‘Nevertheless’ of Jesus’ prayer. Seeing Christ trust His Father, helps us trust God as our Father. When faith is manipulated, or religion becomes a tool for evil, we cling to the gracious will of God even when it’s difficult to see.
Then, because trust is only deepened & developed over time, slowly we begin to echo the trust, the “Nevertheless” of Jesus’ prayer. God, help me do well on this assignment. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, I need a better job. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, make me more popular. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, bring more people to our church. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, fix what’s broken in our nation. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
God, show this person their fault. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, help us conceive a child. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, I want out of this marriage. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” God, take this cancer from me. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus points us to His good Father, a Father whose good & gracious will can be trusted, even when we cannot see the big picture. So we pray, “Nevertheless.” Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Amen. LSB 436:1.
1st Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 766:1-3, 766:4-6, 923
Text – Deuteronomy 26: 5
And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father.’
WHO IS YOUR FATHER?
The summer after I graduated from high school the very 1st Star Wars movie premiered & it was a phenomenal blockbuster of a movie. One of the still climactic scenes of the entire series is when the arch villain, Darth Vader, tells the hero Luke Skywalker that they are father & son. Vader is hoping that Luke will join him on the dark side of the force.
Even secular research indicates that who your father is has a huge effect on the development of your sense of identity. Where you believe you have come from plays a crucial role in your formation as a responsible & considerate adult. At that point, the secular world of psychology pretty leaves in the dust any agreement with Christianity on the topic of fatherhood.
That disagreement stems from their absolute rejection of the concept of a Creator God. For the secular world, evolution is the predominant understanding of how humans have come into existence. The Christian view, that sees Yahweh as Creator of all things, blesses us with a very different basis for the development of our identity.
With the evolutionary model, the only identity you can have is one that you create for yourself. There’s nothing outside of you with any transcendent power or wisdom or plan to make an identity for you. Who you then choose to be is entirely limited by the power you have to make it happen. It’s part of our sinful nature to greatly overestimate our abilities in this.
The Word of God reveals a very different picture of life than the evolutionary model. Granted, they both see & acknowledge the brokenness of this world. However, they ascribe vastly different causes to the misery of life here on earth, & thus, they prescribe vastly different solutions. As I said earlier the evolutionary model tells us that we can choose our own identity & be successful. What that model ignores is how powerless we actually are to do anything of the sort. Again, it’s part of our sinful nature to greatly overestimate our abilities. The Bible does not mince words regarding how powerless mankind is, but Isaiah really boils it down to its essence in chapter 64:
“We are all infected & impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither & fall, & our sins sweep us away like the wind.” (64:6 NLT) Those words apply to everything we think & say & do. Without Jesus Christ we are worse than nothing. We are headed straight for hell.
That is the only identity you & I can choose or make for ourselves. Otherwise, it is God’s will that everyone be saved; everyone be granted the identity – child of God. If parents are living in Christ they have their children baptized as soon as possible, because that is the means through which our heavenly Father desires to welcome us into His family.
It is in baptism that Yahweh bestows upon a child the blessing of this identity – child of God. It is through baptism that Yahweh becomes our Father. As a child is baptized into the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, they are called to the light side of the force, if you will. St. Peter put it this way:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)
In baptism the Creator of the universe begins to recreate us into His image. Since our life with God begins at baptism, we remember that event through beginning our worship service with these words, “In the name of the Father, & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit.” Our new life, our new creation begins in baptism & our worship services reflect that, because, as you hear the Word of God, & receive the body & blood of Christ’s resurrected body, here too, each Sunday in God’s house your life begins anew. If you grasp the reality of that, it is pure insanity not to be here, but that’s what sin is – pure insanity. Even our righteous deeds are insanely filthy.
That is our existence without God as our Father. The Gospel of John records these words as Jesus speaks to religious leaders who’ve been deceived into thinking they can create their own identity:
“They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did… ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God & I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, & your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, & does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar & the father of lies.’” (8:39, 42-44 ESV)
Jesus makes it very clear that who your father is is critically important. Yahweh is offering us life through the blood of His Son. Satan lies to us, & under that guise is death, but he won’t tell you that. In all three temptations of the Gospel reading, the devil makes it sound like he’s offering Jesus something valuable & good. Yet, each temptation was a disguise for death.
The devil was offering Jesus a new identity, no different than what he offered to Adam & Eve. Do you remember those words? “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, & you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5 ESV) Lucifer is offering them the ultimate in new identity – to be like God – yet, underneath that offer is total separation from God.
In the book of Deuteronomy, our heavenly Father is calling us to join Him on the light side of the force. Yahweh calls us to this in our baptism. The major emphasis of Deuteronomy is the theology of the Torah, that is, the good news of the Gospel which empowers & motivates all valid obedience before God. Without that good news you & I are, & can do, nothing. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has removed the curtain between us & our Creator. It’s no coincidence that when the Son of God died, the temple curtain was torn in two. You are now welcome in God’s house, to approach His altar, & to receive His gifts directly from His hand.
Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God’s Passover. For the Israelites, & for us, the covenant event of Mt. Sinai continues to happen. Each generation is to regard themselves as having come out of Egypt, having been redeemed from slavery by Yahweh. For you & me, we have been rescued from slavery to sin & ushered into the Promised Land, all through one fell swoop.
In Christ, God has redeemed us through baptism, & it is God’s saving act that identifies who we are. To deny that He created us, or to deny that He rescued us, is to deny the identity which gains admission into the true Promised Land of heaven.
Maybe you remember the parable about the wedding feast. The guests whom the king invited refused to attend. Some even seized his servants, treated them shamefully, & killed them. The king sent his troops & destroyed those murderers & burned their city. Then, he sent his servants to the main roads to invite others to the feast so that the hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand & foot & cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping & gnashing of teeth.’”
The point of Jesus’ parable is that the man had rejected the robe of righteousness Jesus had won for him. The man had rejected the identity that God the Father had given him. Any other identity does not cover our sins. That only comes from Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Without His righteousness your heart or mine cannot be changed.
Without a strong sense of identity we’re easily tossed to & fro by every wind of doctrine,
by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. All the rage in our time is to say that we have the right & the power to choose our own sexual identity. Satan offers it under the guise of gaining ‘freedom’ from the restraints placed upon us by a rigid & evil society.
However, the devil’s temptation flies in the face of God’s Word regarding where our sexual identity comes from: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. Male & female He created them, & He blessed them & named them Man when they were created. (Genesis 5:1-2 ESV)
Remembering the source of our existence is crucial to our identity & mission. That’s why those who are behind the teaching of evolution, & are honest about it, admit that their goal is to eliminate the need for a Creator God. They do not want to remember the source of their existence. They do not want to thank Him for the many gifts with which He has blessed them.
That’s why Satan is attacking our culture in that way right now. It’s why the opposition to the Ark Encounter & the Creation Museum was so virulent & persistent. Eliminating the need for a Creator God, & forgetting or denying the source of our existence, opens the door to choosing whatever identity you like.
The life of the people of God depends on remembering, & thanksgiving for, the great deeds of Yahweh to rescue His people & deliver them from death. Remembering whose we are is far more important than anything we do, because the branch cannot produce fruit unless it is connected to the vine. To deny Jesus as the Vine is to cut ourselves off from life.
To believe that Jesus is the source of our life gives us a foundation of love to build upon. His resurrection guarantees that it is a permanent foundation as well. He has defeated death & decay, the two scourges of everything man does apart from Christ. Having Yahweh as our father gives us a permanent & loving foundation upon which to grow & build our identity. In the spiritual realm our works here on this earth will continue on into eternity. That’s something which evolutionists only hope to accomplish through downloading their brain to a computer. Jesus offers eternal life with a perfected & glorious body connected to our sinless soul. Those are two very different promises.
God’s children ascribe the brokenness of this life to sin, & we trust that God’s Son has overcome that. We will see the full results on the day of the resurrection from the dead. The secular world ascribes the brokenness of this life to intolerant or rigid people. Their only hope is to erase everyone like that. The problem with their solution is that they must be erased as well.
It’s true, most of them don’t realize that, or are unwilling to acknowledge it. Many of them, like Darth Vader, are trying to win us over or to destroy us. In the fictional case of Darth Vader, the love of his son drew him back to the light. There are many real life cases where that is also true. Everyone who is a child of God has been won over by love – the love of Jesus.
And since God did create us with a good & loving purpose in mind that gives us a solid foundation upon which to build the identity that God created us for. In life, we need not be afraid whatever befalls us, as long as we keep turning our heart to Yahweh as our loving & almighty Father. As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy:
“Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, & the Lord heard our voice & saw our affliction, our toil, & our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand & an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs & wonders. And He brought us into this place & gave us this land, a land flowing with milk & honey.” (26:7-9 ESV)
That is a picture of heaven to which our Savior is leading us this very moment & all the days of our lives. Amen.
Your gracious will on earth be done as it is done before Your throne, that patiently we may obey throughout our lives all that You say. Curb flesh & blood & every ill that sets itself against Your will. Our Father, who from heaven above bids all of us to live in love as members of one family & pray to You in unity, teach us no thoughtless words to say but from our inmost hearts to pray. Amen. LSB 766:4, 1.
 Matthew 22:11-13 ESV
Ash Wednesday – 2019 LSB #770
Text – Matthew 6:10
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
god’s will & The kingdom
The year was 1983 & I was home on leave, from the Navy, to visit my family & to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of my parents. The party was still about 5 days away when I drove to MSU to visit one of my best friends. Not long after I arrived I got a phone call that my dad was in the hospital. Driving home from work he had ended up in the ditch.
That’s about all they knew at the time. So, I drove back home met my mother & sisters in the ICU. There were the usual large number of hours spent waiting, wondering & speculating on what happened & what the tests might reveal. Back in 1983 that still took several days.
Amidst all the tension, mom, my sisters & I went home one night to eat supper. After everything was ready we sat down at the table & the chair I sat on went straight to the floor. The kitchen table chairs had legs made of metal tubing. The welded joints had broken in such a way that all four legs went horizontal at the same time. I rode that chair right to the floor.
Everyone began to laugh for what seemed like 15 minutes. When all of us finally stopped one would start again, & everyone would follow. We couldn’t help but laugh. All the tension of the past days had been released in a totally unexpected instant. Once we could finally talk again all four of us realized that God was saying, “Everything will be okay.”
Apparently dad had been passing out at work, but he just told them he was really tired & they let it go. On his way home, on a back country road, he passed out & fortunately just coasted to a stop in the ditch. Not even the truck was worse for the wear. Finally, the tests revealed that his heart wasn’t beating often enough. He needed a pacemaker & he would be fine.
Things could have ended very differently that day, & there would have been no laughter
around the table for dinner a few nights later. I was 24 years old then & I think that was the first time it sunk in how suddenly & completely major things in life can change. I experienced the fragile nature of life & I could see God working through those events. When you pray do you remember how God has worked in your past? Do you pray to Him for your future?
The disciples saw Jesus praying & they said, “We want to be like that. We want to trust & believe & pray like you do, Lord. Teach us to pray.” That’s part of what you & I are saying to Jesus this season of Lent as we explore what it means to pray, Thy Will Be Done. Before that was our prayer, it was the prayer of Jesus.
As the Son of God teaches His followers to pray, He invites them to pray like He does. Jesus invites us to address God as OUR Father, not just His Father, & the Lord’s prayer begins by asking that God would let His name be holy, that Yahweh would cause His Kingdom to come & His will to be done, as in heaven so also on earth.
But Jesus did more than ask for God’s reign to become a reality in our lives: Jesus made it happen. Jesus began His ministry by proclaiming that the active reign & rule of heaven was now near at hand. Jesus brought God’s kingdom & did God’s will wherever He went. Whether we see it or not God’s reign is an active & daily reality.
The miracles made it visible: Jesus bringing God’s eternal reign into the real lives of real people in real time. No power of darkness could hold authority over Christ! Demons are ousted, sins are forgiven, the poor in spirit are welcomed home, & the kingdom banquet begins as the worst kind of offenders sit at table with the King Himself.
Jesus’ entire ministry from start to finish was about reestablishing God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. When you pray do you remember how God has worked in your past? Do you pray to Him for your future? When they nail His death sentence above His head with the same hammer that drove metal spikes through His hands, do not miss the kingdom activity of the God who promised that on the mountain of the Lord it would be provided. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” the sign read. And we could add, “He makes God’s Kingdom come & makes God’s will be done.”
When we pray for God’s Kingdom & for God’s will, do we remember Jesus & His Kingdom work in the past? If He had not died on that cross, we know things would have been different. We know in His resurrection that people we love were brought from death to life; we know how precious & irreplaceable this salvation gift is.
One way to experience the prayer Jesus taught is to remember Jesus Himself, & His work that brought about God’s reign & God’s will for our lives. Then we pray that Kingdom prayer with a deep sense of gratitude.
Yet, the prayer for God’s Kingdom & God’s will is not only a prayer of thanksgiving for the past. If God proved Himself faithful to fulfill His Kingdom promises in Jesus, you can count on the fact that He will be faithful to bring about the final completion of those promises. God’s will was done at the cross & the open tomb, but God’s Kingdom reign is not finished with us yet.
That connection also affects the way you pray the Lord’s Prayer.
A woman stands at the graveside of her uncle. The words of the pastor rise above the cold wind: “May God the Father, who created this body, may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body, may God the Holy Spirit, who by baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”
Then, they all pray, quietly, together: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name...” The words feel so familiar on her tongue, they are a comfort just to say: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Yes,” she thinks to herself. “Yes! Let Your will be done, Lord: not just in heaven, but here on earth, too. Dear God, I know Your will for my Uncle is eternal life, & I know he is with you even now, but let Your Kingdom come on earth, as in heaven. Jesus, come quickly! Let that great day of resurrection come soon!”
That prayer at the graveside – “Jesus, come soon, & do what You promised!” – that prayer longs for the future with hope.
In another example, a man kneels before bedtime, just like always, & he thinks of his son as he prays, just like always. He gets stuck at the phrase, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
The past shame of angry words & slammed doors still feels fresh. His guilt comes rushing back: how could he have let those insults stand between them as their final farewell? The sense of hurt & betrayal still lies just beneath the surface… So he forgives his son again, for the thousandth time in the last five years.
And he asks his heavenly Father for forgiveness again, for the thousandth time. And he wonders if he will ever see his son again. He wonders if his son prays; if his son forgives. The man sighs & starts the prayer again, from the top. This time he doesn’t get any farther than, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
And he hopes – not an empty wishful thinking, but longing tinged with confidence – he hopes for a broken relationship to be restored. He looks for the reunion & the healing he desires, whether in time or in eternity. In prayer, he longs for the future with hope.
The young couple often hold hands as they walk together. It gives them a time to talk, & sometimes to pray. The walks, & the prayers, have been slower & more difficult lately. She did not get the promotion she was expecting. His job feels overwhelming right now. They thought they had plenty of savings, but a couple of minor car accidents have added financial stress. They wanted desperately to start a family, but that wasn’t happening quickly. All kinds of doubts & fears have crept into their talk about the future. “I don’t know what to pray,” he confesses, & she agrees. It seems difficult even to come up with the right prayer request when so much of their life is up in the air.
But they keep walking. And they keep talking. And eventually they recall the promise: the promise that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, the promise that even when we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes. They remember the words of Paul, “Now we know in part, but then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.”
Those words are comfort for right now, but they also stir in them a longing for something more, for a time when it won’t be so confusing to pray, for the day when faith will be sight. Since they don’t have other words right now, they simply pray the words that Jesus taught. Without a clear idea of what they are even asking for, they pray as they walk hand in hand:
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” They find, as they pray, they don’t only mean, help this not be so confusing right now. They also find themselves praying for The Day; The Day when they will know fully, even as they are fully known.
In the midst of their confusion, they long for the future Jesus brings & they pray with hope. That’s how prayer works. Praying for God’s will & God’s kingdom, we remember with thanksgiving the promises Jesus has fulfilled already. Because God has been faithful in the past, we have a confident hope as we long for Jesus to fulfill all of God’s promises in the future.
And since we remember with thanksgiving, & long for God’s future with hope, we can entrust our now with expectation that God will make His Kingdom come, & His will be done, among us also. Our prayers are marked by present expectation in light of past thanksgiving & future hope. That’s an experience of prayer I would like us to practice together tonight. You received a blank card as you came in (we have extras if you need one). On one side please write down a current prayer need or burden. It could be a relational or financial challenge. It could be a burden of grief or sin. Maybe it’s a question mark that stands for so much more than you could fit on a card that size. Don’t worry we will not ask you to turn them in or show them to anyone.
Just focus on one prayer that seems to come to mind right now, & in a word or a phrase, write it down. PAUSE
That may be a pretty heavy card right now. You will bring that need to God’s attention in the name of Jesus, but 1st, flip the card over. On that side, you will write down two things. One, write something that Jesus has done in the past, something that makes you grateful. It can be from your personal story, or something from the story of Jesus.
Perhaps you’re especially thankful for the raising of Lazarus, because of what that means for someone you love. The calming of the storm might give you comfort & a sense of awe. Maybe you cling to the words of Jesus about the poor in spirit. Put something down that lets you remember Jesus & His past action with thanksgiving. PAUSE
Now, one more thing for this side of the card; put down a word or phrase, something about the future promise that gives you hope. It might be a moment of reunion. It could be life in a resurrection body, or the music of angels & archangels around the throne. Try to put down a detail about our future hope that makes you long for Jesus to restore all things. PAUSE
Thankful for God’s kingdom activity in the past, longing for God’s ultimate New Creation will to be done in the future, now you can flip the card over & spend some time entrusting your present concerns to God’s will & God’s kingdom. Turn the card back over as many times as needed while you pray.
I’d like you to try & see your current prayer request (side 1) through the lens of Jesus &
His reign in the past & in the future (side 2). In other words, if you are thankful that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead & have a friend who is dying, connect the dots between the two. How does what you know about Lazarus impact your anxiety about your friend?
After we have had time to pray, we will continue our service with the Lord’s Prayer. Please take your card with you as you leave this evening & see if praying for God’s will & God’s kingdom in the present is affected by God’s will & God’s reign in your past & in your future.
Transfiguration Sunday – C LSB #’s 414, 645, 912
Text – Hebrews 3:4
For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.
THE BUILDER OF ALL THINGS
I’d like you to think about some of the traditions in your family. What I’m asking for is something that’s relatively unique. Celebrating Christmas & Easter aren’t really traditions in that sense because so many people do it. What is something your family did, while you were growing up, that was different from most everyone else?
In the family I grew up in, from the grandparents on down, building houses was our tradition. It began not long after I was born. My dad’s uncle was a carpenter & he offered to build our house in the hours after his normal work day. Other family members would pitch in & around the time I was 2 or 3 years old we moved in.
I vaguely remember when I was 5 years old “helping” to nail down subflooring at the new home for my mom’s parents. Again, the whole family pitched in. When I was nine, an uncle on my dad’s side built a new home & that was especially memorable. My Aunt’s birthday was the day after Christmas & I clearly remember using the outhouse there when it was cold!
The old house did not have indoor plumbing, but my uncle splurged & put it into the new home. That was 1968. After that two more uncles on my mom’s side of the family built homes & by then I was in my teens. I spent a lot of hours on Saturdays helping to install insulation, hang drywall & nail shingles to the roof. Those were good times & fond memories.
After my stint in the U.S. Navy I moved back home & got into the electrical contracting business. I spent a lot more hours in the building industry & one day the carpenter on that job was telling me how carpenters are better than electricians. He asked if I knew why. When I didn’t have the answer he told me, “Jesus was a carpenter you know!” However, a clever reply came to mind & I told him that God was an electrician before He became a carpenter. Do you know why? Yeah, in just the 3rd verse of the whole Bible, Moses wrote, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ & there was light.” The carpenter had to admit I had him there.
The author of the book of Hebrews tells us, “…every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” The Bible never refers to God as an electrician, but it does call Him a builder – the builder of all things! For conservative Christians that naturally brings to mind the six 24 hour day creation of the world.
Yet, the author of Hebrews is speaking of far more than the ‘mere’ creation of all things in the universe. He also speaks of building the family of faith, the house of living stones. You may recall these words of the apostle Peter:
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV)
Compared to building a family, building a house is actually quite simple. In spite of needing plumbers, electricians, drywall mudders, carpet layers & painters, building godly character in spouses & children, in church members & church leaders, is infinitely more complicated. That Yahweh is the builder of that house too gives us courage & hope.
You will need that because you are part of that building program. In my family we spent a lot of time & energy on houses that one day will be gone. As part of God’s family you can help build a house that will last forever. We are not here in this house of God just to sing songs & say our prayers. We are here to be about the business of building God’s kingdom.
Here, in this service, our heavenly Father removes our sins of the past week. Then, He strengthens us for service in the coming week, because He knows of the temptations & the trials that Lucifer will be sending our way. God allowed Peter, James & John to witness the transfiguration of Jesus because that was a foretaste of heaven. They needed that to strengthen them for what was to come. Upon descending from this mountain Jesus sets His face toward Jerusalem because the time has arrived for Him to ascend the mountain of Calvary to die. Jesus Himself would need strengthening from angels as He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Devil was tempting the Son to resist the Father’s will, but Jesus submitted to His Father anyway. The disciples fell to the temptation as they slept while their Savior was praying. Christ helped His Father build the house by submission to the Father’s will. Satan does not want you or me to submit to God’s will in building the kingdom.
As with Adam & Eve Satan tempts us to try building our Lord’s kingdom in the way that we see fit. Human beings simply love to believe that they know what they are doing. Jesus submitted to His Father because you & I are incapable of doing so. Because of sin the Creator of heaven & earth has had to become an unconventional builder.
Our work, even when done on God’s behalf, always fails inspection – every time. The joy of working with Yahweh is that His wisdom & power are so great that He can work with our failures & still forth bring His will from them. That gives you freedom to work without fear of your failures. We don’t try to fail, but we don’t have to be afraid either.
St. Paul emphasized that point as he wrote to Timothy, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power & love & self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV) Self-control, love & power – those are qualities which our heavenly Father builds into His house. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV) God is the builder!
Believing in Jesus is not merely about believing that He’s real. It is also about believing in what Jesus is doing, right now, here, in this place, in your heart & in your day to day life. Whether you see that life as one of successes or sorrows, Jesus is working every day, each hour, as the clock ticks off one minute after another. “The builder of all things is God,” & as the builder of the living stones, it involves each aspect of your life. Jesus orders & directs your life & mine to bring forth His will, through us & often in spite of us. Do you believe that? Do you find peace in that? In fact, the most common command in the Bible is this, “Do not be afraid!”
Our lives are driven by our fears, & they should not be. That’s because most of us don’t really pay attention to what is going on here in God’s house. By our Lord’s design, we share in the process of building God’s church on earth, which is effectively also the building of God’s church in eternity. The two cannot be separated even if we don’t see them clearly.
Listen to these words from the Gospel reading, “Now Peter & those who were with him were heavy with sleep, (doesn’t that sound like church) but when they became fully awake they saw His glory & the two men who stood with Him.” He was experiencing a taste of heaven & St. Luke records what was going through Peter’s mind:
“‘Let us make three tents, one for you & one for Moses & one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said.” (Luke 9:33b ESV) With all the time & energy we spend in this life, don’t we just assume, that for the most part, we know what we are doing & saying? Peter wanted to make tents, while Jesus was making an eternal kingdom. What are you building? Will it last?
There was a priest in the OT named Eli, who acted as though he was building an earthly kingdom. His sons, who were in line to take over after him, were wicked men; scoundrels who paid no attention to the Lord. Since Eli did nothing to stop their wickedness, the Lord had them killed on the same day, by the Philistines, along with 30,000 Israelite soldiers.
You see, as God builds His house He does not hesitate to tear out any of the walls that are no longer serving their purpose. And yet, as Samuel prophesies to Eli that his sons will be killed, He also gives Eli this promise, “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart & in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, & he shall go in & out before my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel 2:35 ESV) If you don’t know, you should be able to guess whom that faithful priest would be. He’s introduced by the writer of today’s Epistle:
“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle & high priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him…” (Hebrews 3:1-2 ESV) At the transfiguration, Peter, James & John are shown to be part of the new tabernacle. They’re called to share in the glory of God’s Son; deriving their identity from Him.
But Messiah does not simply put them in a personal relationship with His Father; He brings them into a community to live together with one another & with the Holy Trinity. They do not only serve with Jesus as their High Priest in His heavenly sanctuary but are themselves, with Jesus, part of God’s heavenly temple. That’s what happens in God’s house each week.
You & I are brought together to live with Father, Son & Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God has come. It’s why the pastor speaks these words in the prayer right before the Sanctus: “Therefore with angels & archangels & with all the company of heaven we laud & magnify Your glorious name.” (LSB p. 208)
We say that because we believe & teach that they are participating with us even though we can’t see them. Gathered here in this place we are the household of God. Though our struggles & trials & temptations cause us great harm in this life, they cannot destroy us. At this moment, & all the days of our lives, we are living stones being built into the temple of God.
As long we lean upon Christ, nothing can destroy us. No one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s what Jesus was talking about when He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25 ESV) You see, our hope in Christ is not only that we will be set free from sin once we reach heaven. As members of His household we look to, & long for, the day when Jesus will make everything right & new again. On the last day God will finish recreating the entire universe as it was meant to be. And in that perfect world your bodies will return to life transformed in such a way that sickness & pain & fear will never be able to touch you again.
The house God is building even now will rejoice for eternity as death & decay will be no more. Until then we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of faith. He is the Way & the Truth & the Life. He is providing refuge for us in His house. Let us, the living stones, encourage one another, & all the more as we see the Day drawing near. Amen.
We are God’s house of living stones, built for His own habitation. He through baptismal grace us owns, heirs of His wondrous salvation. Were we but two His name to tell, yet He would deign with us to dwell with all His grace & His favor. Amen. LSB 645:3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet