7th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 9) LSB #’s 555:1-4, 524, LW #457
Text – Mark 6:2-3
And on the Sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, & many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary & brother of James & Joses & Judas & Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
ISN’T THIS THE CARPENTER?
Yesterday a child came out to wonder, caught a dragon fly inside a jar. Fearful when the sky was full of thunder & tearful at the falling of a star. Then the child moved ten times round the seasons, skated over ten clear frozen streams. Words like, “When you’re older,” must appease him, & promises of someday make her dreams.
Sixteen springs & sixteen summers gone now, cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town. And they tell him “Take your time, it won’t be long now, till you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”
And the seasons, they go round & round, the painted ponies go up & down. We’re captive on a carousel of time. We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came. And go round & round & round in the circle game. PAUSE
The lyrics were written by Joni Mitchell & some of you who were around in the 1960’s might even remember them. Their message, however, applies to every generation. Children grow up fast, & the point of the song is to highlight that fact so others might not fall into the same trap of taking their children’s early years for granted.
Things like changing a child’s diaper, & many others that are encountered in life, day after day after day, become so ordinary, so normal, expected & tedious, that we take them for granted. In fact, after awhile, we often fail even to notice. Some things become so ordinary that in effect, they cease to exist. And once things start ceasing to exist, once we lose that childlike sense of wonder about life, then we’ve started down the road to resentment. We begin to resent the very presence of those things we take for granted, because of the demands they place upon our time & our energy. We take, what are blessings from God, & turn them into curses because of our own self-centeredness, our own lack of appreciation & gratitude.
The song by Joni Mitchell is an attempt to remedy that. It’s an attempt to help us miss the water even before the well runs dry. Her lyrics are a wake up call to the reality & the blessing of the ordinary.
In reading the Gospel lesson, we find that Jesus has been taken for granted. He had become so common & ordinary to the people of His hometown that they were now resentful of Him. They objected to the miracles He was performing, & the wisdom of His teaching, because they had thought Jesus was just one of them.
“Isn’t this the carpenter?” might well be re-phrased, “Who does He think He is? Where does He get off on performing miracles?” He’s no better than any of us. Look, we have his mother & brothers & sisters right here.
It sounds like they were jealous. They envied the success of Jesus, because it only highlighted their lack of it. Jesus had appeared so ordinary, so much like one of them. They could not possibly accept that He was the Messiah. And no matter how many miracles He performed they were not going to change their opinion.
In fact, they hated Him all the more for having grown up just like one of them, yet succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. They resented the fact that He’d risen above them after having grown up with them, but the heart of the matter is this: they refused to accept the true identity of Jesus as the Chosen One.
In spite of what the people heard & saw from Him, they failed to penetrate the veil of
ordinariness that characterized Jesus. The everyday hum drum routine had dulled their perceptions, & their jealous, sinful nature was working to block any true understanding or appreciation of who this Jesus is. Isn’t this the carpenter?
Likewise today, many who don’t “get” anything out of church because of its ordinariness & routine, are struggling with the same problem. They’re taking for granted the blessings that God gives during worship. Those blessings have become so ordinary that people fail even to notice them. It’s as if the blessings no longer exist.
And when a person no longer recognizes the blessings of worship, then attending church becomes nothing more than a chore. At that point resentment sets in, but whether you are resentful of Jesus, or resentful of keeping the Sabbath holy, the problem is the same, & the problem is not with Jesus nor with church the services. The problem is with the sinner!
Just as sinful parents can take their child’s childhood for granted, & miss all the blessings of those years, people can take worship for granted & miss the blessings given by their Lord & Savior – blessings of life here in this world, & paradise in the next.
Just like it has to be pointed out to some parents not to view the growing up of their children as ordinary, dull or routine, it also has to be pointed out to church members not to view their attendance in the Lord’s house as ordinary, dull or routine.
King David wrote in Psalm 27, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD & to inquire in His temple.”
Those don’t sound like the words of a man who dismisses Sunday morning church as dull, routine or expendable, & Psalm 122 echoes that thought, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” So you might ask, “Why doesn’t God give all of us that gladness to be in His house? Why do I have to suffer with boredom in church or in practicing my faith?” The Apostle Paul gives some guidance in today’s Epistle reading: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9a ESV)
Weakness doesn’t sound like much of an answer to our human ears, does it? Yet, in the Gospel lesson the people were insulting Jesus as being weak, by calling Him a carpenter, & the son of Mary. Carpentry was considered a menial trade in that day, & it was contrary to Jewish custom to describe a man as the son of his mother, except in insulting terms.
Jesus entire life here on earth was one of weakness. He’d voluntarily chosen not to use His godly powers, in order to live His life as a man. The ultimate in weakness is for God to become one of His own creation.
So, if it seems weak for you to attend church every Sunday morning, if it seems weak for you to pray to God for guidance whenever you have a decision to make, think of the carpenter. Think on Jesus. His grace is sufficient for you as well. PAUSE
As it takes an incredible amount of patience to raise children before you see the results of your efforts, it also takes an incredible amount of patience to see the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying us & the rest of the whole Christian church on earth.
That incredible amount of patience is something neither you nor I have. Yet, in our weakness, the gift of patience that God gives is revealed as just that, a gift. Neither does God require of us strength or courage, for He gives those as well.
Therefore Paul writes, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, 10b ESV) Paul understood that it is in our weakness that we finally surrender to God’s will. When we recognize how truly helpless we are, then we realize we have nowhere else to turn; & it is through God’s power & will, that we are made strong for the journey. But, when the journey goes well, how quickly do we again take God’s power for granted & drift away from it? Eventually our strength produces more folly & more failure.
Our lives are an endless cycle just like the Circle Game. Our faith grows & then shrinks; it waxes & then wanes. The seasons go round & round & round. The painted ponies go up & they go down. It is true faith in that Christ carries us through. Faith in Christ is the carousel that takes us through the trials of life & on to our heavenly home.
Take a moment someday & reflect upon your life. Think on the seasons of your time here on earth & the frozen streams of time that you have crossed. Then write down the blessings your heavenly Father has given. Think about which of those blessings you planned out, & think about which of those blessings were a complete surprise.
Maybe your life has not been so ordinary after all. If you step back for a moment & look through the eyes of faith, you may find a new appreciation for your Lord & what He’s done for you. His truest work happened upon the wood of the cross. Isn’t that the carpenter? Amen.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, & drives away our fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole & calms the heart’s unrest; ’Tis manna to the hungry soul & to the weary, rest. Dear name! The rock on which I build, my shield & hiding place; my never failing treasury filled with boundless stores of grace. Amen. LSB 524:1-3.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 8) LSB #809
Text – Lamentations 3:27
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
BEARING THE YOKE
“God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Have you heard that before? It’s a clever way of emphasizing a particular quality of God’s character. In spite of the fact that we often use the word good to refer to various human beings, Jesus teaches that being good is a unique quality of God alone. In Mark 10:18 we read:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” (ESV) Jesus said, “No one!” Given that, by Jesus’ definition, ‘being good’ is such a rare quality I have a question for you. I’d like to challenge that saying “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Here’s the question: “How do you know that God is good?”
Did you notice how I emphasized the word ‘you?’ I don’t want an answer you might find in the Bible, however sound & theologically correct that may be. What I want to know is: “How do you know that God is good?” Yes, that is a personal question. Maybe it’s too personal for you to willingly answer, but I’m asking it anyway.
God sometimes guides your pastor to probe into your spiritual life to discover if anything is alive in there. It’s similar to a doctor probing a wound, which may cause pain, but he does it for the purpose of diagnosing the illness. Only after determining the problem can the doctor intentionally work to bring healing.
“How do you know that God is good?” All of God’s children should be able to answer that question, & most everyone should have at least a somewhat different answer. Our heavenly Father is not a one size fits all type of God. He knows each of you personally & individually. Yahweh custom designs a plan for every day of your life. For that reason each one of you should have a unique story to tell others which answers the question, “How do you know that God is good?” When the submarine I was on should have been blown to pieces, God rescued me from certain death. As a pastor out in North Dakota, God rescued me from certain burnout & despair.
Those are matters of temporal & temporary existence, but my Lord also rescued me from certain eternal destruction. He suffered in Hell in my place, & that all by itself proves that God is good. I came to know & understand that through my personal experiences during the entire six years I spent serving in the Navy. God’s house has been a precious place to me ever since.
You also have unique, detailed & personal stories of God’s goodness shown to you. Only you, no one else, can tell that story with the power of God behind it. You don’t have to be the prophet Jeremiah in order to let the people in your life know that God is good. The book of Lamentations is part of Jeremiah’s story, & as we study it, it helps us learn to tell our story.
It’s important to note, though we often refer to the events of our lives as ‘our story’ ultimately they are not ours, but the story of God as He works in & through our lives. Yahweh is the author, not just of your life, but of the story of your life. I’m not a fan of the KJV of the Bible, however, one aspect of it that is widely loved is the phrase, “And it came to pass.”
In the 396 verses of the Bible where that appears, it always introduces the reader to a significant event that God wants you to take notice of. Here are a few examples:
Genesis 4:8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, & slew him. (KJV)
Genesis 7:10 And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. (KJV)
Mark 1:9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, & was baptized of John in Jordan. (KJV)
To tell others how you know that God is good, all you have to describe is what has
“come to pass” in the days of your life. You can do it with confidence because God says He orders & directs our days. Telling others what has come to pass is easier if you regularly spend time thanking your Lord for the all the blessings He’s given you from the day of your birth till now. Practice what you’ll tell other people while you’re praying to your heavenly Father.
This is one of the ways Jeremiah said it: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” (3:22-23) Jeremiah is telling you how he knows that God is good. Now, we have to consider the context.
Jan & I used the song based on that text at our wedding, a common day of celebration & joy. Yet, Jeremiah is telling us how God is good on an occasion when few people will celebrate. He wrote as an eyewitness to the divine judgment on Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed, famine is in full swing, & the once great nation is now nothing more than a province of Babylon.
Under those circumstances, how on earth could Jeremiah know that God is good, let alone convince anyone else of it? First, the people of Judah had abandoned God for false idols, despising His love & blessing. Then, God brought judgment on them for their rebellion.
Flanked by 2 chapters on either side the 66 verses of Lamentations chapter 3 rise like cresting wave over a sea of tears. Lamentations is a book of five poems, each one an outburst of grief caused by the destruction of the city & the kingdom. It is a deeply emotional book, openly acknowledging the presence of weeping (1:7), groaning (1:8), & grief (2:11).
The OT is full of national & individual laments, all due to the corrosive effects of sin or the resulting discipline of a loving heavenly Father. The nation of Israel affirmed that suffering is real & significant. Though their language of lament can be shocking, & even offensive, to us (cf. Jer. 13:22-17; Psalm 137), it nevertheless pulsates with authenticity & transparency.
By means of these laments Israel’s public worship provided people with a venue to grieve
their losses. As a direct consequence, they were empowered to face enslavement & national humiliation & then to move on with the lives through which God was still blessing them. First Israel & then the church has placed these Biblical laments into our hands to correct any euphoric notions of faith we may harbor that portray the Christian life as one of only sweetness & light.
The texts are in Scripture so we avoid a one-sided, happiness-only view that fails to deal forthrightly with the harsh realities of life. If we lose these laments – by neglect or ignorance – we will lose Yahweh’s gracious gifts of comfort, guidance & healing. Sadly, Israel’s language of lament is largely absent from life in the middle-class church of the United States.
Worship often construes the Christian faith in the “major key” with melodies that are symmetrical, congruent & primarily geared toward peace & equilibrium. In some corners of the church liturgies & homilies do everything they can to avoid texts of lament.
Broken people who attend such churches arrive at this unavoidable conclusion: sorrow & lament belong somewhere else, anywhere else, but not in the church. By removing Israel’s “off-centered” texts of lament we are in danger of creating an exclusive rather than inclusive church.
We may be nurturing a church for mainstream people who are content & well positioned in the dominant culture of American capitalism. But what about people who live on the economic fringes of society, or whose lives are in emotional chaos? Their cries of pain & loss are not comfortable. Their presence is disturbing & thus unwelcome.
Why? Because their lament does not mesh with our pleasant & comfortable idea of “church.” By divorcing ourselves from Israel’s texts of lament, our worship services may be geared for the well & not the sick, for the whole & not the broken (cf. Matt. 9:12-13). This is strikingly antithetical to the Gospel.
It not only misses opportunities for healing & compassion, but refuses a hand of
solidarity to those experiencing divorce, unemployment, poverty, racism, or death. This disparity – between Israel’s texts of lament & our church culture – could be driving people away from our churches. People are crying out for an expression of the Christian faith that is honest, transparent & real. Whether they know it or not, these people are longing for texts of lament.
Human emotions are like a river flowing out of the heart. This river needs a “bank” so our feelings can take on depth & direction. Apart from Israel’s laments we’re left with our culture’s shallow expressions of loss, & are then stuck in meandering sorrow.
But with the words of Lamentations we have categories & expressions that allow our brokenness to come before Yahweh’s healing throne of grace. Through a renewed appreciation & use of Israel’s laments we become communities where weeping is allowed to endure for the long nights of life, while yet affirming that joy will come in the morning.
That joy which comes in the morning is the joy of the Easter resurrection! Then, our Lord’s own lament was turned into a song of everlasting deliverance (cf. Ps. 22:1, 24). For us who believe in Jesus as Lord & Savior, we will experience that resurrection in our own flesh & blood. But for this life, it is better that we bear the yoke while we are young.
What that means is this – we are far better off learning to submit to the will of the Lord early in life. A repentant heart is a gift from God, but it’s not an easy gift to receive. It runs against every grain of our sinful nature. Bearing the yoke is a figurative way of describing what it is to endure discipline & then to accept submission – submission to God’s infinite wisdom.
The songs of lament, in Holy Scripture, are there for our training & instruction, however bewildering & uncomfortable they may be. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the 1st born son of Adam & Eve murdered the 2nd born. They are words of real life in a world where it came to pass that the people God created murdered the Son He sent to rescue them. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” were words of lament spoken by that Son from the cross. The words we read & heard from Lamentations are words of repentance & submission, but they are also words of great joy & peace. They are the words of a peace that surpasses all human understanding.
“And when [Jesus] had entered, He said to them, ‘Why are you making a commotion & weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at Him. But he put them all outside & took the child’s father & mother & those who were with him & went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand He said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up & began walking…” (Mark 5:39-42 ESV)
You have similar stories, from your own lives, which clearly have taught you that God is good. You have similar stories, from the good old days, of times when you had to bear the yoke & yet received blessings from your heavenly Father, while you were bearing it, & again when He lifted it from your shoulders. There are people in your life dying to hear those stories. Amen.
Pardon for sin & a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer & to guide; strength for today & bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside! Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! Amen.
Armed Forces Sunday – 2018 LSB #848
Text – Isaiah 40:31
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.
THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH
The prophet Isaiah calls to mind the desperate circumstances of God’s people in Babylon. The people of Israel were captured & enslaved because of their disobedience. They were in a foreign land, but the Lord reminds His people they are not forgotten or abandoned. He will soon rescue them from bondage. This is a foretaste of the future fulfillment with Christ on the cross.
Today is a great day – a day of thankfulness! As redeemed children of God in Christ Jesus, forgiven & restored, we take time to acknowledge & say, “Thank you.”
Thank you 1st to our Lord Jesus for coming into the world to redeem us from our sins. “Thank you” for the men & women who serve & have served our nation. “Thank you” for their families, who stand beside them while they enter military service, deploy in harm’s way & return home. We are indeed a thankful people because, & by way of, our redemption in Christ.
As we gather in worship we hear God’s Law & are reminded of our fallen humanity & our sinfulness – helpless & pathetic, beat up & tired, authors of our own misery & threadbare due to our fallen condition. We are sinners. We are miserable for it & we deserve nothing but death, yet, we are not abandoned!
Our Lord comes to us & saves us from eternal death. The Son of God takes on the form of a servant & is the sacrificial lamb. Christ Jesus took our sins – all our sins – & nailed them to the cross. We are forgiven, redeemed & restored to everlasting life. We are indeed a thankful people. We join in confession of sins & receive absolution. What a comforting blessing!
We are assured pardon & peace in the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus on the
cross. Earlier, we heard words of Absolution in the liturgy. Absolution – spoken by the pastor – bought & paid for by Christ. As we are repentant, the words ring in our ears with joy-filled resonance. Through Jesus, whose death on the cross redeems us, we are lifted up as on eagles’ wings, pulled out of the quagmire of misery & death. We are so thankful.
In humility & thankfulness, we seek ways to live a new life made holy through the work & activity of Christ alone. We, as a congregation, acknowledge, give thanks to God, & call to mind those who serve in the military. As Lutherans, the powerful theology of the cross allows us to recognize the role of the military, & service to country, as good & godly.
A military commander once came to Martin Luther with questions concerning war, its barbarity, & the role that service personnel have in military conflict. Luther saw many of the concerns the commander witnessed among the soldiers in Wittenberg.
In 1526, he wrote a short essay titled “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.” It spoke of God’s words of promise, the deep, rich theology of the cross we have as Christians confronted by war, & it gave advice from a caring pastor to both enlisted personnel & officers.
Never one to sugar coat the violence & brutality of war, Luther described the role of those in the military as holy, godly & instituted by the Lord Himself. The following is what he said about all who serve their country in the armed forces:
“… when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, & creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to the love of Christ. But when I think of how it protects the good & keeps & preserves wife & child, house & farm, property, & honor & peace, then I see how precious & godly this work is.”
Luther understood the world as a place of sin & fallen humanity. He knew of the violence of war & in how ghastly a manner it devastates nations, institutions, the land & its
citizens. For help, Luther turned to Holy Scripture & found that Romans 13 tells us with clarity that God honors the sword.
Like people in Luther’s day, we also know about sin. We know about dissension & conflict. We know about war. It is horrific & never glorious – never actively sought by a godly nation – never seen as a solution when other opportunities present themselves.
All of you know someone who served in the military. Many know of men & women who died in service to our country. Some of you know those who were wounded. Still others know men & women who returned from harm’s way & were never the same.
There is no greater way to thank God & acknowledge those who serve than sharing from the prophet Isaiah: “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (Is. 40:31)
The words of Isaiah recorded in the 40th chapter are among the most famous passages in Scripture. The soothing promises of God are so powerful. They resonate in a culture looking for peace & consolation. Many people in our American society today are simply tired. They are worn out & fatigued by what they hear & see around them.
The causes of being worn out are endless, but we understand it as sin & the consequence of living in a fallen world. The words of Isaiah are in Holy Scripture to give encouragement to God’s people. By the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, things looked dismal for the children of God.
As a consequence of their rebelliousness, they are ripped away from the land of Israel & Jerusalem. Its temple is destroyed. The people are locked away in a foreign land. The war brought desolation, slavery & death. It was a crushing, humiliating defeat. At the time of this prophecy, they are enslaved to the rulers of Babylon.
Far from home with broken hearts, they long for restoration with God. They are a tired &
defeated people, but through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks words of consolation, restoration & peace. Chapter 40 is all about comfort, the steadfastness of God’s Word & promise. The chapter points to the coming of Christ. It reassures the people of the supreme power of the eternal Lord over nations & powers. God keeps & fulfills His promises.
Isaiah brought encouragement, reminding Israel – you still belong to the Almighty. As those redeemed by Christ, we need to hear the same promises! Due to our fallen humanity, it is essential to recognize God is in control of every aspect of our lives. Knowing that is a great comfort to those in all walks of life, including those who serve in the military.
Our men & women who serve do so voluntarily & keep us safe from our enemies. As Luther said in citing the book of Romans, service in the military is a godly, blessed vocation. It is not without peril or self-sacrifice, but it is a good thing to serve your nation. Those who serve need to hear the Good News that they, too, are granted life eternal through Christ Jesus.
Talk with those who serve our nation. They’ve all had experiences of being alone while guarding the frontiers of our freedom. They understand what it means to be weary & tired – standing watch when fatigued – pulling guard duty while “bone tired.”
They’ve scanned a perimeter while suppressing thoughts of home to stay focused on the mission, or analyzed laborious data with their heart elsewhere. Military service can be routine & boring. Walking patrols or standing watch for endless hours – sitting & waiting for everything from food to fuel to transportation. The monotony is often broken by terror & destruction.
Many Christians serve our country as leaders in the military. Caring for people under their charge they shoulder a unique burden – it is the leader who decides whom to place in harm’s way. This is just a small snapshot of the sacrifices in military service.
Hearing the words of Isaiah 40, “they shall renew their strength,” is such good news & it
is rooted in Christ our Savior. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles” has even worked its way into secular society & contemporary Christian music, yet, they don’t get it right.
Posters of Isaiah 40:31 adorn locker rooms & places of business, often with a sweeping portrait of a magnificent eagle. The bird is lifting high, soaring above a rugged, impassable mountain. The phrase “on eagles’ wings” is scrolled on the poster in waxing calligraphy. It’s as if to say: “It’s going to be alright. Keep trying. You can do it.”
Eventually, you’ll soar above obstacles if you try hard enough. Your personal best will happen, & you will meet your sales quota.” So much more is going on in this verse than achieving goals & overcoming obstacles. This is a verse about God & His plan of salvation – a plan which you do not have the capability to accomplish.
“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint” is about the promise of God that frees the children of Israel from captivity.
It’s about the promise of God that points to the cross & the sending of a Messiah which free humanity from bondage & slavery to sin. That guaranteed freedom is the force & power behind words of such comfort & peace. As Christians, we know this well.
Hymn writers know the beauty of God’s promise in Isaiah 40. There are over 250 hymns in the English language attributed to it! Among the more popular are “Fight the Good Fight,” “From All That Dwell Below the Skies,” “On Eagles’ Wings” & “This Is My Father’s World.” All revolve around God’s promise & His activity to rescue humanity through Jesus.
Years ago, the Academy Award-Winning film “Chariots of Fire” used Isaiah 40:31 in an artistic manner. A picture was painted to illustrate human strength compared to & against the eternal might of God. Imagine if you will, the words of Isaiah 40:31 read aloud while scenes of the great hopefuls in Britain’s Olympic team suffer humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat. These strong, powerful men lose races, tumble over in mud-covered embarrassment, & are soaked in inconsolable grief – all those years of training & hopes crushed. The text of Isaiah 40, in this case, captures the themes of futility, loss & inconsolable grief.
The prophet Isaiah wants you to hear God’s Good News of “Christ alone” forgiveness. That is what strengthens us. That is what lifts us up. It is the greatest act of love in human history. It is Christ’s suffering & death on the cross that reconciles you to God. It is His wings! It is His bearing! God is lifting us up through Christ while He is on the cross.
Clearly, Isaiah prophesies about a great & wonderful act only accomplished by God. This magnificent deed is achieved only through Jesus. Hear again the words of Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.”
Today is a day of giving thanks. Be thankful for those who took up our country’s call to serve nation & family. Be thankful for the love of God in Christ Jesus, whom the prophet Isaiah personifies. By Christ’s death, we are renewed to life everlasting. We shall run & not be weary. We shall walk & not faint – in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. As we worship, grant us vision, till Your love’s revealing light in its height & depth & greatness, dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs & burdens Your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving, Your abundant life to share. Amen. LSB 848:1 & 3.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 6) LSB #693
Text – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Something that really hit me this year is that high school graduates are like a calendar. They’re showing me how much time has passed away since I arrived at St. Matthew. People like Nea Harris & Reid Thelen were only four years old when I became the pastor here. They weren’t even in kindergarten yet. Now, they’ve graduated.
Every day another day passes away, but taken 24 hours at a time it’s barely noticeable. If you take it in 14 year chunks, a lot of things have changed. For example, I’ve officiated at 64 funerals in that time. As seen by the world, there hardly is a greater change for any human being than transitioning from life here on earth to life in the hereafter.
Several prominent people have committed suicide recently so the media is all over that issue. It’s tragic because for the world there is little hope for a person once death arrives. That person’s creativity & gifts, whatever they may have been, are gone forever!
When it comes to important people, the world wishes it could stop such senseless loss. However, unimportant people die every day & the news media does not blink an eye. Further revealing a heartless nature, powerful forces in our culture encourage death as an answer to suffering. Assisted suicide laws are promoted & held up as the answer to your pain & misery.
On the other hand, Jesus taught, “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) God’s Son does not close a blind eye to our suffering, & He does not encourage us to die just to get away from it. Instead, He tells us to take heart. He encourages us not to be afraid because He has overcome world. What Jesus means by that is this – He has overcome everything that brings suffering in this life. Whether that is cancer or mental illness, selfishness or greed, tyranny & war & betrayal, all of them have been overcome. Name the worst thing that has ever happened to you, or the worst thing that ever could. Jesus has already overcome that very thing.
It’s not that difficult to agree to in theory. It’s when trying to put it into practice that problems arise. Emotions get in the way. Other people get in the way. Satan begins to stir the pot. You start to feel like you’re being taken advantage of. You feel as if life is starting to slip away because old age takes its toll on your abilities.
It’s just human nature in this broken world – we tend to focus so much on what is passing away, on what we are losing, that we totally ignore & miss what it is that we are gaining. There’s a saying meant to help us come to grips with that: “If one door is closing, another one is opening.” Don’t kid yourself, it is a battle not to lose hope because of the effects of sin.
You experience that warfare on a daily basis even if you are not consciously aware of it. Even if you do not connect the dots from the problems of life to the Word of God, the Bible is all about the spiritual warfare going on in your life. But the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write so you would be encouraged in your daily walk with Jesus.
Paul wrote that the old things of sin, death & the devil have passed away, because they are only temporary. They have nothing at all to do with the glorious life that awaits us in heaven. Don’t bother your soul by worrying over the things that are passing away. Stay focused on the things to come, & then consciously be about the work of God’s eternal kingdom.
Everything you spend money on in this life will one day be gone. Yet, the talents & abilities that our heavenly Father has given to you will not be gone once you die. We will have all of forever & ever to put them to use to the honor & glory of Yahweh who created us. So if you believe God’s Word that your old self has passed away, that the self-centered you is dead, then what is alive within you? Our Creator tells us: “[Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died & was raised.” Does your living bring honor & glory to the One who rescued you from sin & death?
When thinking about the calendars you are using to evaluate the blessings of life, do you mainly focus on that which you are losing, or on that which you are gaining? Do you focus on the past, or do you focus on the future? Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday & today & forever! He is there with you no matter which calendar you measure your life by.
Whether we realize it or not, we choose our attitude on many occasions throughout each & every day. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That is what Baptism, in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, has done to you. The new has come.
The specific problem that St. Paul is addressing in the reading from 2 Corinthians is twofold: some Christians have not accepted the responsibilities of being an ambassador of Christ; others have lost sight of the reason for their serving as an ambassador of Christ. Without a proper focus on Jesus, it becomes easy to do nothing at all, or to serve for the wrong reasons.
Jesus love, demonstrated by dying for us on the cross, is the source of our reconciliation to God. As Jesus passed away, so did the old life that we used to live. We are no longer afraid of our future, nor are we afraid of losing our past. In Jesus they are the same, forever! That is true because our identity is defined by our Lord’s love for us.
You & I are not defined by what we do, nor by what we fail to do. Either of those would leave us without our Creator for all eternity. We are defined by the fact that Christ Jesus chose us to be His own in His kingdom, & He made that costly choice by shedding His blood. Taken 24 hours at a time His choice is barely noticeable to us. If you take it in 14 year chunks, the almighty God has accomplished a lot of things through you. The entire Sonshine Childhood Center program did not exist here 14 years ago. The enrollment at Holt Lutheran School has gone down & up & down & is currently on the upswing again.
Many people that were with us 14 years ago have now safely reached the shores of eternal life instead of the shores of eternal death. The entire, eternal future of children who’ve gone through our programs has been changed dramatically. Vacation Bible School has become Soccer Camp. A congregation of Ethiopian Christians is worshipping God in our building.
Members have grown in their faith through serving on boards & committees, as well as through serving in hundreds of different ways in meeting all the needs of operating a school & childcare center. People of all ages have gone on mission trips to foreign countries; & served right here in Michigan, or other areas of the United States.
Members have gone on to be pastors & teachers & family life ministers. Members are raising children to know Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior. They are also caring for aging parents, or aunts & uncles. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
And the new keeps on coming, each & every day, new life, new faith, new blessing! Yes, we still see our sins. We feel them. We suffer from them & with them. But we also know that they do not define our lives. We now perceive the world differently because we are secure, no longer driven by fear. Such faith is of God & belongs to His new creation.
You see, salvation is not merely a matter of bookkeeping. Yes, your sins have been erased, but the effect of that is so much more than just an entry in God’s ledger book. It changes your heart & you see things differently, in a way that was not possible before Christ saved you. When God reconciles us to Himself by forgiving our sins, He is not employing an accounting trick. He is giving us a new identity. You are a new creation because He says you are. A new identity brings with it a new way of looking at the world. Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a ESV)
What sort of things serve as calendars in your life? What do you use to measure the passage of time? Then, how do you respond to it? Certainly, all of us are getting older, every second of every day, which means we are getting closer to passing away. We can focus on, & regret, what we seem to be losing. Or, we can focus on & look forward to what we are gaining.
Just one chapter earlier St. Paul wrote:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Amen.
Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar & will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, & I myself will plant it on a high & lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches & produce fruit & become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, & make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, & make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it.” Amen. Ezekiel 17:22-24
 2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
 2 Corinthians 5:16-18 ESV
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 869, 615, 689
Text – Mark 3:28-30
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, & whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
THE ETERNAL SIN
I was visiting at the county jail, in Rugby, ND, & as we were discussing the ways in which God had blessed one of the men there, one of the other inmates started scoffing & laughing: “God & the Bible, all that stuff’s a crock. It’s just a bunch of myths & fairy tales. Where’s God? What good has He done you? You are in jail!”
That 2nd inmate is an obvious example of unbelief, & most of us in the church seldom encounter unbelief that blatant, because we don’t hang out with that sort of person. It was rather surprising to me because even at the jail, it was the 1st time I’d had the opportunity of talking to someone that willing to outright condemn God & Holy Scripture.
Listening to this man, you quickly find out that he’s very intelligent & not afraid to speak his mind. However, he lacks the fear of the Lord that brings wisdom according to what Scripture so clearly teaches. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to talk to him because of his honesty. He wasn’t playing games trying to convince the “pastor” that he’s actually a good guy.
Yet, beneath all the facade of his gruff attitude, it seems that he really was interested in learning what our church teaches. That’s actually a lot more than I can say for many so-called Christians I have known. As C. S. Lewis wrote, many Christians seem to have been inoculated with just enough religion to keep them from getting the full-blown variety.
The unbeliever at jail wasn’t afraid of sin because he did not believe in it. Many
Christians though also live their lives without fear of sin; at least of certain sins – ones like failing to keep the Sabbath day holy, or failing to hold Scripture sacred & gladly hear & learn it. Those sins bring no fear to many Christians I know, & it hurts to watch them recklessly endanger their spiritual lives in that way. At least the inmate at the jail was honest about it, & willing even to discuss it openly. In only two one hour sessions, he asked me far more questions about theology than a lot of church members have in 19 years of being a pastor.
I don’t believe that’s because those other people already know everything they need to, & given their general lack of interest, their actions prove them no better than a rank unbeliever, locked up in jail.
Unbelief is an insidious problem. It creeps into even the lives of baptized children of God. It sneaks in & when we’ve been seduced into thinking everything is okay, when we’ve become complacent & disconnected from our Lord, then it strikes with a vengeance. Its victims often have no idea where to turn, because they are no longer familiar with God.
For 8 years, Sally had been the Romero family pet. She was only a foot long when they brought her home, but she grew & grew until eventually reaching a length of 11 feet & weighing 80 pounds.
One day Sally turned on 15 year old Derek & strangled the unsuspecting teenager to death. Police said that the Burmese python was quite aggressive, hissing & reacting when they arrived to investigate the boy’s death.
Sin, is like that snake. When a particular one first enters our lives, we think of it as harmless, almost cute. Yet, it doesn’t stay small. Sin has a way of growing, & though we think we can handle it, in fact, it begins to handle us. And it always leads to death; sometimes physical but often to emotional death.
If sin & unbelief are not confessed & forsaken, they will bring spiritual death. That’s why James warned us that sin, when it’s full grown, brings forth death. His purpose in saying that was not to spoil our fun, but to preserve our lives & the fun that God alone can give. The fun that our heavenly Father gives is the true joy, peace & contentment of being in Christ.
Are you living your life in Christ, connected to Him daily? Have you drifted away, unnoticeably? Is your Bible in mint condition? Is the snake growing in your life, waiting for that opportune moment to strike for the kill? When is it that a Christian crosses that line from belief to unbelief? How close are you to that line?
Most of us are closer than we care to know. I don’t believe there’s that much difference between you & me & the inmate who was scoffing about fairy tales in the Bible. Today’s gospel lesson speaks of Jesus’ own family thinking He was out of His mind. If His own family thought that, it shouldn’t surprise us to find ourselves in the same boat.
What kind of priority does the mission of your church take in your daily schedule? Or, does it seem ridiculous that God should expect you to make painful sacrifices in order to serve Him? Does God’s command to worship Him every Sunday seem like a fairy tale? Maybe that inoculation against the effects of true Christianity has taken hold in your life.
Even though you may be a Christian, unbelief still exists in your heart. The seed is still there, waiting to be watered, waiting for the opportunity to grow & take over your soul. Have you been taking for granted the forgiveness of your sins? Have you been abusively taking advantage of Christ’s death through an unfaithful life?
The pastor at my home congregation once attended the funeral of a young man who’d been living life in the fast lane. His priest said that he knew little of the man because he was seldom in church. This man’s life ended on a fast note, crashing into a train while leaving 91 feet of skid marks on the road behind him.
The danger of ignoring God, & continuing in your sin is that when you live your life that
fast – & you suddenly realize you are heading for a train – 91 feet of locked up brakes is not enough to turn your life around. Unbelief can take over your soul, & eventually, God gives people over to their sinful desires. He will only brook rejection for so long.
Where do you stand today? Is God just a crock in your life? Do you believe His promises are nothing more than fairy tales? Are His laws just the words of some kind of self-righteous control freak?
The teachers of the law, in the Gospel reading, claimed that Jesus was casting out demons by the prince of the demons, rather than by the Holy Spirit. It was some kind of set-up to deceive people. No one could truly drive out demons. That idea was only a myth. As such, those teachers were blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
That sin is eternal because refusing to accept the Holy Spirit means that you’ve rejected God’s means of grace. Yahweh has chosen to create faith in a person’s heart only through the work of His Spirit. As long as you reject that Spirit, you remain in unbelief. No man is able to come to faith of his own accord, & without faith, a man is truly dead.
Thus it is at the end of the gospel reading as Jesus’ family comes looking for Him again. Jesus answers, “Who are my mother & my brothers?” Here they are, as He points to those seated around Him, intently listening to His words & following His teaching.
They believe in Christ as their Savior, unlike His mother & brothers, who consider Him crazy, & unlike the Pharisees who claim that Jesus is in league with the devil. They are lost in their unbelief & will remain there as long as they continue to reject the work of God’s Spirit.
The same is true today of anyone who rejects the Spirit God. Our Lord has promised to send Him through the preaching & the teaching of His Word, through the waters of baptism & through the body, blood, bread & wine of His Holy Supper. That Spirit, working through those
means, teaches you who Christ is. Who is this Jesus? That’s the main theme of the book of Mark. As of the 3rd chapter, the Pharisees & Jesus’ own mother & brothers cannot answer that question accurately. Jesus rejects them as His own. They are guilty of that eternal sin called unbelief.
Though you have been brought to faith through the power of God’s Word & God’s baptism, you can fall away & Scripture records that such a person is worse off than before they were ever converted. That’s a fearful thought, & entirely opposite of God’s will for His children.
This morning, Jesus is pleading with you to gather around Him faithfully, listening to His Word & partaking of His body & blood for the strengthening of your physical & spiritual selves. He’s calling you to forsake your sinful desires, to persevere in the race to the crown of life. He’s gone there ahead you. He’s defeated the powers opposed to you.
But, He does not treat you like a slave & control your obedience. He allows you to respond willingly to the love that He’s shown you. He guides you, He protects you & He blesses you, all out of love for you – His creation. He’s awaiting you at the final resurrection, & He has already guaranteed you a room in His mansion. Will you believe?
Don’t wait until the train of death is only 91 feet away. Jesus has already sacrificed His life. Will you believe that the blessings of Jesus are more than a fairy tale? Amen.
Then is our comfort this alone that we may meet before Your throne; to You O faithful God, we cry for rescue in our misery. Amen. LSB 615:2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet