7th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 912, 490, 645
Text – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44a
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
RAISED IN GLORY
As I was growing up, it was a springtime ritual, just before Memorial Day, to head off to the cemeteries for cleaning around the family gravesites. The debris from the winter snows would be cleared away. The ground would be worked & flowers planted. The ritual was performed out of a sense of duty & respect for the final resting place of those buried there.
However, that springtime ritual also provided a time to reflect upon the lives of, & the blessings received through the efforts of, the family members whose earthly remains are resting there. Gravesites can help to make a connection with the past, & human personalities are much more balanced if they have a positive sense of connection to their past.
As a child I wasn’t aware of any of that, yet somehow I sensed the importance of that ritual. It created in me a desire to know what my connection was to what had passed already before I was born. In my youth, there was only one grandparent buried there, but since that grandfather had passed away before I arrived, I knew nothing of him from personal experience.
The few memories I have are from the stories told about him. Even pictures of him are few & far between. The connections to that part of my past are also few & far between.
So, as my father would be working around the cemetery, I used to look at the tombstone & wonder what my grandfather had been like. What kind of man had he been? Would we have been friends? Would we have shared jokes with one another? Would he have taught me things like the carpentry he used to practice?
The tombstone never answered. It remained silent, quietly mocking the questions of a
young child. Yet, I have special memories of those trips to St. John’s cemetery. Apparently, that springtime ritual established a connection to the past for me. That connection has gone with me wherever I have lived, & I still cherish it.
What connections might you have with those who’ve gone on before you? What do you know & understand of your past that guides you in the present? PAUSE
Pictures of cemeteries often focus on the orderly appearance of row after row of tombstones, all lined up, one after the other. It’s as if they are marching in a grand procession toward eternity. If you consider the world’s history, the events which have unfolded one after the other throughout time, you’ll also see a grand procession of life that leads but to the grave.
Reading the 5th chapter of Genesis we see it put in some very stark terms:
“Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, & then he died. Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, & then he died. Enosh lived 905 years, & then he died. Kenan lived 910 years, & then he died. Mahalalel, & then he died. Jared, & then he died. Methuselah, & then he died. Lamech, & then he died.”
Moses is hammering the point. The wages of sin is death, & Moses is making, for us, a connection with our past. A past filled with the unavoidable reality of death. Adam brought sin into our world & thus all men die. That is our inheritance from Adam. Our own tombstones mock us, silently bearing witness to the death that will come.
But we need that connection with our past, gruesome as it may be, in order to instruct us of our inability to please God & our inability to add even one hour to our lives through our own strength or ingenuity. The events of our lives too, marching along one after the other, can be viewed as but a grand procession towards death.
That brings a grim & hopeless picture to mind. That’s why so many people avoid even
the mention of the word death. That’s why people stay away from hospitals, nursing homes & cemeteries, because at those places it can be extremely difficult to avoid the subject. However, our Savior, Jesus Christ did not avoid death. He confronted it on our behalf.
Even Moses, in the 5th chapter of Genesis, does not leave us with only the words, “and then he died.” That rhythm of death, that rhythm of punishment, is broken by these words. “Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”
Moses gives you an example of eternal life in the midst of this narrative on death. In spite of the grand procession of death, there is hope for us. In spite of appearances, for those who walk with God, death is not the final answer. The Resurrection IS. And so today’s text emphasizes that those who follow Jesus will be “raised in glory.”
A grain of wheat that’s planted in the ground bears no visual resemblance to the plant that emerges. Yet that stalk of wheat is connected to its past. It carries the same genetic code as the seed which was buried. Likewise, our resurrected bodies will be so glorious, so different from what they are now, that it will be like comparing a grain of wheat to the stalk that emerges.
There’ll be continuity, in that it’ll be our own body which God raises up for us. We will have a connection to our past, yet it will be a very different body at the same time. It will be incorruptible, glorious & powerful. We’ll leave behind even the possibility of being corrupted, dishonored or weakened.
All of us have more experience than we care to of our natural bodies: false teeth or hair, makeup or cologne, loosening skin yet joints tightened up with arthritis. In this life we wear the image of Adam, & in today’s text, Paul reminds us that Adam was created of the dust of the earth. Paul is recalling the words of Genesis 3, “For you are dust & to dust you shall return.” The only language that a tombstone speaks is the silent one of death. The hopes & the dreams, the doubts & the weakness that we bury there all turn to dust. Though we may care for the gravesite out of duty & respect, sin has destroyed those hopes, those dreams & that life as we conceive of it.
But then, Paul declares that in the next life, we shall wear the image of Christ, the man of heaven. When the Holy Spirit, the Lord & giver of life, raises our natural body, it will take on an entirely different form as we’re given a spiritual body as He has determined.
It’s that spiritual body which we long for as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “and I look for the resurrection of the dead & the life of the world to come.” Jesus is the heavenly prototype of that new creation; that new life to come. He recreates our hopes & our dreams. He will bring a future far more glorious than our past.
While we’re still on this earth, Christ has given His body & His blood to strengthen us. He means to preserve our faith in Him as the hope for eternal life. For Jesus knows that there are many fears & doubts in this life aside from the grave. The devil would use those doubts & fears also to draw us away from our true Savior.
Satan would have us sever our connection with the past – the Godly relationship created in the waters of our baptism. So at funerals as well as baptisms, we recite the Apostle’s Creed in order to remind us of our status as children of the Almighty God.
Some churches light a candle at funerals as a reminder of the candle that was lit at baptism. Other churches cover the casket with a white cloth to remind people of the white baptismal gown that many families used to pass down from generation to generation.
The color white signifies the robe of righteousness that all believers wear even now as a gift from our brother & Savior Jesus Christ. That robe of righteousness is a picture of the new & glorious body which we will wear at the Resurrection. The wonderful changes anticipated then shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, at creation, God spoke & things came into existence out of nothing. At the Resurrection, God will speak again.
Then, no more shall we be clothed in the filthy rags of our sins. For when Christ returns we shall be raised in glory to see Him face to face with our own eyes.
I haven’t visited the grave of my father’s parents for many years now. I hope that’s because I’ve come to grips with the reality of the past & of my own death to come. I am certain that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, holds them both in His hands. And I know this – being in the hands of Jesus is a glorious place to be. Amen.
Jesus lives, the vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be our confidence. Amen. LSB 490:1.
6th Sunday after Epiphany – C LW #370, LSB #’s 770, 643
Text – Luke 6:20-22
And He lifted up His eyes on His disciples, & said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you & when they exclude you & revile you & spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”
BLESSED ARE YOU
With a sermon text as depressing as the one just read, it’s no wonder that many people want nothing to do with religion. Being poor, hungry & weeping doesn’t sound like any fun at all; let alone being hated, excluded & insulted. And to much of the world, that’s probably the picture they have of what it is to try & be religious.
Being religious can seem like such a downer because you always have to feel responsible for the bad things happening in the world, & somehow, you should be fixing everything. The work never ends. That kind of thinking is inherent in the philosophy called Humanism. It is the natural religion found in the heart of any sinful human being.
And we’re seeing a lot of it in the media today.
Jesus even said, “The poor you will always have with you.” So people are tempted to say, “Let someone else take care of them. I have enough problems of my own.”
I’m too busy, too tired, too bored & I have no desire to become poor or hungry on top of it. As for this business of being hated & insulted, it seems that people in the church bring that upon themselves. They are always fighting about trivial things like the color of the carpeting or the paint; who gets to sit in which chair or who’s gossiping about whom.
If religion is about all that, I’ll just take my chances without the church & all them Bible thumping types. Have you ever thought of religion, or religious people, in that way? Some people do. If the pastor is around, do you feel a need to be on your best behavior? And isn’t that uncomfortable; trying to be someone that you are not? Blessed are the poor, the hungry & the weeping. A Minnesota governor once said, “Religion is just a crutch for weak people.”
A lot of people have a very inadequate understanding of what religion is about. There are all kinds of myths & attitudes that claim to tell it like is. Do you think our denomination might include members who have no clue what is really at the heart of ‘being religious?’
Some of the materials I studied for writing this sermon came right out & said it this way: “In these beatitudes, Jesus is teaching that in order to have eternal life the rich must give their money to the poor.”
Too bad that’s an inaccurate interpretation of Scripture. I could raise some money with a text interpreted that way. But many people are on to that. They believe that all the church is after is money. They will not set foot in a church because some congregations have twisted what Jesus really meant when He spoke the words of the sermon text.
Blessed are the poor does not mean that only those with no money are granted the gift of eternal life. The Gospel of Matthew states things a little more completely where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
We had a great example of the poor in spirit from last week’s Gospel text. Peter finally recognized just how lowly a sinner he was. He realized that he didn’t even deserve to be in the presence of the Son of God. Peter had absolutely nothing of any value to offer to Christ. Peter came to understand just how poor he was.
Blessed are the poor in spirit who know that they deserve nothing. Those are not the militant poor that are rioting in the streets for their rights. They’re not the poor who’re looting & stealing. The poor whom Jesus is talking about are those who are humble & have submitted
to the will of God. Jesus told a parable about such a man:
“But the tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast & saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man & not the Pharisee went home free from his sin. For everyone who honors himself will be humbled; but he who humbles himself will be honored.” (Luke 18:13-14)
Someone who’s poor in spirit recognizes that they deserve not one single right or honor. Someone who’s poor in spirit has already been humbled & accepted it. That person trusts in nothing but God alone. This morning’s word from Jeremiah says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.”
He’ll be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. That tree, that man, that woman or that child is whom Jesus is talking about when He says, “Blessed are the poor.” Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, & cursed is the one who trusts in man, whose heart turns away from the Lord.
Trusting in God is easy to talk about. Being poor, hungry & weeping are things that are painless to only talk about. Living them is never so convenient. Living them takes a strength that few of us care to develop. It seems much easier to be rich, well fed & enjoying laughter. Yet Jesus warns those who are living the good life.
There, Jesus is speaking of those who’re confident of their own abilities. They’re people who do not turn to the Lord, because they believe they have things pretty much under control without Him. They’re unwilling to accept their complete helplessness apart from God.
These people find good in themselves, & take comfort in their own works & efforts. These are often the people who appear successful, but appearances can be an illusion as Jesus makes clear in His beatitudes: “Woe to you who are rich, well fed, laughing & spoken well of
by others.” Human beings who are self-sufficient are those who will suffer divine judgment.
That means hell. Have you been longing to be self-sufficient & independent? That is part of the American dream, & the desire lives in the heart of every sinful being.
In His sermon, Jesus contrasts the two kinds of people. The 1st group are those who, by outward appearance, are to be pitied. They are Christians & thus occupy a deplorable position in the eyes of the world. They foolishly believe things like; God created the world in six 24-hour days; or sexual relationships are only for a married man & woman.
But in the eyes of Jesus they are blessed because of what’s already given to them, the Kingdom of God, eternal life & all the gifts that come with it. PAUSE
The 2nd group are the movers & shakers of government, business & society. They are envied for their wealth, fame & beauty. They talk boldly because they are self-satisfied & have no need for mercy from God, let alone from anyone else. But in the eyes of Jesus, they have already received all of their reward here on earth.
Luke’s Gospel is holding forth the two ways, the way of life & the way of death. We should realize that our lives are filled with these two alternatives, & these alone. In Jesus, & in His teaching, He’s offering us the way of light & life.
The poor & the hungry are men who, both outwardly & inwardly, are painfully deficient in the things essential to life as God meant it to be. Since they cannot help themselves, they turn to God on the basis of His promises. It’s in that turning to God that Jesus declares they are blessed, because our Lord provides everything for eternity to everyone who trusts in Him.
That turning to God is one of the gifts of faith. It’s an inward attitude of obedience to God’s Word. It is repentance. It is belief, & it causes men to rejoice & to leap for joy; at least men like Peter. People who understand how pitiful they were, & still are, without God’s declaration that we are holy & perfect in His sight. That declaration by God is made on account of the perfection of Jesus, our brother & Savior. That declaration is made on account of God’s love for us, not upon our love for God. The beatitudes, therefore, are not merely guidelines for how we are to live & act.
The intent of the beatitudes is both to comfort people who suffer for being Christians, & to invite people to become Christians so they will find that their needs are met by the works of God rather than their own. That news brings a freedom difficult to describe. It’s a freedom that is cause for true joy, & even a little jumping around.
That sort of attitude, that kind of faith, is what’s really at the heart of being religious. Being religious comes from an understanding of what Christ has done for us, & we are blessed by that understanding. We are blessed by the Lord of the universe Himself. A beatitude describes Gospel gifts that are given to each & to every believer.
When Jesus utters a beatitude, His spoken words actually convey the blessing of which they speak, just as they grant communion with, & create faith in, God. Most of the beatitudes draw on the theme of the great reversal. That’s prominent in the language of this text. The hated & persecuted should leap for joy – a paradox only saving faith can comprehend.
Just as the parables are nonsense to unbelievers, so also the beatitudes are ludicrous to those outside the kingdom of God. The theology of the beatitudes is the theology of the cross. It’s foolishness to the world, but to those who’re being saved it is the wisdom & power of God.
In the gospel lesson several weeks ago, Jesus announced that He came to proclaim the Good News to the poor. As He read that prophecy of Scripture to them, it was fulfilled as they heard it. Today again, Jesus is proclaiming good news to the poor. Blessed are you! The problem you may have is in identifying with the poor. Are you poor in spirit? Are you ready to admit that? If not, turn to the One who was poor in our place. Look to Jesus Christ as He humbled Himself with His birth in the manger & with His death on the cross. Look to Christ Jesus as He endured the ultimate in suffering because of His love for you.
Then, listen to His words as they convey to you the very blessings of which they speak. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the reign of God. Amen.
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Amen. LSB 770:1.
5th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 610, 615, 915
Text – Isaiah 6:10
Make the heart of this people dull, & their ears heavy, & blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, & hear with their ears, & understand with their hearts, & turn & be healed.”
THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE
People find it encouraging, as they walk in the Christian faith, to cite these words from Isaiah 55: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, & without succeeding [in the matter] for which I sent it.” (v. 11 NASB) They’re reassuring because we naturally think of those words in the positive sense.
We gladly picture how the Word is carried out into the world & converts people, bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior. Yet, there is also a negative side to what God’s Word will accomplish, & it is the same prophet Isaiah who shares that Word with us in the sermon text: “Make the heart of this people dull, & their ears heavy, & blind their eyes…”
Immediately after Isaiah exclaims, “Here am I! Send me,” God commands Isaiah, “Go, & say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” For Christians who’ve been conditioned all the days of our believing, to go & make disciples of all nations, it seems hardly comprehensible that those are also The Word of God.
They are startling words of frightening consequence: “Make the heart of this people dull, & their ears heavy, & blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, & hear with their ears, & understand with their hearts, & turn & be healed.” It truly sounds like God does not want His own people to be saved. There must be a poor translation somewhere!
That’s how we think of it when we only interpret Isaiah 55:11 in the positive sense, as bringing people to faith: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, & without succeeding [in the matter] for which I sent it.” Sadly, not everyone who hears the voice of Jesus turns back to Him. In such a case, has the Word of God failed? Has it returned to Him empty? If He is God it cannot do so. It must accomplish what Yahweh desired.
It is His will that people face judgment for their unbelief if they reject the Word, which reveals the love & the sacrifice of God, demonstrated on the cross. Judgment is referred to as the ‘alien’ work of God because He never intended for that to be the end result of His creation. Satan rebelled & brought judgment upon himself. Those who follow him receive the same.
And that judgment comes also through the Word of God as it goes forth. In cases of unbelief the Word of Yahweh does not return to Him empty because that same Word will be a witness of that person as they reject the Word of the Lord. Jesus explained this in John 15:
“If I had not come & spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (15:22 ESV) Jesus tells us that men are guilty & have no excuse for their sin because He came & spoke His Word to them. His Word does not return empty. Men either reject His Word, or they receive the saving faith it brings.
It’s in that context, in that reality, in that state of affairs which Isaiah receives his Word from the Lord. King Uzziah has just died after a 50 year reign. The southern kingdom of Judah is afraid. Who will now defend them? In chapter 5, the Holy Spirit has Isaiah describe the manner in which the nation of Judah will be destroyed by their enemies at God’s command:
“He will raise a signal for nations far away, & whistle for them from the ends of the earth; & behold, quickly, speedily they come! None is weary, none stumbles, none slumbers or sleeps, not a waistband is loose, not a sandal strap broken; their arrows are sharp, all their bows bent, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, & their wheels like the whirlwind. Their roaring is like a lion, like young lions they roar; they growl & seize their prey; they carry it off, & none can rescue. They will growl over it on that day, like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness & distress; & the light is darkened by its clouds.” (5:26-30 ESV)
It is then that chapter 6 opens with the scene in the heavenly temple. If the people are
looking for a king, here He is, but Yahweh has tried His people, found them guilty, & will punish them. When the Word of the Lord is continually rejected, the capacity to hear & understand it will die. In its long history, the nation that once was God’s people has arrived at this point.
They are God’s people no longer. There’s only one way that some of them will turn back. Yahweh disciplines those He loves. Lutherans have described discipline as God’s ‘alien’ work. The Lutheran Study Bible describes that work of God in this way:
“The Lord kills & wounds so that sinners, blinded by pride, might see the reality that they are wounded & dead in their sin. Upon seeing they will trust the Lord who alone heals & makes alive.” The Holy Trinity knows all things, but that rubs our pride the wrong way.
Because of sin, the underlying reality is that all human beings are conceived in sin. Spiritually, we are born dead. If we refuse to hear the voice of the Shepherd nice things will not turn us back to Him. So death must come. That is what sin has done to this world. Everything works backward & upside down. Death to self must precede life from Messiah.
The Word of God will turn your heart to Him, or your heart will turn away from that Word. There is no middle ground! The death to self, of baptism, is not all that physically painful, but if we reject it, more serious approaches must follow. The nation of Judah was beyond even that point. Though individuals might still be saved, their nation was lost.
Some day that point will come for our nation, for our people, for our pastors, & for our congregations. Not paying attention to the Creator & His will leads to termination that can come like a thief in the night, too quiet to be noticed until it is too late. For that reason the 1st words of Jesus, as He entered His ministry, were the command to repent & believe the Good News.
Otherwise, instead of faith in Jesus, your Creator will grant you a dull heart, along with heavy ears & blind eyes. As St. Paul was writing to the struggling church in Corinth, he penned these words that apply to us as well, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV) The prophet Isaiah was given a vision in which there was a manifestation of God enthroned in His holy temple, huge & clothed in a robe that filled the temple. Fiery angels flew over Him, declaring His holiness & glory.
We sing the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, before we approach the altar to receive the forgiveness of our sins in the Lord’s Supper. We are inspired & uplifted by those words, but we should realize from the OT reading that Isaiah was not. He was struck by the prospect of his death. But once forgiven, he immediately cried out, “Here am I! Send me.”
So what was your initial reaction to the sermon text? Did you feel it was too harsh? Was there the thought that it needs to be interpreted in a more tolerant manner? In verse 11, Isaiah himself asks, regarding this discipline, “How long, O Lord?”
Yahweh replies, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, & houses without people, & the land is a desolate waste, & the Lord removes people far away, & the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah 6:11-12 ESV)
That description can be seen as a description of the suffering to come that Christ would endure in our place, on the cross of Golgotha. There, in death, Jesus became blind & deaf. His heart became dull to the point that it finally stopped beating. There, Jesus was forsaken as the heavenly Father moved Himself far away.
The people of Judah had been trusting in their king to provide for them. He’s now dead. Since they have left God & turned away from Him, He must allow the once mighty tree of King David’s line to be cut down. As long as the people can depend on themselves or their human king they will remain lost. So God will dull their heart & blind their eyes & stop their ears.
Once the people are again helpless & fully aware of it, they might turn back to Yahweh.
As Isaiah 30:15 tells us: “In returning & rest you shall be saved; in quietness & trust shall be your strength.” At the end of verse 13 of the OT reading, Isaiah offers people true hope in the correct place: “And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”
That phrase holy seed is a reference to the Son of God who would be born to Mary. Once those who have hardened their hearts against God have been removed, then those who still trust in the Lord can sprout once again. Yahweh loves to bring life out of death, & the picture of the stump with a new shoot sprouting forth is one that Holy Scripture uses to refer to Christ.
Where God was making hearts dull, once people receive Him, then He creates clean hearts, of living flesh that are no longer cold, as Ezekiel 11:19 states: “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh & give them a heart of flesh.” (ESV) As Isaiah received that heart of flesh through the burning coal, we receive it through the body & blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper.
If the sermon text gave you pause for its harshness, keep in mind that our Creator is holy & without blemish or sin. We can’t begin to comprehend what that is, since all we have ever known is sin. Yet, God’s purposes are always good, but sometimes like a surgeon He has to cause us pain before He can heal us. Remember in returning & rest we shall be saved. Amen.
When in the hour of deepest need we know not where to look for aid; when days & nights of anxious thought no help or counsel yet have brought, 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. For You have promised, Lord, to heed Your children’s cries in time of need through Him whose name alone is great, our Savior & our advocate. And so we come, O God, today & all our woes before you lay; for sorely tried, cast down, we stand, perplexed by fears on every hand. O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face; absolve us through Your boundless grace. Be with us in our anguish still; free us at last from every ill. Amen. LSB 615:1-5.
4th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 387, 848, 709
Text – 1 Corinthians 13:2
And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
PROPHETIC POWERS, MYSTERIES & KNOWLEDGE
It is what millions of people around the world found so fascinating about the Harry Potter books & movies. Prophetic powers, mysteries & knowledge are the sort of things which intrigue everyone who deals with the brokenness of this life. Three years ago the total value of the Harry Potter franchise was estimated at $25 billion. That holds a lot of power.
Yet, St. Paul makes the absolute claim that without love he is nothing! It doesn’t matter if he has prophetic powers, & understands all mysteries & all knowledge, without love he is nothing. And so are you. So am I. 500 million books sold & 25 billion dollars in value cannot hold a candle to the simplest act of love.
Feelings of love come & go for every single human being, & in every single human relationship, yet whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a follower of Jesus will by no means lose his reward – not ever (Matthew 10:42). In other words, the effects of a loving deed will remain throughout eternity. Feelings come & go. Deeds of love have effects that last forever.
But our sinful nature forgets them immediately & is always asking instead, “What have you done for me lately?” The sinful nature is never satisfied, nor content. It is always looking for more – more power, more mystery, more knowledge. And that sad state of affairs does not exist only in the unbelieving world. It exists right here – in my heart & in yours!
That’s why St. Paul is writing to the church, the congregation, the believers in the city of Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men & of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, & if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The culture of Corinth loved a good show even if there was no substance to back it up, & that disease had infected the congregation there as well.
That disease is rampant in our society too. Our culture loves to vote for smooth talking politicians even if they only look out for themselves once elected. Or, they promise you free everything but aren’t honest enough to do the math. There’s a reason for the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” You could travel to Venezuela right now & find out for yourself.
Politicians who are successful at getting reelected understand well the power of the human imagination. Too many of them use that understanding only for their self-interest. J. K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter franchise, used it for her own welfare, but she made no pretense about that. She wasn’t running public policy experiments on her constituents.
When it comes to story books, Ms. Rowling wrote a series detailing a fantasy world of powers, mystery & secret knowledge. But the ultimate basis for the series was, in her words, the theme of “living after death.” In the final book she quoted Matthew 6:19, & 1 Corinthians 15:26, stating: “…these Bible verses epitomize the whole [Harry Potter] series.”
So what are those verses? St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Then Jesus teaches in Matthew 6, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal.”
To immerse our 21st century thoughts into the 1st century world of St. Paul & the Corinthians, here’s the question I’d like you to consider this morning. Why do human beings spend so much time & effort seeking to lay up treasures on earth? On the surface the answer is obvious. Treasure is valuable & useful, & a lot of good things can be done with it. Even the church uses money to pay the bills & salaries & do the mission work. But you should know me by now & I want to dig deeper than that. God was born in Bethlehem so we can get to the root of the issue, to solve the problem of sin. Satan wants us to remain at the surface with easy answers, “Don’t trouble yourself with details. Just eat of the tree so you will be like God.”
Moth & rust do destroy. Thieves do break in & steal. So your conscience should be prompting you, “Why do human beings spend so much effort & time seeking to lay up treasures on earth?” The root issue is this – the corruption of sin has left you & me wanting, & lacking, & needing! We feel the loss of that perfect communion with our Creator in so many ways.
We feel it in obvious ones like sickness & death. We feel it whenever anxiety strikes. Frustration, anger & sadness all are the result of that lost perfect communion with God. The same is true of feeling weak & powerless, or ignorant & lost. When life is boring & dull & tedious we long for the power of knowing our Lord as He created us to know Him.
Harry Potter is a poor substitute for God, yet the series of books & movies did so well because they were escapist fantasies filled with the intrigue of prophetic powers, & mysteries, & knowledge. People were drawn to it because, for at least a short time, it filled their sense of lacking & needing & wanting.
The Harry Potter stories filled people with the excitement of feeling alive. The trouble is they are a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Sin, death & the devil cannot be defeated with just stories. God had to enter history, to enter time & space, to take on the very substance of His creation in order to make its rescue a reality.
To bring life after death meant that Jesus had to die. You can’t rise from the dead if you haven’t been dead to begin with. The love Messiah demonstrated in that way is the farthest thing from the warm & fuzzy emotions & feelings that the world so highly desires. The love Christ demonstrated on the cross came at a horrific cost. His death was true love, because unlike feelings & emotions which always come & go, the death of God’s Son was an action, an historical event, the effects of which will last forever. As St. Paul wrote:
“Love is patient & kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part & we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-10 ESV)
Human beings love to hear those words at weddings. They are good words, powerful words, but they do not describe the love of sinful human beings. At this moment in time they describe only one flesh & blood human because He is the perfect & holy, only-begotten Son of God. Prophetic powers, mysteries & knowledge belong to Him as to no other human being.
In the brokenness of our lives we long for them. If we strive for them apart from Jesus & apart from His will for us, we turn them idols & they only bring more brokenness & more death. The Church offers the season of Epiphany, the season of light, as one answer for dreams of being like Harry Potter. Yet, the Church is not an escapist fantasy. It exists in a broken world.
Our struggle is that since The Fall we can no longer sense the things of God as we should. Our sight has been blinded by sin. Our mind has been corrupted by lust for more – more power, more mystery, more knowledge. You & I cannot love as we should, as we were created to, so God sent His Son to love in our place to offer healing for our brokenness.
Heaven will be the complete restoration of all that we are missing, lacking, wanting & needing. There, even our love will never end, & we will be forever fulfilled, with no more longing & striving for the cheap substitutes that Satan offers to us.
Ms. Rowling supposedly planned out in advance the Harry Potter story line to cover 7 years. Yahweh has planned out all of history right down to the last detail of eternity! The longing & the need created by the brokenness of our lives is, for now, allowed to remain in order to teach us that some deliverance is not FROM what we fear, but deliverance THROUGH what we fear. Yahweh is able to deliver us through any & all the struggles or pain of our lives. Thus, St. Paul wrote, “I will show you a still more excellent way.”
That way is the love Jesus Christ offers to you, & for you, in His death & His resurrection; a love that never ends, not even in the brokenness of your daily lives. Amen.
Lord, whose 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. Still Your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead. As, O Lord, Your deep compassion healed the sick & freed the soul, use the love Your Spirit kindles still to save & make us whole. Amen. LSB 848:1-2.
 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV
Life Sunday 2019 LSB #’s 613,571, 918
Text – Ezekiel 18:31-32
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, & live.”
LISTEN TO THE HEART
Back in the 1980’s a medical drama aired on television that was not as widely watched as it was critically acclaimed. It dedicated itself to getting characters developed, & to presenting correct medical technology & jargon. In one memorable episode, a man was critically injured & despite heroic efforts to save his life, he was declared brain dead.
His grieving wife was presented with the option to give his organs for transplant & she compassionately gave her permission. Her husband was kept on life support, donor recipients were notified, & several hours of painful waiting followed for the wife as the procedures were completed.
Late that night, she asked to meet the wife of the man who received her husband’s heart. In a sobbing embrace the two met, one with tears of grief, the other with tears of joy. The widow made a final request. She asked if she could go into the ICU & sit alone with the heart recipient for a few moments. The family consented & she entered into the dimly lit room.
With tears flowing from her eyes she gazed down at the unconscious patient. Then with tender care, she slowly placed her head on the patient’s chest & listened to her husband’s heart beating within a different man’s chest. Nothing was said. She wanted to hear for herself that part of her husband was still alive.
Listening to the heart – goes on in emergency rooms & care facilities across our land every day as doctors & nurses gauge life simply by that beating sound emanating from the chest. If you didn’t know, a baby’s heart begins its audible beat about 18 days into the pregnancy & that wonderful sound continues until the day that death occurs. Listening to the heart goes on in almost every doctor’s appointment, with physicians trying to hear any telltale signs of problem or illness. Listening to the heart is often a marvel for young children who place their ears on each other’s chest.
Listening to the heart is a wonder to new moms & dads who remember the day the ultrasound picked up not only the audible beat but also the image of their unborn child’s pulsating heart. Listening to the heart is literally listening to life.
For Yahweh, life is what Creation was all about: “In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth. The earth was without form & void, & darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). If ever there was a time pregnant with expectation, this was it! God spoke to creation & it came to be.
By the 6th day, all the preliminaries were complete & the pinnacle of it all waited. God was about to create the 1st man, Adam, & out of him He would later create the 1st woman, Eve. They were not just part of creation – they were the reason for it.
Man’s life was the sacred piece which gave sun, moon, planets, oceans, plants, animals, light & dark, & all other things their purpose. It was all about man. It was all about life.
How things have changed! Today, as determined by the ‘committee of society,’ creation itself is worshiped with plants & animals being given the same pinnacle role as mankind. The life of man is being reduced by creation’s hunt to find a lesser place for him & certainly not at the center where God placed him.
And in that hunt for its rightful place, mankind in its arrogance challenges the Creator’s ownership of life. Pre-born babies, the elderly, & the infirm are terminated by choice for reasons of convenience, cost & comfort, & that’s not the half of it. While beating hearts are good enough proof in medical circles for life, we know that it isn’t good enough for God. The hearts he gave Adam & Eve were not corrupt. They were perfect organs of life meant to beat eternally. In man’s soul desire hid, & when he acted on it the victim was life itself. Adam’s heart kept beating, but his soul was living only on a gracious promise. The same is the case for all people.
After The Fall, St. Paul clarifies that the great & terrible equalizer for the human race is death because of sin. “[T]here is no distinction,” he says, “for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23). We deserved nothing good from God & we should have been left to waste eternity’s promise over the sad course of a human life span.
From a righteousness perspective, none of us can hear a heartbeat in our chest, because nothing good of our own beats there. This is where many people who care to believe something about God find in Him a distant being of anger & vengeance. They somehow listen to God’s chest & find it silent for them – no life, no chance, no hope.
So, with fatalistic abandon they pursue the only dreams & life they can imagine, one focused on self, even if it is selfishly bent on doing good & serving earthly life. Without God, human hearts have no other function than to beat toward their day of death.
But listen to the heart of God.
Isn’t it interesting that God chose to incarnate His Son into the form of a 2nd Adam? Christ Jesus, like us, had a heartbeat early in His mother’s pregnancy. He too had a heartbeat all throughout His life, which fell silent after innocently enduring the tortures of the cross so that you & I could be redeemed from our certain destruction.
Some might say Jesus’ death was premature. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His loving mission was to let His heart be stopped at a precise moment in time so that His life might be freely given in grace. This to make your beating heart pump with new life – His life. Listening to the heart of God is what the Bible is all about. Paul wrote in Galatians, “…because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:6) God chose the center of our life to be the place that His Spirit inhabits. That makes Baptism special, because there, in the water & by the Word, Jesus’ heart is being washed into us.
There, in the water & by the Word, Jesus is personally calling us into God’s original plan for the 1st man & the 1st woman. The plan of the Holy Trinity is simple: A wonderful communion of Creator & created, based on love from the Father, life from the Son, & care from the Spirit, all for you.
Have you stopped a beating heart? Perhaps you’ve done this quite literally or perhaps you’ve wanted to do this to someone or to yourself. Maybe you’ve joined the world in wrongly challenging God & finding other life more precious than man’s. God has a message for you:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, & make yourselves a new heart & a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31). Confess your sins & admit that by them death has ruled you. Come clean on your selfish desires & you’ll be surprised.
Before the echo of your confession stops, you will hear God’s beating heart in the words of the absolution. “…turn, & live” (18:32), declares the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. Your sins are forgiven! Your penalty canceled. Your shame & grief released, no matter what you have done.
With loving kindness unknown anywhere else, Christ has made Himself your heart donor & you have new life. It comes with the highest worth but with no price. Listen to it not for new rules, but rather for God’s love for you. Such a resurrection of your heart from the death of sin is real. After three days of silence in the tomb, Jesus’ heart started beating again & it beats still as He rules in heaven & walks with you in your new life given through faith at Baptism. Your life will never end, even when your heart stops. God has graciously preserved you not as a perfect specimen, but instead as His perfectly loved child. He has invited you to join your new heart with His to beat loudly with life & for life in this dead world.
You can speak up for the pre-born, or participate in the debate about life policy on all levels. You can assist the elderly in persevering in life until their heart stops in the fullness of their time, however long that might be; or you can advocate for life even in the body’s suffering, pain & distress. You can do it with your new, beating heart of love.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9a) It is true & He assures us that in faith we will remain in that love in this life & the next.
The woman entering into that hospital emergency room wanted to listen to her husband’s heart beat with life one more time. We sinners put our ears to the Word & to the Sacraments for there it is impossible to miss the beat of our new, loving heart, sure evidence of the fullness of everlasting life that God has given to us.
The world has changed when it comes to life, there is no doubt. But God has not changed His mind or His mercy. His Son’s life is yours, now & forever! Listen to the heart of God & there you will find your life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!
God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save, that all who would in Him believe should everlasting life receive. Christ Jesus is the ground of faith, who was made flesh & suffered death; all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone. Amen. LSB 571:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet