Rejoice Greatly!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “REjoice Greatly!” based on  Zechariah 9:9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.  I was a little surprised when I looked up the word that is translated “rejoice” in my Hebrew dictionary and saw that the word can also mean to run around in a circle. If you get the picture, right now, you’re maybe thinking about a kid on Christmas, so deliriously overjoyed over the present they’ve just unwrapped that they’re literally running around the living room in wild-eyed celebration. Or if you’re still having trouble making the connection between delirious joy and running around in circles, check out this clip….

That. That right there is the Hebrew word—gil—or rejoice and it is the Holy Spirit’s kid on Christmas, just won the championship on a buzzer beater encouragement for us this Palm Sunday.  Hundreds of years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah wrote about what would happen in Jerusalem. And his exuberant imperative still rings true for us hundreds of years later. Rejoice Greatly, dear friends. Because here comes Jesus!

I don’t want you to think I’m naive. I know that just telling someone to rejoice when they’re weighed down doesn’t necessarily help them a whole lot. In fact, that might even make things worse. “You say I should be rejoicing but I’m still struggling. So now I feel both sad AND guilty!”

The Bible writers understood that too. When they tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.”  Zechariah writes in our text, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion, shout O Daughter of Jerusalem, see your king comes to you.”  In the Scriptures, a believer’s rejoicing is inseparably intertwined with the presence of Jesus. When believers see Jesus, rejoicing is the inevitable response. Maybe it’s because he never seems to show up empty handed!

Do you see what he brings in our text? See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.  He comes with the key to release you from Satan’s prison. He comes bearing a checkbook with more than enough financial clout to pay your debt of sin. Of course, those are just metaphors. In reality, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with nothing in literally in his hands, so poor that he had to borrow a donkey for the occasion. And yet inside of him, he was carrying gifts of immeasurable worth.

His perfection and his blood. The one to give God what he demands. The other to pay what we owe.  If he was only perfect, yet unwilling to shed his blood. That would do us no good. If he was only willing to shed his blood, but was not perfect. That would do us no good. But he has both, and so he is, as the writer to the Hebrews says, the author and perfecter of our faith.

To put it even more bluntly, Jesus had one job before him—save you from hell and when he shows up amidst the palm branches, you know that He’s come to do just that. The Promised One who would come to crush the serpent’s head is now lacing up his boots.

Your king comes, bringing salvation. The perfection which will count for you, the blood that will cover you. The things that will benefit you for eternity. He doesn’t necessarily bring a lifetime guarantee of happiness, universal acceptance by society at large, or an accident free, injustice free world. Our rejoicing gets dampened some times because perhaps we unrealistically expect him to provide those things, things he has not promised. Don’t stop rejoicing because of what he doesn’t bring. Rejoice at what he does bring. Rejoice your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.

Rejoice because he still comes to us today. When we hear his Word preached, our King comes to us. There he teaches us about his kingship in this world and in our hearts and in the world to comes. When we gather at his table, our King comes to us. There he gives his royal command for our sins to be banished from his sight, our slate to be washed clean. Is any wonder that right before we approach his table, we echo the song from Palm Sunday? “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”  Where Jesus is, rejoicing follows.

But even after all that, you might say, what if I still don’t feel like rejoicing? We started off with that picture of wild euphoria in our introduction. That’s the picture that our text uses, too. But rejoicing doesn’t always have to look like that.

In fact, we’re going to see in just a few days, Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, overwhelmed with sorrow. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and yet, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” There was no euphoria in the Garden of Gethsemane. But at the same time, the picture and prospect of the good things to come never left his mind. As one writer put it, Jesus looked to a joyful future and that sustained him in a joyless present.

There’s a parallel to our lives. A Christian is always rejoicing, it’s a just a matter of volume. Some times it’s louder than the brass choir on Easter, sometimes it’s barely audible. To put it another way, even without running around in circles in delirium, you can still say, “God, you are good.” Even with a heart that is heavy and eyes that are tear stained, you can still say, “I put my trust in You.” Even when there’s nothing to smile about, you can still look forward to heaven and say, “Thank you for what’s still to come.”

It’s a daily struggle for me and maybe for you too. There are so many things in this world that want to take away our rejoicing. The kitchen floor that sparkles because we worked with mop and bucket soon turns back into the dust bunny trap and the crumb collector. The euphoria of payday Friday gradually turns to the gnawing worry of “please don’t cash that check” Thursday. The news websites refresh every hour with word a different discord and deeper depravities. Marriages and families require a lot of hard work, often with few tangible results. Our faith can often feel like its limping along, our consistency nonexistent, our obedience up and down like a roller coaster. It’s all so frustrating, it’s all so exhausting, it’s all so disheartening, yet through it all, there still is reason for rejoicing!

Our feelings don’t change God’s facts. And that’s a good thing! High or low, happy heart or heavy heart, our God stays the same, his work in Christ unchanged, his love for you undiminished, his Word still true.  Your King still comes to you, righteous and having salvation. On Palm Sunday, your King comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, your King still comes to you. And therefore we have reason to rejoice. And rejoice greatly. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Life For Death

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Life For Death” based on John 12:20-33 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, March 18, 2018

There are three times in the New Testament when God the Father’s voice is heard, booming from above.  The first was at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.  God told all of the men and women who had witnessed this ceremony that Jesus is his Son and, therefore, Jesus is the One who was commissioned to carry out the work of the world’s salvation.

The second time, as Peter, James, and John were almost blinded by the transfiguration of Jesus, God reminded them, again, that Jesus is his Son, but, this time, made sure that they focused more on what Jesus was saying, rather than on what they were seeing.  Jesus had been talking about his impending trip to Jerusalem and his work of the world’s salvation.

So, now, maybe a week or two later, after Jesus had entered into the streets of Jerusalem amid shouts of praise and glory on that first Palm Sunday, people wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.  It could have been some of his miraculous signs and wonders that garnered their attention.  After all, the chapter right before the Gospel reading for today recounts the account of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.  Perhaps, though, it was simply word of mouth about the way that Jesus spoke and taught, either in his style that was so pleasing to the ear, or his content that was so comforting to the heart.

Whatever it was, some who had not met Jesus yet, wanted to see him.  They wanted to see the One who was changing the world one small word or deed at a time.

Jesus recognized that now was the time for him to answer those questions to groups much larger than his twelve disciples.  Now was the time to tell people to see who he really was and why he came onto this earth.  Listen again:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds…

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  Father, save me from this hour?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

Wait, first, he was talking about his glory and then, right afterward, he started talking about wheat kernels and death?  That doesn’t seem to follow.  What do wheat kernels and death have to do with Jesus’ glory—his renown among the people?

That’s seems like a pretty logical question; one that could still be asked today.  As millions, and even billions, of people still seek to find out more and more about Jesus, there are plenty of points of interest that are involved in their investigations.

Was Jesus really born of a virgin?  What happened from the time of his birth until he was 12 years old in the Temple?  What about the next 18 years between then and the beginning of his ministry at age 30?

Do you really have to believe that he was and is the Son of God to follow some of his most basic teachings—like loving your neighbor as yourself, taking care of the poor, the needy, and the widows, or, here’s a big one, judge not, lest ye be judged?

Did he really do all of the miracles that the bible says he did or, rather, can science explain them away, just like it can for the beginning of the world and the 10 plagues?

Some of those questions have pretty clear answers found in the Scriptures.  Some of them don’t.  And, really, that’s ok.  Some of them are very important.  Some of them aren’t.  That, too, is ok.  However, when people wanted to know about Jesus in this section from John’s Gospel, he didn’t tell them about his virgin birth.  He didn’t address any questions about his formative years.  He didn’t talk about loving your neighbor or raising his friend, Lazarus from the dead.

But, oh, don’t you wish that he did?  Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus’ purpose in coming down to this earth was to be a great moral teacher or if Jesus simply came onto this earth to make people’s lives physically easier?

Wouldn’t that, really, make your interactions with your God much more honest?  If Jesus was only here to say good things and do good things for your earthly life, then you could pray that to-do list that you’ve been wanting to ask about anyway.  You wouldn’t have to feel selfish about asking for lots of money, for a better job, for a better looking wife, or for kids that are smarter and better behaved than yours.  You wouldn’t have to start or end with, thy will be done.  You could just get to the heart of the matter and ask him to make you feel better; to remove your sadness, your sickness, or your pain, without having to worry if God is somehow trying to teach you something through it.

The first two times that the Father’s voice boomed from above, it was to direct people’s attention toward the work that Jesus was going to do in order to save the world from its impending and deserved doom and destruction in the fires of hell.  Like a divine arrow pointed at Jesus, the Father’s voice marked Jesus as his anointed and appointed Savior for all of mankind.  And, not surprisingly, the third time that it happened was for the same purpose.  Listen again:

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  Father, save me from this hour?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!

Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.

The Father was confirming that what Jesus was talking about was true; that it revealed the glory of God and the purpose for which Jesus came.  He came not to be a shining example of a teenager, to be a great moral teacher, or to be some sort of miracle healer.  He came to be a kernel of wheat.  He came to die so that others, through his death, would have life.  He came to die so that you, through him, would have life.

And, because Jesus died, because he substituted himself in your place, to die the death that your sins deserve, the Father’s voice booms again to let you know what gives God glory and the purpose for which Jesus came.  No, it no longer gets confused for thunder or the voice of an angel.  Instead, it is much more clear and available anytime you want to hear it.

Week after week, you hear it right here in this building as he says to you, “God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, as a called servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

He speaks officially and publicly through his called workers, but he also does so informally through your Christian family, friends, and neighbors and through your own eyes and ears as your read his holy Word.

It says that Jesus died so that you would be forgiven and so that, through him and his death, you would have life—not an enjoyable time with nothing to complain about for 70 or 80 years, but life eternal with him in heaven.

With your salvation as his purpose, Jesus was willing to do anything and everything that it took to accomplish his task, even giving up his own life for you.

What is your purpose?  Are you here on this earth to be morally good?  Are you here simply to garner all of the shiny stuff of this world and the respect and admiration of everyone you know?

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.

You are here to be a servant of Jesus so that you can follow him to where he is.  That means doing what he did—not sacrificing your life on a cross, but, rather, carrying your cross and sacrificing your wants, your deepest desires, and your own needs for the benefit of everyone else around you and not letting anything stand in the way of that.

Give glory to God with your life, not yourself, and you, too, will produce many seeds, so that others may hear, believe, serve, and follow Jesus, too.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Grace Is Lifted Up

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God’s Grace Is Lifted Up” based on Numbers 21:4-9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, March 11, 2018

In 1969 Sesame Street aired its first episode.  One of the staple segments is a song called “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.”  The children watching are asked to look at four items.  Three are similar, one is different.  Three red sneakers are shown and one big red rain boot.  The boot doesn’t belong.  Three hammers are shown and one tennis racquet.  You get the idea.  Ones of these things is not like the others.

For whatever reason, this popped into my head when I read through the verses from Numbers.  The Lord sends manna to his people.  The Lord sends quail.  The Lord sends water from a rock.  The Lord sends venomous snakes.  Ok, one of these things is not like the others.  Manna.  Quail.  Water.  Snakes. The snakes don’t seem to belong.  The snakes seem like some kind of punishment sent by some kind of angry, irrational God.  However, the snakes do belong.  The snakes are good gifts that were sent by a loving, caring God.  Take a quick look at some of Israel’s recent behaviors and see if you can understand why venomous snakes could be seen as a good gift.

  • It all started back in Egypt. God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh – soon the people would be released from slavery…this is a good thing!  But the people complained when Pharaoh’s treatment turned harsh.
  • God prevailed – ten plagues later, the people were now free. But they complained…they even longed to go back to Egypt  because the food was better, in their opinion.
  • So God sent them manna and quail. Guess what?  They displayed greed and then discontent.
  • God gave them his written law. Before Moses could even return with the tablets of stone the people had made a golden calf and were worshipping that.
  • The Lord led them right up to the promised land…all they had to do was step over the border and take the land for themselves…but they were afraid because the inhabitants looked too powerful and they did not believe the Lord’s promise and they rebelled.
  • Still the Lord was patient with them…continued to lead them in the wilderness…training them, blessing them, loving them.
  • Now their wilderness journey was nearing its end. All they had to do was cut through Edom and enter their new home.  The king of Edom said, No, I don’t want your 2,000,000 people to tromp through my land; go around.

And apparently, that little detour caused the people to rebel again…and complain again…like those GIF video clips that repeat and repeat and repeat…same scene over and over again.  The people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?  There is no bread!  There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Let me paraphrase.  God, we are sick and tired of you…sick and tired of your leadership…sick and tired of your provisions.  Can you see how sending those snakes was meant to be a loving wake-up call to those Israelites?  Can you see how they had been developing a very unhealthy attitude…and how God loved them enough to intervene and provide an attitude adjustment?

Can you relate to those Israelite journeyers?  It would be pretty bold for us to speak against God and tell him how much we detest his gifts and his leadership.    Detest is a strong word.  Do we prefer terms like take for granted?…complain?…wish we had something different?  Those are just polite ways for us to say, “Lord, we’re a little sick of your leadership and your provisions.”

If we are so content and happy and thankful for God’s gifts…why do we covet someone else’s bank account or their job perks or their spouses or their houses or their health?…why do we have moments where we hate our jobs and hate our bodies and hate our lives?

When we watch the Israelites, it’s so easy to see their repeating sins and bad attitudes.  Again and again.  Grumble…complain…repeat.   Grumble…complain…repeat.  When the Lord watches us, what repeating sins and bad attitudes does he see?…again and again…like a GIF video clip.  Grumble…Complain…repeat?  Covet…Lust…repeat?  Gossip…Lie…repeat? Apathy…Laziness…repeat? What sins do you hide from others?  What sins do you cover-up and try to pretend aren’t hurting anyone?  God sees them…so he sends in the snakes.

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.  Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”  

Those snakes accomplished what God wanted.  He wanted to give his people a wake-up call.  He wanted them to repent.  God loves us enough to send in the snakes.  Actually, for us it’s not literal snakes.  They are attitude adjusters.  Attention getters.

  • He may permit diabetes and cancer and heart disease – but why? To remind us that we are mortal and our main goal on earth is to prepare for heaven.
  • He may give us a detour in life or extend some kind of hardship – but why? To show us that we are not in control and we cannot fix everything…so we are to turn to him…trust in him.
  • When we sin, he will make sure there are consequences and deep and heavy guilt – but why? To teach us that sin is indeed a serious thing…and to have us ever pleading for and yearning for the forgiveness that only he can provide.

Did you notice that the Lord, while he heard the prayer of the people, he didn’t answer their prayer in the way they wanted?  They wanted the snakes to be taken away.  What does God do?  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

He didn’t take the snakes away.  He gave them a bronze snake up on a pole.  And that bronze snake didn’t do anything either.  It was a symbol of God’s grace and promise.  It was the sure Word of the Lord connected to that bronze serpent.  Does that remind you of anything?  Does that remind you of baptism?  It’s not some special water, blessed by the right person or poured just the right way, or at just the right temperature.  It’s the promise of God that in the waters of baptism we are forgiven and we are given power to live for him.  Does that remind you of holy communion?  It’s not the wine and the bread that send you away satisfied; it’s the promise of Jesus – I bled and died for you and now I forgive you.  Does that remind you of what Jesus said to Nicodemus?  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. We were snakebitten with sin.  We were dying.  We were doomed.  But the Son of God was lifted up.  And here’s God’s promise:  look to him and be forgiven…look to him and live!

We’ve been talking about things being lifted up?  God’s grace lifted up in the desert.  God’s grace lifted up on Golgotha.  We are lifted up too, by God’s grace.  God has lifted you up and away from your guilt…up and away from your sin…up and away from your repeating loop of sinful attitudes and behaviors.  You are forgiven. One day he’ll lift you up and away and take you home.  Until that glorious day…

  • Live in the power of your baptism
  • Live with the full nourishment of the holy supper
  • Live as people lifted up by the grace of God
  • Live for him. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Lord Among Us?

Guest Preacher, Seminarian Joel Hering delivers a sermon entitled “Is the Lord among Us?” based on Exodus 17:1-7 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, March 4, 2018

Transcript Not Available

 

 

 

 

 

Ransom for Debt

 

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Ransom for Debt” based on Romans 5:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 25, 2017

There stands the Apostle Paul in the courtroom.  It is not Felix or Festus, the Roman governors, who are presiding at this trial.  The Sanhedrin of Pharisees and Sadducees have no authority here either.  Instead, Almighty God, with his long flowing robes that fill the building, is seated with his gavel that will, with one swift swing, state the eternal fate of the Apostle.

The trial has been long and difficult to endure.  The prosecuting attorney, that ancient and slithering serpent named Satan, has built up a pretty strong case against Paul.  Stacks of facts have been entered into heaven’s evidence.  Exhibit A was pretty powerful; a DNA test proving that Paul was born of sinful parents and, therefore, was sinful, himself.  The case was open and shut right there, but he kept piling on.

Exhibit B was a record of Paul’s words and actions, back when he went by the name of Saul, all done in service to work righteousness, as though he could have earned heaven by his own merit.  Under those false pretenses, everything he tried to put on the positive side of the eternal judgment scale ended up, instead, shifting the balance far beyond the point of no return.

Written affidavits, witness testimony, and even appealing to the omniscience of the all-knowing Judge, himself, the Devil was able to rest his case.  He didn’t even have to work with his typical tools of lies and deception.  Openly and honestly, he made it clear that Paul had incurred quite a debt.  Not to society, but to his God.  And, instead of going to jail, his debt deserved death as punishment; eternal death in the fires of hell.

If you were Paul’s lawyer, what defense would you try to put up?  With even just a small sampling from the book of Acts, you could come up with a few factors that would seem to work in your favor.  You could play the blame game.  Paul was tricked by the prosecutor, himself, into much of his sin.  With every weapon in his arsenal, the Devil convinced Paul that he was doing either what was right or, according to his human rights, what he deserved to do.

Or, maybe, you could try to make the end justify the means.  Yes, Paul did some subjectively sinful things, but that is also what led him to accomplish so much for the good of the Christian Church at large.  He was the greatest missionary who ever lived.  He started a number of churches across the ancient world, in Asia Minor, Achaia, Italy, and Macedonia.

Paul was a good guy.  He changed his life.  He became a completely different person.  Free him because of the man he’s become, not the man that he was.

Would that be the defense you’d argue for yourself as well?  If it was you in the hot seat, with your own sin history heaped in a pile in front of you, would you try to pass the buck or balance the scales with your own record book of good works?

Friends, unfortunately, this is not simply some training exercise for the worst-case scenario.  While it is an illustration, the meat of the matter is all too real. Your God has a class action suit against all of humanity for its sin and guilt.  And, carried to its logical conclusion, the verdict you would deserve would be death.  There would be no defense you could come up with on your own to free your soul from that eternal fate.  As Jesus himself said in the Gospel reading for today, What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

The implied answer to his rhetorical question is that mankind has nothing worthy enough to compensate for the crimes that they have committed; nothing valuable enough to pay the debt they owe to their God because of their guilt and sin.

You don’t have an answer to Christ’s question or a defense for your misdeeds.  You are, as Paul declares in these words from Romans 5, powerless.  You are not simply weak.  It is not as though, now that you know your situation, you can beef up your resume or your record book of good works.  You have nothing.  You are impotent before the omnipotent.

And yet, like the infamous children’s song says so simply, because Jesus loves you, you belong to him and, though you are worse than weak, he is strong.

No, he doesn’t give you a not guilty verdict based on any changes you have made in your life or the good deeds that came in tow.  Instead, in keeping with the courtroom terms, he pounds his gavel with the verdict of justified.  He declares you not guilty, not because of a change in you, but because of an exchange made for you.  Your debt has been paid.  Listen to Paul explain what he knew would acquit him of the case held against him.  Listen to God’s Great Exchange again:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Jesus paid the debt you owe with the ransom price of his own precious blood.  He didn’t simply bribe him to forget about the evidence and ignore the consequences he set down in eternity for breaking his Law.  Instead, God fully poured out his wrath on sin.  It just so happens that his wrath ended up being poured out on the man that Jesus had become, not the man that he was.

Your God saw all sinners of all time in a line, and that line led nowhere but to hell, the place that they deserved to go because of sin. But as he saw you there, primed and ready to receive the wrath that you so righteously deserved, something happened.  He rearranged things.  He exchanged Jesus’ perfect life and precious ransoming blood in place of your imperfect life and debt that you owed.  He put all his attention, all his focus, all his wrath on Jesus in place of you.

That is Jesus’ answer to his own rhetorical question and his defense for your courtroom case.  Your sin cannot condemn you.  The prosecutor has lost the open and shut case against you.  With one swift swing of his eternal gavel, God hammered nails into the hands and feet of his Son and, in return, received the ransom payment that covered your debt and the debt of the whole world.

When your day in court finally comes, have no fear.  In that Great Exchange, God has declared you justified.  You are not guilty, now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

This is NOT a Test

 

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “This is NOT a Test” based on Genesis 22:1-14 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 18, 2017

CNN reported that “people hugged their children…and they prayed…and they uttered a few final farewells, then they waited for the attack.” A little over a month ago, every iphone in the state of Hawaii buzzed and came alive with a dire message on its screen: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.

People were jumping down into manholes, abandoning their cars on the interstate, but in the end, there would be no impact, no lives lost, no destruction-because there was no missile. It was indeed only a test. A state employee had missed the memo about there being a training exercise and had sent out the warning text in error. But the people of Hawaii, didn’t know it was test. For them, it was all very real.

I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind when I read the first line of our text for today. “Some time later, God tested Abraham.” God knew this was a test. Reading it today, we know it was a test. But Abraham didn’t. God didn’t announce beforehand “Okay, Abraham, this is just an exercise in preparedness, a little bit of litmus for your faith.” No Abraham didn’t know it was a test. For him, it was all very real.  God had said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

He didn’t know that this was going to have a happy ending during the agonizing, sleepless hours that followed God’s command….and when he got up early the next morning and to leave as God commanded….and when he traveled the three days that it took to get to Mount Moriah, with each step forward bringing his dear son one step closer to the knife.

By the way, if you’re wondering how old Isaac was at this time, we can only ballpark that answer. The Hebrew word that’s used to describe him is used in other places to describes boys as young as toddlers and as old as marrying age. So he could’ve been 4…or 24. The Holy Spirit didn’t think that we needed that information! All we know is that he walked innocently alongside his father to the place of his sacrifice.

It just seems like the oddest story, doesn’t it?  The one who created life, now commands that it be taken away in brutal fashion. In so many other places in Scripture he specifically says, “You shall not murder.” Now he says, “You shall.” And in no other place in all of Scripture, does God command a parent to sacrifice their child—a thought so repulsive, so nauseating that our brains would sooner shut down completely than give any room to any hint of such a horrific prospect. What kind of God is this?

It’s the kind of God who knew exactly what Abraham was going through, the kind of God who knew exactly what it was like to sacrifice his Son, his only Son, the one he loved. Don’t think for a second that the Father wasn’t repulsed and nauseated by the prospect of his Son on a cross. But he found his heart was captivated by an even more horrific prospect—seeing you and me and billions upon billions go to hell.

We might see parallels Abraham and God the Father. We might also see parallels between Isaac in our text and Jesus many years later—both only sons, both dearly loved by their respective fathers, both carrying the wood upon which the sacrifice would take place, both walking up a mountain to their demise.

But it’s the differences that really make you shake your head in wonder and amazement. You see, Isaac was able to walk down from the mountain on his own. Jesus had to be carried down.  The Lord stopped Abraham before he could lower his knife. There was no such last minute reprieve on the cross. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his Son, but God the Father actually did. With Abraham it was only a test, but with the Father—it was the real thing.

It had to be real, because our sins are so real. The hurt feelings that we cause when we lash out in anger or speak without thinking. Those hurt feelings are real. Our desire to please people even if it means displeasing God. That’s real. Our willingness to let other people look bad as long as it means we come out looking good. That’s real. Our distracted worship, our apathy in prayer. They’re real. Our unholy love for the stuff of this world, the unhealthy influence of the people of this world. They’re all real. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to take all those very real sins that fill our days and multiply them by 365 days in a year and then multiply that by every year you’ve been alive. All those real sins all had to go somewhere. That huge pile of stinking garbage had to be dealt with. If that mountain was going to be moved, there could be no last minute reprieve, no interruption from heaven as the hammer was about to hit nail, no voice from above saying, “Okay, stop. That’s enough. This is only a test.” Somebody had to really be punished.

So the hammer did hit the nail. And real blood spilled onto the ground. And the body of the innocent Lamb of God, convulsed and cried out in unspeakable agony. Good Friday was not a test. It was the real thing. Real suffering. Real death. A real substitution–the really perfect taking the place of the really guilty. All resulting in real redemption. And so you can be really sure. God’s love for you is not a test. It’s real. And so is the heaven that waits for you.

So then, back to where we started….why the test? Was God just messing with Abraham? Cuz that doesn’t sound very loving at all. God doesn’t mess with anyone. He’s not petty or manipulative. His goal is too important, too serious for any of that junk. He will do whatever is necessary to get you to heaven. A heart that never gets exercise can become clogged up and even shut down altogether. So also a faith that never gets exercised. And so, to carry the metaphor one step further, our God might schedule a little stress test for us every once in a while.

God has not asked us to make the kind of sacrifice that Abraham was asked to make. But we can all probably think of ways our faith has been put to test. Those times, when the Lord, through the circumstances of life, makes it clear…Your health situation is going to change drastically overnight. Your family situation is going to cause you many tears. Your money situation is going to threaten your way of life. Your faith is going to put a target on your back. Your future is not going to go as you had it planned out. Maybe you come here today in the midst of such testing. We will keep on obeying even when obeying is difficult? Will we cling to him in faith even when nothing makes sense?

Remember Abraham’s obedience and his stubborn clinging to God’s promises. The writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son….he reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

You see it? When his faith was put to the test, Abraham doubled down. Instead of letting go, he grabbed onto God even tighter, even if went against his every inclination. He obeyed, laser focusing—not on the what ifs or whys—but simply on the promises of God and the power of God. That doesn’t take all the strength we can muster. It takes all the weakness we can muster—surrendering ourselves entirely to the care of the God who promises that he loves us. It’s saying, in effect, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever happens, I’m going to be holding on to your cross.”

For tests can weary us and tempt us to lose heart. Appearances can deceive us and tempt us to forget. Circumstances can overwhelm us and tempt us to lose perspective. But the cross and what it represents…that will always be there, firmly planted, unmoved, even if in our most difficult of days. There God’s love was put to the test. There his love proved true. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Jesus – The Dazzling Deity

 

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus-The Dazzling Deity” based on Mark 9:2-9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 11, 2017

Throughout this Epiphany season, the readings you’ve heard, the songs you’ve sung, and the pictures your mind’s eye has seen have all been focused and centered on one thing: revealing Jesus to be the God-man who came into the world to be its Savior.

Today, on this last weekend in Epiphany, the theme is no different.  And, really, that shouldn’t be too surprising considering the Gospel reading that you heard just a few minutes ago.  Showing to his disciples a glimpse of his heavenly glory, Jesus transfigured before them.  He trans—or changed his figure—or his appearance.  His clothes became whiter than anything you’d see in a Superbowl Tide commercial and, according to another accounting of this occasion by the evangelist Matthew, his face even shined like the sun.

Yes, Jesus is God.  If nothing else, that sight alone should have convinced Peter, James, and John of that fact.  The same is true for anyone who has read or heard this account.

And yet, even as amazing and clear as that would seem, apparently the sight of the transfiguration was not the main attraction of this mountaintop event.

Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain.  And you can certainly understand why.  He saw two Old Testament prophets, who lived a little under and a little over a thousand years earlier, talking with his transfigured Savior.

Filled with wonder and amazement, without knowing what to say, but, because he was Peter, speaking anyway, he said “It is good for us to be here.” But, before Peter could finish his nervous rambling, God the Father stopped him.  This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!

Rather than what Peter and the brothers, James and John, were seeing with their eyes, the Father wanted them to focus on what they had heard with their ears.  What, in particular, was he directing them toward?

The answer to that question is hinted at with 3 little words that are somewhat easy to overlook in the gospel reading for today—the first three words recorded in your bulletin for today: After six days.  Well, six days after what?

At the end of chapter 8 in Mark’s Gospel, the evangelist notes that [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

He did not say that the Son of Man must sit at the head of the banquet table and feed you by multiplying bread and fish to feed you every day or to change the world’s water supply into wine for you to drink.

He did not say that the Son of Man must stand at the entrance to every emergency room and heal every disease, open all the deaf ears, give sight to all the blind, or make all the lame to walk again.

He did not say that the Son of Man must manipulate the algorithms on Match.com to pair you up with your soulmate or sort through the classified ads to find the occupation that fits your gifts.

That, though, is where, like Peter, it is so easy to get caught up in what you see.  Because, in truth, sometimes, Jesus does bestow those blessings, and many more miraculous signs and wonders, upon you.

And that is the Jesus that, so often, you want.  That is the glory that, so many times, you would rather bask in.  But, friends, that is also the sight that Satan and your sinful nature secretively seek for you to yearn for.

Why?  That ancient serpent and the original sinful selfishness inside of you wants you to focus on the stuff that is outwardly pleasing to the eyes because they have nothing to do with your eternal life or getting rid of what prevents you from entering into it.

Listen to him!  The revelation of Jesus as the God-man who came into the world to be its Savior is not found in fancy clothes.  Yes, Jesus performed miracles that proved his power over his creation, his supremacy over evil, and his absolute authority over sickness and disease.  But, he did not come to be your Savior from hunger and thirst.  He was not anointed and appointed at his baptism in the River Jordan to be your Savior from sickness and disease.  He came to save you from the hell that you deserve because of your sin.

The revelation of Jesus as your Savior comes, instead, in the sights that hurt your eyes and your hearts; the stuff that makes you turn away in shame and disgust.  Jesus’ revelation as the dazzling Deity comes in the only One who was without sin taking the sins of the world on himself and receiving the punishment that was due them.  It comes in his bleeding hands, feet, and side.  It comes in what he said to his disciples—in what he was about to, and later did, accomplish with his perfect life on the cross of Calvary. He sacrificed himself there to save you from the punishment that your compliance to the Devil’s temptations and your innate self-centeredness cause you to deserve.

When you are in the deepest pits of despair over your own sin or the painful consequences of life in this world so filled with corruption, the fiery darts of the Devil will come at you.  They will try to force your focus on receiving some sign from your God that you can see to prove to you that he is your God and in control of your life.

Stop looking and start listening!  The Son of God reveals himself to be the One who saves you from this world that is temporary and will bring you, instead, to the world that is without end.  The world without evil and pain and suffering and sickness and disease and loneliness and depression and worry and anxiety and sadness—where he will wipe away every tear from your eye.

Over the next seven weeks, both at our midweek and weekend services, you are going to hear a lot about Jesus.  You are going to hear about him suffering.  You are going to hear about him dying.  You are going to hear about his Passion.  You are going to hear about his glory.  Listen.  Hear that the very Son of God, himself, was hung on a cross next to criminals, suffocated to death, and was buried in a tomb that was not his own. Listen to your dazzling Deity tell you, with holes in his perfect hands, feet, and side, that it was all done for you—to be your Savior.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus-the Authoritative Instructor

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus-the Authoritative Instructor” based on Mark 1:21-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 28, 2017

It could have been all the talk of tradition.  When questions came to light, the reaction had always been to say or to do this—and it worked; so whenever it came up again, they reacted in the same way.  There weren’t specific bible passages that addressed that particular topic. They weren’t saying it had to be done that way, but rather than re-inventing the wheel, you worked with the pattern and blueprint that was time-tested and approved.

Or, it might have been something a little worse.  Maybe the issue was their teachings that were but rules taught by men.  They came up with regulations for how many steps you were allowed to take on a Sabbath Day, how long your robe had to be, or what psalms you had to sing after a new moon celebration.  No specific bible passages on these topics either, but there was no Judaic freedom allowed.  You couldn’t re-invent the wheel, even if you wanted to.  You were called a sinner if you didn’t do exactly as they directed.

But, it may not have been so bad.  In those days, not everyone; in fact, almost no one, had a Scripture scroll at home that they could reference whenever they had a question about the teachings of God.  So, they would, with good conscience and good reason, go to the people who did.  They went to those whose job it was not only to make copies of those sacred writings, but to study them day and night.  And, when they did, those teachers of the law would, at times, simply respond with what the bible said and finish by saying, “Thus says the LORD.”

When Jesus went into the synagogue on that Saturday Sabbath in Capernaum, he taught the people.  They had questions and he had answers.  But his responses were different that the ones that the teachers of the law gave.

He didn’t relay the traditions of the Church because he is the one who established the Church.  He didn’t explain any reasonings behind additional statutes that went above and beyond what the Scriptures said because he came up with the original ordinances himself and declared them to be sufficient.  He didn’t have to search the Scriptures to quote them word for word because he was their initial author.

In that way, most certainly, Jesus taught with authority.  He was autonomous.  Yes, his teachings were precisely in line with what the bible said.  Those teachers of the law could have copied down every word he said and compared it with their sacred scrolls without finding any inconsistencies.  But that wasn’t the point.  They didn’t need to.  The message he shared, and the way in which he shared it, gave credence to who he was.  It revealed him to be the very Son of God who was promised to come into the world and save it.

You see, Jesus’ teaching in the synagogues was not simply meant to impress people.  There have been and still are plenty of speakers in the world who have either done thorough study in a particular topic or are able to share the lessons that they have learned through their own personal experience.  Many of them not only have a wealth of information, just waiting to be shared, but also have the ability to present that information in a way that is easy to hear, to follow, and to understand.  You believe them because they know what they are talking about.

However, no matter how engaging their discourse may be, no matter how intriguing their subject matter, it pales in comparison to the importance of what Jesus so authoritatively instructed throughout his ministry here on earth.

Jesus’ authority with his words meant that he was able to things, simply by opening his mouth, that no one else could do.

example of just that followed his bible class while they were still in the synagogue.  Listen again:

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Even the demons listened to, and submitted themselves to, the authoritative teaching of Jesus.  They did so because they knew that he was the Holy One of God.  They knew that he was the one who had created them and the one who could, with his authority over them and all things, do whatever he wanted to them.

Yes, Jesus’ authority means that he can say whatever he wants and it will happen.  No matter what stands in his way, if he so chooses, he has the ability to overcome it simply by speaking.

He could, if he desired, take away all of the problems that you face in your life.  Cancer is nothing to him.  He could tell it to leave.  He could bump up your bank account without making even one deposit.  He could introduce you to the love of your life, make your sister apologize for what she did to you, clean your house, fold those stupid socks, or add that additional bedroom you’re going to need in nine months without even lifting a finger.  He could even raise your deceased spouse back to life and make it so that you never even felt the pain of their departure.  If it was his prerogative, he could make it so without a second thought.

So why hasn’t he?  Why won’t he?

That, friends, is the more important part of Jesus’ authoritative teaching.  Those things would be amazing.  But Jesus’ authority also means that he knows what is best for you.  He knows what you need and when you need it.  He also knows what you don’t need and why you don’t need it.

He knows, just like the best teachers you have had in the past, that, at times, you need to be tested.  He knows that, sometimes, the best way for you to learn is not simply to give you all the answers to the questions that you have asked.  He knows that, for you to understand and pay attention to the lessons that you need to learn, there are times when you need the distractions that surround you to be removed.

He knows that, while the blessings of health, wealth, and the love of family and friends may indeed be beneficial to your life here on earth, there is only one thing that you need to learn and trust to be true so that you have life forever in heaven.

Listen to his instruction on how to be declared perfect and righteous in the sight of your God as he said, The Son of Man did not come into the world to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  And further, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Listen to his instruction on how his ransom for your sins and the sins of the world was paid and accepted as payment when, from the cross, he said, It is finished.

Listen to his instruction on what he is doing, even now, for you, after that payment was made and accepted when he said, In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.

Listen to his instruction on how to deal with the day to day struggles and disappointments you face when he said, Do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, What shall we wear?  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  And further, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

Listen to Jesus, the authoritative instructor, and be amazed at the way in which he speaks.  Give him praise and glory—and your attention—because of it.  But don’t stop there.  Listen to him as he reveals himself to be your Savior.  Listen and believe it to be true for you because Jesus has the authority to do whatever he wants; and he uses that authority over all things for your good, both now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dream Team

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “The Dream Team” based on Mark 1:14-20 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 21, 2017

In the Name of the One who calls us, shows his glory to us, and then shows his glory through us,

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Family of God,

Jeff Grayer. Willie Anderson. JR Reid. Ever heard any of those names before? Probably only if you are both a die hard basketball fan. Those obscure names from the hardwood were members of the 1988 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team. They lost to the Soviets in the Semifinals and ended up with a disappointing bronze. In the four years that followed, the rules were changed, and NBA players were allowed to participate for the first time.

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson. Ever heard any of those names before? Probably. They played on the 1992 Men’s Olympic basketball team. When NBA players were given the green light to play in the Olympics, the powers that be selected professional basketball’s best scorer. And then they handpicked the NBA’s best passer, best defender, best shooter, best rebounder, best shot blocker. And they brought them all together for a historic run of decisive victories. Defeating their opponents by an average of 44 points, they easily won the gold medal. History remembers them as the “Dream Team.”

I thought of the Dream Team when I read our text for tonight from Mark, chapter 1. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” This was a one of a kind moment in history. “The time has come!” The often promised, long awaited Son of God had come to save the world. And his gospel would need to go out from there to be preached to hundreds of nations, over thousands of years, to billions of people. You would think that, with so much hanging in the balance that Jesus would have assumed a dream team of helpers, servants, disciples.

“Okay, let me find the book smartest guy with the eidetic memory, so he can dispute the Torah with the Pharisees and scribes. Let me hand pick the street smartest guy, so he can figure how we’re going to put food on table and a roof over our heads. Let me find a few Type A personalities to plan our travel schedule and a couple of finance guys to take care of the treasury. (Anyone but Judas!) Give me a funny guy because he’ll be able to keep things light when times get stressful and tense. And give me the strongest guy who can fight off any enemies who decide they want to come after me with swords and clubs and what not.”

That would’ve made perfect sense—for Jesus to select a “Dream Team” of disciples to surround him during his life and then to send out after his ascension. Is that what he did?

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

               19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

It almost seems like it’s the opposite of the “Dream Team”–like Jesus was walking on the seashore and said, “Ok, give me those two. And those two.” It wasn’t random, of course. Jesus’ time was too short and his mission too important to do anything randomly. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. But we might be wondering…they themselves might’ve been wondering…..why Jesus chose them.  They were trained in, a quite likely very successful at, an entirely different career field. And as the gospels play out this team of disciples reveal themselves to be something less than dreamy. We hear a lot about them misunderstanding Jesus, fighting amongst themselves for seniority in the organization, trying to run with hare-brained and half baked ideas. In short, they seem like pretty regular guys. Perhaps that’s exactly why Jesus chose them!

               He didn’t put together the dream team, but instead he called people who didn’t always get it, and didn’t always have all the answers. Look beyond the disciples and you see that Jesus called people with emotional baggage, people with checkered pasts, people with confidence issues, people with family drama. People who weren’t good enough for anybody else were exactly the people that Jesus drew near to himself.

They were the ones who realized that they needed him the most. The Dream Team of Disciples, maybe they would’ve started to think this was all about them. And that maybe any success that they achieved was due to their proficiency, their brains, their eloquence. The anti-Dream Team starts with nothing and because they do, they eventually come to realize that Jesus is everything.

Jesus didn’t need a Dream Team to lead him. He called the anti Dream Team to follow him.”  They would follow him—to other lakeshores, to mountainsides and open fields filled with thousands of people. They would follow him and learn about how he had come to pay for their sins. They would follow him to a cross and see for themselves how much he loved them—enough to be stripped of everything he had and crushed under the fist of a punishing God.  They would follow him to a tomb on Easter Sunday morning, little knowing that he wasn’t going to be there.

Did they know they would see all those things and so much more when they heard his simple invitation on the sea of Galilee? Of course not. Following Jesus, took them in directions they never could have anticipated, but they never went there alone. Eventually, by faith, the followed Jesus to their heavenly home.

I hope you’re seeing it already. I hope it’s obvious. How much the folks he called to follow him back then have in common with the folks that he calls to follow him today. Everybody sitting around you comes here carrying some pretty heavy stuff. Just like you come here carrying some pretty heavy stuff. We come here looking a forgiveness for our guilt ridden hearts. We come here looking for a little calm in a chaotic world. We come here looking for hope when sadness overtakes us, purpose when life seems meaningless and heaven when it comes to die. We come looking for all those things and Jesus come, follow me, and you will find them.

A dream team of disciples we are not. That’s not implying that all God’s people are plain scoop of vanilla, in a cup, no sprinkles. That’s not denying that God’s people have a variety of gifts and talents. What it is saying is that we don’t have to be supermen or superwomen to be valuable to our God and useful in God’s kingdom.

He took Peter and Andrew, James and John, regular guys and he used them as the pillars in his visible church on earth. They were no dream team. Neither are we. Our names won’t find their way into any history books, most likely. They probably won’t mean much to people who live 100 years from now. But we can make a big difference in the lives of the people around us right now as Jesus works through us in their lives. So we follow him as the disciples of old—learning from him, caring like him, serving for him. Superstars, not at all. We’re just happy to be on the team. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Make Me a Better ________

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Lord Make Me a Better__________” based on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 14, 2017

Just for fun I googled Ten Best Role Models, and two seconds later google had a list for me. The list included a couple pro athletes, some actresses, a few pop/country singers, even a member of the British royalty. I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time relating to celebrities. Regular people who work regular jobs and have regular incomes – I can relate to them.

So our role models don’t need to be celebrities. We can find role models from within our own ranks…in fact, I hope we do. And I hope we keep that in mind. For instance, our children may pay some attention to pro athletes and celebrities, but the role models that will influence them the most will be you – moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas. Athletes can show our kids what to do after making a three-pointer or after scoring a touchdown…
– they will learn how to be loving husbands and wives from you
– they will learn how to treat people with respect, even when you disagree with them from you
– they will learn how to and how often to worship from you
– they will learn how and why to bring offerings to church from you
– they will learn about what’s most important in life from you.

And isn’t it also true that our children can often be really good role models for us. It’s so encouraging and refreshing when we see in our children a child-like trusting faith in Jesus…when we see the excitement they have when they have learned a Bible story…or how unafraid they are to speak openly about their faith in Jesus. Today in 1 Samuel 3 we see a great role model for all of us. He’s not a celebrity…he’s not royalty…he’s a young boy and his name is Samuel.

Samuel teaches us how to listen

Just to understand the setting a little bit better. We’re told “in those days the word of the LORD was rare.” The first five books of the Bible had been written and compiled and were kept in the tabernacle. But the people ignored those books of the Bible…even the priests. And instead of being good spiritual leaders, the priests were taking advantage of the people…living godless lives and being very poor examples for the people. They had no good role models. And nobody seemed to be listening to God’s voice.

Enter Samuel. (now the 4th time the Lord called to him) The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Listening is important. In catechism class, we talked about how it is estimated that there are roughly 4,200 different branches and types of religions or belief systems in the world. Think about that a moment. All those different opinions and ideas about
– who is in control?
– what is right and what is wrong?
– why am I here and how did I get here…and where will I go when my “here” is over and done with?

Only our true God has the true answers. But it seems listening to him, even though we know he has the answers, can be harder than we think. Can I bore you with some stats for a minute?
– Over 200 billion emails are sent each day (that’s 2.4 million per second)
– Over 500 million tweets each day
– Between 2-3 billion snapchats per day (average user opens the app 18 times per day)
– Average American devotes 10 hours per day to some kind of screen time (computer/TV/phone/tablet)

I would say the average American is certainly connected and tapped into technology and the internet. In your opinion, have all those activities and connections translated into a greater and more consistent connection to God’s Word? And what happens when people stop listening to God’s Word?
• Things didn’t go well for Adam and Eve – they listened to the serpent.
• Eli and his sons closed their ears to God’s voice and they became bad role models and were judged for it.
• David, a man after God’s own heart, took a break from listening to God – that led to adultery and murder and cover-up and what he would later recount, the worst, most guilt-stricken time of his life.
• Judas, he stopped listening to God too…and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. He hanged himself in despair.
• It’s not good for us either. When we don’t listen to God’s voice, then we’ll end up only hearing all the garbage the world pumps into our eardrums and all the lies the devil whispers and all the rationalizing and justifying and bargaining our sinful nature hurls at us.

So with Samuel, we cry out, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Speak, Lord, when I err…when I stray…when my immaturity gets the best of me…when my stubbornness doubles down…when my sinful nature digs in its heels…Speak, Lord, and cut me to pieces and help me see the danger and depravity of my sin. Knock me down into the dust and help cry out, Lord have mercy. Then speak, O Lord, and give me your mercy. Speak to me in your Word, and show me how deep and how unmatched your love. Speak…and give me the same promises you gave to Adam and Eve and David. Speak to me about Jesus. Speak to me in my baptism…speak to me in the supper…speak to me your words of forgiveness. Speak and never cease to speak. Help me to believe and never cease to believe.

In the bulletin the sermon theme was left blank. Lord, Make Me a Better _____________. I could think of several ways to fill in that blank. Lord, make me a better spouse…a better parent…a better pastor…a better evangelist…a better disciple…a better coworker…a better role model…and the lost goes on. You may fill in your blank however you wish. But might I suggest, Lord, Make Me a Better Listener?

If I am a better listener…If I am truly hearing the voice of my God over and through the many distractions…If I am listening to how patient he is with me – won’t that move me to be more patient with others? If I hear again and again how he graciously tracked down and found and claimed my lost soul – won’t that invigorate my efforts to reach out to the lost souls in my own neighborhood? If I am listening to how consistently he protects me and provides for me and attends to my prayers…how compassionate he is and how kind and generous to me even when and especially when I do not deserve one lick of it – wouldn’t that make me a kinder, more compassionate spouse and parents.

Lord, Make Me a Better Listener…and by the power of your gospel, increase my faith…and make me a better servant to those around me. Amen.