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Welcome to the Family!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Welcome to the Family!” based on Hebrews 2:11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, December 30, 2018

About 30 years and about 60 pounds ago, I met my first true love—and her name was Spalding. When I was growing up, I ate, slept and breathed basketball. It was my life. In fact,I can remember spending numerous sweltering summer nights as a high schooler playing pickup basketball games in the gym of Winnebago Lutheran Academy. There were usually 10-12 guys at these informal open gyms, but it’s important for the story that you understand there were never, ever any spectators at these open gyms.

Now at that time, I was usually the youngest guy in the group. All the other players, including Pastor Steinbrenner by the way, were older and they were better than me. I desperately wanted to impress them. I desperately wanted them to think I was cool. Any possibility of that happening went right out the window the night my family showed up at the gym—parents, older brothers and sisters, their spouses and their young children, lawn chairs in hand. Setting those lawn chairs up along the baseline of the basketball court, they proceeded to cheer wildly every time I touched the ball. They weren’t being serious, of course. They were cracking up the whole time. They did it for one reason alone. I was the little brother. And older siblings take great pride in finding new and creative ways to mortify an overly image conscious little brother.

I should mention that they’re wonderful people by the way. Today, I number them among my closest friends. But that night, I wasn’t exactly proud to say that they were my family. “Who are those people?” “Ummm….I don’t really know.”  I was hoping to create as much distance between me and them as possible. That feeling is the exact opposite of what our text for today is talking about. Because Christmas isn’t about God creating as much distance as possible between him and us. Christmas is about Immanuel-God With Us. It’s about God coming near and proudly claiming us as his own family, his own flesh and blood. That’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says in Chapter 2: Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

But, you know, shouldn’t he be? Has there ever been a human being who didn’t let Jesus down on a consistent basis? His mother Mary? She left her kid behind in Jerusalem (for crying out loud!) and decades later came out to wrangle him home, trying her best to quiet him rather than having him proclaim the kingdom of God. Peter? He spoke too often from zealous selfishness instead of having in mind the things of God. And then there was that whole denial episode. The apostle John? The apostle Paul? Every single Old Testament patriarch, matriarch and hero of faith? Time doesn’t allow us to specifically address them all, but as you skim the Bible through that lens you realize: every single person in the book does something cringeworthy, has some skeleton hiding in their closet, does something that should by any measure result in Jesus turning away in disgust and shame.

And then there’s us…I mean if Abraham is cringeworthy, if Bible heroes like Noah, David, Elijah, Mary and Paul all are guilty of doing things that are embarrassing to Jesus, how do we stand up in comparison? Have you given Jesus good reason to be ashamed of you?

For what generally speaking causes you to be embarrassed of a person? Isn’t it when someone close to you does something or says something that is wildly inconsistent with the things you hold important or dear?  My example from earlier was supposed to be humorous example of that—I valued being cool and my family showed up purposely acting as absolutely uncool as they could be. That embarrassed me.

But it’s far more serious when we give Jesus reason to be embarrassed, when we act in ways that are wildly inconsistent with the things he holds important or dear. He gives us families to be present for but so often we ignore them in favor of our screens and devices.  He gives us homes to shelter and warm us, but we complain and are dissatisfied with the stuff inside them. He encourages us to bravery, we offer him cowardice thinly draped in excuses. He encourages us to obedience, we give him embarrassing excuses and loopholes.

They caution you about using the pulpit as your personal confessional so I’m not even going to tell you the things that I do to embarrass Him, the things that shame me so grievously–but they are many and they haunt me daily. I know the Gospel, so do you, but that doesn’t erase the memory of my embarrassing actions of the past and my ongoing failings of each day….they always stand lurking in the shadows of my heart. They are never far away for you either, are they? With the sinful woman of Bethany, we wash Jesus’ sinless feet with our tears of regret, shame and embarrassment. With Isaiah we say, “Woe to me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” With Peter we say, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinner!”

He has every reason to turn away, red faced and angry and ashamed of us. But he does not turn away. He does not chop up the manger or chop down the cross in disgust. For the manger and the cross are monuments of God’s faithfulness, not measures of our faithfulness. Did you notice there’s nothing conditional in our text? Through his inspired writer, God makes a simple statement of fact, as true today as it was at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. Immanuel isn’t just a name. It’s an ongoing status. Immanuel keeps being God with us, not God at a distance from us. Why? Because Bethlehem happened and nothing can change that. We’re his family now.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity. He, too, shared in their humanity—the import of that statement may not fully strike you until you consider how completely unwilling we are to settle for anything less than we think we deserve. If we pay for second row seats behind home plate, there’s no way we’re going to accept being ushered up to the 25th row of the upper deck terrace instead. If our team is robbed of a victory by an official’s error it will sting as we remember for years to come.  If we reserve the Ford Edge as our rental car and all they can offer us at the counter is the Ford Festiva, we are going to grumble and complain and grouse to anyone who will listen. Do you want to see how awesome Jesus is? Look at how willing he was to settle for less than he deserved, to share in our humanity. He deserved the best heaven could offer. He willingly traded it for headaches and stomach flu. For a crust of bread as his dinner and a rock for his pillow. For the indignities of childhood and for insecurities of young adulthood. He has shared in our humanity. All so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

It’s a fact of life that you just never know which sermon will be your last sermon. For one weekend we could be here and the next weekend our usual space could be empty. I’ve seen it happen and so have you. But if we don’t happen to see each other again, could there be better words to part with than these? Set free. One day we will die, but don’t let that thought bind you in chains of dread and fear. Jesus lived a perfect life. Paid for all your sins on the cross. And then came to life, conquering death for you.  He has done everything necessary for you to live eternally in heaven. And if it all depends on what Jesus has done…none of it depends on what you have done. Don’t let the thought of death hold you captive. Let those shackles fall. Jesus has  set you free.

Christmas is over. But the joys of Christmas still sparkle fresh and new. The one who has every right to create distance from us, instead draws near to us. The one who has every right to be ashamed of us, instead embraces us. He shares flesh and blood with you. He shares his victory over death with you. Rejoice today that Jesus is a part of our family. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember to Love

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Remember to Love” based on Luke 1:39-55 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, December 23, 2018

Pregnancy can be an emotional time.  That has been true ever since Eve, just outside the Garden of Eden, and continues for just about every woman who has ever been with child.  There are hormonal balances that become unbalanced.  There are physical changes to a woman’s body during those 40 weeks that can make favorite outfits unable to be worn and, therefore, can make a woman feel uncomfortable even in her own skin.

But, it’s not just the chemicals inside or her outward appearance that can make for an emotional roller coaster ride.  The simple idea of another human being growing inside of you has its own ups and downs.

Like many other women, both before and after, Mary must have had her fair share of feelings about the embryo inside her own womb.  Some of her thoughts were surely the same as what might run through your own mind if you were in the same situation.

Fear definitely has its place.  She was carrying another human inside her; a human completely and utterly dependent on her for life – for protection, for nutrition, and even to supply oxygen for lungs that hadn’t fully developed yet.  Every move and every decision would have its implications on her child.  There is a healthy amount of fear involved in that responsibility.

That fear, though, is, at times, displaced when the joys of life are considered.  What a gift God gives to allow women, with a little help from their male companions, to create and sustain life inside themselves!  A sense of holy pride, not like the kind in the bible that makes you bad, can send women’s hearts swimming in a sea of accomplishment while carrying their children those nine months.

Fear and joy, godly pride and helplessness, happiness and anxiety.  All those emotions are normal.  But, as you well know, Mary’s situation can confidently also be called atypical and abnormal and not simply because she lived in a different culture than you and me.

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me…from now on all generations will call me blessed.

Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, confessed the truth of the mystery of this pregnancy and Mary concurred.  The conception itself was outside of the norm, but the result of that conception was even more important and impressive.  Both women knew, by divine intervention, that the child inside of Mary’s bourgeoning belly was the Lord promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, and to all his descendants, forever.

Now, because it was God, himself, inside her womb, he could have cared for himself and been an independent infant.  He could have, in miraculous fashion, provided for his own protection and provisions.  Yet, instead, he chose to rely on Mary.  He chose to be born in a natural way.  He chose make himself like you and me in every way, in human flesh.  Why?  Why would God do such a thing?

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.

In her famous song, the Magnificat, Mary sang the motivation behind the Lord’s choices.  He remembered his mercy.

Though the world may claim otherwise, particularly in times of trouble, natural disasters, and the horrors of human existence, your God did not remember because he forgot the people in this world which he created.  Rather, this word, translated into English as remembering, has much more to do with bringing things to the forefront of your mind at an appointed time.

Do you remember how to cook a steak?  How about the directions to your parents’ house?  Do you remember how to turn off your alarm in the morning or how to turn off the Christmas lights when you go to bed for the night?

You probably never forgot those things.  They were always in your mind and they are always important, but there are times when you turn your attention to other things that lead up to them.  You focus on starting the grill, packing up the car, getting your good night’s sleep, or simply enjoying the seasonal glow inside your house.  Then, when the appointed time comes, you remember to carry out your next action.

God’s focus, even since before the creation of the world, has been on sending his Son to live and die for you.  And, when the appointed time came for Jesus to take on flesh inside the womb of Mary, he called it to the forefront of his mind.  All of the promises and prophecies and provisions he made for his people had been laid in place.  Now was the time to use what he never forgot and was always the focus of his plan.

And, in sending Jesus to do what mankind could not and to correct the wrongs that all of humanity has wrought, God accomplished all that Mary sang about in her song—bestowing his blessings upon the humble, the hungry, and the helpless.  In short, he chose to be merciful.

Those who are humble, hungry, and helpless know that they cannot gain anything for themselves in God’s eyes and that, in contrast, the only thing they have earned from their God, based on their own thoughts, words, and actions, is his divine and deserved wrath for all of eternity.

 

But, friends, that’s the very definition of God’s mercy.  He called to mind and remembered his plan not to give his people, Abraham and all his descendants, including you and me, what they rightly deserved.  Because Jesus lived in Mary’s womb, was born, lived a perfect life in your place, and sacrificed that life to pay the redemption price for sin, God chose to be merciful to them and to you.  And, as motivation to act this way, God used the only emotion that would cause him to remember his mercy—his great love for you.

He made the decision to love you whether you deserve it or not and did not let anything stand in his way.  He worked behind the scenes of all of history to put Mary where she needed to be and carry out his plans for her and for the benefit of each and every one of you.

And, because God, in love, remembered his mercy, all of the emotions and circumstances that surrounded Mary’s pregnancy caused her to remember to show love as well.  She showed love for God, and for all Abraham’s descendants as well, by carrying out her calling from God.  With all of the hormonal and physical changes and the emotions that affected her every action, you would be hard pressed to say that she ever forgot that she was carrying Immanuel everywhere she went.

And yet, when the appointed time came, she remembered to love that child and all people when she delivered him to them and to you and to me.

Whether you are pregnant or not, whether you have ever been or won’t ever be, you surely have your own share of emotions that affect your own thoughts, words, and actions.  Fear and joy, godly pride and helplessness, happiness and anxiety aren’t only reserved for those who are with child.

The world you live in can cause any number of setbacks as well as reasons for celebration and, as you endure your own roller coaster ride of emotions, it would be easy to allow those things to distract you and cause you to forget your own calling from your God.

Especially over the next few days, you, too, are carrying the mystery of the Christ-child within you—not in your womb, but in your faith-filled heart.  And, whether it is during your Christmas celebration or in the weeks that follow, the time appointed for you to deliver him for the benefit of others will also come.

As you wait for that appointed time, motivated by God remembering his mercy to you, remember to love.  Call that message of free forgiveness for all to mind, glorify the Lord, rejoice in God your Savior, and sing the song of your salvation.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Brings Joy Against Any Backdrop

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Brings Joy Against Any Backdrop” based on Philippians 4:4-7 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, December 16, 2018

For a lot of different reasons, the professional photography field has really changed.  But back in 1989, when me and my classmates were getting our senior pictures taken, we went to a studio.  There the photographer set up his lights and cameras.  And he had backdrops.  You could pick from a brick wall background or a rustic wooden wall or maybe even train tracks and trees.  One moment you could be standing at the bright sunny beach and, a few seconds later, a new background would appear and you’d be in the dark of night, surrounded by skyscrapers and city lights.  It’s still you, just standing there, but the background can keep changing.  Isn’t that a little like life?  It’s you…you’re just standing there, living your life, but the backdrops keep changing…the circumstances in life keep changing.  Sometimes peaceful and calm and relaxed.  Sometimes manageable, but a little draining.  Sometimes hectic and out of control and even scary.  At the studio, you can choose the background you want; not in life – circumstances change, without checking with you first.

That can lead to stress.  Anxiety.  Yet, Paul says, relax.  Not just relax, rejoice.  Oh yeah, easy for him to say.  He’s the apostle Paul.  He met Jesus personally on the Road to Damascus.  He’s like a super-Christian.  Everything was probably easy and smooth for him.  Not quite.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet Paul’s difficult and stressful backgrounds were much more numerous and extreme than any of ours:

  • Flogged 5 times
  • Beaten with rods 3 times
  • Shipwrecked 3 times
  • Stoned once
  • And even now, as he writes this letter, he’s not on a beach or a quaint bed and breakfast…he’s in prison, under house arrest…not sure if he’ll get released or sentenced to more prison or worse.

Yet he says, rejoice.  In fact, as a point of emphasis he says, “I will say it again, rejoice.”

  • Rejoice because it’s Christmas time and you can almost feel the positive spirit in the air and all the family will be all together and there will be fires in the fireplace and presents under the tree?
    • But also rejoice if you’re going home to an empty house this Christmas or maybe these special holiday-cheer days heighten your recent loss or if your near-empty wallet means few, if any presents under the tree.
  • Rejoice because we just celebrated our wedding anniversary and things couldn’t be going better?
    • But also rejoice even though your marriage may be going through a rocky spell.
  • Rejoice because everybody’s health is good?
    • But rejoice even though you’re taking five different medications and that dull pain makes it impossible to get a good night’s sleep.

In other words, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”  You see, even the godless…the hardened atheist can look at his clean bill of health and his full cupboards of food and his garage with the nice car and his job promotion and feel happy about his good fortune.  But Paul suggests we can have a deeper joy…a joy that goes beyond having nice stuff and having nice things happen to us.  A joy that is ever-present.  A joy that dwells in our heart even though it might have to share space with other emotions like sadness and loneliness and heart-break…joy is still there.  Because this joy is rooted not in the ever-changing backdrops and circumstances of life but in Jesus.  Rejoice in the Lord always. 

Here’s one reason why:  The Lord is near, Paul says.  Some translations say, the Lord is at hand.  He is close.  Always right there.  One form of the word actually means guarantor.  A guarantor is the person who backs you up when you take out a loan.  He’s close.  He’s right by your side.  If you can’t pay your loan, he pays it for you.  So, rejoice….

  • There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took on flesh…was born in a manger.
  • There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took the debt you could not satisfy, and he paid it.
  • But that’s not all. The Lord still is near…he is close at hand to his believers.  So every moment of every day the Lord is near to you.  You may not feel it.  Life circumstances may try to convince you otherwise.  The devil will be sure to chime in, hoping you’ll see your problems as overwhelming and God as distant and disinterested.  But that’s not the reality.  Here’s what’s real: “This is what the LORD says…he who created you…he who formed you…fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…when you pass through the waters…I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

For this reason, since the Lord is near, there’s no need for you and me to be anxious or to worry. Plus, worrying doesn’t help.  Remember what Jesus said, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Well, then, what are we supposed to do?  It’s hard to just sit still.  I want to be active and do something that can help and be productive.  Awesome.  Then Paul has just the thing.  Instead of being anxious…instead of worrying…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  For there is nothing too great for his power to handle and there is nothing too small for his Fatherly care and concern.

Does the name Corrie Ten Boom mean anything to you?  She was a Dutch Christian woman – she and her father hid Jews in their home so they could escape the Nazi holocaust during WWII.  She was caught and sent to a concentration camp.  There was a particularly down moment she had when she and her friend, Betsie, were jammed into an over-crowded living quarters.  It smelled horrible.  And it was infested with fleas.  It took some convincing, but Betsie urged Corrie to pray and to rejoice and to give thanks.  Afterall,

  • We are in the camp together – so we have each other. Let’s give thanks for that!
  • We have pages of a smuggled Bible – so we can read God’s Word every day.
  • It’s crowded in here…cramped – but see how many other people we can touch with God’s Word!
  • And even the fleas…these horrible fleas – the fleas are keeping the Nazi guards from carefully inspecting our barracks…and so we can read our Bibles ad even have quiet worship services.
  • And so they prayed…with thanksgiving…they even rejoiced. They weren’t magically transported away from that concentration camp, but they knew the Lord Jesus was near.  And so they had a joy, so deeply rooted in Jesus, that fleas and Nazi soldiers could not extinguish.

For Paul, floggings and shipwrecks and a stoning could not remove his joy in Jesus.  You also have a joy that cannot be extinguished no matter what your backdrop is right now or what any of your circumstances in life have ever been.  Nothing in your life…

  • can go back in history and keep Jesus the Son of God from being born in Bethlehem.
  • can undo or erase what Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross.
  • Can plunge into the depths of the sea and retrieve your sins which have been buried there.
  • Nothing in your life can keep Jesus in the tomb or keep him from declaring, “Because I live, you too shall live” or keep him from returning on the Last Day to gather his sheep in his arms.
  • No backdrop can remove Jesus…for the Lord is near.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepare to Be Purified

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Prepare to be Purified” based on Malachi 3:1-4 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, December 9, 2018

Advent can be a difficult season of the Church Year to celebrate.  You may have your Christmas tree already up.  The stores have been advertising their Christmas specials for weeks already.  The music you listen to, whether in the car on the way to work or at home as you decorate for the season and wrap gifts, is all about the baby boy born in Bethlehem.  For much of this season, you find yourself looking forward to celebrating something that already happened two thousand years ago.  That paradox, in and of itself, can make this season somewhat confusing to celebrate.  But it even goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?

It can be a healthy, faith-focused journey to the Christ’ cradle when you put yourself in the sandals of God’s Old Testament people.  It can be soul-searching to discover the hope and anticipation that those people experienced when they considered and prayed about the coming Messiah. But, ultimately, your journey is different.  You already know that he did come, when he came, and what he did when he came.  It’s like watching a movie to which you already know the ending.  It can be good and worthwhile, but it is different and, therefore, a little difficult.

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the LORD Almighty.

With the eyes of faith, and two thousand years of history, it is clear to see that the promised messenger, who would prepare the way before God, is John the Baptist.  No need to look any further than the Gospel appointed for today.  He is the voice calling in the desert, who prepared the way.

And then, of course, it isn’t surprising to discover that the messenger of the covenant, the Lord they were seeking, who came so suddenly after John the Baptist, is the Messiah, himself, Jesus Christ.

God’s Old Testament people were waiting for those two men to arrive.  It consumed their thoughts and prayers.  The simple idea and promise of their impending arrival gave comfort to their sorrows and peace to their troubled hearts.  And, yet, their arrival didn’t actually happen for another four centuries after these words were written.

It may not have been lesson one in Peace through Jesus or your Sunday School lessons, but you didn’t have to wait years, let alone centuries, to have Jesus and John the Baptist revealed to you.

So, in this Advent season, how do you celebrate a prophecy like this?  How are you, in the words of the prophet, prepared for John and Jesus’ arrival?

To be sure, it is good and beneficial to study again and remind yourself of just how John and Jesus fulfilled these prophecies.  It’s good because, well, sometimes you just forget.  But, it’s also good because whenever you spend time in God’s Word, meditating and searching and growing in your spiritual knowledge, it will strengthen your faith.

It is good to be reminded that Jesus is indeed the messenger of the covenant.  He came not only to tell you of the deal and agreement that your God has made with his people, but to be the basis of it.  Rather than simply blessing the people who do good, in and because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death of substitution, God gives you everything that is his without expecting anything from you.

It is good to remember that Jesus accomplished that covenant by refining and purifying you, again, without any action from you.  He took on himself the impurities of your sin, removing them from you, and experienced, in his suffering and death, the pain and price for them that you deserved.

But, brothers and sisters, as you look at that analogy, that metaphorical explanation of how Jesus washed and cleansed you, do you see how it limps a little?

When silver is refined and clothes are laundered, does the refiner or the launderer feel any pain?  Not if they are doing their job properly!  The silver and the soiled linens, if they had feelings, would most assuredly feel the pain of the fire and the lye.  They are what get burned.  They are on the receiving end of the chemical reaction.  And, yet, when Jesus is described as refining and purifying you, he is not only the refiner and the purifier, who should feel no pain, but the fire and the soap, himself, as well and, therefore, should be the one inflicting the pain, not experiencing it.

Yes, taking this illustration in that way does indeed remind you of what the baby boy born in Bethlehem came here on earth to do for you.  That is good and beneficial for you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas.

But here, friends, is the beauty of the Advent season.  You are not only looking forward to the cradle of Christ, but, also, to when he arrives on the earth again.  And, in clear prophecy, Malachi portrays what needs to be done to prepare you for that coming, as well.

You are purified.  You are washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you are going to heaven.  And, yet, like a three year old who sees a puddle, the temptations of this world continue to seem so alluring and, so often, the robe of righteousness that you wear is covered again and again with the filth offered by the Devil, this world, and your own sinful nature and you need to be kept clean.

That is why Advent can be not just a difficult, but even a painful, season of the Church Year to celebrate.  Advent reminds you that, like the silver and the soiled linens, you have, indeed, felt the fire in your life.

What has been burned off of you?  What stain, that was so deeply rooted in your fibers, has been scrubbed away from you?

Was it that job that you thought you would not be able to survive without?  Was it a relationship in which you found so much fulfillment?  Did you lose that loved one that was your rock?  Did your lungs, your heart, or your central nervous system; those basic fundamental functioning facets of your life fail you?

Your God, through the prophet, is not minimalizing the pain you experienced in losing those things.  In fact, for many reasons, those may have even been beneficial for you in your life and blessings bestowed upon you by your God.  But, in all truth, you did not and you do not need them.

In working what is best for you and keeping you and your faith pure and primarily focused on him, your God has allowed the fire and the lye to burn, but, as in all things, he did so for your good.

And, almost as if to put salt in your wound, the prophet explains how you are to react to that pain of purifying preparation that you experience.  After you see it, recognize it, and remember it, you ought to offer him a sacrifice because of it.

You may be familiar with some of the offerings that were to be sacrificed in the Old Testament.  The Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten.  The beasts of burden that were butchered.  The goats and lambs whose blood was sprinkled in the holy of holies and showered over the people with the hyssop plant.  Those sacrifices, in many ways, were sacrifices of substitution.  Their death was to remind God’s people of the death they deserved because of their sin.

However, that is not the type of offering that the prophet is preaching about in these verses.  Rather, looking at the purification you have gone through; what has been done to you and what has been removed from you, you then ought to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving.  A joyful response, coming from a happy heart, because of that purification.

That happiness and joy in this Advent season comes not because you are a masochist who enjoys the pain, but because you know from where and why that pain has come.  Your God loves you and wants you to be with him, forever.  He wants you to be refined, pure, clean, and holy.  Celebrate this Advent season by preparing for Jesus’ arrival.  Prepare yourselves, then, to be purified and offer your sacrificial hymns and prayers in thanksgiving because of it.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Build an Altar to the Lord

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Build an Altar to the Lord” based on Genesis 8:18-20 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Thanksgiving Thursday, November 22, 2018

Most early childhood teachers could write a book filled with amusing stories and humorous anecdotes about the things they’ve heard from the mouths of babes in their classrooms over the years. My mom, a kindergarten teacher for 25 years, was certainly no exception. Were she still alive today, she could relate all the various, hilarious butcherings of the last name Waldschmidt that she heard over the years. Or she might tell you about the kindergartner who complained on the first day of school that the school’s toilet paper was virtually unusable because it was way too scratchy. But I’m almost certain she’d tell you her favorite story about the little boy who showed up on the first day of school and less than a minute after the opening bell, raised his hand and asked, “When are we gonna learn how to drive?”

That kid knew what he wanted to do on his first day. He had multiple options, a world full of things that he had yet to learn, but they all played second fiddle to the thing he knew had to come first. Getting behind the wheel.

Our text for this Thanksgiving takes place on a first day of sorts. When God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark” it was the first day of completely new world. Noah was used to being a resident on earth. But he wasn’t used to being the only resident on earth! I mean the people who came off the ark—Noah, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives.—were starting from scratch in every way.

So if you think that your “to do” list for Thanksgiving dinner is substantial, I’d venture a guess to say that Noah probably had you beat. Imagine being him. What kinds of questions are running through your mind as set foot on dry ground for the first time in a year? How about “Where are we?” (Remember, this mountain where the ark came to rest could’ve been hundreds of miles away from where Noah started.) “Where’s our next meal coming from?” “Where are we going to sleep tonight?” They needed to find a water source, build shelter, find tillable ground, you get the picture. The only thing that’s unchanged preflood and postflood is that there are still only 24 hours in a day. On his first day in a whole new world, Noah’s got a million things on his mind, two million things on his to do list. So what does he do first? He builds an altar.

Now keep in mind, this was more than just a matter of heading over to Menards and picking up an altar kit. There was the finding followed by the heavy lifting of large stones, carefully arranging them one on top of another. Plastering the seams with mud. Just building the altar was exhausting and time consuming. We haven’t even talked about what was going to go on top of the altar yet. Taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  Did you catch that? Some of ALL the clean animals. Now we don’t know exactly what that means, number wise, but suffice it say that there were animals upon animals being slaughtered and consumed by fire on that altar. It could’ve taken hours, even days to offer this sacrifice.

So why would a man so weighed down with responsibilities put everything else on hold and consume precious resources, precious energy and precious daylight to build an altar and offer a sacrifice? Why would he do that? You know why. Gratitude.

Noah knew that without the message of God, he could’ve just as easily been outside the ark instead of inside the ark when the flood came. Moments of great loss are brutal to endure. But we emerge on the other side, by God’s grace, with a greater appreciation for the things we have. Life, faith, people that we love. Those aren’t Hallmark greeting card platitudes. They aren’t intended to be trite generalities.  In fact, they are the primary things we give thanks for on a day like this. Noah emerged from the ark and everything he knew had been destroyed. But he had his life. He had his faith. And he had the people he loved. And that made him build an altar.

God grant us the grace to follow his example. First of all, in slowing down and taking inventory. Noah had a million things going on in his life and in his mind. So do we. And it’s more than just the immediate holiday business before us. It’s the 24/7/365 the demands of life. Be here at this time, make sure that is clean. It’s time for that food to get prepared. It’s time for that project to be completed. Have you paid that bill? Have you called him back?  Tonight, tomorrow—just breathe for a minute. Slow down and look around you. Do you have life? Do you have faith? Do people that you love and who love you, too? Then your cup is filled is to the top. It’s easy to forget that.

It was 16 degrees when I got into my car in the Walmart parking lot last Sunday before church. I had stopped to get the doughnuts for TOPS, our Teen Bible Class. And the news that it was 16 degrees on November 18th was received pretty much exactly as you’d expect. “Are you serious, Lord? Well at least we only have about 6 more months of this!” But you see, while it was 16 degrees….I was getting my car. Which started and not only transported me, but also warmed up to a comfortable temperature during the drive. The drive from Walmart, where I got doughnuts! Life was good, but I was so wrapped in the 16 degrees that I lost sight of how good it was. Do you ever have that? Where a single willow of trouble or difficulty makes you lose sight of the whole forest of things that you have to be thankful for?  Oh, Lord forgive us, for taking so many for granted!

And he does. As regularly and consistently as the morning sun rises—solely by grace, without our merit, so also mercy and pardon rise from our God—solely by grace, without our merit. On the cross, Jesus said to his Father “punish me instead of them.” Today, Jesus says to his Father, “Bless them because of me.” And he does. Our Baptism is the Ark from which we emerge each day to a spiritual clean slate, a fresh start, a new life. Just like Noah did so many years ago.

And what’s the first thing on our priority list each day? Build an altar! Just like Noah did so many years ago. But that analogy limps of course. Because thanksgiving is more than just building a metaphorical altar with a 2 minute prayer at the beginning of the day. That’s not a bad thing to pencil in, mind you, but in reality, a Christian’s entire life is a continuous altar building from beginning to end. It’s every time, every action, every moment where you say, “Lord, accept my humble sacrifice.”

If that’s true, and it is, your sacrifice is saying kind words when your heart would prefer mean ones. Your sacrifice is patiently abiding with someone when you’d be justified to blow up at them. Your sacrifice is telling your spouse or your parents or your friends “I’m sorry. I was wrong to do that.” Your sacrifice is helping when it would be easier to sit. Trusting when it would be easier to worry. Praising when it would be easier to complain. That’s hard work. It takes precious time. It involves moving some pretty big rocks. But building those mini-altars throughout our lives is the Spirit given upshot of gratitude, of knowing what we deserve and what we get instead. What we get from the providing hands of our dear Creator today, every day, and in eternity. So build an altar to the Lord today, every day and in eternity as well. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Jesus Speaks…Great Things Happen

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “When Jesus Speaks…Great Things Happen” based on John 5:25-29 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 18, 2018

Aren’t politics a joke sometimes?  Don’t get me wrong – politicians and governing officials doing their jobs is no joke.  That’s a great blessing.  Christians are very thankful for those who serve in the government and we even pray for them.  What’s unfortunate is how politicians talk to one another…how they constantly seem to be looking over to the other side of the aisle to see if someone will say something or do something they can pounce on or criticize.

That’s the kind of environment that was starting to develop in Jesus’ day.  It wasn’t even the politicians.  It was the religious leaders who were watching Jesus very closely to see if he would do something or say something they could pounce on and criticize.  What was it this time?  He had healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  He told him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk.  But since he had done this on the Sabbath Day, the religious leaders were in a tizzy.  They confronted Jesus.  And Jesus starts talking about his relationship with God the Father and how those who honor the Father are supposed to honor him, the Son, as well.  That did it.  Not only was this man Jesus a Sabbath Day breaker he was also now a blasphemer.

It was in this context that Jesus basically says, you haven’t seen anything yet.  And he goes on to speak about the great things that happen when he speaks.  For instance, when Jesus speaks, dead people are raised.

Do you remember when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead?  “Little girl, get up” he said.  Or how about the widow’s son from Nain…he was being carried out on a funeral procession.  Jesus stopped them and said, “Young man, get up.”  And who could forget Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who has been in the tomb four days.  “Lazarus, come out” he said. In each case Jesus spoke and the dead people came to life.

But here in this first verse Jesus is not speaking about a physical resurrection or a bodily resurrection, like we think about at the Last Day.  He will speak about that in a moment.  Listen again to what he says:  A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  Jesus is talking about a time, right now in the present, when dead people are actually being brought to life…when dead people are hearing the voice of Jesus and they come springing to life.

I look out over this congregation and here’s what I see:  I see dead people…who have now been brought to life.

  • I see people, am I’m right there with you, who had no understanding…no faith…no love for God but now our hearts belong to Jesus and our ears are happy to hear his voice and our lips even sing his praise.
  • I see people who were once buried and entombed in the darkness and death of unbelief…we were lost…we were doomed…but no longer. We rejoice that we are children of God and we gladly confess our faith in him.

 

How did this happen?  Jesus spoke to us in his Word and Sacrament.  And when Jesus speaks, great things happen…dead people are raised to life.  A baby is brought to the font and Jesus says, “Little girl…little boy…get up…and live…and believe.”  The good news is preached and Jesus says, “Come out…come out of that darkness and into the light…I bring you from death to life…I turn your unbelief into trust…I turn your cold heart of enmity into a dwelling place of my love.”  I look out over this congregation and I see life.

And then I look out over the world.  And I see more dead people.  They walk and talk and go to work and take vacations…but they are still dead.  They need to hear the voice of Jesus.  And you know great things happen when Jesus speaks.  So just as Jesus raised you to life and gave you faith, he can do the same for so many more.  Will he use you?  Will he use me?  Is there any urgency to all of this?  I know deadlines can sometimes help me when I’m given a project.  One of the first questions I ask is “when is this due.”  I need to know if I should get right on this or can I let it sit on the corner of my desk for a few weeks or longer or maybe forget about it altogether.  It turns out, there is some practical urgency for you and me not only hearing the voice of Jesus, for our own benefit but also sharing the words of Jesus for the benefit of others.

For a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.  The practical urgency?…the smelling salts, should we need them?  We’re going to die.  And we’re going to be judged.  And we’re going to spend eternity in heaven or hell.

Those who have done good will rise to live.  I’m not sure I like the sounds of that.  Could it be that whether I spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell depends on how good I have been?  How good do I have to be?

  • Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy. (Leviticus 19)
  • Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church…Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5)
  • Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Need I go on?  Whose heart can be pure enough, holy enough, good enough?  Not mine.  And not yours.  And yes, that should spell doom.  But Jesus comes to the rescue again.  He describes those who are good.  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).

The good ones are believers.  The good ones are the ones, who through the eyes of faith, realize they themselves are not good enough…never will be…but Jesus has been perfect for us.  The good ones are those who have been cleansed and washed and declared righteous, not because they’ve scored high marks in morality but declared righteous because the Son of God has made satisfaction and payment for all their miserable low and lousy marks.  The good ones are those who have already been given faith in their spiritual resurrection; one day, they’ll be given a physical resurrection too.  They will rise to live…in heaven.

Have you ever heard of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin?  In the 1970’s the whole town had to move to higher ground because of constant flooding.  A good deal of government money was used to relocate businesses and homes.  When people knew their homes were scheduled to be destroyed in the near future and brand new homes would soon be provided, a couple things happened.  They stopped pouring all their time and energy and money into their old homes and they started planning dreaming and looking forward to their new homes.  Their minds and hearts were on the new rather than the old.  Oh, they still had to go to work and carry on with their daily chores while the old town still was standing, but their minds often drifted toward the new.

When Jesus speaks, great things happen.  He has raised us from spiritual unbelief and give us saving faith.  He promises also to raise us on the Last Day and give us entrance into heaven – again, all his doing.  For the time being, we have work to do…some daily chores to attend to…we have a faith to nourish…the next generation to train up…families to love and care for…a gospel to share…but our minds drift toward the new.  What will that be like to have a glorified body?  What will that be like to live with no sin?  What will that be like to be reunited with loved ones?  What will that be like to be with Jesus?  Hasten the day.  Yes, hasten the day.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day is Surely Drawing Near:The Day of Judgement

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Day is Surely Drawing Near:The Day of Judgement” based on Hebrews 9:24-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 11, 2018

If you would like, you can try to avoid it.

You can put your mind on other things like the hobbies that you enjoy, the memories that you make with your family and friends, or some fanciful look forward toward an upcoming vacation.

That avoidance, though, will take much more than simply a diversion of the mind.  You will also need to do something about that body of yours.  You need to nourish and strengthen it with food and drink.  You need to exercise and keep it in tip-top shape.  You might prevent sickness and disease with healthy vitamins and supplements and then, when sickness, disease, and deterioration rear their ugly heads anyway, you can invest in surgeries, therapies, and medications.

However, no matter how much you do to avoid it, you walk through its shadow every day and sleep in its shade every night.  You have experienced its effect in the lives of your loved ones and, with a 15 minute surf on the worldwide web or snippet of a news segment, you see it in your community and all over the world.  It is inevitable.

If you would like, you can try to avoid it, but it will not avoid you forever.  You, brothers and sisters, are going to die.  It is, as the inspired author wrote to the Hebrews, your destiny.

But, as awful as it may be to acknowledge your impending end, that’s not the only eventuality that this author enumerated in this letter.  Yes, you are going to die.  But, then, there is another step.  After your soul and body split comes the time for judgment.

And, like death, that judgment is coming whether you like it or not.  And, yet, like death, many people will do all that they can to avoid it.  But, unlike death, those who seek to avoid judgment after death, do so without involving their bodies or their minds.  They do so with their faith, or, rather, their lack thereof.

Like a child who assumes that the danger they fear will remove itself if they close or cover their eyes, those who hope to avoid judgment choose not to believe that it exists.  No God, no afterlife, and, therefore, no judgment.

Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.  Whether you believe it or not, want it or not, do your best to avoid it or not, you are going to die and you are going to face judgment.

So what are you going to do about it?

No one alive today knows for sure which human author was inspired to  write the words in the second lesson for today, but there is no doubt to whom it was written.  The writer acknowledged his audience with so many references to what happened in the Old Testament Temple, particularly in the sacrifices offered by the high priest.

The Hebrews, who were more than familiar with the ritual that occurred on the Day of Atonement, had an answer to the question of what needed to be done about death and judgment.

On that Day of Atonement, the high priest would take the blood of a sacrificial animal and enter into the holiest room in the Temple, a room that was only used for this once-a-year ritual.  He would take that blood and sprinkle it over the ark of the covenant, the box that held the 10 Commandments God gave his people.

For as real as the sights, sounds, and smells of this ritual sacrifice were, the ritual itself was a symbolic shadow, a copy of the very real sanctuary and house of God, i.e., heaven.

The reason that God’s Old Testament people received forgiveness and atonement for their sins was not because the blood of that sacrificial animal was valuable enough to cover the cost of the debt their sin incurred to their God.  Rather, it taught them, as a shadow and copy, of what would come at the end of the ages; at the end of all the practice and copies and when the world was made completely ready.

The reality, the fulfilment of the shadows, was Jesus.  Listen again:

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

There is no more need for sacrifices on the Day of Atonement because the real atonement was made on Calvary’s cross.  As the true sacrificial substitute, Jesus’ death took, in himself, the punishment that sin deserved; your sin, my sin, and the sin of the whole world.

That means that, when the time comes for your unavoidable death and judgment, you will die and be judged not guilty.  The judge’s sentence has already been doled out upon Jesus.  And, in the same way that his death took the place of the eternal death that you deserve, so his perfectly lived life takes the place of the sinless life you were supposed to lead.

Brothers and sisters, you can enjoy your hobbies and make memories with your family and friends.  Take your vitamins and supplements.  Exercise and watch what you eat or drink.  If you need surgery, undergo the knife.  If you need medicine, you can, in good conscience, remove whatever sickness is trying to take your life away from you.

However, as you do any of those things, do not let your reason be because you are afraid of, and avoiding, death and judgement.  Whether you believe it or not and whether you like it or not, Jesus paid the price for your sins.  Believe it with all your mind, body, and heart and live your lives waiting for him to bring your salvation to you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our God is an Awesome God

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Our God is an Awesome God” based on Daniel 3:16-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 4, 2018

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, was an English priest.  He served as a chaplain during World War I.  He was in the trenches in France.  He was right there in the thick of things…right there amidst the sights and the sounds and the smells and the horrors of war. While in France he sent a letter to his wife – really intended for his young son.  And this is what he wrote:

The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, “God, keep daddy safe” but “God make daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.”  Life and death don’t matter…right and wrong do. Daddy dead is still daddy, but daddy dishonored before God is something awful.

In other words, he was asking his son to pray that he would persevere…that he would keep the faith…that he would keep his trust in God and live his faith even in the face of extreme pressure.  That prayer came from a man at war in a foxhole, surrounded by danger.  Could that be our prayer too?  Could that be my prayer from my office cubicle?…from my college dorm room?…from my living room?  “Lord, make me strong and keep me strong so that I do not dishonor you…so that I do not lose my faith.  Lord, make me brave even though I am surrounded by the sights and the sounds and the smells and the distractions of this world.”

After all, what good would faith be if we believed for a little while, but then in the time of testing we fell away?  What good would it do if we spent a whole lifetime casually talking about Jesus…even worshiping Jesus, but then in the 11th hour of our life we didn’t fully realize what Jesus has done on our behalf and we failed to put our trust in him?  What good would it do if we neglected our faith in Jesus or allowed it to smolder out because the pleasures and cares of this world seemed more pressing and more important?  Lord, keep us steadfast!

In the face of pressure…when the heat was turned up, three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not falter or flinch.  In them we see what faithfulness is.  But the answer is really our awesome God.  He is Lord over all.  He makes us strong.

He Is Lord over all  – The place is Babylon.  The king is Nebuchadnezzar.  For the moment, you could not find a more powerful king.  This king had an ego.  He declared himself an offspring of one of the most powerful gods…and to give his people the opportunity to express their loyalty to him, a golden statue was made…a 90’ statue.  But that’s not all.  Not only did he commission the building of this false god, he then ordered everyone in the land to bow down to this false image whenever special music was played.  And that’s what happened.  When the music played, the people fell down to the ground.

Well, not everyone.  Three men refused.  There were from Judah…believers in the true God.  They, among the brightest and the best from Judah, had been carted off to Babylon and now were given new names and new positions.  Believers living in an unbelieving land.  And here they were being asked to compromise their faith.  They could take the easy way out and bow down like everyone else…or…they could remain faithful to the Lord…but that would surely result in their death…a fiery furnace death.

They knew something Nebuchadnezzar did not.  They knew the 90’ golden statue was an inanimate piece of metal.  It didn’t think or feel or walk or see or do anything.  And they knew the God who had told them, “I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols”  did see and hear and feel and think and create and provide for and love.  And so they did not bow down.

But Nebuchadnezzar was a reasonable man, right?  No.  He was furious…unhinged.  He made the furnace seven times hotter.  He ordered his strongest men to tie up these men and drop them in.  He didn’t realize his rage and his overreaction and his zeal to heat up the furnace would accomplish two things:

  • It would kill off some of his best soldiers
  • It would only make God’s miracle of deliverance more impressive – for later when the men were taken out of the furnace, their bodies were unharmed, their hair not even singed, their clothes perfectly in tact…not even the smell of smoke.

He makes us strong – We’ve heard this account since we were kids.  We know the outcome.  These three men did not.  They knew their God had the power to save them, but even if he didn’t choose to, they were willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise their faith.

The place was Germany.  The Holy Roman Empire was calling the shots.  For the moment, you could not find a more powerful ruling entity.  And that powerful entity had summoned little Martin Luther to stand before them and take back all that he had said and written.  You see, Martin Luther, as he was growing in God’s Word, recognized some teachings of the church that didn’t agree with Scripture.  She he wrote the 95 Thesis and some other documents.

  • The church said you could earn your way to heaven by living a good life; Scripture had convinced Luther that salvation was free.
  • The church had said you could pay money and receive God’s forgiveness; Scripture had convinced Luther that only Jesus can and has paid for sin.

He wasn’t looking for a fight; just a debate.  But in the end, he had a choice.  Take the easy way out and recant…or…he could stand up for the teachings of Scripture even though the most powerful people in the world disagreed with him and would likely tie him to a stake, put some firewood and kindling at his feet, and happily light the match.

We’ve heard this account since we were kids.  We know the outcome.  “Unless I am convinced from Scripture…I will not recant.”  He was willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise his faith.

And now return to your cubicle and to your college dorm room and to your living room and your neighborhood.  I don’t see any fiery furnaces or burning stakes in any of your futures.  But I do see

  • College professors challenging the faith of our youth and college campus life challenging their values.
  • Increase of distractions and creative excuses – threatening to keep us from reading our Bibles and gathering with fellow Christians – just ask your sinful nature and see if it won’t have a million different excuses and justifications.
  • Social circles where you’ll be tempted to hide your faith and maybe even some friendships that will dissolve if you show and live your faith.
  • Hard conversations you may have to have with your kids or grandkids about life choices and right and wrong.
  • Like the English priest and chaplain…I see hard work ahead…a world that won’t make it easy for you…I see testing…I see pressures….I see hard choices.

Are you ready?  Are you strong like the three men?…like Martin Luther?    That’s the wrong question.  Try this out for size instead:   Is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego your God?  And is your God Lord over all?

  • Know this: your salvation and your security does not depend upon whether or not you will pass the time of testing or whether or not you will make the right choices or whether or not you are willing to die for Jesus…it depends on Jesus…who did make all the right choices…who did pass all his times of testing…who did die for you.
  • And know this: Your God is Lord over all and he can do the impossible.  His death can pay for your sins; it already has.  His resurrection turns the funeral of your loved one into a victory celebration.  His baptism turns you into his child.  His love fills you with love, and so equips you to be more patient and more forgiving and more understanding with your children and with your spouse.  His strength fills you with strength, and so enables you to stand before your Nebuchadnezzars – whether they be on your college campuses or in your office spaces or in your neighborhoods.

Lord, you redeemed us and we know you will not abandon us.  We now ask you to make us brave, and if we have hard things to do, make us strong to do them.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Him Be Glory

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “To Him Be Glory” based on Jude 24-25 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 28, 2018

Paul Allen scored a perfect score of 1600 on his SAT’s. He was named to Time Magazine’s list of the World’s Most Influential people….twice. In 2007 and 2008. He held 43 different patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He was the creative force behind an award winning television and film production company. He was owner of both the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Oh yeah…he was also the founder of a little company called Microsoft, with his friend Bill Gates.

What was Paul Allen famous for? The answer is everything.  Everything he did, it seemed, was successful and gained him notoriety. Paul Allen is the exact opposite of the guys we’re talking about today. What’s the Simon the Zealot famous for? “Wait, isn’t he the one the one that denied Jesus?” No, that was Simon Peter. “Is he the guy the Roman soldiers wrangled to carry Jesus’ cross on Good Friday?” No, that was Simon of Cyrene. So who is Simon the Zealot? He’s the opposite of Paul Allen–he’s a guy who’s famous for nothing. Ok, that’s a bit of hyperbole. I mean, after all, we know that he was one of the twelve that Jesus hand-picked and called his disciples. That’s not nothing! But honestly the Bible doesn’t tell us much more than his name. He’s a quiet disciple.

History gives us a reason to believe that Simon the Zealot’s pre-disciple life wasn’t always so quiet. It all centers around what the descriptor Zealot actually means. Some say that he’s called a Zealot, simply because he was a man of great religious zeal. That he didn’t do anything halfheartedly, but truly loved the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength. (Matt 22:37) If that is being a zealot….Lord, make each of us one of those!

But things get real interesting when we learn that the Zelotes were actually a formal political group. They were zealously opposed to Roman intervention in the government of their homeland, and there was even a splinter group among them known as the Sicarii, or dagger men. And they were not using their daggers to whittle little action figures of Caesar. They were real life hit men.

Now, don’t misunderstand. The Bible doesn’t say that Simon was a Sicarii or even that he was an active member of the Zealot political party. But if he did indeed run in those circles…wow…what a journey! To go from trusting the power of a weapon to the change people’s lives, to trusting the power of the Spirit to change people’s lives. To go from the sword of anarchy to the sword of the Spirit! There is your dagger! (to borrow a phrase!)

As little as we know about Simon the Zealot, we know even less of about Jude. He was one of the 12. And well, that’s about it. The Jude who wrote the words of our text, was probably a different guy named Jude. Talk about the ultimate in anonymity. It’s your festival and people read the words of a different guy who happens to share your name! But even though the words came from the pen of somebody else, Jude-the apostle nevertheless embodied them. “To him who is able to keep you from falling…to the only God and Savior be glory.”

To Him be glory. That’s really what a festival day like this is about. It’s about learning from those who’ve gone before us. But what exactly do we learn? What do we learn from guys we know nothing about? From guys whose only claim to fame is that they knew Jesus, and glorified him in their lives by doing what he called them to do—without fame, without fanfare, without recognition? What could we possibly learn from them? How about what the Christian life is really about it! Knowing Jesus, glorifying him in our lives by doing what he has called us to do, without fame, without fanfare, without recognition. To Him be glory.

The anonymity of men like Simon and Jude might be all the more reason to have special Sunday for them. The disciples that nobody ever notices might be the disciples who are most relatable for us! It’s likely that none of us will ever have our own entry on Wikipedia. It’s possible, but not at all likely that any of us will ever be named to a list of the World’s Most Influential people. Getting our name and picture in the paper might be the most notoriety we’ll ever receive. And so, in Simon and Jude, we see ourselves. They are simply put, disciples. People whose greatest aspiration is to quietly follow Jesus. Isn’t that our greatest aspiration as well?

To Him be glory. That helps us makes sense of why we’re here. Some people come to see it early in life…for some people it takes a few decades, but eventually all of us come to the realization: “Hey….isn’t what I’m doing today the exact same thing I did yesterday? And the exact same thing I’m going to be doing tomorrow? Get up go to work or school, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. And then tomorrow, get up to work/school, come home, eat dinner, go to bed… And then I repeat that for about 60 years or more. And if it’s just this non-stop, endless repetition of the same (pretty much anonymous) routine, if I’m just another face in the crowd—what’s my life really worth?

Well, the answer is…a lot. It’s worth a whole lot.  First of all, because a blood price was paid for it. Remember the words of Jude? He is who is able to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Without fault. But how is that possible??? We can’t get out of bed without sinning. Even our greatest gifts of generosity are tinged by self satisfaction. Even our humblest acts of service are tainted by hopes of reciprocity or at least recognition. So how are we able to come to the end of our lives, much less the end of a day without fault? The answer of course is Jesus. The one who covers all our faults with his blood. Anonymity in the world isn’t such a bad thing. Jesus knows you. That’s makes every day worth living.

Forgiveness is gift. So is the air you breathe. Your life is a gift. It didn’t happen by accident. It was planned. And the faith that brings you here to this place. It, too, is a gift. It didn’t happen by accident. It was planned. All this is way of saying that your relationship with God brings your life meaning. Whether people know your name or not, you’re a part of something bigger than you—just like Simon was, just like Jude was. You’re not just here for you. Or even for the people around you. To Him be the glory.

To Him be glory. That’s the Spirit given mindset that infuses every moment of our lives with nobility and purpose. People may never read your name in a history book. But you can take care of the family that God’s entrusted to you. That brings nobility to making dinner. You can take care of the body that he’s given you. That brings nobility to exercise. You can take care of the mental and physical gifts he’s given you. That brings nobility to math homework or to making sure your product at your workstation is the best it can be. You can take care of the home and the possessions he’s given you. That brings nobility to cutting the grass, sifting out the litter box and cleaning the half inch wide and one mile deep chasm that exists in between the washer and the dryer.

To him be glory. Inscribe those words on your hands. To Him be glory. Inscribe those words on your brain. To Him be glory. Inscribe those words on your heart. Then all you do, recognized or not, will truly have meaning. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let God Be God

Guest Speaker Seminarian, Jordan Bence delivers a sermon entitled “Let God Be God” based on Job 38:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 22, 2018

There can be times in our lives where we give advice to people that really don’t need it. I remember my uncle telling me a story about a beer festival he went to not too long ago. While they were there, he and my aunt were walking around from tent to tent trying the latest and greatest new brews. About halfway through the day they stopped at the Leinenkugel’s Brewing tent to try out their new summer shandys. They asked the bartender to pour them one and waited. As the bartender went to the cooler he pulled out two bottled beers, set the glasses on the bar top and proceeded to pour the beers at a 90 degree angle producing an obscene amount of foam. My aunt, who is not shy whatsoever, quickly blurted out, “Holy cow buddy, who taught you how to pour beer? You tilt the glass so that doesn’t happen.” The bartender chuckled and said to her, “Funny you say that, because I’m actually Jake Leinenkugel. I’m the one that makes the beer.” I remember my uncle telling me how red her cheeks were. My aunt, someone who has never brewed a beer in her life, giving instructions to the owner and brew master of a multi-million dollar brewery.

I remember back to one of the first times I tried to advise someone who didn’t need it when I was younger. Growing up my mom always made the best breakfasts. In particular, she always made the best egg bakes. She would make them sporadically throughout the year but would always make them on holidays. Christmas and Easter in particular.  One particular Christmas I asked my mom if I could help her make the egg bake. As we were weighing out the measurements to put in the recipe the time came to add the dry ingredients. One by one I carefully measured out the ingredients until time came to add the dry mustard. My mom instructed me to add one teaspoon to the mix. I looked at her with a big smile on my face and said, “You can never have too much mustard, mom. Better add a little more.” In my great wisdom, I proceeded to add 2 table spoons to the mix instead. There wasn’t a person at the breakfast table who was pleased that I helped mom make the egg bake that year. I absolutely ruined it. A recipe my mom had practiced and perfected since before I was born and I thought she could use my advice. How foolish that was. As foolish as it was for me to try to advise my mom or my aunt to advise Jake Leinekugel how much more foolish it would be to try and give advice to God. But that doesn’t stop our sinful nature from trying. There are times we see the events in our lives unfold and we think we know better. We think that we have a greater plan. As we open up to our reading for today and as we take a look at the book of Job as a whole we find company in this foolish task from Job and his friends. They all thought they knew what was best for Job. For almost 37 chapters we hear them spew their wise thoughts. For 37 chapters God is silent. In our text for today God speaks and they listened. In our text for today God speaks and we listen. In our text for today we learn to let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing that he does all things for our benefit.

Before we take a look at our text for today lets take a look back and see what brought us to this point in the book of Job In this book we are introduced to a blameless and righteous believer named, you guessed it, Job. His wealth was amongst the greatest in all the land. He worshipped God day and night. One day Satan asks God to send trial into Job’s life to test his faith. Satan believes Job is only faithful because God has blessed him beyond belief. In one day Job loses his thousands of cattle, his wealth and all of his children. But Job remained faithful. Therefore Satan comes back a second time and tells God that because he still has his health Job is remaining faithful. Take that away and he will flee from God. God allowed Satan to bring down a life-threatening skin disease that took over Job’s entire body. Job was so sick he had to move away from society and live on his own. There his so called “friends” came and visited him to discuss his situation. These men too turns belittling Job and pointing to his immeasurable sins that must have caused these misfortunate events. Job joins in from time to time in this discussion as well. Finally, God has had enough. He has heard enough complaints, criticisms and crude comment. Now is time for these sinful men to be quite. Human wisdom is silenced, true wisdom now speaks.

He does all things well

We are told that God comes to Job in a storm and says to him, Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” I can’t imagine Job’s knees weren’t shaking like crazy. God is calling him to the carpet. As God goes on he doesn’t mention the crummy counsel his friends gave, he doesn’t even mention Job’s words, he has some questions of his own.  God asks Job where he was when he created the earth’s foundations, the sea,  morning, rain, stars, clouds and animals. Job has been asking God for chapter after chapter, “Where were you, God?” God counters by asking Job, “Where were you when I did all these things?” The answer is nowhere. Job had nothing to do with all of these things yet they still came to be. God has a perfect knowledge and control over the universe because he created it. Did Job create the universe? Does he govern it? Does he provide for all the animals and creatures that inhabit it? No way. With these questions God is basically asking: “Job, have you forgotten who you are talking to?” Job, a sinful human being, cannot come close to comprehend the wonders of the universe. Yet Job wants to go beyond even that and try to comprehend the one above them: God. God goes on for over three chapters asking Job these probing and cutting questions in order to show him just how foolish he has been. Although God is very blunt with his words he is also loving. He is patiently trying to show Job how ridiculous this truly is. He is trying to remind Job that he has all things under control. He is proving to him that he does all things well.

God’s words here remind me of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount when he said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? These words echo the truths that the Heavenly Father is speaking here. Job has looked at the terrible sufferings that were going on in his life and began to question if God truly was the right guy for the job. God shows Job that just as he meticulously created the world and governs it so also he is in control of Job’s life. Not a single thing that was going on in Job’s life was out of God’s hands. God is clearly telling Job with these words: “Let me be God, Job. I’ve had it in the past, and I’ve got it now.”

Are there times we can be like Job? Times we can question God’s control over our lives. When things fall apart where is the first place we often turn? We look past our own flaws, the flaws of others, the sinful world in which we live, and place our glaring eyes on our perfect God. These thundering words from the storm are not only for Job but for us too. These questions are for us too. For every time we have challenged God and his control in our lives he thunders down with his justice demanding that he be heard and proving that he reigns supreme.  During those times God says to us: “Let me be God.”

He does all things for our benefit

To be completely honest the majority of the book of Job has a dismal feel to it. As you read through the book it can be easy to question what God’s intentions are with these trials in Job’s life. It isn’t until the last chapter of the book that we see the outcome of God’s servant, Job. Verse 12 says: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” Job’s cattle and wealth were restored in even greater number than he had before. He had seven more sons and three more daughters. God truly was working all things out for Job’s benefit. But was the greatest blessing that Job got out of this experience an increase in his wealth? Most certainly not. Could God have proven to Job and us that he was doing all things for his good if he hadn’t restored his wealth? Absolutely. In his great suffering, pain and sorrow Job grew ever closer to God. As Job went through the greatest trials that this life could throw at him he was living breathing proof that God is great enough to guide us through all things. The strength that came in knowing his savior would come led Job through his darkest times. Although he wasn’t sure what curveball life was going to throw at him next he proudly proclaimed in the midst of it all: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job knew that although his earthly wealth and health could be taken away God would never take away his promise of salvation that would come on the cross. This was what gave him strength to face what was ahead. Because Job knew for a fact that these trials would come to an end. There would come a day when he would see his savior face to face and everything going on in his life in the meantime brought him one step closer to that day. Even in the worst of times Job was encouraged to let God be God.

In our dark days we too are encouraged to do likewise. I’m sure you would agree with me that that is easier said than done. I think about the tough times in my own life where I struggled to do this.  Days where hear the results that read that my father’s cancer is back once again. Or the times when I received news that family members had miscarried another baby or delivered the child and lost it not far after. Or the news that a dear friend had passed away far too young. Or the news that another family member has denied the faith and left the church, denying their kids be baptized or have any interest in church. It is easy for me to admit the most difficult thing to do during those times is to let God be God. I’m sure in your own difficult times you can admit the same. During those times the easiest thing for us to do is put God on the stand. To point the finger in God’s face and show him every instance where he has erred. To go on this rant showing God how our lives would be better if this would happen or if this didn’t happen. And as we go on talking and talking, teaching God a lesson on doing what he does best the time comes where our stomach drops, our lips stop moving, and we come to the realization of what we’re actually doing. In humility we fall to our knees having questioned our almighty God. But in his abundant love God does not leave us there. In that moment he lifts us up, and carries us to the cross. Where we see his son dying for us all. In this moment he leans down and says to us, “My son, my daughter, let me be God.”

As we take a look at the universe we are truly amazed at the work of our God’s hand. As we look back at events in our lives we truly realize that God knows whats best for us. All these things add to our understanding on why we should let God be God. The ultimate reason why we let God be God is because he took care of our greatest need. A need we could never earn on our own. That need was the right relationship with him that his son won for us in full. Where were we when this happened? Nowhere to be found. This was won for us in full by Christ.

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. As you and I leave the cross and go into our own lives we do so trusting God.

 

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. So when those times come when the devil whispers in your ear, “He can’t possibly be God. He can’t possibly be doing all things well..” You know where to go. Go to the cross.

 

As I think back to my aunt giving advise to Jake Leinenkugel on beer and myself giving advise to my mother concerning her perfected egg bake I shake my head seeing how foolish those things truly are. But as I think back to the times I tried to give advise to God, my head doesn’t shake, instead my heart breaks. How foolish I truly have been. But as I open God’s Word I hear the voice of God reminding me that Christ had not come to save perfect people who perfectly trust in him. He came to save a world full of people who constantly failed to trust in him. He did all this in order that he might turn sin filled hearts of distrust into  new hearts of righteousness that trust in him and his will. These new hearts that live in each and every one of us let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing he does all things for our benefit. Amen.