May 10, 2020 – We Shall Be Changed, and the Death of Death- 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4

changed

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?” “O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.             1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:8 (ESV)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

We shall be changed.  Into what?

Jesus has brought us from death to life. This is why we celebrate Easter. We trust in Jesus, that He has put death to death and that we have the hope and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are times in our lives when it’s easy to forget the Easter hope and we forget that we have been changed when we were baptized into Christ, and that we will be changed yet again when He transforms us and gives us bodies that will never die. Either we get distracted by the cares and sorrows of this world, or we get preoccupied with the all the things we think are important (much as Jesus’ friend Martha did) and we miss the one thing – the One Who should be primary above all.

The implication to believing God’s promise of eternal life and transformation that were given to the prophet Isaiah, and again to the apostles Paul and John, and that Jesus Himself also promised, is that we have nothing to hold back, nothing to fear, nothing to put in a higher priority than God.  We belong to Him.  He cares for us and provides for us in this life as well as the next.

Both Isaiah and John remind us that God will take away our shame and mourning, and will dry our tears.  This is a wonderful encouragement for all of us, because we are all held captive to our own sin, shame and sorrow.  We have been changed, and we will be changed. Not because we earn it, not because we deserve it, but because Jesus gave His life so that we may be a part of His resurrection and His life.

The sting of death has been taken away. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing holding us back from the life that Jesus has already won for us.

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and to know that You will wipe away our tears and take away our sin and sorrow.  Forgive us when we forget that we belong to You and that through You we are forever changed.

 

Message June 16, 2019- God is Good When Life is Good

life is good

And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14 (ESV)

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe.  And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9 (ESV)

When life is good, remember the Lord. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with enjoying life that we forget to thank God and know that it is only by His grace and by His hand that we live and that we can enjoy life, family and creation.  The mountaintop experiences are amazing, but for the most part we live life in the valleys.  We set up our remembrances while we are on the mountaintop so that we can reflect when times are not so good, and say, “Look what God has done for us.”  We don’t generally put stones in rivers, but we do take pictures and buy souvenirs.  Sometimes we leave something of ourselves behind- a signature, or a coin, or a dollar bill with a catty saying scribbled on it, so that others will know we were there. Son of Thurman’s in Delaware has dollar bills with various scribbling and signatures on them all over the dining room- on the seats, the walls, everywhere, there are commemorations of visits from people from time past.  We can see who was there in July of 2014 or March of 2009.

We put up memorials to commemorate those who served in the military and have parades so we will not forget them or their service to our country. We celebrate the building of new homes and buildings. Often the owners or contractors of a building will set up some sort of plaque to remember who funded the building and for what purpose it is dedicated.

God commanded the Israelites to set up the twelve stones in the Jordan so they would not forget what He has done for them, to commemorate their passing into the Promised Land.

What kinds of things do we celebrate? As a nation, as a church, as a family?  How do we celebrate when life is good?

God has shown love and mercy to our ancestors, and He shows His love to us, just as He did to the twelve tribes of Israel.

We don’t need to be afraid of the things that seem so much larger than us- people who don’t have our best interests at heart, bad circumstances, things that would defeat us, because God is with us. He is with us when we celebrate, and when we mourn.

God is our refuge- Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 (ESV)

God, Our Mighty Fortress – Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy- Psalm 61:1-3 (ESV)

God is good when life is good.

God is good when we remember where we came from. Our families are important.  Our faith is often handed down and strengthened through our family, whether we share genetic bonds or simply bonds of the heart.

We share our good times and remember our victories with our families. We commemorate events and memorialize them together as a culture, as a country and as families.  We celebrate holidays and birthdays- and special days like today (Father’s Day) together.  As God’s family, the church, we remember God’s story that has been written down for us in Scripture.  We learn that ultimately God is the hero of the story, no matter the circumstances and no matter who the characters in the story may be.

Most importantly, we know the end of the story. God wins!  Jesus won when He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead.  We will be with Him to celebrate His victory over sin, death and the devil, forever in the new heaven and new earth.  God is preparing us for life forever with him even as we live in this world of now, but not yet.

There are more celebrations coming for those who have faith in God. The apostle John was shown a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth as he tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV)

We may not be able to imagine exactly what our future life and joy with the Lord may look like, but we can trust that it will be good. Even as we celebrate the joys and mourn the sorrows of this life here and now, we hold on to the promises of God.  We trust God like Abraham trusted God, like David trusted God, not because we are such fantastic people, but because God is faithful.  God is good, all the time.

February 28, 2018 – God Provides the Lamb- Genesis 22:1-19

sacrifice Isaac

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:1-19 (NIV)

Child sacrifice is rightly considered an abomination to God’s people. When child sacrifice is mentioned later in Scripture, specifically in offering one’s children to the false god Molech, it is named as a sin punishable by stoning (Leviticus 20:2-5).  God does not take sacrificing children to false gods lightly.  Jesus said to His disciples, “Let the children come to Me and do not stop them.” (Luke 18:16)  God loves children and expects us to love and protect them as well.

So why does God give Abraham this impossible decision? From the perspective of a parent of an only son (technically Abraham did have another son, but Isaac was the child of God’s promise) this is an unthinkable, unimaginable decision to make.  A parent’s natural reaction, especially the reaction of a parent who had suffered through years of infertility, would be something along the lines of, “God, you can’t possibly be serious!”

How would we react to such a command from God? Even should we have multiple children to spare? First of all we would want to be sure that it’s God talking and not some other voice. Today, because of Jesus becoming the one perfect sacrifice for all time, we can be confident that God would not want us to take any of our children and set them up on a barbeque, which is a comforting thought. Today, if one thinks that God wants them to sacrifice his or her child, this should be taken as a cry for mental help.

God will provide the lamb. This is what Abraham tells Isaac to comfort him, even though at the time, Abraham has no way of knowing this.  We learn that Abraham was not permitted to follow through with sacrificing Isaac.  God did indeed provide the lamb- first a foreshadowing by the appearance of the ram in the Genesis account, and then He provided the true Lamb of God, Jesus.

Are we willing to follow God no matter how illogical or impractical or impossible it sounds to us? What is God asking of us?

Surrender is not easy.  It should be easy for us to surrender our sins, our faults, our doubts, but as soon as we think we have left them at the foot of the Cross, we tend to pick them back up again.  When the apostle Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”- 1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)- that’s passive surrender, but we are still called to do it.  We endure much more anguish and distress than we should when we do not surrender our anxiety and our worry to Jesus.

Sometimes surrender is proactive, as we see in the Genesis text. God wants us to reach out and do things that are hard. Often we are called to surrender our time and our resources with no tangible assurance that our sacrifice will even be noticed or appreciated.

Surrender is about obedience, in putting the pursuit of God’s will above our own will. It is never easy to surrender, but the Holy Spirit will help us seek God’s will and be obedient to Him.

Like Abraham we are called to trust God without knowing how He will provide. It’s not easy sometimes, especially when we don’t see a way out or a way through an illness or a bad situation.  It’s hard when we are at the end of ourselves. God has provided the Lamb- but it is hard for us to realize that when everything around us screams that there is no hope.

Even when everything we see looks hopeless, God has promises for us that are going to come about for us even though we can’t imagine them. We can’t see how they play out right now. Abraham didn’t live on this earth long enough to see all of his descendants. We may never know how we will impact someone else’s life here and now.  Maybe something we said or something we did for someone will make a difference in their lives and other lives years after we have forgotten about it, or even years after our time on this earth is over.

Today might be a good day to meditate on the provision of God and surrender to His will, knowing that He has good plans and promises for us.  God provides the Lamb.  No matter how hopeless our situations may seem.

January 11, 2018 Comfort and God’s Promise- Psalm 119:49-50, Matthew 6:34

SacredHeart

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this:

Your promise preserves my life.  Psalm 119:49-50 (NIV)

Yesterday was one of those anniversaries that bring a great deal of sadness for me and my family. Every family has anniversaries like those. We remember the days when our worlds fell apart in the chaos and pain of tragic and unexpected loss. Everyone has those days that mark the points where life fell apart and from those points forward life is no longer the same.  We are reminded that life on this earth is not permanent and we are not guaranteed anything.

It is a comfort to know that doubt is part of faith. It is a comfort to know that God is big enough to handle our questions, our anger, our fear, and yes, even our doubts.

Those of us who are parents will remember when our children were toddlers, and they would rage against the boundaries- tantrums at bedtime, tantrums at bath time, tantrums when it’s time to get dressed. Toddlers are usually all about maintaining the status quo, with one curious exception- nobody looks forward to change more than a baby with a dirty diaper.

We get too comfortable in this world at times, but we shouldn’t be looking over our shoulder for bad things to happen. Jesus warns us about the worry wart attitude.

(Jesus said) :Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

So what do we do when our world crashes down around us? We can become cynical and angry.  We can wallow about in doubt. We can try to run away.  The prophet Elijah feared for his life, freaked out, and ran away when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-18.)

Yet God stayed with Elijah. God sent His angel to give Elijah food, comfort and rest. God spoke to Elijah- when the storm died down.

Our difficult anniversary days can be hard to face, especially when we relive pain or sorrow or loss- or a combination of all three. God is with us when we freak out, when we run, when we scream in anger, and when the storm is raging on, even though we may not feel His presence then.  And when the storm is over He speaks to us with comfort and solace and peace.

God’s promise preserves our lives, no matter what this world may throw at us.

October 11, 2017 – The Command and the Promise- 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Leviticus 17:11

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“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)

Therefore such people must learn that it is the highest art to know that our Sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. For we are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, nor do we go to confession because we are pure and without sin, but the contrary because we are poor miserable men and just because we are unworthy; unless it be someone who desires no grace and absolution nor intends to reform.

But whoever would gladly obtain grace and consolation should impel himself, and allow no one to frighten him away, but say: I, indeed, would like to be worthy, but I come, not upon any worthiness, but upon Thy Word, because Thou hast commanded it, as one who would gladly be Thy disciple, no matter what becomes of my worthiness. But this is difficult; for we always have this obstacle and hindrance to encounter, that we look more upon ourselves than upon the Word and lips of Christ. For nature desires so to act that it can stand and rest firmly on itself, otherwise it refuses to make the approach. Let this suffice concerning the first point.

In the second place, there is besides this command also a promise, as we heard above, which ought most strongly to incite and encourage us. For here stand the kind and precious words: This is My body, given for you. This is My blood, shed for you, for the remission of sins. These words, I have said, are not preached to wood and stone, but to me and you; else He might just as well be silent and not institute a Sacrament. Therefore consider, and put yourself into this YOU, that He may not speak to you in vain. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Martin Luther’s Large Catechism

The Sacrament of the Altar holds both a commandDo this in remembrance of Me – and a promiseThis cup is the new covenant in My Blood.

The concept of blood sacrifice seems rather raw and primal in the modern age. We have distanced ourselves as much as we humanly can from the processes of life that are raw, dirty or “icky.”  We keep death itself behind closed hospital doors, and the mourning of the dead to a carefully orchestrated display in a funeral home that often involves the deceased, heavily reconstructed and made over, laid out in an open coffin so that he or she looks to be sleeping.  In American culture, even in death the subliminal message is to deny the reality and finality of death. (For an interesting aside on American funerary practices, The American Way of Death, written by Jessica Mitford is quite an eye opener.)

The slaughter of animals for our food is kept to industrial warehouses behind closed doors where none but the workers who work the line see the death or the gore or the blood. Even in the somewhat recent past, farming families butchered their own cattle, hogs and chickens, so there was some knowledge that our meat- which is sustenance for our own lives- comes from another living creature who had to die.  Today a child would be hard pressed to make the correlation between that tasty plate of chicken nuggets and a live chicken.

So we encounter Jesus’ command and His promise in the Last Supper, especially that creepy sounding business about blood, and we really don’t understand how to process it.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Leviticus 17:11 (NRSV)

The key to understanding the importance of  blood sacrifice for atonement of sins is in the old sacrificial system of the Jews. The blood is the life.  So when the Jews made sacrifices of animals to atone for their sins, they were foreshadowing the One Sacrifice that would cover our sin once and for all.

We are commanded to come to the table, to take the Body of Christ into our bodies, and to drink the Blood of Christ that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We are commanded not because we are worthy, or because we understand how it works, but precisely because we aren’t worthy and can’t make ourselves worthy.  We are able to come to the table to take and eat, and take and drink because Jesus IS worthy, and He IS telling us to.

September 29, 2017 – Forgive Us When We Do Wrong- Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. Matthew 6:12 (CEB)

The traditional English translation of this verse is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”  and that is part of forgiveness, but that wording tends to limit our understanding of forgiveness to monetary transactions or mortgage payments. Forgiveness is much more than simply writing off a debt, which is why a more comprehensive translation of this verse is necessary here.

In Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we get into the hardest, yet most necessary thing to do if we humans are to live in community and live at peace with God: forgive.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

 But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, — for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, — but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6,14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. – from the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer from Luther’s Large Catechism

 Forgiveness is not blithe forgetfulness, in which we no longer remember the hurtful things said or done to us. Forgiveness toward others is a process in which we acknowledge the injury and pain that we have suffered at the hands of others, but we make the conscious choice to let go of our anger and surrender our claims to revenge against those who have wronged us. We surrender those who have wronged us to the mercy of God, as we surrender ourselves to His mercy and forgiveness when we do wrong.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Sometimes forgiveness means to let that person or group of people out of our lives, especially if they are unforgiving toward us or if they have the potential to be toxic to us in the future.  There is nothing about forgiveness that requires us to endure abuse or live in a toxic environment.  Forgiveness allows us to get rid of the toxic anger and pain we carry and give it to God.  He can handle it.  He can heal and restore us. We can’t work that kind of restoration and healing ourselves.  Forgiveness toward others is really for our own good.

Our response to a loving God who forgives us unconditionally is to pass that gift along, and let His healing and His grace flow through us.

It has been said that the heaviest burden to carry is a grudge.

However…Jesus said to take up His yoke, because His burden is light.

Who do we need to consciously decide to forgive today?