May 30, 2018 – Slaves No More, Time for Rest and Worship- Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Ephesians 2:1-10

flowers2“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.’” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (ESV)

The word “slave” has a particularly offensive connotation to modern Americans. Even though the Civil War was fought over 150 years ago, the source of the conflict and its ramifications still echo through our society and culture. It could be argued that most human beings alive today have ancestors who literally were slaves, owned slaves, or sold others into slavery at some point in history. We should find the idea of buying and selling and enslaving human beings – and judging another human’s value based solely on the color of his or her skin to be morally reprehensible, though racial and social stereotypes and discrimination still persist. The old Adam dies hard.

Yet all of humanity- regardless of our skin color or nationality- has been born into slavery. All of us are born dead in trespasses and sins, slaves to the essential depravity of man (or original sin) that humanity inherited from our first parents in the Fall. (Genesis 3:14-24,)  The apostle Paul instructs us:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

Apart from the blood of Christ we are forever bound to our imperfection and mortality. But for the Cross- we would be doomed to wallow and die in our sins.  But for our baptism, where God names us, claims us as His own, and sets us free of the slavery and the curse of sin, we would have no hope.

God gave us his Law because it’s good for us. All of the Commandments are for our benefit, and place good boundaries around human behavior. The Third Commandment, spelled out in the verse above from Deuteronomy- to remember the Sabbath- is first mentioned in Exodus 20:8.

Martin Luther (from the Small Catechism) has this to say about the command to observe the Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

We remember we were all born as slaves, set free by the grace of God, so that we are free to take the observation of Sabbath rest seriously. Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man, a gift given to us so that we would remember God- not because God needs us, but because we need God. Matthew 12:6-8.

We as the Body of Christ need to take the time to rest, but not just bodily rest. We need spiritual rest and rest for our souls. We are not bound by the Mosaic Covenant or the observance of the Jewish Saturday Sabbath, but God still commands us to hear His Word taught and preached (because it’s good for us, not because God really needs us warming up seats in church) and to take a break from our regular work.

While we live in this world of now, but not yet, we desperately need the rest and the comfort of the Word of God. We need to hear it, study it and immerse ourselves in it. We need to be reminded to stop, to take advantage of the freedom Jesus has won for us even as we are still living in bondage to our weak flesh. We are free in Christ, but we still live in various forms of servitudes- we must work, we must provide for our families, we must endure physical pain and all the trouble of living in this fallen and broken world.  Yet the brokenness and pain and struggle is not all there is in life.

We are invited to take refuge in the solace of the Psalms, and the comfort of the Gospel. We are invited to celebrate in the declaration that for those of us in Christ, our bondage has been broken and death is no more. (Revelation 21:4)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)

The gift of the Sabbath for Christians is the opportunity and the privilege to celebrate the fact that Jesus has set us free from slavery. We need to be reminded to stay connected to the One we belong to, to stay wired in to the kingdom that is now, but is also to come.

March 22, 2018- Rest for the Weary- Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 23:1-2

weary rest

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

In light of current events, much has been said about the role of bullying and violence in schools. Being spit on, having one’s hair (or beard) pulled out, and being beaten on are not pleasant experiences. In the storms of pain and humiliation it is human nature to want to lash out and retaliate rather than to simply endure. Endurance is harder than revenge, even when we know that our rage is pointless and will not make a difference in the amount or the duration of the pain we endure.

If there is one thing common to the human experience it is suffering, whether it comes from our own human failings or it is inflicted by the hands of others. Even if one is not literally being spit on or beaten, the storms of life wear us down. We all get weary.  We all long for rest and resolution.

Jesus knows what it is to share in our suffering. He did not fight back against His tormentors. Instead, He silently endured the punishments that we deserve.  He knows our pain and anguish when we are tormented and weary.  He is with us and He shares in our pain.

The One who vindicates us, who restores us, who brings us rest, has been where we are and worse. Jesus knows the humiliation and violation of being mocked, spit on, of being scourged, and ultimately of being nailed to a tree.

It’s not easy to stand in times of trial. Even so we can have the courage to say along with the Suffering Servant as He stands with us: Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me!

Jesus knows our weariness. He has fought our battles.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow and leads us to refreshment and rest.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2 (NRSV)

October 13, 2017 -Surrender Our Burdens, His Yoke is Easy, Come to the Table- Matthew 11:27-29

burdened.jpg

(Jesus said): “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29 (NRSV)

The Sacrament gives us life-giving healing, comfort and rest. Like manna given from heaven to the Israelites in the desert, Jesus gives us sustenance and life and renewal for this journey on earth when we come together as a community to share His Body and Blood.

We all carry the burden of our sins, our sorrows, our trials and the weariness of living life on this earth. When we come to the table we are given a precious gift- Jesus in the flesh- taking our burdens and carrying them along with us.  The illustration of taking on a yoke implies that it is far easier to pull a load with two or more oxen rather than by only one.  When Jesus is walking with us, and we are (figuratively) yoked to Him, our burdens may not disappear, but they will be lighter and more bearable.  He gets us through our struggles and delivers us from the ones that would destroy us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar He comes to us in the most intimate way- His Body and Blood literally become part of us, body and soul.

While we should examine our hearts and minds before we come to the table and we should acknowledge and confess our sins, we need to come to the table to be nourished- and often, precisely because we cannot live up to God’s perfect standards.

We also come to the table in faith. Even though we really don’t understand the whole mystery of how Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament, we take him at His word. When He says, “this IS My Body, given for you,” and “this IS My Blood, shed for you,” Jesus means what He says.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11, 28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…– from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case He pronounces sentence and says: If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be considered sinners. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

September 20, 2017- Keep the Sabbath Holy- Exodus 20:8:11, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Mark 2:27-28

the-sabbath

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)

Why is the concept of Sabbath- which almost seems foreign to us today in our 24/7/365 world- so essential to God that He commands it? Why is Sabbath still as important for 21st century Jesus followers as it was for ancient Jews?

Part of that answer can come from the natural cycles of the world that God created such as- day and night and the seasons of the year. As the Teacher of Ecclesiastes – who was most likely King Solomon- teaches us:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)

God built in cycles for activity and rest and he built a rhythm into nature. Spring is for planting, new beginnings and birth.  Summer brings growth and coming to fruition.  Autumn brings the harvest and preparation for the deprivation and dormancy of winter.  Winter brings a sort of mini-death, a rest period in which the world recharges and prepares for the planting and growth of spring.  There is a time to work and a time to rest that is built into even day and night. We are called to work and do the good things God created us for, but we are also called to rest and to just be sometimes.  That is what Sabbath is for.

Sabbath gives us that recharging and rest time we need to disconnect from the world, from work, from the temporal cares of the moment and focus on simply being in the presence of God. The consequence of non-stop engagement and endless work is burnout.  God knows we need to connect with Him to be renewed and to have Him restore our strength.  Observing the Sabbath is not so much about “doing something for God,” but it is part of His provision to take care of us.  Jesus had to remind the Pharisees that God made the Sabbath command not for people to have to observe a laundry list of man-made restrictions, but so that people would see the need to take time out to simply be in the presence of God.

Then He (Jesus) said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28 (NRSV)

How do we make a conscious effort to observe the Sabbath, even knowing that some people must work on Sundays?

Take an alternate day- one who must work Sundays can take a day not scheduled for work to observe the Sabbath.   Those who have Sundays off should make weekly worship in a church with other Jesus followers a priority, along with receiving Communion when it is offered.  Even those who must work Sundays can find ways to connect with the Jesus community- through audio or video sermons and through study and discussion groups online, or with groups who worship or meet together on days other than Sunday.

Take Sabbath moments every day. Observe a time of prayer, meditation and conversation with the Lord for a set amount of time every day.  Such a simple practice can easily become a part of our spiritual disciplines and part of the cycles and rhythms of our lives.

Sabbath is God’s gift of rest and recharging for us. It is part of the rhythm of life that He created. We need to work, but we also need to rest and reconnect with Him.

 

 

July 12, 2017 – Being “Little Christs”- Fountains of Rest- John 12:44-50

fountainThen Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.  I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

Thinking of this week’s sermon verses-

(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29 (NRSV)

How can we as believers be as “little Christs” to the weary?

Judging others is easy. We do it all the time.  We make mental commentary on others’ physical sizes, hygiene, clothing choices, lifestyle choices, and everything else pertaining to other people.  Even if we think we don’t do this, we do.  Passing snap judgments is part of human nature that isn’t one of our more attractive qualities.  It might make us feel better for a minute to think, “at least I am not like so and so,” but in truth we are just as fallen and just as in need of Jesus our Savior as anyone else is.

It is more difficult and challenging to think of ourselves not as commentators or judges, but as fountains of rest. How can we be that person who offers a drink of water to a parched soul?  How can we bring a “little salvation” to a person in need?  Sometimes just a kind word, or holding a door open, or fronting someone some change who came up a few cents short at the register is all it takes to reveal the heart of Jesus to a person who desperately needs a little rest.  The Holy Spirit works in and through the words and actions of believers.  We may not see the end results of how our actions impact others, but we know that God can use our actions for His good.

Jesus came to offer hope, light and love to the world. His calling to us is to follow His example and do the same.

Do people look at us and see the face of Jesus? Do they find His rest in our actions of charity and mercy?

July 11, 2017 Hang in There – He Will Restore You- Psalm 23:1-3, 1 Kings 19:1-10, Hebrews 12:1-3

rest hereThe Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters,  He restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3 (NRSV)

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”- 1 Kings 19:1-10 (NRSV)

At the beginning of 1 Kings, Elijah had just been through an ordeal with Ahab, the evil king, Jezebel, his evil queen, and the prophets of Baal.  God had used Elijah for a mighty work, and at that point Elijah was quite worn out.  He feared for his life.  He was tired of running.  Elijah had come to the end of his own strength, which was why he was so stressed out, depleted, and desperate that he asked to die.

There are times when we can identify with Elijah in this text. We come to the end of our strength.  We are at points when we have done all we can do and the hits just keep coming. We may fear for our lives or for our livelihood, or for those of our family.  We cry out to God in desperation for relief, for an end to our weariness and suffering. God doesn’t just leave us hanging.  He provides for us and restores us.

When we are stressed or frustrated, suffering, or depleted, God says to us, “Take a break. Get some rest. Have a bite to eat. Let Me restore you and give you what you need to carry on.”

There are times, like Elijah, where we feel as if we are the only ones who are trying to do the right things and to live as Jesus followers. There are times when it seems as if life is one crisis and one meltdown after another.  It is in these times God reminds us through His Word, and through other believers that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)

There is a great cloud of witnesses around us- both living here on this earth, and those who have gone to the heavenly kingdom before us. Every believer eventually comes to the end of him or herself, and to the point of knowing it is Christ or nothing. In Him we have light, hope and peace. God does give us rest and He restores us.  Better yet, we aren’t in this alone.

 

July 10, 2017 Rest for the Weary- Matthew 11:28-30

JesusRest(Jesus said): “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This world is a weary world. The news is mostly depressing.  Infrastructures and buildings are continually deteriorating and we see evidence of entropy (the natural cycle of things going back to their original state, or, “from dust you came, to dust you shall return”) everywhere.  We live in a constant paradox, with one foot in each kingdom- the earthly kingdom of “right now” and the heavenly kingdom of “not yet.”

When we look around at the state of the world and we see everything that is in need of healing, when we see so much that is left undone or incomplete, or that is actively being torn down, it’s hard not to be weary.

The problem is we can’t fix everything that needs fixing. We can’t heal everything that needs healing. We can’t make every wrong right, no matter how much we want to, or how much we try.

The good news in this reality is that God didn’t intend for one person to do it all. He has a plan for each of His people, but in the end it’s all about God’s project.  He is the One Who calls the shots. He equips us for the tasks He set aside for us to do.  If God intends for us to do anything, He is the One Who provides the means for us to do it.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what God has planned for us to do. So many causes and unfinished works touch our hearts, but we are finite and limited creatures.  There are times when we simply have to come to God as we are and let Him show us His way.  There are times when we try to carry things that weren’t meant for us to carry, and in those times we have to surrender them over and let God carry them.

How often do we drag things around that we were never intended to carry? Whether it be guilt, insecurity, grief or a sense of not being/doing good enough, those are burdens we need to surrender to God.

Jesus promised us that He would be rest for our souls. In Him we have purpose, and our lives are productive and complete.