Do You Not Care?

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:37-38)

Jesus-sleeping-in-boat-at-peace-in-storm-500x348Do you not care? You can hear the desperation and accusation in the words of the disciples. Don’t you care about us, Lord? You can heal the sick and lame and cast out demons for others. Don’t you care that we, your disciples, are dying?

It’s the same question that Job is asking throughout the book of Job. Don’t you care about me, God? Why is this happening to me?

Job lost his property, his children, his health and wealth. All of it was gone. His friends were no help. They insisted that Job must have done something wrong that God was punishing him for. But Job cried out, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me…the terrors of God are arrayed against me…make me understand how I have gone astray.” Later he says to God, “Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands?”

In other words, do you not care, God, what is happening to me? Where are you? Like the disciples, Job feels that God is absent, that he is sleeping on the job. He, too, was drowning in a sea of despair and grief and pain. Do you not care, God?job 3 friends

It’s the same question that you and I often ask in the midst of our pain and struggles. Do you not care about me?

Do you not care that I am drowning in debt with no conceivable way out? Do you not care that my spouse and I are unable to have children even though that is one of our greatest desires? Do you not care that my loved one is dying? Do you not care that I have lost everything that is most important to me? Do you not care that my addiction is controlling and ruining my life? Do you not care that my children have strayed far away from you and from the way that they were brought up?

And if we lift up our eyes from our own situations and struggles and turn them toward the world around us, the questions would go on. Don’t you care, Lord, about those poor people in Nepal who have been devastated by earthquakes? Do you not care about the lives and homes ruined by the rising waters and floods across this country? Do you not care about your own people, who were gathered together in your church, praying to you, who were gunned down by a madman in South Carolina?

The list could go on and on. But the question remains the same. Where are you, God? My life is falling apart, and I can’t seem to make you wake up and take notice.person crying

And unlike the disciples, it’s not like Jesus is physically sleeping right next to us, and all we have to do is shout at him to wake up and take notice of what’s going on. Oh, you can shout alright, but is anybody going to hear you? How do you know? We just want a sign, Lord, that you care about what is going on in this messed up, broken world, that you care about the storms and struggles of my life. We want God to break the silence like he did for Job. We want Jesus to stand up in our midst and command the storms in our lives to stop. “Peace! Be still!” Those are the words we want to hear.

Does God give us such a sign of his presence and love?

This last March, at the Ohio District Jr. High Youth Gathering, one of the special speakers was a man named Joe Boway. Joe Boway is a native Liberian. Liberia is a small country on the west side of Africa. Joe moved to Ft. Wayne in the 90’s before his home country was plunged into a terrible and brutal civil war. The Liberian Civil War took place from 1999-2003 when rebels went on the attack against the Liberian government, highlighted by an assault on the capitol city of Monrovia.liberia in africa

What made the Liberian Civil War especially sickening was the fact that no other conflict in the last 100 years made more use of child soldiers. Young children were ripped away from their families. Guns were thrust into their hands, and they were sent to the front line to fight a battle started by power-hungry adults. If that weren’t bad enough, the Liberian Civil War also featured leaders on both sides who employed human sacrifice and ritualistic killing in the belief that their gods would bless them in their fight.

One could easily point to the civil war in Liberia and ask God, “Do you not care what is going on over there?” Who knows how many native Liberians who lost family members and friends, how many mothers who lost children, cried out over and over again in grief, “Do you not care? Does anybody care?”

After peace was declared in 2003, the people of Liberia had to pick up the pieces of their war-torn country. In some cases, they literally had to pick up the pieces. Millions upon millions of bullets littered the ground in Liberia. In the military camps, soldiers were encouraged to fire their guns aimlessly in the air. Why? Because the enemy camp was just a few miles away, and they could hear those bullets being fired. This was an attempt at intimidation. If the enemy could hear them firing bullets recklessly, they would realize that they had plenty of ammunition to waste, and plenty more to use on them the next time they fought.

That brings me back to Joe Boway. After the war, he returned to his native country to help pick up the pieces. What he has accomplished is simply amazing. With the help of many churches in the United States, Joe has established a Lutheran school system in Liberia that educates hundreds of children. (Liberian Children’s Ministry) But the main goal of these schools, which Joe emphasized over and over again, was to tell these Liberian children about the love of Jesus.

How can you convince these Liberians who have suffered so greatly that there is a God who loves them and cares for them? How do you provide peace in their storm-tossed lives?

Joe had an idea. He started collecting those bullets that were scattered across the country. He took those symbols of war and bloodshed and conflict and suffering, and he turned them into the ultimate symbol of love and peace and forgiveness. He turned those bullets into crosses. bullet crosses

Joe brought a number of those bullet crosses to the youth gathering so everyone could have one, and I want you to see them as well.

These crosses are a sign and a reminder that God does care even when it seems that he is sleeping on the job. They are a reminder that Jesus Himself took an instrument of torture and suffering and death and turned it into a symbol of peace and hope and love.

Our God never stops caring about His broken creation and the storms that are caused by our sin. God cares about the suffering and brokenness experienced by humans so much that he sent His one and only Son to this world as a human being to suffer and to be broken for us and to provide us with peace and hope.

Want to know if God cares about your pain and suffering? Look at him bleeding and dying on the cross, experiencing hell for you. Want to know where God is? He comes to you through his Word of promise. Jesus comes to you through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, visible and edible reminders that Jesus’ body was broken and his blood shed for you. Is God sleeping on the job? The only time God could be found sleeping was in his 3 day rest in the tomb after which he rose from the sleep of death and defeated your enemies of sin, death, and the devil. God has answered our cries of desperation once and for all through his death on the cross and resurrection.

Just recently, after the death of their loved one, a family member approached me and asked me, in essence, where God was at this time. She said, “I thought that when a loved one died, I was supposed to see a rainbow or some other sign from God that everything is going to be OK.” She was like the disciples in the boat or Job sitting in dust and ashes. She wanted to know that everything was going to be just fine and that God truly cared. I replied to her, “God doesn’t promise a temporary sign like that. But the sign that he does give you is the cross and the empty tomb. That’s your eternal sign that God cares about you and that everything is going to be OK in the end.”

When Job cried out to God, “Do you not care?” God answered Him in power and might and reminded Job that He is God and Job is not and that everything was under his control. When the disciples cried out, “Do you not care?” Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith, but calmed the storm anyway by the power of His Word. In the midst of your struggle and fear and doubt, when you cry out, “Do you not care?” Jesus speaks to you as he did when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. He stands before you with his nail scarred feet and hands and pierced side and says “Peace be with you.” This is the peace which surpasses all human understanding. May that peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until he comes again to rescue you from all your troubles and grants you eternal peace and rest with him. Yes, God does care for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

jesus calming storm 2“Be Still, My Soul” verse 2

Be still, my soul; your God will undertake

To guide the future as He has the past.

Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

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The 2 Most Important Words in the Bible

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!easter angel

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my goal today is to convince you that the 2 most important words in the Bible are found in the Gospel reading for today.

In fact, in confirmation class, when I teach on the New Testament, I ask my students to guess what those two most important words might be, and if they can guess it, they will win a prize. Now the rule is that they have to be successive words in the Bible. They can’t just be two words pulled out of different books or chapters, like “grace” and “Jesus.” They usually come up with some pretty good guesses. Inevitably, “Jesus wept” is guessed because of its familiarity. But that’s not it. I had one student guess “By grace,” and that was probably one of the best guesses. It’s hard to top that.

But I believe that there are two words that do top it, and I always do a big reveal in class, but for you, I have already given the answer away. Not only did I say that the words are found in the Gospel reading for today, but they are in fact the title of my sermon- “And Peter.” And Peter? Yes, and Peter from Mark 16:7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.”

Transition: The big question obviously is: “Why are these the two most important words in the Bible?” Now I’ve got to make my case.

Consider what happened just a few days before Jesus’ resurrection.

Let’s start on Thursday evening after the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. This is from Mark 14. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Fast forward now to verse 43 in Mark 14. And immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. The first part of Jesus’ prediction comes true. Peter and the other disciples fall away.

Fast forward once again to verses 66-72. And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

peter roosterPeter denies Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. He doesn’t just deny following Jesus. He denies even knowing Jesus. And the rooster crows. Despair and dread fills Peter as he realizes that he has done exactly what Jesus predicted, exactly what he had emphatically promised would not happen.

Despite his best efforts, despite his promises and convictions, despite his well-meaning words, when His Lord needed him the most, he denied that he even knew him. He had let Jesus down and now Jesus was going to die. He had let fear overcome his convictions.

Fast forward to Easter morning. “Jesus is risen. He is not here.” The angel announces to the women. “Now go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee just as he said that night in the Garden.”

I want you to imagine the scene in the Upper Room before the resurrection announcement. The disciples are hiding in fear and in sorrow. I picture Peter sitting by himself in a corner- still despairing and mourning, not just about Jesus’ death but about his denial.

Suddenly the women burst through the door with amazing, unbelievable news! Jesus is risen! And he want his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee.

Now imagine if both the angels and the women had merely said “the disciples” without the additional “and Peter.” How do you think Peter would have reacted to their announcement? It would have been easy for him to conclude that he was not included in the invitation, that he no longer deserved to be called a disciple. Sure, the other disciples had run away from Jesus too, but only Peter had denied Jesus three times. The announcement that Jesus is alive might not be heard as good news to Peter. “Jesus is alive? Oh no! He was right all along. He truly is the Son of God, and I denied him. I rejected him. He won’t want me anymore.”

Instead though, imagine Peter sitting in that corner by themselves listening in as the women tell the story of the empty tomb and the angel. And the angel said, “He is risen. He is not here. Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going to Galilee.”

And Peter? Did Peter hear that right? Did you just say “and Peter?” Jesus wants me? Even though I denied him three times? Even thought I let fear and doubt overcome my faith and conviction? Jesus, the Lord of all, still wants me to be his disciple?

In that moment, the power of God’s forgiveness became very real to Peter. In John’s Gospel, he records that Peter, upon hearing the women, races to the tomb to see it for himself. Could it be true? Jesus is alive? And he still loves his disciples and Peter? Me?

Do you see now why these two words are the most important words in the Bible? Do you see how this is Good News, the greatest news, no matter what your name is?

After all, how many of you can identify with Peter’s fear and denial? I’m going to venture a guess that all of you have acted like Peter many times over, and I’m including myself in that.

We have all denied our Lord Jesus over and over again in our thoughts, words, and actions.

In our Rite of Confirmation, we ask our confirmands some tough questions.

“Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?”

“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, even to death?”

“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

How many of you have stood in this church and promised to continue steadfast in your church attendance, in your godly living, in your confession of faith, rather than fall away from it? Maybe you didn’t quite have the passion of Peter, but you promised, “I do so intend by the grace of God!”

How many times have you also made promises to God privately? You resolve to do better in your Christian life. I am going to read God’s Word regularly. I am going to go to church more often. I am going to quit that habitual sin. I am going to stand up for what I believe and even witness to my friends and neighbors. I can’t even remember all the promises I have made to God, and like Peter, had every intention of following through on.

broken promisesAnd then I failed. Over and over again. I failed to keep my promises and convictions. I failed to follow Jesus and walk in his ways and live according to God’s Word. I failed to read God’s Word and pray according to the schedule I made. I chickened out and didn’t share God’s Word to someone who desperately needed to hear it. I am Peter.

And if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you, too, are Peter. Probably more often than you want to admit. You are, like Peter, a denier of Jesus. You see, every temptation to sin is, at its root, a temptation to disbelieve the Gospel. John Calvin once said, “Christian are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.” We sin when we are dissatisfied with the all-satisfying Christ, when we do not fear, love and trust in him above all things. Every time we sin, we deny Jesus the rightful place in our life.

Peter denied Jesus out of fear of the consequences of following Jesus, that he might be treated just like Jesus was and put to death. He doubted Jesus’ words of promise that he would rise again and that he is Resurrection and the Life for all who believe in him. When he was confronted with his sin and disobedience and unfaithfulness, he broke down and wept bitterly. He had failed. What hope was there for him? What hope is there for us?

Then came the Good News declared by the angels that changed Peter’s life and changes your life too. The Good News that is not just for those had not denied Jesus. It is Good News for them, and Peter, and you.

Despite his denial, his unbelief, his sin and failure, Jesus loved Peter and wanted him as a disciple. He forgave and restored him. Jesus died and rose again for Peter. That Good News was delivered to him personally. And Peter. There was no doubt. The Good News of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection was for him! His very name was spoken.

You have that same confidence. The same Good News delivered to Peter is also delivered to you personally.

Fittingly, it is delivered by Peter in Acts 2. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon. He concludes with this, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

You crucified Jesus. Your sins put him on the cross. Peter knew that his sins had put Jesus on the cross. And like Peter, the crowd, upon realizing their sin, were cut to the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter got to deliver the same Good News that was delivered to him on Easter morning. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” For you! For me? A denier? A promise breaker? A sinner? Yes, for you!

baptism called by nameAnd in Holy Baptism, God spoke your name and washed your sins away. I have called you by name. You are mine. You were buried into death with Jesus and raised to a new life in him and became his disciple. In the Lord’s Supper, you hear the words of Jesus repeated, “This is my body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For me? Yes, you, as often as you need it, forgiveness is yours. Take and eat. Take and drink. Be forgiven. Be strengthened by my death and resurrection for you.

Have I convinced you? The two most important words in the Bible are “and Peter” because you can insert your own name in Peter’s place and have the confidence that Jesus died for you and rose from the dead for you. He comes to meet you in His Word, in baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper to declare that he loves you and forgives you and that he can still use you as his disciple no matter what. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! For you. For me. And Peter. Alleluia! Amen.

Apparently there is a Skit Guys sketch on this very topic that I was unaware of until my sister was actually able to guess the two words because she had seen their video. They do a great job of highlighting God’s grace as well. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhoFEuw2GPA

 

 

What Is Paul Talking About? Part 4

During the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood.This sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 9:16-27.

Words of Focus: I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.

I mentioned in my sermon a few weeks ago when I started this series on 1 Corinthians that I didn’t really want to preach on these readings. 1 Corinthians is an intimidating book. Paul covers a lot of issues that the Christian church was dealing with in Corinth. We are removed from the original context and culture of this letter by a couple of thousand years. It is easy to read through 1 Corinthians and be left scratching your head wondering, “What in the world is Paul talking about?”

Yet I have discovered that 1 Corinthians, while written to a different group of people at a different time, has a lot to say to the Church today. And I suppose I should not be surprised by that. After all, God’s Word is always relevant. It lasts forever. Mankind hasn’t changed much either. We are still, by nature, sinful and selfish. We still need to hear the message of Christ crucified.

And that is the message that comes through over and over again in 1 Corinthians. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to resist the wisdom of the world and to seek unity with each other in the body of Christ. To achieve these purposes, Paul keeps going back to the message of the cross. He goes back to the Gospel. That’s why I believe that the theme verse for 1 Corinthians is found in chapter 1, verse 18. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 cor christ crucified

What have we learned in the past few weeks about the power of Christ crucified? Because of Christ crucified for us, we know that…

  1. How we treat our physical bodies matters because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit and have been bought at a price.
  2. How we live our daily lives matters whether we are married or single, buying or selling, mourning or rejoicing. In all things, the cross must remain central.
  3. How we treat our fellow members in the Church matters because we are all members of the same body united in Christ.
  4. Today we will learn that because of Christ crucified for us, how we treat unbelievers matters that by any means we may save some and share with them in the blessings of the Gospel.

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 9, our reading for today. Paul is continuing the discussion he started in chapter 8 on the freedom of the Christian. Because of Christ crucified, a Christian is indeed free regarding many matters of daily life including what we eat and drink, what we wear, how we spend our time, whether we marry or stay single, and so on. Yet Paul cautions Christians not to be selfish or prideful in our Christian freedom, but rather to use our freedom to love and serve others and put their interests before our own.

Martin Luther’s definition of Christian freedom which summarizes Paul’s teaching is helpful here.1. A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. 2. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Well, which is it? It is both. A Christian is free from the condemnation and demands of the Law, yet a faith which is active in love will willingly submit to others and serve them according to the Law. The Gospel frees us from worrying about our performance in keeping the Law, knowing that Christ has performed everything perfectly for us already. The Gospel not only frees us from sin but also frees us for service.

And in the first part of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul presents himself as an example of a Christian who willingly gives up many of his rights and privileges in order to serve others. For example, Paul gives up his right to be paid for his work as an apostle and preacher. He gives up his right to take a wife. Important: why does Paul do this? It’s all for the sake of the Gospel- that others might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. As he says in verse 12, “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”

Notice that Paul is not boasting here. Yes, he is using himself as an example, but not as an opportunity to promote himself, but rather to promote Christ. “For if I preach the gospel that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Paul has been given a task by the Lord Jesus himself to proclaim the gospel, and Paul is simply following both the desires of his Lord and the desires of his own heart. Paul’s passion to preach the gospel reminds me of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:9- “The word of the Lord became in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I grow weary of trying to contain it, and I am not able.

For the sake of the gospel, Paul was willing to give up his own habits, preferences, and rights so that nothing would keep people from responding to his preaching of the Gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. By this humble approach, Paul aimed to win as many as possible for the Gospel.

Paul then gives 4 illustrations of how he adapted his mission strategy to win different groups. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. Paul was able to adapt to any culture and people in order to present the Gospel.

What might this look like today? Well, in order to reach the Spanish speaking people, you would become a Spanish speaking person and learn their culture. It was less than hundred years ago, when churches in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod were debating whether or not to hold worship services in English rather than only in German in order to reach the growing majority of people who spoke English. To teach the Gospel to children, you proclaim the Gospel in a way that they can understand. The same with teenagers and the elderly.

Important: this does not mean that the Gospel itself must be adapted or changed or watered down in any way due to people’s religious or cultural tastes. God still saves people the same way, and he chose to do so through the preaching of a message that was foolish and weak.

Again, Paul’s flexibility in accommodating himself to all people was governed by that one overriding purpose. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some. Every aspect of his life is to be adapted to the needs of others so that they might come to faith in Christ.

The changeless Gospel also empowers you to sacrifice your own rights, tastes, interests, and preferences so that others might hear the message of Christ in all its power.

OK, apparently the only right we actually care about is the 2nd Amendment since that's the only picture I could find.

OK, apparently the only right we actually care about is the 2nd Amendment since that’s the only picture I could find.

Do you see how counter-cultural this is? The world around you is telling you to pursue your own interests, and rights, and desires above all else. Satisfy your cravings. Be the master of your own fate, the ruler of your own life. Here in the United States of America, we have many freedoms, and we are encouraged to use that freedom selfishly. “It’s my right!” we cry. “I am entitled to the pursuit of happiness above all else!” “I am free to do what I want! Don’t tread on me!” These are the anthems of American culture where individualism trumps all else. It is the wisdom of the world. And your sinful, selfish nature eats that message up.

But it is directly opposed to the wisdom of God found in Christ crucified which values weakness over strength, self-sacrifice over self-pleasure, giving up rights rather than demanding them.

Paul recognized this and that is why he stresses in verses 24-27 to run the race with your eye on the prize. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. This running requires self-discipline. It requires killing your sinful nature daily through confession and repentance, dying and rising again to a new life in Christ crucified. To follow the crucified Messiah means that we must take up our own cross daily, die to self-interest, and serve Jesus. It requires, as it says in Hebrews 12, that you lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.

You see, Jesus himself became all things to all men. He did not seek his own rights and privileges. He did not have to leave his throne in heaven and humiliate himself as a human being. He did not have to accommodate himself to a sinful world which had rejected him. Yet he ate and drank with tax-collectors and sinners, accepted water from a Samaritan woman and engaged in conversation with her, and healed the daughter of a Gentile woman- all for the great purpose of seeking and saving the lost.

But Jesus went even further in becoming all things to all men. All mankind is sinful, so Jesus became sin. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. On the cross, Jesus became the worst of sinners. He became a liar to save the liars. He became a cheater to save the cheaters. He became a murderer to save the murderers. He became a gossip to save the gossips. He became a sex addict to save the sex addicts. He became every kind of sinner that you might receive his righteousness.

jesus became sin

Jesus was free to come down from the cross at any time. But he endured the cross, despising its shame, that you and I might receive the prize that is imperishable- forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus became all things to all men that the whole world, including you, might be saved. It’s all about Christ crucified, foolishness and weakness to the world, but those who are being saved, it is the very wisdom and power of God for salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Praise God, who Himself became human like us in order to save us! Strengthen us, O Lord, to serve others in all things, so that all people might come to know the power of Your death and resurrection. Amen.

What Is Paul Talking About? Part 3

During the Sundays of Epiphany, I chose to preach on the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians. Since these readings can be difficult to understand (even for preachers), each week I asked the question, “What in the world is Paul talking about?” I am deeply indebted to the Concordia Commentary on 1 Corinthians written by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Lockwood. This sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 8.

Words of Focus- “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1a

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we continue today with part 3 of a 4-part sermon series on 1 Corinthians, a letter that can cause some misunderstanding and confusion as to what in the world Paul is talking about, hence, the title of this series.

Let’s begin by reviewing the purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian church was a church divided over many issues. Remember that they were all recent converts to the faith. Christianity had not been around for very long at all. Therefore, these Christians were wrestling with their new faith and the implications that it had for their everyday lives. 1 Corinthians reveals to us a people trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said that his followers should live “in the world, but not of the world.”

1 cor christ crucifiedThroughout this letter, Paul encourages the church to greater unity with each other and that unity was to be centered on the message of Christ crucified- foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved, the very power of God. For Paul, the cross changes everything. It changes how we think, how we act, how we talk, how we live. Paul uses the message of the cross to navigate through the many issues that the Corinthian Church was dealing with.

We see the implications of the cross in our reading for today from 1 Corinthians 8. The issue that Paul is dealing with in this chapter, and really, chapters 9 and 10 as well, is eating. In Chapter 7, Paul addresses concerns and questions about marriage and the single life. Now he is switching to another concern that the church had most likely written to him about. They wanted to know if they should eat food that had been offered to idols.

Now concerning food offered to idols… What exactly is going on in Corinth?

In the city of Corinth, there were many temples in which pagan ceremonies and sacrifices would take place. Many of the Christians in Corinth would have most likely participated in these ceremonies before they converted. Outside many of these temples, there were large courtyards and eating areas. The ceremonies and sacrifices would not take place in these areas. However, the food that had been offered as a sacrifice to the idols was served for people to eat.

Many of the Corinthian Christians, while not participating in the ceremonies and sacrifices, would have still been invited to these courtyards by their pagan friends for meals and even birthday or wedding celebrations. And apparently, many of the Corinthian Christians regularly participated in the social events in the temple courtyards, which would include eating the food served, food which had originally served the purpose of idol worship. Some Christians thought this was fine. They knew, they had “knowledge,” that the idols were false gods and figured that meat was meat. Eating that meat would not harm them. Others did not share that view. They thought that eating the food sacrificed to idols implied worshiping that idol. They were unable to separate the food from idol worship, and so when they participated or saw other Christians participating, it would cause their faith in the true God to be weakened or even destroyed.

The church was seeking Paul’s advice. How do we live in the world but not of it in this situation?

life together knowledge loveRight away, in verse 1, Paul lays the foundation for his response. “Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. In other words, even though some of you Christians have more knowledge than others, your knowledge is causing you to be prideful and selfish to the detriment of the church. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. Paul is differentiating between selfish pride and sacrificial love. Love, in all cases, trumps knowledge, as Paul will make clear later in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-2 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

What we see going on here in 1 Corinthians 8 is a discussion about Christian freedom. Because of Christ crucified, a Christian is free from the condemnation of the Law. The Law can no longer condemn them. But are there limits to Christian freedom? We know we are not free to sin, but what about those things that the Law does not forbid or demand? We see this discussion take place in several of Paul’s other letters, especially concerning circumcision. Was a Gentile Christian required to still be circumcised? Paul ruled “No.” A Christian is free to remain uncircumcised.

So many of the Gentiles in Corinth, those who had knowledge, argued that they were also free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. So keeping in mind this phrase, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” let’s see what Paul had to say about this issue.

First, Paul affirms the “knowledge” of those who would eat the food sacrificed to idols. They argued that they could do so because they knew the idols were false gods. And Paul agrees with their knowledge. We know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

In other words, Paul does not have a problem with Christians eating food sacrificed to idols because those false gods do not exist and cannot exert and power. There is one God and one Lord. A Christian is indeed free to eat the idol-food on these grounds.

However, Paul continues, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. The “weaker” Christian is more easily offended by any participation in anything associated with paganism and idol worship. By eating the food, they would stumble in their faith and pick up their old pagan practices and beliefs.

Notice how Paul does not try to educate the weak so that they have all knowledge. “Come on! Quit being so weak, you big babies.” He knew that they were infants in the faith and needed to be treated as such. So he instead instructs all Christians, especially those who considered themselves wise or strong, to act in love, a love that builds up others in Christ.

agnus day knowledge lovePaul knows that “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Food or drink for those in Christ Jesus was a matter of no importance. But if a person’s faith was at stake, then Christians do not act according to freedom and knowledge, but rather, according to love. “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weakFor if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? Paul goes so far to say that a person who values his personal freedom more than his brother in Christ that he is sinning against him. He is being selfish and prideful. And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Do you see how for Paul everything centers on unity in the faith, the body of Christ being built up? Paul then puts himself forward as an example. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. If Paul became aware that something as inconsequential as food was nevertheless ruining his brother, he would become a vegetarian for eternity. Why? “Because that’s my brother.” Without question, his brother’s eternal welfare is far more important than food.

Could you say the same? I already threw some of you off when I mentioned being a vegetarian. “Sorry, but if it comes down to my brother or sister in Christ or a bacon cheeseburger, I’m going with the cheeseburger.” But what can we learn from 1 Corinthians 8 since we obviously do not have the same issue regarding idol-food and pagan temples?

Well, I think we can go back to Paul’s foundational verse. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Rather than insisting on our own way out of selfish pride, perhaps a Christian’s first question before acting should not be “What am I going to get out of this?” but rather “How does this benefit my neighbor, especially my brother or sister in Christ?” Again, this is a radical change in thinking. This is foolishness to the world. Rather than seeking personal pleasure at all costs, a disciple of Jesus seeks the welfare of others at all costs, even if it means personal sacrifice on their part.

Martin Luther, writing on Christian freedom, put it this way. 1. “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to all.” 2. “A Christian is a perfectly free dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” Well which is it? It’s both. A Christian is not to take pride in their freedom or their knowledge and rub it in people’s face, but rather use that freedom and knowledge in love and service toward others.

Examples: A Christian is perfectly free to enjoy drinking alcohol; however, someone who works extensively with alcoholics would refrain from drinking in their presence, lest they cause their brother or sister to stumble. They would not throw their Christian freedom in their face. (I did make the point in my sermon that I would not apply the same principle to “teetotalers.” There is a huge difference between someone who wrongly interprets the Bible and an alcoholic.) You would not invite a gambling addict to accompany you to the casino.

This may sound just like common sense, so let me try this principle out. Just because you can do something, does not mean that you always should. And how do you determine whether you should or should not do something? Love for others is the guiding principle, not selfish satisfaction. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The Lord wants his church to be built up as a community, and that can only happen when its members display unselfish love for one another.

Such love will be patterned on the example of Christ who died for the weak. See here we are again, rounding back to Paul’s main theme: Christ crucified.

Paul doesn’t set out to prove his knowledge. “I decided to know nothing among you except Christ crucified,” he says. And “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ who provides the perfect example of one who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others. In the sight of God, there is no one who is more superior to anyone else. There is no one righteous, not even one. We are all deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment. All of us, in our original state of sin, had no knowledge of God. But he knew us. And he loved us, even though we are unlovable. God shows his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Here’s the more amazing part: while we continue to sin and act selfishly and fight amongst ourselves, God still loves and forgives us through Jesus.

Rom-5-8 while still sinnersWe are all in the same boat, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all sinners saved by nothing else but the amazing grace of God poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit through the death of Jesus. It is that knowledge, the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for you and for all people, the knowledge of Christ crucified for you, which inspires your loving attitude toward others. It’s all about Christ crucified. If Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for the weakest brother, shouldn’t you be willing to forgo certain luxuries out of loving consideration for your brothers and sisters?

That is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 8. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Lord God, once again we are challenged by your words for us today. We see that without your help and strength and your grace, we are nothing and can do nothing right. Send us Your Holy Spirit to encourage us and enable us to love sacrificially as you have loved us through Jesus. Keep us from selfish pride and build us up into a church known for its love. Amen.

A Crowded Marketplace

crowded marketplaceI want you to imagine that you are in a crowded marketplace, walking among throngs of people. On every side of you are vendors selling their wares, putting their finest products out on display, and calling out to you and anyone who will listen. “Look at what I have. You won’t find anything else like it. Made with only the finest ingredients. Guaranteed fresh! You need this. You can’t live without this! Have you tried this before? This would look great on you! Well worth the money! This can satisfy you like nothing else can!” The voices blend together in a confusing symphony. Choices upon choices overwhelm you and threaten to drive you crazy. You buy one thing, and you immediately regret it because someone else is selling the same thing at another booth at a cheaper price. You’re tempted to just shove your fingers in your ears and run away.

This is the world that we live in, a huge marketplace, full of people and ideas and things which promise to satisfy your deepest longings and meet your every need.

The voices that call out to you are many. The voice of Greed is quite loud and powerful. Greed’s vendors are everywhere, telling you what you need to be fulfilled in life. Your job is what is most important! You have to keep fighting your way to the top, no matter what the cost. Once you get to the top, then you will have time to rest and enjoy the spoils of your success. First, you have to make as much money as you can. That’s the only way you can truly enjoy life. Then you can sit back, eat, drink and be merry. You’ve got to get yours! Other voices encourage you to go into debt to get what you want. It’s not that bad. A lot of people do it. Besides, you need that new toy, so you’re not the only one without it! You will figure out how you are going to pay for it later.

Suddenly, Greed is shoved aside by another vendor. Money isn’t everything, my friend. What really matters is what other people think of you! It’s the voice of Power and Status. Your reputation is what you need to build up. You have to earn enough people’s respect and admiration, and I can tell you what you need in order to get it. You need the right job, the right spouse and family, the right clothes, the right physical beauty. You won’t truly be satisfied until you have the right amount of power over your own life and over others. What’s important is being the self-made man or woman who lives life by their own rules. Don’t listen to those outdated morals of the last generation. Nobody gets to tell you what to do except you. It doesn’t matter who you run over along the way, as long as you live life the way you want to, impress the right people, and look down on the rest. That’s what I can offer you, my friend.

Please! Another voice, a soft, seductive voice, interrupts the voice of Power. You look up at the next vendor’s booth. Immediately you try to look away, but your eyes are drawn back. With possibly the most eye-catching display of all, Lust is calling your name. You begin to feel ashamed, but Lust quickly works to calm your fears. Relax! It’s normal and healthy to gratify all of your inner desires. Look all you want at what I have to offer. I won’t tell anyone. Don’t try to control your urges. Just give in. It won’t hurt anybody. Your sexual cravings are your most basic instinct. Satisfy them. Drink deeply of what I am offering you, whether you are by yourself or with a partner. I won’t ask any questions. There are no rules, no strings attached here.

These are the voices in the marketplace of life, and there are many more. They all promise you the good life. They all offer you that which you cannot live without. They all tell you that the cost of what they are offering you isn’t that high. They are all lying to you.

barbossaIn the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirate leader, Captain Barbossa, is describing the curse that he and his crew are under because of treasure they took. They had heard about the curse, but they ignored the warnings as they looked for that which they thought would satisfy their every desire. But the curse was real. Captain Barbossa explains:

Find it, we did. And there be the chest… and inside, be the gold. We took them all! Spent ’em, traded ’em and fritted ’em away, for drink and food and pleasurable company. But the more we gave them away, the more we came to realize. The drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, and all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust. We are cursed men. Compelled by greed, we were. But now, we are consumed by it. There is one way we can end our curse. All the scattered pieces of the gold must be restored and the blood repaid. Look! The moonlight shows us for what we really are. We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I’ve been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing… not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.

The world’s marketplace has a similar curse attached to it. It is the curse that has existed since Adam and Eve first gave in to temptation. The curse is the price we pay when we listen to the call of the marketplace. The curse is broken relationships with each other as we seek to gratify our own desires and give in to the call of Greed, Power, and Lust. The curse is dissatisfying marriages, broken families, ruined friendships, the trampling of the weak and vulnerable. The curse is never being completely satisfied by what the world has to offer. No matter what you have, you always want more. You always need more. It is never enough.

The curse is spiritual death. We are not among the living for we are dead in our trespasses and sins. And so we are parched with thirst and unable to quench it. We are starving to death but have not died, at least not yet. The curse eventually leads to physical death and then to eternal death as well. There is only one way to end the curse. It must be paid for, not with gold or silver, but with blood.

We are dying, but the marketplace doesn’t notice or care. It just keeps calling out to you, promising you true life and happiness but leading you to despair and death. The voices blend together in confusing symphony. Choices upon choices overwhelm you and threaten to drive you crazy. You’re tempted to just shove your fingers in your ears and run away. You wish you could run away.

All of a sudden, above the clamor, amidst the chaos, you hear another voice, a strong powerful voice, calling out to you with a gracious invitation. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come; buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live!”

You’re drawn to the voice. What fool would be giving away their goods without any price? What kind of person can offer food and drink that will not only satisfy you but give you life? The voice pulls you away from the marketplace. The other vendor’s voices fade away. All you can hear is the singular voice calling out, “Come to me and live! Come, for everything is ready!”

Come, for everything is ready!

Come, for everything is ready!

Finally, you see him. He has no form or majesty that you should look at him, and no beauty that you should desire him. In fact, his appearance is so marred; it is beyond the resemblance of any human being. This man is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he is despised, and we esteemed him not. He seems like a man who has borne many griefs and carried many sorrows. He has wounds on his head, his hands, his side, his feet. Yet the blood which flows from these wounds is what he is offering for you to drink. Come, everyone who thirsts! Come, even though you have no money; come, buy and eat of my life-giving flesh. Drink of my blood which is poured to make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. By my wounds, you are healed. By my death, you are given life. Come to me and be completely satisfied.

This vendor is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. It is Jesus. He offers you eternal life without price because he has paid for it already, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has taken the curse of death upon himself and frees you from it. He invites you to his feast, the Lord’s Supper, to take and eat the true bread of life and to take and drink the only wine that can provide you with true joy and peace amidst your struggles. “Just like the bread Jesus feeds the 5,000 with is bread without price: not worked for or earned, but given by grace. So is the Lord’s Supper. In Jesus, the curse of Adam is ended, and we receive bread that is not worked for, earned, or merited, but given as a gift to every poor, miserable sinner hungry for salvation.” (H/T Rev. Andrew Yeager) The forgiveness and grace you receive in this meal can bring satisfaction to your marriage, heal your family, reconcile your friendships, and raise up the weak and vulnerable. This meal gives you Christ Himself, and in him, you have everything you need. The invitation to this feast is for rich and poor, young and old, male and female, for all who hunger and thirst for what only God can give. This gracious invitation is for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, just as you satisfied the hunger of thousands of people by multiplying the loaves and fish and still had plenty left over, satisfy our longing hearts with your love and grace which never end. Forgive our sins and help us to find contentment in you and to listen to Your voice alone. Amen.

This is a sermon based on Isaiah 55:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21 for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

Obscure Bible Characters: Eutychus

A sermon based on Acts 20:7-12 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I listen better with my eyes closed, I promise!

I listen better with my eyes closed, I promise!

I’m just going to take an informal poll this morning. If you have ever fallen asleep during church, please keep your hands down by your sides. That’s what I thought. Either you are being honest today, or some of you are asleep already! Just remember, we pastors can see everything you’re doing from up here. Consider that a warning. And if that is not warning enough, consider the story of poor Eutychus, our obscure Bible character for today.

How many of you have heard the story of Eutychus before? It’s just tucked away toward the end of Acts, a short account in the middle of Paul’s missionary journeys. This has always been one of my favorite Bible stories. Eutychus is the patron saint of all those who have fallen asleep in church. Thankfully, the story of Eutychus has a happy ending despite his great fall. I cannot make the same guarantee for any of you who fall asleep, especially anyone who chooses the balcony. They stopped teaching “Raising the Dead” classes at the seminary, mostly because they had a hard time getting any volunteers for demonstrations. So stay awake as we look at this story!

Once again, before we dig in to the text, I will remind you of one of the most important questions to ask in order to understand a Bible passage or story. How does this point to Jesus? All of Scripture is ultimately about Jesus and points us to his death and resurrection for us. So how do get from Eutychus to Jesus?

This vivid story is clearly an eyewitness account from the author of the book of Acts, Dr. Luke, who was with Paul on this particular journey. This is also one of the first accounts we have of what a Christian worship service was like. On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. They were worshipping on a Sunday. They were gathered together to break bread, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Paul preached a sermon. Paul and his companions were planning on leaving the next day, so Paul got a little long-winded. He wanted to fit everything in because he did not know when he would be back. Paul preached until midnight. I don’t want any of you to ever complain about the length of a sermon again.

To be fair to Paul, it’s not like he started early in the morning. All of this happened at night. That is probably because it was only at night, when the day’s work was done, that the laborers could come to the Christian fellowship.

eutychusThis also helps explain the case of Eutychus. It was dark. In the low upper room it was hot. The many lamps made the air oppressive. Eutychus, no doubt, had done a hard day’s work before he came and his body was tired. Perhaps he was sitting on the floor and started to nod off. He got up and thought he would get some fresh air by the window. He perched himself there and tried to listen to Paul again. But the tired Eutychus, overpowered by the stuffy atmosphere and by a hard day’s work, succumbed to sleep and fell to the courtyard below.

No doubt this would have caused quite a commotion in the Upper Room. Eutychus very likely had family members in attendance. The service was interrupted as people rushed down the stairs to check on Eutychus. But there was nothing they could do. Eutychus was dead. Now I am not nearly the man St. Paul was, but at least I can say this. My preaching, as far as I know, has never killed anyone.

But of course, I have never done what Paul does next either. He shows concern for this young man as well, making his way down the stairs and toward Eutychus. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Ummm, ok, Paul. Are you sure you are not just avoiding sharing any guilt here. How about we get Dr. Luke over here because Paul clearly doesn’t know what he is talking about. These people knew when a person was dead. But when Paul announced that Eutychus’ life was in him, he was not contradicting his death. He was expressing the assurance that the young man would be brought back to life.

The next thing we are told, however, is that Paul is back upstairs, and this is my favorite part, he resumes his sermon. “Let’s see, where was I?” Paul conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. It’s not until the next verse that we are told the fate of Eutychus. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Eutychus is alive! Paul had revived him, not in the sense of simply gaining consciousness, but in the sense of receiving his life back again. Eutychus was resurrected! It reminds me of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus walks in as people are mourning and crying and says, “She is only sleeping.” They laugh at him, but he knows something they don’t know. With the power of God, Jesus revives Jairus’ daughter. He brings her back to life with the power of His Word.

So what can we learn from this story today? Well, I would like to use Eutychus as an example of what I see happening in the church today. I see a lot of Christians, even members of our family at St. John, falling out of windows. Let me explain. (Yes, fellow pastors, I am going to allegorize this story. Please forgive me.)

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that church attendance in the United States has dropped considerably in the last number of years. Many people still claim to be Christian, but fewer and fewer are actually going to church. St. John Lutheran Church is not immune to this trend. Every quarter, Pastor Luhring and I receive an attendance report for the whole congregation, and the number of 0%ers is troubling. We have good-sized confirmation classes every year, but rarely see any of them 10-15 years later. We have faithful church members who all of a sudden just stop coming. We have church members who haven’t been in church for years.

Now for those of you who are here today- it is easy to simply look down on those people and pat yourself on the back for being here. But I believe our reaction should instead be one of concern and care. In fact, I want you to imagine every single one of your inactive fellow church members as Eutychus, the young man who fell asleep and fell to his death during a worship service. Immediately after he fell, his church family rushed down to help him and try to save him.

Do you know Eutychus?

Do you know Eutychus?

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are falling away from the faith and are in danger of dying, not physically but spiritually. They have cut themselves off from God’s Word for some reason or another. And this should not surprise us. Satan is hard at work to distract and destroy the faith of every single Christian.

I want you to see yourself in Eutychus as well. We are all in danger of falling asleep and falling away from the faith. Jesus constantly warns his disciples to stay awake and be alert. Be ready at all times, he says, because you do not know when he will return, and you do not want him to find you asleep. 1 Peter puts it in very vivid terms. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Satan wants to cut you off from God’s Word. Think of the parable of the sower and the seed. The Word takes root in some people’s lives, but Satan sows thorns in their lives and they grow up and choke the Word. Jesus calls those the cares and distractions of this life. So how does Satan do it? He might make you incredibly busy, give you a full schedule, fill your life full of distractions, and exhaust you so that you just don’t have the time or energy to come and hear the Word of God. He might convince you that you don’t really need to gather with the body of Christ in worship and hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. You can be a Christian without those things. Don’t even worry about it. He could tell you that you are mostly a good person. What do you need church for? Or he might fill you full of guilt so that you feel ashamed to show your face in church because you are worried about what other people might be thinking about you. He might heap all sorts of struggles and burdens on you and convince you that God doesn’t really care about you since he is allowing all of this trouble in your life. He might tempt you to hold a grudge against a church member who has sinned against you instead of forgiving them.

Before you know it, you are getting comfortable in your life away from church and don’t even realize that you are falling to your death. This has happened to countless Christians, and it can happen to you as well. Eutychus certainly did not intend to fall out of a window. It’s not like he jumped out. He was trying to stay awake. But you know how hard it is to stay awake once those eyelids get heavy. Before he knew it, Eutychus was dead on the ground.

Many members of our own family are in danger of the same fate. Are we going to stay inside our four walls and continue as is, or are we going to be like the church family in Acts who rushed down to see if they could help? Are we going to be like Paul who knew that Eutychus could live again and revived him through the power of God?

Now you might be asking, “Well, what can I do? How can I revive someone’s faith?” And you certainly cannot do that yourself. Only the Holy Spirit through the Word of God can do that. But someone needs to speak that Word to them. As Paul says in Romans 10, “Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And how can they hear unless someone speaks that word to them? And can how you speak unless you first care about them and recognize that God can still revive them and restore them to faith?

I have been hammering home these last few weeks how all of Scripture points to Christ and his death and resurrection for the whole world. As Christians, our whole lives should point to Christ and to his salvation as well. We carry the name “Christian” with us wherever we go. You were baptized into that name, and Christ has been united to you. The Holy Spirit dwells within you. The Word of God is your weapon in the fight against Satan. But you do not fight alone. As the family of God, we need to share the life-giving and reviving Word of God with our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the faith. They need to hear God’s words of grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ just as much as you do.

words of eternal lifeDuring Jesus’ ministry, some of his followers began to leave him because of his difficult words and way of life. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” Jesus is the Word made flesh that the whole world needs to hear about!

Where is Jesus in this story? He is everywhere really. He is there in the gathering of his body, the Church, for worship. He is present in the words of Paul’s sermon as he proclaims Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. He is there in the breaking of the bread, his very body and blood given and shed. He is there in those who have compassion for Eutychus and his fate. He is there as Eutychus is raised from the dead, for Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for all who believe. Jesus is the true and greater Eutychus. Jesus willingly went to his death on the cross and rose from the dead three days later to give you the gift of resurrection and eternal life.

Just as Jesus was present in Acts, he is here with us now as we gather together and hear his Word. He is here every time that His Word is proclaimed. He is here when one of your pastors proclaims that your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is here every time that we break bread together to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. He is there every time you reach out to one of your fellow brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the faith. He has the power to raise them to new life just as he does for you day after day, week after week. And one day, he will be here on earth once again to do for you what he did for Eutychus. He will physically resurrect you from the dead and give you the gift of eternal life so that you can be in his presence and in the presence of our whole family forever.

May you stand firm in God’s Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit despite the distractions of the devil and may you show care and compassion to those who are falling asleep in their faith and give them the words of eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Obscure Bible Characters: Naboth

A sermon based on 1 Kings 21

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

What do you want your obituary to say about you? Perhaps that is not a question that you have spent much time pondering, depending on what stage of life you are in. But what would you like it to say? Your obituary is the last chance to leave your legacy, so to speak. It is a short review of your life and your accomplishments. How do you want to be remembered?

A man by the name of Val Patterson wrote his own obituary back in 2012 before he died of throat cancer, and he has achieved legendary status by using his obituary as a confessional peace. He starts out normally enough, listing his accomplishments and noting his love for his dear wife. Then he continues: Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. Val ends his obituary with a piece of advice: If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.

Now that’s a memorable obituary! But not everybody gets to write their own obituary like Val did. And if someone else writes yours, you are at the mercy of whatever they thought of you. There is no objecting after your death. It is there in the annals of history, and it is not going away. Just ask King Ahab.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles give a history lesson on the nation of Israel after the time of King David. It mentions the reign of each of the kings of both Israel and Judah after the nation split apart. And for each king, it gives a grade, so to speak. Either the king did what was right in the sight of the Lord or the king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. These books are full of obituaries in other words. God got to decide how these kings get to be remembered, and unfortunately, there are more bad kings than good kings. And then there’s King Ahab. In 1 Kings 16, we are first introduced to King Ahab. In the 38th year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel and reigned for 22 years. And Ahab did more evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

That’s not the way anyone would choose to be remembered- the most evil king in Israel’s history. And yet, as you heard in today’s Old Testament reading, Ahab’s reputation is well deserved. Let’s look at the story of King Ahab and Naboth, our obscure Bible character for today. Remember our two important questions as we look at a Biblical text. What is the original context? And how does this story point to Jesus?

ahab naboth 1Naboth had a vineyard. King Ahab wanted his vineyard. He offered to buy it from Naboth or give Naboth an even bigger vineyard. But Naboth didn’t want any other vineyard. He wanted this vineyard. He turns down King Ahab’s offer, and he does it for religious reasons. He says, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” Why would he say that? Because the Lord did forbid it! In the law of Moses, God forbids the Israelites to sell their paternal inheritance. So even if Naboth wanted the money, he obeyed God’s law.

And what does the great and powerful King of Israel do after being told no? He acts like a child. He goes home and pouts. He lay in his bed and refused to eat because he did not get his way. Boo hoo!

Heart in a box? Please! Queen Jezebel practically invented that.

Heart in a box? Please! Queen Jezebel practically invented that.

Enter his wife, Queen Jezebel. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “The husband might be the head of the household, but the wife is the neck and she turns the head whichever way she wants.” Well that is certainly the case with Queen Jezebel. She was a bad influence on her husband. She is the original evil queen, the prototype for all those Disney movies.

She comes to her husband and basically tells him to quit being a baby and start being a king. “Do you or do you not rule over Israel? If you aren’t going to do something about it, then I will. You will have your precious vineyard.”

Jezebel then schemes and plans to get rid of Naboth. She sent letters to the leaders of the city and called for a fast for the whole city. Why a fast? Calling for a city-wide fast would indicate that a crime of such a grave nature had been committed as to require the calling of a penitential general assembly. In other words, somebody has done something wrong, and the whole community needs to repent and figure out who did what. And Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be the fall guy. Two worthless men brought false charges against Naboth at this general assembly. “We heard Naboth curse God and the king!” They were accusing Naboth of blasphemy against God and treason against the king. Apparently, Naboth does not receive a fair trial. He is dragged outside the city and stoned to death.

And wouldn’t you know it! The property of traitors was by law forfeited to the king! Everything went according to Jezebel’s plan. She told her husband the “good news,” and he went to take possession of the vineyard.

The story does not end here however, even though that is where we stopped reading. God speaks to Elijah, the prophet, and tells him to go confront Ahab and to describe in great, gory detail how Ahab and Jezebel are going to die. Now Elijah and Ahab had already had plenty of run-ins before. Ahab had tried on numerous occasions to have Elijah killed because Elijah was always speaking against him and condemning him. When Elijah confronts Ahab, we get a little bit of sarcasm from King Ahab. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” In others words, we meet again. Or even, I’ve been expecting you.

"Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs!" No, really.

“Jezebel is going to be eaten by dogs!” No, really.

Elijah then condemns Ahab and promises his destruction and predicts Jezebel’s death. Then we get an interesting aside. Verses 25 and 26 mention again how evil Ahab is. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols.” It’s a reminder of Ahab’s wickedness. But when Ahab heard God’s law and his punishment from the mouth of Elijah, Ahab repents. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted. And apparently it was a genuine repentance, at least for this sin, because God relents and says “Because Ahab has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days, but in his son’s days instead.”

And if Ahab, the evil king, can repent and turn from his wickedness and receive forgiveness, there is hope for you and me as well. Yes, I am afraid it is true. When it comes to application of this text today, you and I are much more like King Ahab than Naboth.

Before you get too offended from being compared to “the most evil king Israel ever had” I encourage you to learn from St. Paul. He had no problem with superlatives. This is what he writes to Timothy: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. I am the worst of sinners, Paul says. And if he, St. Paul of all people, recognized the depths of his sin and wickedness, I think you can take a moment to consider your own.

After all, what was King Ahab’s sin? His sin was coveting. He had a sinful desire for that which was not his. He did not need the vineyard. He was the king. He had more than he could ever need. But I find it to be a rule that the more you have, the more you want. King Ahab was selfish. He threw a fit when he did not get his way. And ultimately, he didn’t care whose life he ruined in order to get what he wanted.

i want moreThere is a King Ahab in all of us. Like him, you covet. You desire that which is not yours and belongs to others. It probably isn’t a vineyard that you desire, but it could be a number of other things: the car, the money, the lifestyle, the reputation, the family, the health, the body, the job that belongs to somebody else. Like Ahab, you are greedy. You have more than what you need to support this body and life, and yet it is never enough. The more you have, the more you want. Like King Ahab, you are selfish. I find it hard myself to think back on something I have done completely self-less-ly. There always seems to be an element of selfishness. What is going to be comfortable or easy for me? What is going to make me happy? Even my good deeds and your good deeds are soiled with sin and selfishness. We can’t escape it.

And in your selfishness, you trample on the needs of others. In your coveting, you have no regard for the person who actually possesses what you want. In your effort to build yourself up, you tear other people down with gossip and slander. You try to use whatever power and influence you have to get what you want. The list could go on and on. We are the foremost of sinners.

You and I need a visit from the prophet Elijah as well. Or how about the apostle Paul who says in Colossians 3: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. The wrath of God is promised to you just as it was promised to Ahab for his wickedness. Put it to death, Paul says. Repent. Turn away from your wickedness, and God will have mercy on you for the sake of His Son, Jesus.

How does Jesus fit into this story? If you think about it, Jesus is a lot like Naboth. Like Naboth, Jesus is the preserver of a vineyard. Think of Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. The tenants killed the servants that the master sent to collect the fruit. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Naboth points us to Jesus who was also killed over a vineyard.

Naboth points us to Jesus who was also killed over a vineyard.

Sound familiar? Like Naboth, Jesus was killed over a vineyard. But in Jesus’ case, the vineyard represents the people of God- God’s treasured possession. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were jealous of Jesus and his popularity and resented his claims to be the Son of God. They wanted power and control over God’s people. And so like Naboth, Jesus was plotted against in secret by those who wished to destroy him and take his inheritance. Like Naboth, Jesus was an innocent man accused falsely by witnesses who were planted at his trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was accused of blasphemy against God and rebellion against the king or Caesar. Like Naboth, Jesus did not receive a fair trial. Like Naboth, Jesus was sentenced to die unjustly. Like Naboth, Jesus was taken outside the city and killed.

Jesus is the true and greater Naboth. Naboth is a type of Christ, a person who points forward to what Jesus ultimately does through his death and resurrection. How does this story of King Ahab and Naboth point to Jesus? Jesus, the innocent man, is killed unjustly, yet through his death, undeserving sinners like you and me are now heirs of God’s inheritance, the very treasures of heaven.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom you are the foremost. All of your sinful desires, your covetousness, your selfishness, your greed, was nailed to the cross of Jesus and was killed. Instead of God’s wrath and punishment, you are now rewarded as a child of God, and no one can take that away from you. Satan can scheme and try to take what is yours, but no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand. You are his treasured possession, a member of his family, firmly planted in the vineyard of God.

If God was going to write your obituary, he would not list your sins and wickedness. He doesn’t remember them. He only remembers what His Son Jesus has done for you. Your obituary would probably say something like this: (Insert name here)- a beloved child of God through Jesus Christ and an heir to eternal life. Amen.

Let us pray: Chief of sinners though I be Jesus shed His blood for me,

Died that I might live on high, Lives that I might never die.

As the branch is to the vine, I am His, and He is mine. Amen.