Wednesday, September 11, 2013

As We Remember

Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God!
Memorial Service for Rescue Workers of 9/11 - October 2, 2001
Romans 8:18, 28-39


(I preached this sermon at a memorial service conducted with Rev. Steve Hyvonen three weeks after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, at St. James Lutheran Church. Both of us were serving as chaplains to the Shawano County Sheriff Department, and planned this special service for the emergency personnel of Shawano County. While this sermon was for a specific purpose, it has been requested by many as they deal with other traumatic life situations. As it has even been requested recently, it is being placed on the website that others may read it as well. There are those who found comfort in these words then, and there are those who still find this sermon to bring them comfort in their times of trial and anxiety. It is offered here in the hope it will bring you God's peace.)

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

It has been three weeks ago, today when America was attacked. Look at where the World Trade Center once stood - there is some suffering. You remember the TV news coverage, they were showing scenes and so you saw the carnage. Here, even some 1000 miles away, it seemed like you were there. It seems the topic of many discussions still, some 3 weeks later. What is being talked about? Maybe you have asked the question, Where was God in all this? How could God stand by and watch this happen?

It hits even closer to home because some of those who lost their lives were wearing uniforms - they wore uniforms because they were special. They wore uniforms that bespoke their courage and respect for the lives of others. That’s quite a contrast from the attitude of those who performed the treacherous deeds of September 11.

Today we gather to remember those who gave their lives that day, the rescue workers; firemen, police officers, and EMTs and their families. Those who served others came as they were called, they walked into a difficult situation that only got worse. Without flinching they stepped up and made an accounting. They have been called heroes - and they are - for they took no regard for their own life as they looked only to how they might save others. The numbers are not yet complete, but some 350 firefighters are dead of missing and more than 70 police officers.

Did you know someone there? Was there someone close to you who lost their life while trying to save others? It might not be so bad except for one thing, it was planned. These heros lost their lives because someone else took them. All the death and carnage was by design. Where was God in all this? How could God stand by and watch this happen?

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath and listen to a story. There was a man brought before the High Court of the land. They brought false charges against him. False witnesses gave their testimony. Even though their words didn’t agree and there was no proven charge against the man, the man was sentenced to death.

You know the man of whom I speak, you have heard the story. It is the message of God’s only Son and a Friday called, Good. How could it be good? God stood by and did nothing while His innocent Son was convicted in a kangaroo court. God watched as the perfection of the ages was made a mockery by pagans. The Father turned His back upon His Child of innocence, as His blood slowly dripped into the ground beneath the place where the nails pierced his hands and feet. Slowly, the Son died. Why God? Why your only, Son? Why did you stand by and do nothing? Why didn’t you get involved? Why? God, why did you let that perfect man, Your only Son suffer at the hands of evil men? Why, Lord, did you let the holy flesh of your innocent Son be pierced by the nails of pagan Romans? Why, Lord, did you stand by and do nothing while your own Son died?

In another place in Romans, it is written that the wages of sin is death. There is not a single person who is alive or who ever lived that isn’t under the condemnation of that verdict from the hand of God. Sin still corrupts the world today, just as it did in Jesus’ day. Sin in men, caused the death of others - some we today call heroes. Even the heroes were not perfect, they too were sinners.

The God who made Adam, made a promise to send One who would crush the head of Satan, who would defeat sin and evil in the world. That One was conceived in the womb of a virgin named Mary. God took on human flesh; innocent, perfect, holy flesh. He came to give His life as the ransom from sin. He came to suffer ridicule, pain, suffering, and a criminals death upon a cross.

So, some 2000 years ago, the Father wasn’t standing by doing nothing. He was taking out His wrath against sin upon His only Son. All our sins needed to be appeased, payment for our sinfulness had to come from somewhere. It came in the flesh broken and the blood which was shed by His only Son. God Himself came down to earth to suffer the pain of sin, and the Father sent Him for that purpose. It was by His choice that Christ suffered under the sinfulness of His fallen world that you and I might be freed from the grips of sin and death. It was by the Father’s choice that from the riven side of His holy child, blood and water flowed.

Why did God allow the tragedy to take place on Tuesday? We cannot answer that question with all certainty. We know that God did not cause it to happen. The cause was sin. But, know that God will use this for His purpose and to the good of His people.

Why didn’t God stop it? For Him to have stopped it, He’d have to put an end to all sinful flesh. To do that, judgement day would have to come - all flesh would be brought before Him - and it would be the end. As long as Christ has not returned, sin is still part of the human condition. And as long as sin is still part of the human condition, death and tragedy will be so as well. As long as Christ has not returned, there is the possibility that others will be called to repentance and faith in Christ.

The text from Romans before us starts with these words: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ Boy, who knew how tough that suffering would be. Who knew how heroes would give their lives? After all, heroes never die in the movies. Who thought that families would be shattered and lives lost?

The text continues: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.’ Right now it is a little difficult to see the good. But it is there. There is a new national unity spreading. Look where you are tonight, praying for people you do not even know. You are grieving over those who you never met, but for whom you have a kindred spirit in your selfless service to others. See how a country has bent a knee and called upon God.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39)

As the world around us seems so confused and lost, as we wonder why things happen, some things remain sure, cling to these things with all confidence. God knows suffering, for He suffered at the hands of evil men who hated Him, spit upon Him, beat Him, mocked Him and cried out for His innocent death. He knows of death and hatred for He was crucified by those who hated Him and screamed for His blood. He knows the frailty of mankind, for He walked with men and saw the frail existence and lived it with them.

This same God enfleshed is Jesus the Christ, has taken your sins and mine upon Himself so that you might be confident in this life. Be confident, you and I are conquerors - in Christ Jesus. Through God’s love, you and I will triumph over this life and its uncertainties - in Christ Jesus. While the world leaves you wondering, "what next," you have a confidence and sure hope - in Christ Jesus.

Paul tells you of your confidence and hope: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sermon for Holy Trinity

                   A Thorough Mouth Cleaning
                                 Isaiah 6:1-7

Isaiah finds himself before God and he exclaims, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.@

You know, I feel for Isaiah. To be before God in all His glory and majesty, I can see exactly why he would say such a thing.  I can imagine myself in his shoes, I can envision how I might have responded, “Heavenly Father, beloved Son, and Holy Spirit; in fits of rage, I have taken Your holy name in vain. In attempts to be funny, I have soiled my lips with profanity and vulgarity. With the mouth you have given me, I have belittled and made fun of others whom you created and for whom Your beloved Son gave His life to redeem in pain and suffering on the cross. Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.@

 How easy it is to say stuff that we regret. In the heat of the moment, it is so easy to open our mouths and hurt others. How often have people counseled, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so that you listen twice before you speak.” Or, “Think before you open your mouth.”
Lest you think this is a new phenomenon, James records that which the Spirit has inspired Him to write some 2000 years ago, saying. Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  

Dearly beloved of God, this is so very true.  How often has it been that you and I have been hurt, sometimes deeply, by the uncaring words flowing through the mouths and past the lips of others? It hurts even worse when it is from the lips of family members or from the mouths of close friends? Oftentimes, words hurt even more than physical pain.

But lest we caught up in pointing fingers at others, we must remember that as we do so, three fingers point back at our own mouths. When was the last time you told a joke which you would not have told in the presence of your mother or in front of the pastor? How often has your mouth caused you to apologize for your “French”? What words or off color jokes flowing past your lips would have had your parents threaten to wash your mouth out with soap? Which of your friends have you hurt by your mouth revealing a secret? Who has been emotionally scarred by the belittling words, or the vile atrocities which flowed from your mouth?  Which of your enemies has had their name and reputation drawn through the mud, by what has passed through your lips?

Dare I even suggest it, has the mouth by which you have received the precious body of Christ, also spewed forth God=s name without thinking?  Has your mouth, which has drunk deeply of Christ’s precious blood, also had God=s name passed from it in anger and vile cursing?

Indeed, our lips are often engaged without thinking, and in so doing befouling our whole body with ungodly speaking. All too often, our mouths are a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

God=s servant, the prophet Isaiah despaired of the same sins, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.@ 

It is in the midst of his despair that an angelic messenger flies to the altar and removes a burning coal with tongs, and brings it to Isaiah. He touches the coal to Isaiah=s mouth and says, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.@

It is upon the altar that sacrifice is made. God=s heavenly altar holds the most holy sacrifice ever given, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The coal, drenched in the blood of the Lamb, removes the guilt from Isaiah. Christ=s own sacrifice atoning for his sin, and granting him righteousness.

Whenever we gather together to celebrate the feast of the Lord, this text proclaims the truth of that feast. When we gather together around the table of the Lord, we are gathered around God=s throne. In all His glory, Christ reigns upon the table that is He has set before us. With angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we join in the eternal song of praise singing; holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

Christ Table, our altar, was prepared on Calvary when Christ bore the sins of our lips. The cross was the brazier on which the sacrifice was made, the Lamb of God, touched by the flames of hell, and our sins were consumed in the conflagration.

God=s messenger, the pastor, takes the very flesh of the sacrifice and places it into our mouths. He pours from the cup into our lips, the very blood of the Lamb.  He proclaims, take eat, the body of Christ – take drink, the blood of Christ – shed for you for the forgiveness of sin. 

"Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.@  Amen.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oculi Sermon - 3/3/2013

Given a couple conversations I had this week, this past Sunday's sermon for Oculi seems appropriate to post here. 

Set Apart
Exodus 8:16-24

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

 Whenever we read anything from Exodus, I cannot help but think of Charlton Heston as Moses.   I have a picture of him in my mind going before Pharaoh and telling him that God is going to send a plague of flies as the fourth plague.  I see him before Pharaoh with his red, black, and white striped robe explain that with this particular plague, Egypt will be afflicted, but the Israelites will be spared.  God’s people will be set apart, and no swarm of flies will afflict them.  And so it was, throughout the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.  But where the Israelites were, where God’s people were, there were no flies.

While I text doesn’t go any further, it does not end there. The 5th plagues is upon the livestock of Egypt, but the Israelites were set apart, and their livestock was untouched.  Then the plague of boils fell upon the Egyptians, and again the Israelites were set apart and unafflicted. 7th was the destructive hail upon the Egyptians, and yes, you guessed it, being set apart by God, the land of Goshen was not touched by the hail.

God set apart His people.  God showed there was a distinction between the Egyptians and the people he had chosen.  Was it because God knew the Israelites were better people than the Egyptians?  Was it because the Israelites were faithful to God?

No!  When the Israelites were finally freed from Egyptian rule, how long did it take for them to doubt God?  They had seen how they were set apart.  The destroyer had killed all the first born were there was no lamb’s blood on the door post and lintels.  They had gone out by God’s mighty hand, but when Pharaoh’s army was seen following them, the Israelites complained against God – and against Moses.  They thought God would allow them to die.  They doubted God, sinning against Him by breaking the first commandment.

God set them apart as His people, because He chose to set them apart to be His people. It had nothing to do with who they were or what they had done.

Throughout the history of the Israelites before the coming of God’s Christ, God should have abandoned the Israelites.  Beside the Red sea they complained against God.  In the wilderness, as God was going to take them into the Promised Land, they complained against God and disbelieved that He could protect them and provide for them.  After they finally were in the Promised Land, the Israelites rebelled and disobeyed God time and time again. 

Yes, God allowed nations to defeat Israel and to take them into captivity, but He did so to lead them to repentance. God never turned His back on them, nor did He ever say, “I am done with you.”

Time and again, God likened the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to adultery.  He was to be their God and they were to be His people, His bride.  And so, when they worshipped Him in a manner that He had not prescribed, it was adultery.  When they worshipped other gods, it was adultery.  When they tried to blend worship of Yahweh with the worship of other gods, or blended the style of Yahweh with the style of worship used toward other gods, it was called adultery.

The Israelites were an unfaithful bride, committing spiritual adultery against their bridegroom, God.  They sinned against Him again, and again, and again.  Despite the fact that they did so, God remained faithful to them.  He did not divorce them, but continued to keep them as His people.

You and I have been set apart.  By the waters of  baptism, you have been united to Christ.  What exactly does that mean?  Peter explains that for us very well when he writes, (1 Peter 2:9-12)      But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
    Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

You are to be different, as Paul tells us, you are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:2)  You are to set yourselves apart by your life as a living witness to the fact that you are God’s.

 That is what our Epistle lesson tell us too, that we are to be imitators of God.  We are to walk in love.  We are to abstain from all sins. In fact, according to our Epistle lesson, we are not even to associate with anybody who lives in any sort of sin.  Why?  Because we have been set apart!

But as we look around, we live in the world.  We like the things of the world.  How many churches even want the world to influence their worship, they want to do as the Israelites did when they allowed a blending of Yahweh’s worship by adding some of the styles of worship done by those who worshiped other Gods.  And God called that adultery.

We like what the world has to say as it entices us and so we follow along with the world’s enticements.  While we cannot help that we live in the world, we are not to be of the world.  We are to be set apart.  We are to be without sin.

There is much about being set apart that is interesting. 

Mary was a virgin when the Holy Spirit came upon her and did marvelous things to her.  She was set apart from the rest of humanity to bear a holy child, the very Son of God.  Her Son was set apart, for He was the Word of God which brought all that is into existence, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.

Christ is further set apart as well, for from the moment of His conception He was without sin.  He set Himself apart even further, for although He created the world, He lived in that world as one of His creatures, but without sin.  He did this for He was set apart for a purpose, to fulfill God’s will, to redeem all mankind.  those whom He set apart to be His children. 

Caiaphas said it well when he proclaimed that is was better for one man to die than the whole nation perish.  God set apart Jesus to be that One man to die in order that all would not perish eternally.  And He chose those whom He set apart that they might not perish, but have eternal life.

It is wonderful to be set apart.  I love the Old Testament that I am reading again with those of you who have taken the challenge.  There are no great men in the Bible, only sinners, only those set apart by God who fail again, and again, and again.  But it is God who is faithful and just to forgive all their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness.  They were set apart to show the marvelous mercy and grace of God. 

You and I dear friends have been set apart for that same purpose – to show the marvelous mercy and grace of God.  You are set apart to receive from God’s hand forgiveness and life that you might be His children.

Neither you nor I was chosen because of something special about us.  In fact, I think God chose me just to show that He can take the most vile, putrid, trash and make it into His special creation – one of His holy people – one of His forgiven and redeemed children.

You are set apart to hear a word of forgiveness and life.

You are set apart to eat holy food that strengthens faith for eternity.

You are set apart to be God’s holy ones, His nation, for eternity.

 Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord who has set us apart as His.  Amen.