Peace for the Irrational Heart

“Peace for the Irrational Heart”

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

https://www.stmarksbemidji.org

https://gracelutheransc.wordpress.com

Contact us! john.kirk@stmarksbemidji.org

Join in on the fellowship! calendar@stmarksbemidji.org (subscribe to our calendar here)

Audio Podcast RSS (put into your Podcasting 2.0 app!): https://www.smlcbemidji.org/feed/sermon-podcast/

Subscribe to our podcast on Apple or Google for your phone:

Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/33iXSxY

Google Podcasts: https://bit.ly/34WY4TX

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/stmarksbemidji

https://www.instagram.com/smlcbemidji/

Twitter: @StMarkPodcast

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Love Your Enemy

“Love Your Enemy”

https://www.stmarksbemidji.org

https://gracelutheransc.wordpress.com

Contact us! john.kirk@stmarksbemidji.org

Audio Podcast RSS (put into your Podcasting 2.0 app!): https://www.smlcbemidji.org/feed/sermon-podcast/

Subscribe to our podcast on Apple or Google for your phone:

Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/33iXSxY

Google Podcasts: https://bit.ly/34WY4TX

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter:

https://www.facebook.com/stmarksbemidji

https://www.instagram.com/smlcbemidji/

Twitter: @StMarkPodcast

What do you value most?

↓ Download Service Folder

1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-18

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I’m convinced that when God brings two people together in marriage, He takes a man with strengths and weaknesses and unites him to a woman with different strengths and weaknesses and the goal is not that they fight about these differences, but that these differences complement each other. That’s true about many things in my relationship to Katie, but one that particularly stands out is my desire to hold on to things, to not get rid of things and Katie’s ease of throwing things away or getting rid of things. And I attribute this desire to hold on to things partially to my genes. You see, my dad has this gene, my Grandma has this gene, and my great-grandma had this gene. My dad tells the story about my great-grandmother who lived in a big farmhouse in Freistadt, WI, and she collected and saved everything. Well, one day, her husband was so frustrated with all of this “junk” that she saved in the attic that he opened the attic window and just started chucking it out the window. Well, about as fast as he was throwing it out, my great-grandma was going out gathering it and bringing it back into the house through the kitchen.

I’ve inherited this. And as you are all aware, my family and I are preparing to move to Cheyenne. Part of the moving process is going through our accumulated things and deciding what you want to move and what you want to get rid of. This is very easy for my wife, it’s very painful for me. But whenever you go through things, there’s this principle: that which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up. That which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up.

So, the question is: What do you value the most in life? What are you most unwilling to give up? During Lent, some people take up the practice of fasting. They set aside something that is important to them, give something up for Lent. And, perhaps there are some useful reminders in such a practice, it can show us how frail we humans are or how much we so easily attach ourselves to the things of this world. But God nowhere commands that we fast. In a way, though, our entire lives are to be a “fast” in a sense. God wants us to value Him the most and be ready to give up anything that might get in the way of our trust and reliance on Him alone. So, what about you? What about me? What do you value most? What are you most unwilling to give up?

The text that we’re looking at this morning is really a climactic point in the life of Abraham. So we really need to understand what led up to this point. God had called Abraham, brought him to faith, directed him to travel to the land of Canaan, gave Abraham some incredible promises, promises like many descendants, a promised land that his descendants would live in, and, most importantly, through Abraham all people would be blessed, in other words, through Abraham’s descendants would come the Savior of the world. Abraham obeyed the Lord and moved to an unknown land. But then there was a famine in the land and Abraham had to move to Egypt for a time. And while in Egypt he had a choice: rely on God or rely on himself? He reasoned that the king of Egypt would see how beautiful his wife Sarah was and kill him to have her. So, Abraham relies on himself, says that Sarah is his sister and Sarah ends up in the harem of the king of Egypt. So God had to intervene and get her out of there. Later, Abraham has a problem. God’s given him some wonderful promises, but they all hinge on the fact that he needs a child, a son, which he doesn’t have. Again, rely on God or rely on himself? He relies on himself and takes his wife’s maidservant Hagar, sleeps with her, and has a child with her – Ishmael, contrary to God’s will. Then once again Abraham was afraid of a local king and has a choice of relying on God or himself, and he relies on himself, lies to this king, Abimelech and says that his wife is really his sister, the king takes Sarah into his harem and God has to get her out of there immediately!  Well, finally, God, in a miraculous way and according to his promise, allows Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to get pregnant. So a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman have a child and not just any child but THE child, Isaac, through whom God would fulfill the promises to Abraham of many descendants who would inherit a special land and eventually the Savior of the world – Abraham’s Savior – would come from the descendants of not just any son, but THIS son Isaac. How do you think Abraham felt about his son? How would you feel if you waited for something for some 75 or 80 years and finally had it? Do you think he loved his son dearly? Do you think he played with him? Do you think this son was the apple of his eye and the joy of his heart? Do you think he cared deeply about his son?

And then we come to our text.  And remember, that which we value the most is the thing we are most unwilling to give up.  God tested Abraham. That’s what we’re told, not what Abraham was told, he didn’t know this was simply a test and everything was going to work out in the end. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love- Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” What??!! Sacrifice my son! Are you kidding! Is this some kind of sick trick! Not only was Isaac the son of Abraham’s old age, the long waited for son, Isaac was the object of God’s incredible promises, Isaac was the joy of Abraham’s life, killing Isaac wasn’t just killing his own son, that meant killing God’s promise of a Savior, Abraham’s Savior! But God knew something that Abraham perhaps didn’t even know himself. Abraham was in great danger. Danger of slowly coming to the point of where he would have loved and valued his son more than God Himself.

So, what did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he got up gathered the things together and set off for the 3 day, 50 mile trip to Mount Moriah where he would sacrifice his son. How it must have pained his heart! How the devil must have tempted him, “How could God be loving if he commands this?” How it must have felt like a knife in his heart when he heard his son say, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering.” How it must have hurt to think, “You, my son, are that lamb.”

You see, with every sacrifice that took place there are really two sacrifices that God demanded. There was the putting to death of the object of the sacrifice. For example, let’s say, a sheep. That sheep was to be slaughtered, killed, put to death. But there was another sacrifice, a more important sacrifice that was to take place. It was the sacrifice that happened inside the heart of the one who was doing the sacrificing. That for the Lord I am perfectly willing to surrender this thing, that the Lord is more important to me than this thing, I value my Lord more than I do this thing, the second sacrifice is the more important sacrifice. As NT Christians we don’t have sacrifices because our entire lives are to be one big spiritual sacrifice to God. “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to the Lord” (Romans 12:1). But the problem is, we all too easily become more attached to things. So, in love God sends us a test, like He did for Abraham- a test, not a temptation to sin, but a test, perhaps He removes something in our lives that we were beginning to treasure too much or something that we were in danger of treasuring more than the Lord Himself putting our salvation in jeapordy. When God removes whatever it is we are faced with a challenge, a test. We are faced to confront the issue of our hearts, much the way that Abraham was forced to confront his own heart. God already knew what was in Abraham’s heart, He already knows what’s in our hearts, but the trials and tests we face are opportunities where God opens our eyes to where our hearts really are or the direction where they are going. Have I begun value someone or something more than my God? Am I willing to lose anything and everything in my life should God in His wisdom and love demand it from me? What we value the most is what we are most unwilling to give up.

It could be a thing or item – my home, my car, my money, it could be a person – my spouse, my child, my friend, it could be something physical – my health, my body, my skills, it could be something totally different- my reputation, my pride, my self-sufficiency, my popularity. Any of those things – and many more – can easily become more important to me than my God. And when that happens we break the first and most important commandment. And it’s in tests and trials where God removes something from our lives and shows us just how attached we are to things or how reliant we’ve become on ourselves than on our God. And if we are so prone to value things over our God, to give up our devotion to God instead of things of this life, why in the world should He put any value on us? Why should God have any reason not to give us up to the fires of hell?

Abraham is standing over his son about to kill him, in his heart he’s already slayed his son in obedience to God, for he must value God the most and is unwilling to even let his love for his son crowd God and devotion to Him out of his heart. And then God intervenes, stops Abraham, and Abraham looks up and there – provided by God – is a ram and Abraham offers the ram in place of his son and Abraham calls that mountain “The Lord will provide.”

And it just so happens that it is this very same mountain on which the city of Jerusalem and the temple would later be built. It just so happens that just outside the walls of the city on this mountain God provided something else. A sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. That which you value the most is that which you are most unwilling to give up. On this very mountain God provided His own Son who wasn’t spared but was provided as the sacrifice for sins once and for all. Why? Because what God values the most and what God is most unwilling to give up… is…you. You and I deserved because of our sin to be given up by God, cast out of His presence forever for we are creatures who are so ready to give up on God for stuff, for things, for other people, yet in unimaginable love God gave up His own Son, so He wouldn’t have to give up on you and me!

And if you think about it, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? How will God not also see you through every trial and test? How will God not also comfort you with His never-ending, never-ceasing love no matter what you have in life or don’t have in life, no matter what you get or what you lose? In God you have it all. He has provided you with everything you need for eternal life in His Son and His sacrifice on the cross for you.

It was that sacrificial love of God that won Abraham’s heart and his devotion and it’s that same sacrificial, unconditional, never ending love of God that has won your heart and your devotion to value God most and be most unwilling to give Him up no matter what because on that mountain, on that cross God provided salvation…for you!  Amen.

 

Build on the Rock!

↓ Download Service Folder

6th Sunday after Pentecost
VBS Sunday

First Sermonette – Foundation – Matthew 7:24-29

How concerned are you about “quality”? How concerned are you about the quality of the food you eat or the water you drink? Are you ok with eating some meat that may or may not cause you to become very sick? Are you ok with drinking water that has a lot of dangerous chemicals in it? How concerned are you with the quality of medical care that you’re provided? Are you ok with a sloppy medical procedure or non-sterilized medical instruments? How concerned are you with the quality of the vehicle you drive? Are you ok with a vehicle that might suddenly break down or has brakes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t? How concerned are you with quality?

Here Jesus’ makes a comparison of two buildings that were built on different foundations. One had a quality foundation and the other not-so-much. Well, just like every building needs a foundation, so every person needs a foundation for their life. And everyone has one. But there’s a huge difference in quality among what people build their lives on. There are many options, aren’t there? There’s many different materials you could use to build your life on, right? Perhaps I’m going to build my life on my career – work really hard, seek promotions and advancement at the cost of my health and family, but what happens when I lose my career or get laid off or retire? Or maybe I’ll build my life on my children- push them to succeed and achieve in sports, in grades, in a job, but what happens when they fail, when they disappoint? Or maybe I’ll build my life on having fun, doing whatever I like, if it feels good do it, but what happens when I’m terminally diagnosed, or when I lose my health or wealth? Then what? What happens when the storms of life come, when the rain comes down, the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat? It will show the quality of the material on which I’ve built my life.

There have been many lives that have come crashing down and ultimately every life not built on the only rock-solid foundation will crumble on the Last Day. What are you building your life on? What’s the foundation for your life? What foundation for life are you passing on to your children?

See what Jesus says? “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” What is the only quality foundation on which to build your life? It’s Jesus and His Words. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” The only rock-solid foundation for life is trusting in Jesus as your Savior. Trusting in Jesus who came to shed His blood on the cross for each and every time you and I have foolishly tried to build our lives on anything else but Him. The only rock-solid foundation is trusting in Jesus as the one who forgives all our sins and promises us eternal life. The only rock-solid foundation for life is found by building my life on God’s Word, hearing it, believing it, and doing it. Build your life on Jesus – the only quality foundation there is. Amen.

Second Sermonette – Safety – Genesis 6-9 (selected verses)

It’s vitally important that when you’re building anything you take certain safety precautions. As I understand it, it’s necessary that everyone working at a construction site must wear a hard hat. Why so? To protect their head in case something falls or is dropped on them. People wear safety harnesses if they are working at some height. People wear ear muffs to protect their hearing when there are loud machines running. People wear safety glasses to protect their eyes from splinters or flying material. We like to remain safe, so we take certain safety precautions.

The people at the time of Noah thought that they were safe. They figured the earth would keep going just as it always had and there was no reason to be concerned. They thought they were safe, but they were relying on the wrong things to remains safe. They thought they were safe from God’s anger and wrath against their sin and rebellion against him. They were wrong. Whatever they relied on for safety failed them when the flood waters came and destroyed everyone and everything. Except for one family.

Only one family relied on the right place for safety. Noah and his family trusted in the Lord and relied on him to keep them safe. And the Lord did. He kept them physically safe. He directed Noah to build this massive ark to house his whole family and two of every animal.  That ark kept Noah and his family physically safe while the flood waters annihilated everything on earth. But more importantly the Lord kept Noah and his family spiritually safe. By preserving them God kept alive the promise that He had made in the Garden of Eden to one day send a Savior from sin.

The Lord keeps you and me safe too. God says that He won’t let your foot slip and He who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep. God also says that he commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. God promises that he delivers us from so many evil things that we didn’t and may never know were threatening us. And God also promises to use even the bad things we experience for our good. But even more importantly than keeping us physically safe, God has kept you and me safe forever.

How so? By coming into this world himself. Jesus was born into our world not to remain “safe” but to walk right into harms way. From fleeing from Herod’s soldiers who wanted to kill him as a baby to being arrested, stripped, beaten, flogged, mocked, and left to die on the cross. He lost not just his physical safety, but even his spiritual safety crying out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” And for what purpose? So that we’d never lose our safety. To forgive our sins completely, to make us God’s own children, and to keep us safe forever.

We long for safety and security. And we have it. We rest body and soul in Jesus’ almighty and gracious care for us. And finally we will enjoy ultimate safety when we leave this earth. In heaven we’ll realize fully the safety that Jesus has won for us- no more sin, no more danger, sorrow, troubles, pain, difficulties, and hardships. Only joy and peace and security…forever. Amen.

Third Sermonette – Built to Build – Acts 16:16-34

Everything that’s built has a purpose, a plan, a reason. A house is built to provide comfortable place for people to live in. A factory is built to provide a place where things can be manufactured. An office building is built to provide a place for people to work in and have meetings.  A school is built to provide a place for learning to take place. A church is built to provide a place for people to worship God and learn His Word. Every building has a purpose, a design, a reason.

What about you? In a way, God has “built” you too. God sent His own Son to live a perfect life, to die on the cross, and to rise from the dead to forgive the world’s sins completely and totally. God then formed you and made you just the way that He wanted. Then God sent the Holy Spirit through the Word and through baptism to create faith in your heart to believe in Jesus as your Savior. God’s made you, He’s built you. But for what? For what purpose? Every building has a reason, why did God build you?

To live any way that you want? To serve yourself and live selfishly? To have no reason or purpose? No! God has built you to be His own child forever, to live for Him, and to be His instrument to “build” others. See what God did with Paul and Silas? They were sharing God’s Word with people but some of the people didn’t like it. They stirred up a riot, Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. But notice how they reacted? We might have thought they’d complain, cry, become angry, but they’re praying and praising God! Why? God built them to build. Notice that the other prisoners were listening and probably taking to heart what they’re saying. Then there’s an earthquake the prison doors fly open, the chains fall off, the jailer is about to commit suicide and Paul stops him. Why? God built him to build. The jailer assumes he has to do something to be saved but Paul simply invites him to trust in Jesus as His Savior and He will be saved. Why? God built him to build. And the jailer and his whole family were brought to faith.

God has also built you and me to build. God hasn’t promised that our lives will be easy, care and trouble-free. The apostle Paul’s certainly wasn’t. But God gives us incredible opportunities in both good and bad times to build His kingdom, to give the reason for the sure hope that we have, and to share the peace we have in Jesus as our Savior. God has built us to build! Amen.

God’s Purpose For Nature

sunday11th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 1:26-31; Acts 14:15-17 – To Serve Human Beings

Chris Jordan is a photographer who had a project of photographing albatross birds on the Midway Islands which are a couple thousand miles from any continent. The pictures are not what you might think. They are pictures of dead baby albatross bird carcasses that reveal their stomachs loaded with plastic garbage: colorful lighters, bottle caps, broken plastic pieces. Apparently what happens is the mother albatross birds will pick these plastic pieces up and thinking they are food stuff them into the mouths of their babies until the baby’s stomach is so full of indigestible garbage that it can’t eat food and literally starves to death. In 2012 it was estimated that the United States spent 1.7 billion dollars in order to rescue animal species nearing extinction. At the same time, it’s estimated that around the world there are 51 million children under the age of five who are suffering acute malnutrition most from severe lack of food which leads to high mortality. And there are about 1 billion people all over the world who live on less than $1.25 a day.

How are we as Christians to properly think about nature, the environment? Is the earth more important than human life? Should we feed a starving animal before we feed a starving human? Should we run roughshod over the environment to serve us humans? God challenges each of us to rethink how we view nature. God makes it clear to us that life on earth is not to be “earth-centered” – that our foremost concern should be preserving the environment. Nor is life to be “human-centered” in that we use and abuse the environment for the sake of human conveniences. God tells us that life on earth is to be “theocentric” that is, God-centered.

In amazing love and grace God created the entire world with amazing variety and creativeness. In incredible grace God then made His special creatures, the crown of all His creation, created in His image: Human beings. Human beings are the kings and queens of His created world. But we fail to be the stewards of His creation God wants us to be.  We fail to perfectly care about the environment or waste God’s gifts. At other times we care more about plants or animals than we do about our fellow human beings!

But it’s for us imperfect human beings that God did something amazing. It wasn’t for the birds, it wasn’t for the animals, it wasn’t for the bugs or plants, but for humans like you and me that God sent His Son Jesus who perfectly cared for the environment and perfectly cared for fellow beings and perfectly remained God’s steward of nature. And He did that for you and me. You’re forgiven!

And because of that, we can enjoy nature, not exploit it, we can rule it and subdue it, but not abuse it, we can use nature as a trust given us by God to give him glory. And yet, even more importantly, we can view our fellow human beings as immortal souls more important than animals or plants that first and foremost need to know about their Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

 

Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20 – To Testify About God

Have you ever said something without saying it? Someone just knows what you’re thinking by looking at your face or your expression or your reaction to something. People can read disappointment or surprise or sadness. Somewhere I came across a figure that communication is 7% content, 38% tone, and 55% non-verbal (what you look like when you’re saying it). And it makes sense. Ever since we were infants before we could understand words we were watching non-verbal cues from our parents or siblings.

There is a wordless communication that’s going on constantly all around us every day. The whole beautiful and orderly universe in which we live, which God created and still maintains gives a silent testimony to God’s power and His wisdom. There is around us every day a silent rebuke to every fool who says there is no God, there is no Creator. Anyone who denies that is totally left without excuse on Judgment Day because of the silent testimony that God has put into His created world and universe.

Think about the power of the sun. The content of the sun is 1.3 million earths! The circumference of the sun is 2,715,000 miles! And the sun gives warmth and light to the earth, but the sun is just a normal star! Think about how many stars and galaxies there are in the night sky! The heavens declare the glory of God! Everyone who has eyes should be able to read and perceive this testimony. Although it’s silent, it reaches every person. Even though you can’t hear the sun or hear the stars it gives a testimony to God to His power and His might and His strength and His wisdom throughout the whole world.

Yet, if all we knew about God was from nature, how should we feel about Him? He’s powerful- He has the sun in the palm of his hand- so-to-speak, He’s mighty – He created this vast universe, He’s strong- He holds the whole earth together. How should we feel about such a powerful mighty God? By nature it ought to frighten us to death! He’s powerful and I’m not. He’s perfect and I’m a terrible sinner who deserves nothing but His punishment! No wonder so many people turn to the myth of evolution to try to escape such a powerful and mighty God!

But the testimony about God in nature isn’t the only testimony we have. God’s testimony in nature serves the purpose of getting us curious about the true God who reveals Himself to us in the words of Scripture. You see, it’s in the Bible through the Gospel that we are assured of where we stand with such a powerful, mighty, magnificent Creator.

Some people say that they can be as close to God sitting in the woods as they can sitting in a church and use that as an excuse not to come. But that’s not true. No matter how long you listen to the birds chirp or leaves rustle, they will never tell you how you are forgiven, they’ll never tell you how you’re saved eternally, they’ll never inform you on salvation. That’s found in the gospel which tells you about Jesus, your Savior how he died on the cross to forgive all your sins and rose to prove it.

Knowing that means we can look at nature, look at the world and be comforted because since we are God’s children all that we see is a constant witness to God’s power to watch over us during all our lives, His strength to keep us in the faith, and his might to raise us to eternal life. Thank the Lord for the testimony He gives about Himself in nature!

 

Matthew 6:25-34 – To Illustrate God’s Truth

Illustrations have a way of making the abstract concrete or clarifying or instructing a certain truth or piece of information in a way that’s both clear and memorable. Jesus was, of course, the master at making apt illustrations of God’s truth. And on a number of occasions Jesus used things from nature to make a point. Here is one of those examples.

It’s part of Jesus’ sermon the mount. He’s just concluded showing that the human heart has room for only ONE master. Either your master is God or it’s something else. But if it’s something else the inevitable result is fear and worry and concern over things like food and clothing. However, when you serve God the Father because of God the Son, then there can be an entirely different take on things like food and clothing which are so part and parcel of human life.

One of the things we can so easily do is redefine wants and needs. We take luxuries and define them as mere wants, but then we take mere wants and define them as needs. But the reality is, if God would take the vast majority of all our earthly goods from us we’d still be able to praise him for richly providing all that we need for body and soul. Even if we were in extreme physical need, we can still trust God to provide because we are His dear children and are far more important to God than birds and lilies.

But it’s so easy for us to fall into worry. And there’s two ways you can deal with worry. You can deal with it directly: it’s sin, rebuke it, confess it, receive God’s forgiveness and his strength to turn from it and live without it. Or, you can do what Jesus did here. Everyone can picture birds. But now picture birds driving tractors, busily harvesting in a field, driving a truck to take the grain to the barn – it’s absurd! They don’t do that and yet…God feeds them. “Are you not much more valuable than they?” Well, Jesus, I guess, if you put it that way, of course we’re more valuable and if God feeds them He will certainly feed us too.”

Or picture lily flowers sitting at looms, actively spinning cloth to wear. It’s absurd! They don’t work hard and yet God clothes them with incredible beauty! “Will He not much more clothe you- you of little faith?” Well, Jesus, if you put it that way, of course we’re more valuable than them, God will clothe us.

In other words, nature provides for us a continual example of God’s continual providing care. And if God provides and sustains and maintains and preserves all those things in life, will he not continue to provide and care for the crown of his creation? The people whom He redeemed with the blood of His own Son on the cross?

Instead of worrying, seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, reorient your life away from the things of this life and to Jesus who has promised to provide all that you need for this life and for the next. Amen.

Lie: It’s Not My Fault!

Expulsion_of_Adam_and_Eve_(Alexandre_Cabanel)

7th Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 3:8-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I remember it like it was yesterday, it was 4:15 in the morning, it was summer, I was in high school, my brother and I both had the same job- we worked for a porta-potty company that happened to be just ¾ of a mile down the road, one of the largest porta-potty companies in Southeastern Wisconsin. On this particular day all of the drivers- about 10-15 of us- were to start at 4 am because we were delivering hundreds of porta-potties to different locations for a breast cancer awareness walk. 4:15 am my dad walked into the room my brother and I were sleeping in and woke us up, your boss just called and they’re wondering where you are. Oh no! Immediately, I say, “Adam! Did you set your alarm clock!” We rush to work and everyone is standing there waiting for us, and I absolutely hate being late and I remember pointing my finger, “It’s his fault!” Do you do that? There are countless stories that I could relate from my life where I’ve said, “It’s not my fault!” It’s so easy to blame and blame and blame and refuse to take responsibility.

Just about every marriage counselor has witnessed this. And before I go on, I just want to say that if you have marriage problems, like we learned last week It is not easier to avoid them and I do offer marriage counseling and it’s free. But every marriage counselor knows that typically at the first meeting with a couple each spouse has this incredible ability and insight to confess the other spouse’s sins. Why? Because we believe, “It’s not my fault!”

But here’s another angle to this lie that we’re taking a look at this morning. Have you ever said to yourself, “Ooh, I’m just so mad! They make me so upset!” Maybe you’re waiting in line in order to go to some event that you’ve really been looking forward to and there’s this huge line, you’re waiting and waiting, the line is going so slowly, you’re getting really upset, then finally there’s one person in front of you and all of a sudden they let in 15 more people whom they’ve been saving a spot for. Really!! Or you’re driving your car and it’s been backed up for miles, you’re supposed to be in the right lane and car after car is zooming along in the left lane and nosing their way in. Ooh, that makes me so mad! Or you’re at the store, you’re just buying a few things and you get into the “speedy” checkout and the person in front of you has 2 carts piled high with things. Really! Ooh, that makes me so mad! In each of those cases, what we’re really saying, is my misery, my unhappiness is not my fault, it’s someone else’s fault. In fact, if you’ve ever said, “They make me so upset. Or they hurt my feelings.” You’re probably believing this lie.

The truth is, no one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you feel upset, no one can make you feel miserable, no one can make you feel anything. Why not? Because God hasn’t given your feelings to anyone except you. No one owns your feelings except you. No one can make you unhappy, but you can choose to feel unhappy, choose to feel angry, choose to be frustrated because of what so and so said or did.

Again and again in life we can try to shift the responsibility of our problems and responsibility of our feelings by blaming someone or something else. Do we constantly ask, “What did I do to contribute to this problem?” Or, are we saying, “If people would just listen to me then we wouldn’t be in this mess, if we did it my way it would have turned out, if my parents were better parents I wouldn’t be in the mess I am in today, if they didn’t do what they did I wouldn’t have yelled or become angry, etc, etc.”

And think about the ramifications of believing this lie. First, it will destroy our emotional health. Why? Because perfect me becomes the victim of everyone else. I place the responsibility for my lack of joy and peace in life in the hands of everyone else. “It was their insulting comment, it was my children’s behavior, it was that long line, that makes me so upset! You know what that does? It leaves us frustrated, angry and defeated and NOT able to do anything about it because we think it’s everyone else’s fault! Believing this lie will also hurt us spiritually. You see, if I don’t think anything is my fault I’ll find it more and more difficult to repent and confess my sins to God. If you find it difficult confessing you sins to God every day, you’re probably believing this lie. And then furthermore I have less and less of a need for God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness. Finally, believing this lie also inhibits our ability to grow. How can I become a more loving spouse if I don’t think it’s my fault? How will I grow and improve when it’s everyone else’s fault?

So where did all this blame shifting and fault evading begin? It began with our first parents, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had both sinned against God and then they heard the LORD as He was coming to meet with them. The fact that they recognized the sound of God as He came seems to indicate that they had previously met with God and enjoyed His company. But this time is now different. When they hear the sound of God they quickly scurry here and there to find a hiding place. The verb form in the Hebrew indicates this back and forth frantic searching. Like a mouse in a dark room when the lights are suddenly turned on it frantically searches for a place to hide. But how ridiculous! God created everything and they think they can hide from him! That’s what sin does- it makes us do foolish things.  And when God questions them notice what Adam does, he tries to shift the responsibility off himself to the two people closest to him. First, it’s the woman. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” But that’s not it- it’s not just the woman – it’s also God. “Hey God, if I remember correctly, this whole woman thing was YOUR idea!” Now that’s a scary place to be. But many people go there – maybe you and I. God had made Eve out of love and mercy and when God brought Eve to Adam he greeted her with utmost excitement and joy. Now he’s blaming God for his trouble. We see ourselves in that, don’t we? The alcoholic who is dying of liver disease often points his finger at God and says, “God did this to me, God made me this way.” What a scary place to be, trying to evade the responsibility of our problems by pinning them on God. Adam’s sullen, he’s angry, he’s frustrated. Eve’s not much better, she too blames the serpent.

But what is incredibly comforting here is watch what God does – He does not remain silent. What’s his reaction to His creature’s fall, to their sin, to their blaming? Notice how different it is from how he deals with the Serpent. He doesn’t confront Satan or seek Satan’s repentance, He has no time for Satan, He simply announces Satan’s condemnation- “He will crush your head.” But how different God deals with His human beings! He seeks fellowship with them, like a loving father He asks questions in order to hear a confession, and even before He explains the consequences of their sin, He assures them of someone who would deliver them from sin, “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” It’s the first promise of a Savior from sin. Already God comes with grace and mercy to reconcile his wayward children in view of Jesus who would come to rescue them.

There is only one person in all of history who has walked this earth who could properly say, “It’s not my fault, I did nothing but speak the truth, I did nothing but love and live perfectly, I’m not responsible for this mess.” Only Jesus could say that. But what did He say instead? In amazing grace he said to his Father, “Don’t hold them accountable. Blame me. Place the responsibility of all their sin and problems and mess on me. I am the sinner. I am the one at fault.” And on the cross that’s exactly what God did for you and me! He took the responsibility for our sin and shame and placed in on Jesus- forgiving us completely.

And because of that we’re delivered from this lie. Instead of evading responsibility and blaming, we can accept responsibility for our sin, confess it, and then rely on God’s grace and mercy for us in Jesus knowing our sin is forgiven. Because of Jesus we don’t have to be the victims of anger and frustration and unhappiness caused by everyone else, but be filled with the joy and peace that comes from our gracious God. Because of Jesus we can each say, “It’s mostly my fault, but my Jesus has paid for it.”

Imagine a scenario where two people sit down- maybe a husband and wife, maybe two relatives – and instead of blaming each other the one says, “It’s mostly my fault. I’ve been so stressed at work that I’ve just been irritable and impatient, please forgive me.” And the other says, “It’s mostly my fault, I have unreasonable expectations, I should never have insisted on what I insisted, please forgive me.” All praise to God for He is working the freeing power of the truth in their lives: It’s my fault, but I’m forgiven. Amen.

The Reversal of Babel

Babel

Pentecost Sunday 2016
Genesis 11:1-9

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle in us the fire of your love! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many languages are you fluent in? People who study the history of different languages trace specific languages back to language families. Apparently, almost 75 percent of the languages that are in use today trace back to only two different language families. The largest language family that includes English, as well as Latin, French, German, Spanish, etc. is the Indo-European Language family. The second largest language family in use today is the one called Sino-Tibetan, which would include all the various Chinese dialects. For us who speak English, perhaps we would like to think that English will remain the dominate language throughout the world, however, not only are there more native Spanish speaking people than English in the world, but there are 3 times as many people speaking Chinese in the world than English.

Learning a new language can be a fun experience for some. Apparently one of the best ways to pick up a new language is to be immersed in it- to travel to a place that only speaks that language, then you’re forced to learn the language quite quickly. But even if you’re someone who loves to learn new languages, you have to admit that it is a lot of work to learn a new language. I once worked for a farmer who had come to America from Lithuania. Although he spoke English he had a very heavy Lithuanian accent, it took me a couple years to really understand him well and I remember whenever he’d talk to someone he didn’t know they were easily confused by what he said- and he was speaking English! At a different job I had, I had to speak to some people who only knew Spanish and I didn’t know Spanish- it was frustrating, aggravating, confusing trying to communicate. People typically gather around people who speak the same language as they do. The result is different cultures, different backgrounds, different viewpoints. Think about throughout history how much anger, hostility, violence, and bloodshed have occurred between people groups because of different cultures or languages –it’s staggering!

We’ve been feeling the effects of the tower of Babel throughout history and very much still today. Well, where did this all start? Remember that God had directed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). God then repeated that same command after the flood to Noah and his family (Genesis 9:7). But what do we see here from the descendants of Noah? They all had one language, they all understood each other. They moved eastward and found a plain in Shinar. It seems to be the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which was very fertile and so provided good agriculture. Then they made bricks – not just sun dried bricks, but kiln dried bricks, which would be durable against wind and rain. They said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

We can see three outward actions that reveal inward sins. First, they settle in well-watered, fertile valley. It seems to indicate that they have begun to look for their sustenance not so much from God the giver, but from themselves. Second, they want to build a city. The word for “city” doesn’t indicate just a place where a lot of people live, it indicates a place with a fortified wall around it. In other words, they don’t want to face the dangers of scattering over the face of the earth – they will find their security in this walled city. And finally, the tower. What was the point of this tower that they were going to build? They wanted to make this huge tower in order to do what? “So that we may make a name for ourselves.” They want status, they want praise. The tower is really a temple to human glory and power. Their outward actions revealed their inward sins. They wanted sustenance, security, and status, but without God. “I don’t need God, I’m my own master.” The flood may have wiped the world clean of sinners, but it hadn’t eradicated sin.

This is the essence of sin, isn’t it? Telling the Creator, “Leave me alone! I’ll do this MY way! I’ll handle this myself!” God’s creatures had become rebels running away from him, determined to disobey him, clearly abandoning God’s plans for them. And this really shows what’s at the heart of every sinful human being no matter the culture, language, or background.

At the core of sin is placing yourself at the center. Martin Luther defined humans by nature as being incurvatus in se. That’s Latin for “being curved in upon ourselves.”  Sin is always focusing on yourself, it’s always choosing yourself over God or other people, always placing yourself at the center. Yes, we admit that we do bad things and when we do bad things we’re thinking about ourselves, but the reality is, sin is so pervasive in us that even when we do good things, when we help someone out, when we get something for our spouse, when we go to church, it’s always about me. I help out the poor so people with think good things about me or so I can feel better about myself inside, I go to church so God will be happy with me, I help a friend out so that if I ever need help they better be available to help me. You end up relating to God and other people in such a way that it furthers your agenda, that things are going to go your way, that people do things the way you think they should be done. And how do we know that? As soon as the relationship becomes costly, as soon as we aren’t getting as much out of the relationship as we are putting in, we’re out. As soon as I’m not getting what I want out of my marriage, I’m thinking about divorce. As soon as I’m having to put more time and effort into a friendship, I’m looking for different friends.  Here’s the thing: Sin will always lead me to use God or other people as means to my own ends, further myself, to benefit me, to provide me with the basics of sustenance, security, and status. So, although we might not be building a tower to make a name for ourselves, we each have the root problem.

So what does God do? God comes down. Ironic, isn’t it? A “tower that reaches the heavens” and God has to come down to see it. But notice the name for God here. It’s LORD. It’s the Savior God –faithful to His love and grace to His people. You see, if God did nothing, the people would remain on their God-defying, self-centeredness, and rely on themselves for salvation. The LORD of grace intervened. He didn’t annihilate them – he could have – he confused their languages. Imagine coming to work the next day! Imagine the confusion, the anger, the frustration. They had to scatter. They couldn’t rely on themselves for their sustenance, security, and status any more.

The LORD of grace still intervenes today. In various ways He still allows us to see our inability to have sustenance, security, and status without Him. Our plans fail, we face difficulties, short comings. A life focused on myself can only lead to confusion, frustration, and anger.

But God didn’t just confuse their language to frustrate and anger people and show them their sin. In love, He had promised to send a Savior and he wouldn’t allow the whole world to unite in rebellion against him and get in the way of His gracious plan to send a Savior. And at just the right time He did. You see, we don’t have to worry about losing our sustenance, security or status, because Jesus lost them in our place. Jesus lost his sustenance, He cried out on the cross for one of the most basic necessities of life: I’m thirsty, he said. Jesus also lost his security, all alone, abandoned not only by every other human, but worst of all abandoned by God Himself, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? And he also lost his status, crucified, died as the most heinous sinner ever because a funnel had been placed on his head and God poured out his wrath against all sin, every sin – yours and mine – upon him. He lost his sustenance, he lost his security, he lost his status…for you! So you would never lose it.

You can’t really have any of those things apart from God. God, your Creator and Preserver, promises to provide all that you need for body and life. God, your Savior, has given you real security. Having suffered and died for your sins in full, the devil – your worst enemy – cannot lodge any accusation against you! He can try as he might to rip you out of Jesus’ hand but Jesus promises that there’s nothing that can rip you out of His hand. In fact, God promises you, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God uses even difficulties, hardships, and trouble for your eternal good – how could you possibly be more secure? And finally status. God gives you your real status. Who cares what kind of job you have, who cares how popular you are, who cares how fancy of house you live in, who cares how many friends you have? None of those things can really affect your real status. By your baptism you are a child of God, an heir of eternal life, a co-heir with Christ himself! Talk about status!

It is in Christ that the judgment on Babel ends. We see it in the Pentecost account. It’s our sin and curved in on ourselves nature that separates people, that thinks one nation or culture or language is more important than another. If I don’t have sustenance, security, or status from God, I’ll try to get it by oppressing others. But the gospel brings people back together in Christ. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit is poured out and brings people to faith no matter race or culture or language. There is no superior race of people, there is no race or culture or language or people that are more important to God, they are ALL important to him. What amazing grace and power of God that He is able to make disciples out of every nation. The gospel surpasses the boundaries of language, race, culture, background, nationality. It will be part of the glory of God that there will be gathered around the throne of God in heaven, a great multitude that no one could count, from every nations, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb and singing out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Babel is reversed by the Gospel! In Christ you have all the sustenance, security, and status you need for all eternity. In Christ you can share this powerful Gospel with people from any nation, race, culture, language, or background! Amen.