Hope as an anchor for the soul

6th Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 6:19-20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:19-20

The sermon for June 26, 2016 was given by Pastor David Maertz from Great Plains Lutheran High School. The text of the sermon is not available. The audio recording is available, though there is slight distortion, it is still very much enjoyable.

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:13-20

Leah: My Son, My Life

2nd Sunday of Advent
Genesis 29:14-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who came once to save us and will come again to take us to our eternal home, dear friends in Christ, what is your heart’s deepest longing? Perhaps that sounds like a strange question, but think about it. Our second lesson this morning said, “[God] has set eternity in the hearts of men.” What do you think that means? The reality is that everyone is longing for something. Something that is going to make sense out of life, something that is going to fulfill their life’s dreams, something that is going to fulfill their heart’s deepest longing. So people are searching. “If only I had true love, my miserable life would be better.” “If only I had that job, my life would be better.” “If only my bank account had this much money, then life would be better.” “If only I was wanted, accepted, validated, approved, then my life would be better.” We each have it. We each feel that something is missing in life and it would be better, if we had it – whatever it may be. What is it for you?

The account before us gives us a somber look into the reality that exists not just in Jacob’s heart or Leah’s heart, but in your heart and mine. Two generations before this account, God had appeared to Abraham and had given Abraham an incredible promise. In this world full of sin, God was going to send a substitute, a Savior, who was going to rescue the human race, be an answer to all the sin and death and tragedy of the world. And this Savior would come from Abraham’s descendants. So, in every generation there was someone who was going to carry the line of the promised Savior.  Abraham finally had his son, Isaac, and Isaac carried the promise. Isaac married Rebekah and they had twin sons, but God told them that the older would serve the younger, in other words, the younger one would carry the promise. Isaac, however, disregarded that, and set his hopes on Esau the older son whom he liked better. So, Jacob, with the help of his mother deceived Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau. And because Jacob had deceived his father, his brother hated him and wanted to kill him, so Jacob had to leave with almost nothing and travel hundreds of miles away to his mother’s hometown, with no money, no inheritance, and no real future. He never had his father’s love, he had lost his mother’s love, and was probably questioning God’s love.

He arrives and his relative Laban welcomes him. Laban recognizes that Jacob is very gifted and talented and is going to be a good manager for his sheep business, so he says, “Should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” To that, Jacob has essentially one word: Rachel. I want Rachel. What do we know about Rachel? We’re told that “Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.” That means exactly what it says, she was gorgeous, stunning, she had a beautiful figure and lovely appearance. One commentator points out some the indicators here that Jacob is just intensely lovesick. Notice what it says in verse 20, “Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” And then we’re told that when the 7 years are over, he says to Jacob, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.” Do you see how forward that is? Can you imagine a boy saying to his future father-in-law, “I can’t wait to sleep with your daughter”? As you can see, Jacob has an overwhelming longing for one woman.

Why? Consider Jacob’s situation. His life is miserable, he’s left behind everything he knows of, never had his father’s love, lost his mother’s love, his brother hates him, he’s got nothing. But now! The answer to my problems! If I had her – the most beautiful woman around – then my miserable life will finally amount to something. Do you see what Jacob is doing? He’s fixating all the meaning, significance, security of his life on one woman: Rachel. Does this happen today? Sure it does! Do people fix all their hopes and dreams, meaning and significance in life in romance and love? This is exactly what our culture is telling us! “Your lousy life will mean something if only you have romance, love, and sex.” Watch the movies, listen to the music, you’ll see it.

But where does it get Jacob? Notice what Jacob offers Laban for her. Now, back in this culture it was customary for the husband-to-be to give something to his future wife’s family to make up for their loss when he marries their daughter. Well, a commentator said that typically the price was between 35-40 shekels. Someone typically made about 18 shekels a year. So, 2 years worth of wages. This may not be a bad thing to start up again – I have three daughters J. But notice what Jacob offers! 7 years wages! Laban is a shrewd business man. He knows that Jacob is lovesick. But notice what Laban says, “It is better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” Notice what he didn’t say, he didn’t say, “Yes, it’s a deal.” But what did Jacob hear? He heard what he wanted to hear. So he works for 7 years, tells him he wants to marry Rachel, they have the festival, Jacob is probably quite intoxicated, the bride is brought to him, probably heavily veiled, he marries her, and then consummates the marriage with her, and wakes up in the morning and…there was Leah!

Remember, Jacob was lovesick, he set his sights on Rachel, he thought having this woman was the key to his happiness, and he woke up and…it was Leah. I think there’s a truth here. Whatever we set all our dreams and hopes, meaning and significance on from this world, in the morning it will always be Leah, not Rachel, it will always disappoint.

Well, who’s Leah? Leah is Rachel’s older sister. And all we’re really told about her is that she has “weak eyes.” What does that mean? It probably doesn’t mean she can’t see very far, because in contrast to Leah’s weak eyes, we’re told that Rachel “lovely in form, and beautiful.” Finally, the point is, Leah was particularly unattractive and had to liver her whole life in the shadow of her stunning younger sister. Now put yourself in Laban’s shoes. He knows that no man is going to be looking to marry Leah, no one is going to offer much money for her, how’s he going to unload her? How’s he going to get rid of her? He sees his chance with Jacob, he can get 14 years of work out of this lovesick man. But what’s the result for Leah? Really, she becomes the girl nobody wants.  Her father doesn’t want her, her husband doesn’t want her. So what does she do? She wants the hollow of her heart filled. She wants meaning in this meaningless life. So, she sets her heart on winning the love of her husband.

And how does she go about doing it? She goes about it by going after a traditional value of the day: having children, particularly sons. Her husband didn’t care about her, but the LORD did. The LORD opened her womb. She had a son and she named him Reuben. Why? “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”  Then she had another son and named him Simeon. Why? “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved.” Then she has another and names him Levi because “Now at last my husband will become attached to me.” Do you see how sad this? She longs for a husband who doesn’t see her, doesn’t hear her, whose heart is attached to someone else. Every day is like a knife in her heart as she sees the man she longs for in the arms of the girl in whose shadow she’s always lived.

Wow! How disappointing all of this is! What are the lessons for us? First, there is a disappointment that floods all of life on this earth. Jacob set his heart on Rachel, if only she had her, he’d have a fulfilling life, and in the morning? It wasn’t Rachel, it was Leah. That’s how it’s going to be. If you get married thinking that your spouse is going to fulfill all your deepest longings and dreams, you’re going to wake up one day sorely disappointed. If you think money is going to solve all your problems, you’re going to wake up one day sorely disappointed.  You think you’re going to bed with Rachel, but in the morning its always Leah.

But what does Leah learn? Notice what she named her fourth son, Judah. Why? “This time I will praise the LORD.” Notice nothing about the husband or sons, now she set her heart on her LORD, The LORD, her Savior, is the ultimate thing in her life. Look what God does. “Even if no one loves Leah, I still do.” God is the husband to the husbandless, He is the ultimate spouse. With God she had the ultimate thing, she had all the security, meaning, purpose in life she needed. That’s true for you too. And notice what God does. God uses the unloved Leah, not beautiful Rachel, to bring the Savior into the world. Jesus was Leah’s son, true Son. He became the man nobody wanted. He was born in a barn, placed in a feeding trough. He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him. Everyone abandoned and sought his crucifixion. Even his Father turned his back, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Why? So He could be the Son of Leah for you and for me. Through His rejection, His punishment, God rescued you and me! And that’s the way God works. You don’t get to heaven through your strength or beauty, but through weakness, through admitting your weakness, admitting you’re a complete moral failure and nothing to attract God to you and have no hope apart from the grace of God.  That’s when God’s grace shines on you. It’s God’s grace and His grace alone that has won you eternal life.

Leah got her life back when she set her hope on God. That’s exactly where you get your life back to live in this world, when you set your hope on the LORD, the husband to the husbandless and father of the fatherless. He will not fail, He will not disappoint, ever. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Amen.

Are you Hopeful or Hopeless?

1st Sunday of Pentecost
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who promised to send the Holy Spirit and has fulfilled that promise, dear friends in Christ,

One of my friends is a pastor in northern Wisconsin. A number of years ago his wife was diagnosed with cancer. It was July 12, 2005, Kris, his wife and mother of 3 young daughters, lies in her hospital bed at home, her body fragile and weak, defeated by cancer. “Daddy,” her 8 year old Kayla asks, “Why are mom’s eyes black around them?” “You know what’s happening to mom, right?” Her dad responds. “Yes, she is getting sicker?” “That’s right, Kayla, and then what will happen?” “She will die.” The very next day this wife and mother died. Have you been there? Watched as the life slowly ebbed out of your loved one? There’s nothing fun about it, let’s be honest, it’s horrible. You know, we live in a world full of hopelessness, don’t we? Chronic illnesses, accidents, sicknesses, broken marriages and families, family feuds, grudges, resentment, work frustrations, set-backs, financial difficulties, and then all the problems and difficulties of this world will end in one place: death. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty and for many it’s hopeless.  Dust you are and to dust you will return.

In the midst of this world full of dry bones, both in us and in our experience, God comes with hope. It’s one of the main things that we humans need in this world full of dry bones: hope from God. There are times in the lives of people where there is no one to give hope. And many people are out of practice in looking to the only one who can give hope in a hopeless world, many people are out of practice in looking to God for hope. That’s exactly what happened to God’s Old Testament people.

At the time of our text there was no hope for God’s people. The Babylonians had come in and burned and destroyed Jerusalem. Many people were taken back to Babylon in exile. Some of the poor and needy were left in the demolished city. This weekend we especially thank the Lord for the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces and are willing to lay down their lives to protect our freedoms. But imagine that some foreign enemy of the U.S. actually took over the U.S. invaded our land, not only coming through Bemidji, destroying our city, destroying your home, destroying our church, but also exiling you and your entire family to some foreign and strange place. Way off it Babylon the Israelites sat. No city, no home, no church, no army to come and rescue them. They felt like they were living in a grave. Add to that that the reason they had been overrun by a foreign enemy was because of their unfaithfulness to God. Because of their unfaithfulness they lost the blessing of being a nation, they lost the blessing of a special promised land, so, had they lost the most important blessing of the Savior too? No hope for the future, no American dream, no hope for a pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, they felt like they were living in a grave.

And that’s the truth for us too. God was teaching His people a lesson. This world is nice, we thank the Lord for the life He gives us in this world, but if we look to anything in this world for hope, it will ultimately fail us. And we can see that. Some people look to politicians to give them “hope” but after 4 or 8 years they’re ready to look for someone else to give them hope. Some people look for hope in money or a successful career, but then they find out that those things usually only come with a high price tag that includes losing the more important things of life like their family, their health, their contentment. Some people look to some kind of substance to give them hope- this drug or that, alcohol, you name it – but those things, too, come with a high price tag of losing health, friends, family, freedom. Where are you looking for hope today? If you are looking for hope in this world, it will fail you.

To His people in exile in Babylon, His people feeling like a bunch of dry bones, God sent His prophet Ezekiel. And here Ezekiel has a real out of body experience, God gives him a vision. God takes him to a valley full of dry bones, God walked him back and forth, back and forth in this valley. And these bones were very dry. So, we ask, “What is God doing here? Why is God leading him back and forth in this valley of dry bones?” God is getting Ezekiel to see the intense hopelessness of the people. Death happened in this valley, thousands upon thousands of people died, there is no life in this valley, it’s a hopeless scene. That’s what it felt like to the Israelites. Dust you are and to dust you will return.

Why do we face death? Why do soldiers die in a battlefield? Why do young wives and mothers die from disease? Why do tragic accidents take the lives of children? Why do you and I face our own bodies getting weaker as life slowly ebbs away from it? Death is a consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. Dust we are and to dust we will return. And that’s not the worst of it. Not only do we face physical death, but each of us was born into this world dead. A baby might look very much physically alive, but spiritually we inherited our parent’s sinfulness and so we were born spiritually lifeless, dead, a corpse the Bible tells us. And there’s one thing we all know: dead people don’t do anything.

But then God asks Ezekiel a question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And when God asks you a question the safest answer is, “Why don’t you tell me, Lord?” Ah! There it is. What is God getting at? The people had forgotten how to hope…in God! If we haven’t learned to hope in God, we will be left desolate, deserted and like a bunch of dry bones. But God has the answer, “Prophesy to these bones.” In other words, speak God’s Word to these bones. And what happened? Close your eyes for a moment and picture it. There’s a noise, a rattling sound, this leg bone is scurrying over to this other leg bone and they’re being joined to the hip bone, this bone that had been carried over here by some animal is being brought back and is being attached to this other bone, then there’s tendons and muscles forming over these bones and then there’s skin that’s covering these bones! What a sight! But there was no breath in them, so God said, “Prophesy to the breath,” and the breath came and filled these people and they stood up, living and breathing, and their chests were going in and out. And there before Elijah stood an army, the Hebrew literally says, “An army, great, very, very.”

What happened? God made them alive! A moment ago they were nothing but a bunch of lifeless, dead, dry bones, but GOD made them alive! Then God applies the vision. This is what you are to tell those people living in captivity. They thought they were going through a dry bones experience, they thought they were living in a grave. The bones represent the people of Israel, they are saying, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” But this is what God says, “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live!”

What’s God’s whole point? Your situation looks hopeless, but I am… God! I make dry bones live! You are not hopeless because you have GOD! Think about it. You know what this means for you and for me? We still live in a world that’s chock full of tragedy, disease, illness, accidents, set-backs, sometimes life can feel like you’re living in a grave. But there’s no reason for us to be hopeless for God is with us and God makes dry bones live! Some 30 years after this event the Persians completely overran the Babylonians and one of the first things the Persians did was allow the Israelites to go back to their land and they even funded their rebuilding of Jerusalem. Why? Because GOD makes dry bones live, GOD gives hope in hopeless situations, GOD makes sure His promises never fail!

Many of you know many hopeless situations where they’ve gotten better. In fact, you’re one of them. The fact that you believe in Jesus as your Savior is a dry bones made alive experience. Today is the day we celebrate Pentecost. The day when God really made dry bones live in Israel. God sent the Holy Spirit to bring people to real life, spiritual life. Peter, a dry bone, stood up and spoke to a bunch of dry bones and said, “You killed the Son of God! But God made Him to be a sacrifice for sins!” And how did the people respond? “Get out of here!?” No! They said, “What shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

You and I were dry bones once too. But in amazing grace God sent the Holy Spirit through God’s Word or through baptism to give you life, to give you flesh, to give you breath, to give you spiritual life. Today, all over the world, the church, God’s people are alive and breathing in a God who saves, who is here to share life and hope in a hopeless world, because God makes dry bones live.

Sometimes it takes longer than we’d like, but that’s no reason to give up hope. July 13th 2005, God took Kris, His tired child home. Yes, 3 daughters will grow up without their birth mother. They have to wait to see her. But see her they will. For God made dry bones live and now she really lives with her Lord and Savior in heaven. See how God gives hope – even in death!

In this world we are so easily wrong when it comes to any hopeless situation that we find ourselves in. We get hopeless way too quickly. But see what God does? God brings dry bones to life! What hopeless situation are you facing? Illness, difficulties, trouble, setbacks? Set your hope in God; He brings dry bones to life, He fulfills all His promises, in Jesus’ blood He’s already redeemed you for eternal life, He promises to bring you safely there! And even death, our final enemy, even when death is awaiting us, on the Last Day day God will make our dry bones come alive and unite them with our soul and we will live body and soul in heaven with all our fellow believers forever. So hope in God, if God is with us, we’re going to be ok. Amen.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd You Need!

4th Sunday of Easter- Good Shepherd Sunday
John 10:11

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, families, relatives, parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, co-workers, classmates, teammates, friends, acquaintances, clients, even facebook friends, etc. etc.  And yet there’s even those people waiting in line with us at the grocery store, people watching a sporting event with us, the waitress at the restaurant.  You see, each one of us has this complex web of relationships interconnecting us with so many different people in our lives.  We tend to often times subconsciously assign a value to our relationships with other people based on our connection with them.

Our text this morning tells us of the most important relationship we will ever have.  Finally, it’s your relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, that is the most vital and important relationship that you’ll ever have from now on and into eternity.

This well-known portion of Scripture takes place about six months prior to Jesus’ suffering and death.  It’s during Jesus’ final ministry when the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were mounting their opposition against Him and looking for ways to get rid of Him.  Jesus just healed a man who was born blind.  The Pharisees don’t know what to make of this situation.  Jesus made the blind man see and in so doing showed how spiritually blind His enemies were that they couldn’t see the ultimate Good Shepherd whom God had foretold when He was standing right in front of them.  And yet it’s in this context of hostility and opposition when Jesus gives us some of the most comforting truths.

He says, “I am the good shepherd.”  “I, I as opposed to everyone else who have come and will come.”  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  The original Greek makes this clearer, but He is the good shepherd.  He is not simply “a good shepherd” as if He is one of a great many options.  Rather, He is the only option.  He is the only Shepherd who can give true safety and care and protection and peace.  And He is the “good” Shepherd. Our word “good” doesn’t mean a whole lot today.  A B on some homework could be considered “good” as well as a movie or dinner.  This “good” is a word to describe beauty or well-qualified for some work or excellence.

But why is it that we call Him the “Good Shepherd”?  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Not only does the Shepherd own the sheep and love the sheep, but He even does so to the extent of giving up His own life for their safety!  He puts His own self-interest aside and seeks the greatest good of His sheep.  But in seeking the best interests of the sheep His actions seem almost irrational- I mean- after all, isn’t a Shepherd worth a lot more than every one of his sheep combined?  Yet, He’s the one who lays His life down?  It doesn’t make sense.

But the hired hand, he acts rationally.  We can understand him.  At the moment of danger when he sees the wolf coming, he runs, he flees, he abandons the flock.  Certainly he’s worth much more than all those ignorant, helpless sheep.  They aren’t his sheep, why should he care for them?  What sheep would want such a hired hand?  Who would want a relationship with such a one?  But unfortunately so many do, don’t they?  Who do many follow and listen to and pattern their lives after?  No doubt Jesus first had in mind the Pharisees and religious leaders, but finally anyone or thing that leads away from Jesus is such a hired hand.  They are still around today.  Think of the “wise” and “learned” thinkers of today who have no regard for that religious stuff, think of the idolized immoral actor or actress or singer, or the power hungry and fame loving politician, or the rough and tough gang leader, all of whom are worse than hired hands who care nothing about the people who are watching them and following them.  Think about it.  Even though they lure people with their seductive words, where are they to calm the pangs of an accusing conscience?  Where are they when your sins condemn you and the devil, that hellish wolf, attacks?  Where are they when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death?  Where are they when fears trouble, when disaster strikes, when danger looms?  Where are they?  Nowhere near you.  Even if they were, what would be their answer?  “Oh, just buck up, get over it, forget about it, take this drug, pop this pill, drink some more of this, then you’ll feel better.”  Is that a shepherd you want?  Is that a hired hand you’d be glad to follow?  Glad to have looking out for you?

In complete opposition to these “hired hands,” is the Good Shepherd whose voice is so close at hand and readily available for anyone to hear and to read.  Even though you do not see Him, the Good Shepherd is so close at hand.  He says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father- and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  The Good Shepherd knows His sheep so intimately, so closely, so profoundly that Jesus passes by all earthly illustrations and reaches into heaven- He knows us as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father- can there possibly be anything closer than that??

A shepherd knows his sheep.  You know, even though this picture of shepherd and sheep is likely far removed from many of our experiences it still speaks to us today.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a shepherd out in a pasture tending a flock.  But from what I’ve heard, sheep are some of the hardest livestock to raise.  They’re just about some of the helpless animals around.  They aren’t very smart, they have practically no defense against enemies, they don’t have much sense of direction, if they wander off they can’t find their way back, they are notorious creatures of habit- they’ll eat off the same pasture until its desolate, they’ll use the bathroom is the same place until its infested with diseases, the littlest thing can spook them with fear, they often selfishly butt each other in order to get good grass, they are quite helpless animals who desperately need a shepherd, they need a relationship with a good shepherd.  It takes a good shepherd to lead them, care for them, provide for them, feed them, protect them, watch out for them, defend them, seek them when lost or straying, etc.

The fact that God compares us to sheep isn’t a very flattering picture.  We are the ones who when it comes to God and His world are really not that smart, when it comes to fending off the devil and his wolves we are helpless on our own, we so often ignorantly wander away from the flock and into the devil’s trap or some sin.  In our own relationships we act like selfish sheep: at the first instance of being hurt we scream and fight back with words meant to cut and tear down, when we are upset we cut off communication, perform the silent treatment, make them pay for how they wronged us.  You see, I desperately need the Good Shepherd, you desperately need the Good Shepherd.

Now you would think that the relationship God the Father has with God the Son would be a far more intimate and vital relationship than God could ever have or want to have with stinking, rotten, filthy, sinful people like you and me, who by nature only rebel against and run away from and hate the only true God who is perfect and holy and totally unlike us!  We were born in this world dead in sins and we still have this old, sinful nature, this old Adam, this part of us that wants nothing to do with God.  Now just try to think about this set up from God’s perspective: on one side you have the Good Shepherd, your own Son, who has perfectly and totally and completely done everything you’ve ever asked or wanted, when met with opposition He never once complained.  Then on the other side here you have the sheep, people you created, who love to wander far away, who rely on you for every aspect of their existence, who not only complain about or against you, but also grumble and complain about each other.  So which one would you pick to inherit your kingdom, your paradise, your heaven?  Who would you pick to save and who would you pick to suffer?

God’s answer is absolutely shocking, astounding, jaw-dropping.  “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.”  The sheep are spared, the Good Shepherd dies!  The Good Shepherd suffers hell, so the sheep may inherit heaven!  The Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is worth infinitely more than every sheep combined lays down His life, so the sheep might live!   It boggles the mind!  But this is exactly what God the Father wanted.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life, only to take it up again.  He lays down His life to save the sheep and then proves His victory by rising from the dead on Easter!  He is the ultimate Good Shepherd.  There is none, nor will there ever be any so gracious and loving!  He laid down His life and took it back again with the sole purpose of having the closest relationship with you!  You see, today He is and remains the Good Shepherd you need!  Not only did He save you, but He still today provides all that you need.  He protects you from your enemies.  He watches over you.  He cares for you.  He knows you by name.  He finds you when you are lost or straying.  He makes you lie down in green pastures.  He leads you beside quiet waters.  He restores your soul.  He carries you in His arms to your heavenly home!  This is absolutely extraordinary love!  We would be lifeless stones if this love of our Savior did not motivate us in our lives!

We see this awesome relationship our Good Shepherd has created with us and it moves us to respond in our relationships with other people.  As our relationship with our Good Shepherd grows and we hear His voice in His Word He fosters and nurtures our own relationship with other people.  In the home it motivates us to set aside our self-serving interest and seek to serve our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings.  At work it motivates us to hold our tongues and speak kindly to and about coworkers.  At school it motivates us to speak well of and help classmates who struggle.  At the grocery store it motivates us to lend a helping hand, a kind smile, a self-less attitude.  It motivates us to live our lives in a way that shows we are members of the Good Shepherd’s flock; it motivates us to use the opportunities in our lives to share the Shepherd’s voice with others so more sheep may be gathered in the fold.

All this is natural to us.  Why?  Just look at your Good Shepherd!  See how he laid down his life on the cross for your sins!  See how He rose from the dead to prove that victory!  See how He graciously and continuously cares, provides, protects, watches over, feeds, nourishes, defends, and uplifts you day by day!  Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd you need!  Amen.  May the God of peace, who … brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will.

You Are With Me!

4th Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, dear friends, and especially you confirmands, what lies ahead for you in your life? What does the future hold for you? I think we’d all be able to admit that the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? If you watch the news, you’ll hear about this tragedy or that, about this natural disaster or that, about this wild fire, this drought, the rising price of gas or food, the world can be a pretty difficult and unpredictable place, right? Then closer to home, as we journey through life our own lives can be filled with plenty of challenges and difficulties. Bones break, cancer hits, sickness comes, jobs disappear, people we trusted aren’t trustable. So, we ask, “How can we make it through a world like this?” I’ve heard from people nervous about the future say that they fear what the world will look like in 20, 30, 40 years.

You know, that’s probably the same concerns people have had on their minds for many generations. And perhaps that’s at least part of the reason that throughout the ages this Psalm, Psalm 23, has been a favorite for so many people. In fact, I’d probably guess that this may be one of the most well-known sections of the whole Bible. And it makes sense. It paints for us a really cool picture. God is our shepherd and we are the sheep. God is caring for us the sheep through the thick and the thin, he’s caring for us in the good times and in the challenging times. Therefore, the sheep can rest securely.

But let’s think about this image for a little bit. God is the shepherd. We are the sheep. Jesus even applied this Psalm to himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” I’m not a shepherd, so I don’t have personal knowledge of what sheep are really like. So my knowledge of sheep is based on those who have worked with sheep and recorded their knowledge down. But apparently, sheep really aren’t the most impressive animals. The descriptions that I’ve found aren’t the most complimentary.

First of all, sheep are very skittish. One shepherd noted about how someone came to visit and their little dog jumped out of the car and caused an entire herd of some 200 sheep to stampede. Their only recourse in danger is to run. Sheep are also territorial and selfish. Usually an older bigger sheep would try to dominate and if it saw a younger sheep eating where it wanted to eat it would charge that sheep, lower its neck and butt the other out of the way. Sheep are also stubborn, rebellious and rarely content. One shepherd wrote about a certain sheep who was never content to feed in her own pasture, but would constantly look for breaks in the fence where she could sneak out. And not only would she do it herself but she led others to as well, putting herself in danger as well as others. Eventually the shepherd had to take her to the slaughterhouse just to protect the rest of the flock.

So, skittish, territorial, selfish, rebellious, rarely content. Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like us humans, doesn’t it? Selfish? We think first about ourselves and our own wants instead of others. Rebellious? We’ve often heard God’s Word about something and done just the opposite. And skittish? How many times have we worried or fretted about something that didn’t even turn out to happen?

And yet, “The LORD is my Shepherd.” God claims…you! God claims…me! God makes you and me part of HIS flock! What does that mean? That means God Himself is going to look after me, HE is going to keep watch over me. HE is going to be with my day after day after day.

And it’s the LORD who is my shepherd. The LORD – all capital letters- that special name for God that emphasizes His full, free and faithful grace, he will never leave me, he will never forsake me. Jesus used this Shepherd picture for Himself when He said, “I am the Good Shepherd. Who lays down His life for the sheep.” That means I have a Shepherd who was willing to go the cross and die for me. I have a Shepherd who thought I was worth it to shed His blood for me. I have a Shepherd who died and rose for me! That means I’m incredibly valuable and incredibly special to Him.

And yet, there remains one thing, we still live in this world that is so full of danger, disappointments, and difficulties. How do we make it? Glance at verse 4. . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” One of the cool things about Hebrew poetry is that it’s kind of like climbing a hill. You begin on the bottom, you ascend to the top- which is the high point, then you descend back down. Often, the high point is found right in the middle of the poem or Psalm. So what is the high point of this Psalm?

In Hebrew there are 26 words before and 26 words after the phrase “for you are with me.” That’s the middle, that’s the top of the hill, so while the whole Psalm is important, the whole Psalm is beautiful, the high point is: You are with me.

Apparently, there is just nothing like the presence of a shepherd that will change the attitude of a flock of sheep. When the shepherd is around, the sheep rarely butted each other. When the shepherd is around, the sheep are less likely to wander away. When the shepherd is around the sheep are far less skittish. The presence of the shepherd did all those things for the sheep. The presence of the shepherd eliminated most dangers and difficulties and ensured security for the sheep.

Who goes with you in this world? Jesus does. The Good Shepherd does. Who is with you through the darkest, difficult, and most dangerous days of life? Jesus is. Who is with you in every situation, in every dark trial, in every dismal disappointment, in every distressing dilemma? Jesus is. It is Jesus and His presence who make sense and purpose out of life. It is Jesus who makes your life significant. It is Jesus who gives you endless attention and meticulous care. He’s never asleep, never lax or careless, never indifferent to your well-being, He always has your best interests in mind. He is with you as you go to high school, with you as you find a job, with you as you lose a loved one, with you in every dark valley and on every mountaintop. And finally He is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

What challenges and difficulties lie ahead for you? For me? I don’t know. But what I do know is Jesus will be there. Jesus will be there with his care, with his guidance. Jesus will be there with His power! Jesus will be there with His forgiveness. Jesus will be there with His love!

And so we can live our lives with continual confidence. No, God doesn’t promise us that things will be easy, that everything will go the way we want it to. But surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life – because Jesus is there. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – with Jesus! Amen.

It is the alertness, the awareness, the diligence of a never-tiring master which alone assures the sheep of excellent care. And from the sheep’s standpoint it is knowing that the shepherd is there; it is the constant awareness of his presence nearby that automaticallhy eliminates most of the difficulties and dangers while at the same time providing a sense of security and serenity. The sheep owner’s presence that guarantees there will be no lack of any sort, that there will be abundant green pastures, that there will be still, clean waters; that there will be new paths into fresh fields, that there will be safe summers, that there will be freedom from fear, that there will be antidotes to flies, disease, parasites, that there will be quietness and contentment.

Rejoice in Your Redeemer’s Rebuke and Remedy!

4th Sunday of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to your from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was lifted up on a cross for you and me, dear friends in Christ, How often do you take the “scenic route”? All we could see were red tail lights for miles and miles. We were headed back from the Cities, we got a late start in the evening, and Interstate 94 was backed up for miles. Creeping along at 5 miles an hour. Ever been there? I think I’m generally a patient guy, but when I’m driving 5 miles an hour for 25 minutes, facing a 4 hour drive ahead of me, and with a car full of small children, I can get quite impatient. Ever been there? Finally it gets to the point where I’m ready to take the next exit and I don’t care if I have to drive miles out of the way taking the scenic route, I just want to be moving.  Or, it’s happened that I’ve picked a route I want to go on and the traffic turns out to be terrible and then come to find out that there’s a way out of the way detour that makes the trip twice as long as it could have been if I had taken a different route. Or, it’s happened that my GPS has decided to route me on a way that it thinks is the shortest but doesn’t take into account all the small towns and traffic lights and slow speed limits along the way. Ever been there before? How often do you end up taking the “scenic route”? In our face-paced, time-crunched, and high gas priced world, not many people go for joy rides just to take the long scenic route.

It wasn’t much different about 3,500 years ago either. You and I think tacking on an additional hour to our trip is bad, try tacking on an additional 40 years! And consider that the most direct route from Egypt to the land of Canaan is about the same distance as you would drive between Bemidji and the Twin Cities, give or take a few miles! Think about that, instead of it taking you 4.5 hours to get to the Cities, it’s going to take you 40 years! And why? The Lord had graciously delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt- remember the 10 plagues, ending with the Passover when the blood of the lamb painted on the door posts saved the Israelites, then remember how they had wondrously been led right to the edge of the Red Sea and had Pharaoh and his army breathing down their necks and then God miraculously parted the Red sea so that this entire nation of some 2.5 million people could go through on dry land, then remember how God had appeared to them on Mt. Sinai when He gave them the Ten Commandments with fire, smoke, a loud trumpet blast, and then how God led them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud during the day, and how God led them right up to the Promised Land, but then when they spied on the land, saw that the land was great and wonderful, but the people were big and strong, they said, “We’re like grasshoppers to them, there’s no way we can take the Promised Land.” Forgetting that God is with them, so God made them wander around the wilderness for 40 years until that unbelieving generation- all those 20 years old or older – died. Talk about a scenic route!

Well, now we’re nearing the end of that 40 year scenic route, 40 years of wandering, 40 years of ups and downs, 40 years of God graciously and miraculously providing manna for the people to eat every day, 40 years and yet we’re told that their shoes and their clothes did not wear out, 40 years of God taking care of all their needs, and now they’re ready to march up to the Promised Land and so Moses asks the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, if they could pass through their territory- that’s all they wanted to do, they won’t touch any of their property, won’t use their water, nothing. And Edom’s response? “No, you may not. If you so as much as try, we’re going to attack and kill you.” Moses sends another message, “Just let us go through on the main road, if we inadvertently drink any water, we’ll pay for it.” And Edom’s response, “No means no! You will not pass through our land.”

So, what does that mean? That means that now the Israelites have to travel hundreds of miles in the opposite direction, south east, instead of north west. They had to take the scenic route through some barren, dry, intensely hot, and rough land full of sandstorms on foot in order to go around Edom! I guess our detours aren’t quite that bad! And what do the people do? They grumble and complain: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” In other words, “Why didn’t you just leave us alone in our slavery in Egypt? Why did you rescue us to die?” It’s mind-boggling isn’t it? God had been faithful to them for the past 40 years wandering in the desert and now they are going to die in the desert? Really? They detest this miserable food? God had been miraculously providing this manna for them for everyday for forty years preserving their lives! And then to add insult to injury they call it “miserable” food. Literally, the word is “worthless, good for nothing” and it’s the same root of the word to curse, so they were actually cursing the food God gave them! We look at this and wonder: How could they be so thankless? How could they be so short-sighted? The Promised Land was a couple weeks away!

Well, how could they be so thankless, so shortsighted?  Hmm.  What about us?  How easily we, too, become shortsighted!  We see the difficulty in front of us at the moment rather than the amazing eternity which God has prepared for us!  We set our eyes not on things above, but on things below. We see the current challenge and become stressed and bothered and sometimes even angry, somehow managing to forget the incredible faithfulness which God has shown to us over and over and over again in our past.  If we are going to point an accusing finger at these Israelites, then we are pointing one just as accusingly at ourselves.  How much of our lives do we fill with griping and complaining? We’re just as guilty, just as worthy of God’s judgement.

And in the midst of their complaining, the LORD gave them something to complain about. He sent venomous snakes. If you remember the KJV here it called them “fiery snakes,” literally the Hebrew says, “burning snakes,” either because of how they looked or because of their deadly, burning bite. People who have been over to this area actually report about these terrible, deadly snakes over there. And many of the Israelites died.

But notice who sent these snakes. It’s the LORD. All capital letters. That’s a special name for the Lord used in the Bible. It indicates that God is the God of free and faithful love, yes He is a God faithful to His justice, but also faithful to his love, He is the God of salvation. So, really, in sending these snakes it wasn’t in judgment, it was an act stemming from His love and His desire to save them. It was an act of love not just in getting them to their earthly promised land, but to their heavenly home. He allowed them to feel the consequences of their sin so they’d see their sinfulness and their need for forgiveness.  You see, those who don’t feel the results of their sin aren’t likely ready to admit their sin and their need for a Savior. Again, a common theme in Scripture: Hurts, pain, suffering alert us to a problem and drive us to look for a solution and a Savior.  In love God rebuked them.

And, it works! The people come to Moses and say, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take…the snake (sg) away from us.” Hmm…”the snake” that’s what the original says; they didn’t say “snakes.” What does that remind us of? Doesn’t that take us back to where it all began? All our trouble, all our pain, all our sin began in the Garden of Eden where our first parents listened to the devil in the form of a snake and brought sin into our world. So, ultimately, the Israelites don’t need relief just from these poisonous snakes, they need it from The Snake, the devil.

And God provided the solution. But it’s not at all what they might have expected. God didn’t take the snakes away. Instead God has Moses make a bronze snake put it up on a pole and anyone who looked at that snake on the pole wouldn’t die, but would live. Can you imagine how the Israelites must have reacted to this? We’re supposed to do what? Why are you putting that ugly, disgusting thing on a pole? Can you imagine the first person who was bit? The intense pain but then when looking at the pole the incredible relief that must have flooded over you? I’m guessing this is something they would have talked about again and again! God took a symbol of death and turned it into the source of deliverance and life.  But finally why did it work? It worked because of the words and promises of God.

Jesus connected this incident of the snake on the pole with Him on the cross. As we look at Jesus on that cross, it’s ugly, it reminds us of our sin and guilt our problem that sent Jesus to that cross, but in that cross there is healing, not physical, but spiritual, not temporary, but eternal. And for the Israelites it didn’t depend on the size or strength of their stare, but it depended on the words and promises of God which worked in them a trust to look with faith at God’s remedy for their problem. The same is true for you and I with Jesus. It doesn’t depend on the size or strength of our faith, rather, it has everything to do with the words and promises of God. And what is God’s promise concerning the cross of Jesus? God’s promise is that on Jesus’ cross God forgave your sins, my sins, the sins of the world! On the cross God opened the doors of heaven for you forever! Infected with our sin from the snake we look in faith to God’s remedy found in Jesus on a cross and we’re saved, eternally saved!

The Israelites had seen God’s faithfulness for 40 years and were on the verge of the Promised Land, but they were still struggling. We, too, struggle. God’s faithfulness surrounds us every day, God’s grace and mercy surround us every day, but so often we become so short-sighted, focusing on the problems, fill ourselves with complaining, dissatisfied with our lives, and yes, whether knowingly or not blame God for our troubles and our problems. But thank God for His discipline, His rebuke, for without it we would soon feel we didn’t need God and be lost without Him. But thank the Lord even more for His remedy for every complaint and His healing for every sin. The eternal healing we need found in one place: the cross of Christ where whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Amen.

The Centurion

4th Sunday of Lent
Matthew 27:54, Luke 24:47

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, dear friends in Christ, have you ever been “in the right place at the right time”? It’s somewhat astounding to take a look back at your life and imagine all the different scenarios that could have taken place had you not been in the right place at the right time. It was the beginning of my Junior year in college and my roommate and some friends were going to go to the swimming pond at the local state park. They invited me to come along too, but I didn’t really feel like going, wasn’t that interested, so they left. But a little later on, for whatever reason, I decided to go and at that point I had to go by myself. But, wouldn’t you know, that it just so happened that a girl was there that I’d been interested in and we ended up talking for like over an hour and it was really after that that we started dating and that was the girl who would later become my wife. What if I didn’t go to the park that afternoon? Would school have become too crazy that we wouldn’t have ever connected? What if she hadn’t gone to the park that day? We were both in the right place at the right time. When has that happened to you?
Our text this evening tells us about at least one person who happened to be in the right place at the right time and it didn’t just impact his life, but his eternal life. Exactor mortis was the title of the one who was in command of the carrying out the crucifixion orders given to a criminal. Here we know that he was a Roman centurion (a commander of 100) and that he had a group of at least 4 soldiers with him because we are told that they divided Jesus’ clothes into four parts, one for each of them.
But try to think about what this Roman soldier has seen and heard up till now. The Roman governors made it their business to know what the people under their rule were talking about. It’s very clear from Scripture that Jesus was the topic of discussion buzzing around Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. There were tons of people talking about Jesus’ astounding miracles and his powerful preaching. There was the vehement opposition mounting from the religious rulers. There was Jesus’ fanfare and crowds singing his praises on Palm Sunday. Even the Emmaus disciples say that even a stranger in Jerusalem would know about Jesus.
It also seems likely that this Roman would have known why the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate in the first place, because he claims to be “Christ, a king.” Did he also hear Jesus tell Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and that he had come into this world? The Jews demanded that Jesus should die because he “claimed to be the Son of God.” Then the soldiers even caught on when they mocked Jesus for being the “Christ of God.”
Then, of all the Roman soldiers on duty, HE had to be the one to work on Friday afternoon. Was he complaining? Was he thinking he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? But then think about what he had witnessed from Jesus: No cursing, no resistance, no spitting at his mockers, instead? Amazing patience in excruciating pain. Instead of anger and rage, while they were nailing him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then there’s this man dying on the cross caring for his mother and making sure she’s taken care of. Then he’s watching as this dying thief says, “Jesus, (which means Savior), remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Then he would have heard Jesus say in a loud voice, “It is finished,” that is, “Paid in full.” And then Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Every other death that this soldier had seen death came and overtook the person, but here, death came and it was overtaken by Jesus. Then there was an earthquake, rocks splitting, the darkness that had covered the earth for 3 hours.
But then came a beautiful confession of faith, perhaps weak, perhaps small, but none-the-less beautiful: Surely this was the Son of God! Surely this was a righteous man! And he praised God! What an amazing thing! This Roman soldier had become convinced that this Jesus, who was crucified as a criminal, was the innocent, righteous Son of God! He was in the right place at the right time and his life would never be the same. What did he talk about on the way home? What was going through his mind? Was he one of the 500 hundred who witnessed Jesus alive after his resurrection? Could be. Tradition says that he later was not only a Christian but actually became a bishop in the early church. But regardless, the fact is: He was in the right place at the right time – God made sure of it.
Perhaps there’s many times in our lives when we feel like we are in the exact wrong place at the wrong time. Things are going like we want them to. We never seem to be quite as fortunate as other people, other people seem to get all the luck, all the breaks. We feel like we just struggle on. Perhaps it makes us frustrated, upset, cynical, woe is me, etc. And why is that? Is it because we doubt that God’s power and ability to use us in our current situation? Is it because we doubt God’s love and care for us, for if he really loved us wouldn’t it feel like we were in the right place at the right time?
But think about this. Jesus was dying on the cross, yet he was in exactly the right place at the right time. Why? Because he was right where God the Father wanted God the Son to be. He was on that cross doing exactly what He came to do: pay for your sins, my sins, the sins of the world. Pay for every time we’ve been upset or cynical about life.
And think about this, just like He did for this Centurion, God further made sure that you were in the right place at the right time so that you were brought to faith in Jesus, the Son of God. And God further made sure that nothing prevented you from being here tonight in the right place at the right time to hear about your Savior once again.
And one more thing, through this unlikely messenger we’re once again assured of this comforting truth: this Jesus wasn’t just another man or another human, this is THE Son of God. And that’s vitally important for us to know. Why? Because only God himself, tearing open the heavens and coming down, stepping onto our planet and into our lives, becoming our Brother, can save us. Who but God alone could bear the weight of the world’s guilt in our place and still come out on the other side alive? Who but God alone could make his death count for every human being from Adam until the Last trumpet sounds? It is because Jesus’ death is at the same time the death of God himself that you need never doubt that the payment for sins was enough. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that the grave could not hold him. It is because Jesus is God that the grave won’t hold you or me either. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that a soldier’s heart melted into faith and it is because Jesus as the Son of God was in the right place at the right time that you too confess with your heart, “Surely he is the Son of God!” And since that’s true, since Jesus is the very Son of God, you have a right relationship with God and so no matter where you are in life or what time it is, with God as your Savior you are constantly in the right place at the right time. Amen.

Seek to Survive or Trust God and Thrive?

5th Sunday after Epiphany
Mark 12:41-44

This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ: how much do you worry? Late fall three men went out to an island to spend some time outdoors. But while they were on this island the temperature dropped incredibly. Finally, their food was about gone and they knew that if they stayed on the island they would die. So they decided to leave the island. It was cold, the wind was freezing. But the water on the lake had frozen. If they didn’t put any faith in the ice they would die on the island.  The first man put faith in the ice but was full of worry and said, “I’m not really sure about this ice, there’s maybe one or two inches, but I think it will be strong enough for me to get to the main land.” So, he laid himself down on his stomach on the ice to distribute the weight and slowly, cautiously, carefully inched himself with his fingers and toes the half mile back to main land – he made it to safety. The 2nd man also wasn’t really sure about the ice, but trusted the ice a little more than the first man and decided to walk the half mile in the blustery cold wind- he also made it to safety. The 3rd man looked at the ice and said to himself, “I know this area, I know this lake, I know this ice, there’s at least 2 feet here.” So, what did he do? He went back got his 4 wheel drive pickup truck that was on the island and drove across the lake. All three made it to safety, for all three it wasn’t their faith that saved them, it was the ice, but not all 3 had the same amount of faith in the ice and therefore not all had the same experience. The 3rd man who implicitly trusted the ice had the happiest trip to the main land.

Among Christians it’s absolutely true that faith in Jesus the Savior saves someone no matter how strong or weak it is. But there is a difference in life between a Christian with strong faith and a Christian with weak faith.  In the end, faith takes a look at the promises of God and says, “How great is my God? How much can my God do? Though all may look contrary to my eyes, I know my God’s strength, I know my God’s promises, I know my God’s love and I know that He will never leave me nor forsake me and He will guide all things to bring me to my heavenly home.” But the problem is, life is full of things that cause worries, cares, concerns, anxiousness, apprehensions that tempt us to say, “I know Jesus is my Savior, but I’m not so sure about my God! I’m not sure He’ll come through for me! I don’t know or don’t trust His promises.” And full of worries and fears we get down on our hands and knees and inch our way through life with our fingers and our toes like that first man on the island and just try to survive, but we wouldn’t really say we thrive.

Our text this morning is actually very familiar. I’m going to guess that very few of you, if at all, have never heard this account before, often called the “Widow’s Mite.” And while this account is often remembered because of the money it mentions, the account itself really has very little to do with money, but very much to do with faith and trust.

This is holy week, in just a few days Jesus would die on the cross. He was in the temple and had just finished a sharp confrontation with the teachers of the law: Watch out for the teachers of the law, they walk around with their flowing robes, they love to have the most important seats and places of honor, they devour widows’ houses, make showy lengthy prayers, they will be punished most severely. Ouch! And this is Jesus! At one moment righteously angry with the teachers of the law and then pleasantly pleased with what He sees. He goes and sits down and watches people as they stream through the temple courts and in the temple were 13 kind of trumpet shaped receptacles into which people would deposit their offerings for the temple worship. These offerings would provide different things for the temple upkeep, but one of the primary uses of these offerings were so that there could continue to be sacrifices performed at the temple.

You see, throughout the time of the OT God impressed something on His people through these sacrifices. Sin is serious. Sin deserves the punishment of death. People deserve to die eternally for their sins. But, in incredible grace God promised His OT people that He would send a Savior who would pay the price of people’s sins. To picture this to the OT people God established this sacrificial system where every day there would be sacrifices in the temple to remind them that sin deserves death, but as every animal was put to death God reminded his people that they wouldn’t die, he would send a Savior, a substitute to die in their place.

Well, as Jesus watches people brining their offerings many wealthy people come by and give large sums of money. No doubt some, if not many of them, did it for show, to attract attention, to gain admiration from people. But then here comes a poor widow. At this time especially it was a terrible hardship to be a widow because it was the husband’s job to provide for the family, without a husband she had no one to provide for her. A widow often had to fend for herself or be at the mercy of friends or family.  And she walked by and put in two small copper coins. Now the NIV says that they were worth “a fraction of a penny,” but that’s not a very good translation. Many people try to compare this amount to today’s money and perhaps the best explanation is that it was worth what today may be 50 cents to a dollar. But did you notice? She put two coins in. Not one. In other words, she easily could have kept one for herself, but didn’t.

Seeing this, Jesus called his disciples together and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on.” She gave more than all the rest? Really? If you haven’t noticed already, Jesus‘ math is much different than normal math. Normally we would think two small coins wouldn’t go very far, at least not compared with large sums of money! So what’s Jesus’ point? Most gave out of their abundance; they gave what they really didn’t need anyway. But this widow gave out of her poverty, her lack. Clearly, it is NOT the size of the offering that Jesus looks at, but at the heart of the one doing the giving. In fact, this widow gave all she had to live on.

Now can you imagine being her? Can you or I imagine doing this? Can you imagine doing this without wondering where your next meal is going to come from? Without the fear of starving? What she gave was enough to at least buy some bread to eat. But Jesus says, “She gave it all…She had nothing left to live on.”  Whether you have a lot or a little I don’t think there’s anyone of us here who knows what this would be like. One thing that is very clear in Scripture is this: there are miserable rich people and miserable poor people; there are joyful rich people and joyful poor people. It has nothing to do with money; it has everything to do with the heart.

This poor widow didn’t give because she knew that she had a nest egg stored up at home that she would be ok if she spared these two small coins. As Jesus said, she gave everything, all she had to live on! Doesn’t this widow – commended by Jesus – put you and I to shame? Not because of her offering so much, but because of her faith. She had an implicit faith in God, trusted God to take care of her no matter what the future would bring.  Where did her next meal come from? Did she starve? I don’t think so.

What is clear here is that this lady did not have a “survival” mindset. It’s so easy to fall into a survival mindset in our personal lives. “I need to do this, I need to do that, I need this for me, if I don’t get this, my whole life is going to come unglued!” It can also affect us on a congregational level too. How many council meetings are there where the main topic of discussion is money? “If we’re not careful, everything is going to fall apart, come unglued, God is going to abandon us, make us close the doors, leave us to be begging on the streets!” Really? Is God not faithful? Does God not care for His people?

Where does fear and worry come from? WE bring worry, fear, anxiety, stress, nervousness, apprehension about money, about things, about paying the bills on ourselves. Worry, fear, anxiety, stress, apprehension does NOT come from God. That comes from Satan, from the world, from our own sinful flesh. Understand that. When there’s worry, fear, doubt, stress, anxiety, that’s not coming from God, that’s coming from us.  And too often we let that worry, fear, lack of trust, anxiety, and stress dominate our thinking, pollute our decision making, terrify our souls. We get down and “inch” our way through life with our fingers and toes just trying to survive.

So, wait a minute, pastor, does that mean that we can just go out and frivolously spend our money on whatever and trust that God is going to take care of us? God didn’t fill our heads with air, he filled them with brains to think, to plan, to be wise, to make good judgments. But to do so with trusting hearts, hearts of faith that are ready to find in any situation the blessings of God. Maybe my lack of money forces me to open my eyes to the needless and frivolous things that I’ve spent my money on, maybe it leads me to confess my sin of poor stewardship, poor managing of the blessings that God has given to me. Maybe lack of income for a church forces us to re-examine the mission of the church: is everything we are using God’s blessings for serving to GROW in God’s Word and GO with God’s Word to others?  Or are we selfishly using it for something else?

So what comes from God? Let’s be clear: stress, worry, fear, anxiety, apprehension does not come from God, that comes from us. What comes from God is trust, reliance, and peace.  It’s the same trust, reliance, and peace that this poor widow had in her God and Savior. How could this widow do this? Of course we don’t know, but I imagine this widow walked away with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.

Why? Why could she do that? There can be no other explanation than that she knew who her God was. She knew God’s promises. She knew her sin, but she also knew her loving God who promised to send a Savior from sin, who promised to never leave or forsake her, who promised to one day take her home to heaven. Trusting in God she didn’t have to seek to survive, she trusted God and thrived and she could give her all to God.

The same is true for you and me. We could struggle through life just trying to survive, to get by on our own, but it will always fill us with fear, worry, and stress. Or, we can look at who our God is: A God of love, mercy, compassion, a God of power, might, and strength. A God who has promised to never leave or forsake you, who has promised to be with you always, who has promised to work all things for your good, who has promised to take you to heaven. And how do you know He keeps all His promises? Because He kept His greatest promise. He didn’t just promise to send a Savior from sin, He sent Jesus to live and die for your sins in full. Your sins are forgiven. And since God did that, then all of God’s promises are yes in Christ.

So what does that mean? It means we don’t have to crawl through life just trying to survive, but we can trust God no matter what and like this widow, we can entrust all that we are and all that we have to Him and give Him our all. Amen.