2nd Wednesday of Lent
John 11:45-53

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, has this ever happened to you? This morning Marjorie was here at church doing some secretarial work and we were talking about two file sharing computer programs and I said, “Well, they’re the same but different.” And she caught what I said and told me I needed to leave off the last part of that sentence. “They’re the same but different.” Have you ever said something like that? I didn’t mean to contradict myself, I just failed to see the irony of my statement. This year in our midweek services we’re looking at irony – where situations are different from what you would expect. Tonight our focus is on unintentional irony. Sometimes we do or say things that are ironic without even realizing it.

Tonight we’re looking at Caiaphas. He was the High Priest at the time of Jesus’ ministry and he makes one of the clearest statements of the gospel and he never realized it. This happened a few weeks before Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem. Jesus had just done an astounding miracle. His friend Lazarus had died and was in the tomb for four days. Jesus went to the tomb and said, “Lazarus, come out!” And this man –dead for four days- came out of the tomb alive as ever. A clear demonstration of Jesus’ power. Some people went and told the Pharisees about what Jesus had just done. Now, you’d think they’d be moved by this news about Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus, but instead they held an emergency meeting of all the Jewish rulers and said, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away our temple and our nation.”

They knew Jesus was doing miracles, they couldn’t deny it, they couldn’t deny that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead – it happened in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem. They even knew why Jesus had done this miracle – to create faith in Him as the Savior. “Everyone is going to believe in him!” What a tragedy! You see, they were afraid. Why were they afraid? They were proud of their nation, proud to be Jews, proud to be the leaders of the Jews. But here comes Jesus – and He thinks He’s the Messiah – But He’s just an ordinary man! He isn’t going to be able to lead a rebellion and fight the Romans and win our independence. (They had a total misunderstanding of who the Messiah would be – a political leader). Instead, the Romans are going to come in, destroy our temple and destroy our nation, but worst of all, we’re going to lose our positions of leadership and influence over the people! What a tragedy! Jesus was a threat to their authority – they sensed that. Jesus kept showing them that their ideas about God were wrong, that their hearts were hard, that their religion of good works to earn God’s favor was false.

But Caiaphas has the solution: It is better that one die for the people than the whole nation perish. That ended it. From that time on they plotted to kill Jesus. That makes sense, right? If someone doesn’t agree with us, we plot to kill them. Really? Where’s the trust in God? If Jesus was really teaching false things, shouldn’t they entrust themselves to God and oppose him with the truth? But they decide he has to die. And why did they come to that conclusion? It’s not politics, it’s hate. They hated Jesus, they also plotted to kill Lazarus as well. So, in the face of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles –raising the dead- his enemies want to kill him. That’s both ironic and sad, isn’t it?

Pride. We’re each infected with it. We each have to battle against it. You see, faith says, “I’m a total failure, I’m completely lost on my own, I need God for everything.” But pride says, ‘I’m good, I can do it myself, I don’t need God. Look at how dedicated I am, look at how much I do for God.” And how can you tell if pride is infecting your life? You see, pride leads to fear. Are you afraid? Do you worry? Pride makes me think that I’m in control, that every depends on me, does it? Are we really in control? Pride leads to fear because relying on myself is too big a burden to bear. I’m not in control only God is in control. Pride also leads to hate. It leads to an attitude of, “I’m better than others.” “I can’t stand that person.” In hate we lash out at someone in anger or at the very least stick pins in them in our minds. But the reality is, we’re all sinners, so we’re no better than the person we despise the most. Think about the person you despise the most, you’re no better than that person. God says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Pride leads to fear and it leads to hate.

But there’s an even greater irony here. “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation.” From the mouth of this prideful person, this enemy of God, this unbeliever God preaches a sermon. You see, Caiaphas didn’t know it, but his whole office as High Priest was meant to picture Jesus. In the OT the high priests would inquire of the Lord and God would reveal his will to them- Jesus came to reveal God’s will to us, the high priest was to make intercession before God – Jesus came to intercede with God the Father for us, and the high priest was to offer sacrifices in order to show that the Savior would sacrifice himself to pay for our sins.

Caiaphas said that Jesus had to die. He didn’t know it but what he really said was that it was better in God’s sight that one man die so that the whole human race would not perish. Our sinful pride infects us and infects our lives, it makes our lives miserable, but the worst effect of our pride is that it condemns us to hell. But God didn’t want that to happen. So, He sent His own Son, who became the ultimate high priest, shed His blood, offered His own blood to pay for our pride. By his death he made us friends with God again. God’s blood is worth more than the whole universe and He paid it for the sins of all – yours and mine included.

This is the end of pride. On our own we’re worthless and have nothing. But in Jesus we have everything. There’s no reason to worry or fear, because in Jesus we have an incredibly loving God who is in control. And there’s no reason to hate others, instead to see every person, each person as someone who desperately needs the grace and love of Jesus, just like us. The true irony in all these accounts is really God’s unending, unconditional, undeniable love. A love that he declared even through an unbeliever like Caiaphas. Amen.

Rahab: My Son, My Sanctifier



2nd Wednesday of Advent
Joshua 2:8-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear friends in Christ, What’s it like to be an outsider? In 1978 Joe Smarzik from Walnut Grove, MN was going to be spending Christmas alone. He was divorced for 20 years and had lost contact with his wife and children. He was in his own words “terribly lonely.” So what did he do? Just before Christmas he placed an ad in the local newspaper seeking a family to eat Christmas dinner with and offered to even provide the turkey. A family Tracy, MN took him in and shared that meal and many more holiday meals together. He had some new found friends. He was included.  He was no longer an outsider.

Isn’t that what everyone longs for? No one wants to be an outcast, we all want to be included somehow, someway. At this time Joshua is leading the Israelites and he’s in charge of bringing them into the Promised Land. God’s patience with the sin of the Canaanites was through and God was about to bring upon them judgment for their sin and unbelief through the Israelites conquering them. The first stop was the city of Jericho. So, Joshua sent in two spies to check up on the city. They entered Jericho and apparently were trying to be discreet so they went to a prostitute’s house- not to solicit business but probably to aid in their cover. But, somehow their cover is blown. The king sends people to go and arrest the spies, but Rahab covers for them and hides them saving their lives.

How much of an outsider was Rahab? First, she was a Canaanite, she wasn’t a Jewish. Her ethnicity doomed her to the same fate as all the unbelieving Canaanites whom the Israelites were about to destroy. Second, socially, in this culture she was a woman who was apparently unmarried and childless and in a culture where having a family was your status, she was at the bottom rung and without much prospects, what self-respecting man would marry a prostitute or tolerate his wife to be in such a profession? How many friends do you think she had? I’m guessing she had few female friends especially married ones. And so she lived on the margins of society, in fact, there isn’t much more marginal in an ancient society than having your house set in the city’s outer wall.

In every way, to a human and outward standpoint, she’s a most unlikely candidate for inclusion in God’s kingdom. But what do we see here? “I know that the LORD has given this land to you…We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea…the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Wow! Did you hear that? This foreigner, this former prostitute, this lady who lived a life of sin, and what does she know? She knows the LORD! The LORD, the God of free and faithful love, the LORD who made a covenant with Himself to send a Savior into this fallen and corrupt world! This is 40 years after the Red Sea event and they’re still talking about it! Clearly the news about the LORD has traveled and it hasn’t gone without effect. In absolute grace God, the LORD of love, has wooed and won another sinner into His kingdom through faith.  The outsider was brought into God’s kingdom.

You know, really, we’re all like Rahab. We’re all outcasts and outsiders in God’s kingdom. None of us should be included. We were born estranged from God. Essentially prostitution is giving your body to be used in degrading ways in order to get a cheap pay off. Perhaps we haven’t done that physically, but what about spiritually? Have I used my body to harbor greedy thoughts? That means I’ve degraded it for the cheap pay off of maybe feeling like I deserve more than what I have. Have I used my body to speak words that hurt or cut or tear down? That means I’ve degraded my body for the cheap pay off of feeling better about myself at the expense of someone else. Have I neglected showing love and compassion and care for someone who is hurting? That means I’ve degraded my body for the cheap pay off of being lazy.

You see, we might look at Rahab and think she was a special kind of sinner, perhaps someone who deserved to be an outcast. But the reality is, we’re no different. And it’s important that we realize that. It’s easy for us to look down on others as if someone else needs more saving than we do, that God has to work harder on others than He has to on us. If we think that, then we have the same problem the Pharisees had with Jesus.  Jesus had the reputation of associating with whom? Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.  Jesus came in order to rescue everyone. But it’s only the sick who need a doctor, only those who know they need Him who will receive Him.

Each of us is in desperate need of God’s rescue. Interestingly in Matthew chapter 1, we hear the genealogy of Jesus, and at that time a genealogy was like your resume. And who is listed? Rahab. By faith in the true God she left her life of sin,  was included in the nation of Israel, got married, and became the mother of Boaz who was the father of Obed who was the father of Jesse who was the father of King David from whom finally Jesus was descended. One of Jesus’ ancestors was a former prostitute. What does that show us? It shows us that Jesus came from a line and lineage of sinners. And yet, He himself was not a sinner, not a tax collector, not a prostitute. But He came to be Rahab’s true Son, although He was without sin, He became the ultimate outcast. Rahab faced imminent death and destruction but was spared by the grace of God. Jesus, the only one who was ever “in” with God, the only one who ever deserved to be “in” with God, became the ultimate outcast, from birth He was an outcast being born not in the inn or a home, but a stable, He was an outcast by His friends when the disciples abandoned Him, became an outcast of society when people cheered for His crucifixion, and became an outcast from God when God forsook Him on the cross.

Why? He became the outcast to save all outcasts. He put Himself on the outside of God’s love so that we could be forever on the inside. Jesus came to save Rahab, Jesus came to save every prostitute, Jesus came to save every sinner, Jesus came to save you and me. Jesus came to sanctify all sinners. Sanctify means God looks at you and says, “I want you included as mine! I want you to be set apart as my special possession, to live as someone clothed with my holiness.” By His blood Jesus set a well-known sinner apart as special, washed her clean of her sin, brought her into his kingdom and won her for eternal life.

He’s done the same for you! Let’s prepare for his coming this Advent season by being sanctified, by jettisoning pride from our lives, confessing our guilt of selling our own bodies to evil for cheap thrills, and trusting in our God who has brought us close to Him, made us insiders in His kingdom through faith in Jesus, our Sanctifier. And may we ever have hearts that seek to bring more outsiders into Jesus’ kingdom that they may be sanctified by Rahab’s son, our Savior. Amen.

Who do you imitate?

18th Sunday after Pentecost
Numbers 12:1-15

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was perfectly humble for you and me, dear friends in Christ,
Who do you imitate? Someone once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” A few weeks ago my wife couldn’t get her key for our van into the ignition. At first I thought it was because one of our kids jammed something in there. But then we figured out what happened. Our son David who’s not quite 2 years old, had found my wife’s van key in her purse, managed to climb into our minivan and stick the key into the ignition and pretend to drive. He didn’t get the key all the way into the ignition and somehow bent it, that’s why we couldn’t put it in the ignition. How did my 2 year old know all of that? How did he know where the key was, what the key was for, how to get into our van, find the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition? He imitates his parents. If we’re going to grill something for supper, my wife will give our children the option of hot dogs or hamburgers. My daughter Jenna’s response is usually, “What’s dad going to have? I’ll have whatever dad has.” My son Lucas has watched me attempt to fix things, now, if he finds a screw driver lying around, there will be disassembled toys, flashlights, or play cameras. My daughter Megan is excited to learn how to play the piano, why? Partly because she sees mom playing it. In many ways, children imitate their parents. Who do you imitate?
Finally, as Christians, we would expect that each one of us imitates Christ, right? We would expect that we would imitate Him in His loving care for everyone in need. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His patience, in His gentleness, in His love for every single soul. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His humble attitude considering others more than Himself. We all imitate someone. Who do you imitate?
In all reality, each of us must confess that our lives fall incredibly short of imitating Christ. And there’s a reason for that. Each of us has a sinful nature that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us lives in a world loaded with sinfulness that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us is subject to Satan’s temptations who wants our lives to imitate him. And that’s been going on since our first parents Adam and Eve. In our gospel we saw how the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, in our text we see Miriam – Moses’ big sister – trying to humiliate Moses in order to get a piece of power, we also see Aaron – Moses’ older brother – going right along with it.
So, the Israelites are on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. They’ve been to Mt. Sinai where they saw the Lord descend on the mountain with fire, thunder, smoke, a loud trumpet blast. They heard all the commands of God. They’ve set out from Mt. Sinai and right away the people complained about their hardships, then they complained about not having any meat, “If only we had meat to eat! …We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” And Moses interceded with the Lord and the Lord graciously gave them more quail to eat than they knew what to do with. Well, right after that, Miriam and Aaron, we notice that Miriam is listed first which probably means that she was the instigator, began to speak against Moses, his leadership, and the fact that he married a Cushite wife. Having a Cushite wife was simply a pre-text to their real complaint. What was their real problem? They were full of pride and wanted more power and prestige. They were jealous and envious of Moses and his position of God-given leadership. Miriam herself was a prophetess and had led the women in singing praises to God after God delivered them through the Red Sea. Aaron was the high priest who was to lead the sacrifices and worship life of the Israelites. But God hadn’t appointed them to lead the people. Moses was God’s servant.
Notice that this was a subtle attack not just against Moses, but against God. Moses was God’s appointed servant. Isn’t that what’s at the root of bitterness, envy, and jealousy? Isn’t it finally an affront to God? God, I’m not pleased with the way you have set things up. God, I deserve more than this person or that person. God, I’m smarter and more talented that that person, I deserve his or her job. God, I deserve more power, more money, more respect than that person.
Or, there’s the other side of the coin, how do we react when we’re unfairly criticized? Our sinful nature wants us to go on the attack, to fight back, get even, to think wicked and hateful thoughts, to plot revenge, or… fall into self-pity, “poor me, everyone’s against me, my life is so miserable.”
Moses doesn’t even defend himself here. We’re told that Moses was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Moses didn’t want to fight back. But doesn’t he have a spine? Why won’t he stick up for himself? Humbleness doesn’t mean being timid or weak, rather, it’s a positive quality that desires not to hurt anyone. Moses didn’t want to do to Miriam and Aaron what they were doing to him. What is it that lies at the heart of our desire to often treat someone the way they treated us? To get even when we’re unfairly treated? Isn’t it a fear? Isn’t it finally a fear that people will believe a lie about us, that our reputation will be damaged, that nobody will defend us? How could Moses be so humble? Wasn’t it due to his trust in God? He trusted in God to defend him. It was the Lord who intervened and stood up for His servant Moses. We’re told that the Lord heard. He heard it all.
The Lord communicated to His people through Moses. If this rebellion persisted, it would have spread, not just tarnishing Moses’ reputation and subverting his leadership, but it would have turned people away from listening to God’s Word. And if that happened, if people no longer listened to God’s Word, their souls would be lost forever. So God in grace intervened. He appeared in a pillar of cloud, defended Moses’ position and Moses’ honor, and made clear why they should listen to His servant Moses.
And the result? Miriam was struck with leprosy. Why just Miriam? Perhaps it’s because she was likely the instigator of this rebellion. Or perhaps it’s because God knew how this was going to turn out and how He was going to show His forgiveness for her. However, if Aaron had become a leper – even if God healed him – he no longer could serve as High Priest. But how does Moses react? “See! See what you get? It serves you right! You’re getting just what you deserve for so rudely rejecting the Lord’s prophet!!” But what do we see? He loved his sister – even though she had wronged him. He pleaded for his sister – even though she was in the wrong. Moses didn’t speak up to defend himself, but he didn’t hesitate to speak up for his sister. Think about that! Could we pray to God to bless the person who hurt us? Pray for the person who ruined our reputation? Intercede for the person who treated us like dirt?
But what do we see in Moses? Isn’t it a love that reflects his Savior God? A love that steps in on behalf of others? A love that intercedes for those who oppose and contradict him? A love that rests on God’s mercy and grace? A mercy and grace that healed Miriam and allowed her back into camp after 7 days of public disgrace for a public rebellion.
Have we ever failed to demonstrate a love that imitates Jesus? Do we always have a concern for the eternal souls of people? Or are we more interested in getting ahead, getting more power for ourselves, insisting that our way is the best way – even better than God’s way? We all have. That means we’re all guilty of rebellion against God and we all deserve much worse than Miriam’s leprosy, we deserve God’s anger against us forever in hell.
So where’s the solution? See it in the God who forgave Miriam and healed her – He’s the same God of grace who forgives us and restores us – even for rebels like you and me. See it in the Savior who was never prideful, envious, or jealous of anyone. See it in your Savior who offered His perfectly humble life to God for our life of sin. See it in the Savior who loved you so much to shed his blood to wipe away the guilt of every loveless sin you and I have ever committed. See it in the Savior who continues to love you day after day – even when our lives have been so unflattering to Him. See it in a Savior who remains in control always and guides things to bring you to the special home He’s preparing for you in heaven.
See that love and imitate in your own life. Imitate it by loving your children even when they’re hard to deal with. Imitate it by loving your spouse even when their loveless nature shows itself. Imitate it with your parents even when they don’t seem to understand. Show a love that imitates Christ to your friends and neighbors, your classmates and coworkers. Show a love that loves the unlovable. Loves enemies. Loves those who contradict you. Love others as who they really are: souls for whom Jesus died.
Imitation is often a form of admiration. When we imitate the love of Christ in our lives, ultimately we’re praising and admiring Him. When we imitate Christ, we’re glorifying and praising our Savior who so loved us. So, who do you imitate? Amen.

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.

Gather Gossip or Give Grace?

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 4:20-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ,

Do you know who I am?  I’m sure you’ve met be before.  I don’t care about justice, I can hurt without killing, I break hearts, I trash lives, I’m cruel, I’m mean, I get stronger as I get older, the more I’m talked about the more I’m believed, I can thrive on any level of society and with any person still breathing, my victims are entirely helpless, there’s no way they can protect themselves against me because I don’t have a name, don’t have a face.  I have no friends, once I ruin a reputation it’s never the same.  I shatter friendships, wreck marriages, and destroy careers.  I cause heartaches and sleepless nights.  I infiltrate churches.  I divide Christians.  I spread suspicion and make innocent people cry on their pillows.  Do you know me?  I’m sure you’ve met me, my name is gossip.

Finally, every sin of the tongue has horrid effects.  Profane language, insults, lying, complaints, cutting criticism, they’re all harmful.  But, perhaps it’s gossip that has likely destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships than any other.  It’s quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread.  But worst of all, it’s quickly believed.

Well, what exactly is gossip?  We often think of gossip as talking about someone behind his or her back.  But, really, gossip isn’t all talking about someone who isn’t present.  There are times when we might talk about someone’s good news to others, or share some funny story, or share someone’s concern.  So how do you know if it’s gossip?  Well, would the person object to what is being said if they were present or not?  Is what we are saying meant to honestly help someone or to hurt the person?  Am I sincerely trying to build someone up or am I trying to discredit or tear them down?

The reality is that there is a part of each one of us here that absolutely loves to spread and listen to gossip.  There is a part of us that is hopelessly insecure, that loves to harbor jealousy, pride, and anger, that loves to tarnish the reputations of others in order to try to make us look better, that loves to speak falsely and lie, that loves to let our mouths drip with “unwholesome talk.”  Interestingly, the word translated as “unwholesome” here in verse 29 of our text is the word sarpo, the same word that Jesus used in the gospel lesson for “bad,” “Make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.”  Literally, it means “decaying” or “rotting.”  There is certain speech that comes out of our mouths that is like a decaying, rotting piece of fruit.  Like a piece of produce you might have left on your kitchen counter behind a box that you forgot about until you smelled something nasty and when you discovered it you saw a gross, mushy, stinky, rotting, fly-infested mess.  There’s a part of each of us that loves to spew out such rotten words.  And the first part of our text tells us just where those rotten words come from: our “old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.”

Each one of us has this multi-personality battle going on inside of our hearts between our old sinful self and our new spiritual self.  Each of us, as we were born into this world was completely controlled by this old self, but through faith God worked inside of us a new self was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  And our hearts are this continual battleground between our old sinful self and our new self.  And Satan in league with our old self wants nothing less than to get us to fall headlong into feeding our old self with any kind of sin with the hope that it will defeat and drive out our new self and destroy our faith.  It’s like two nations going into battle with each other and one side has a spy, a traitor who constantly feeds intelligence to the enemy.  The devil plays on our sinful nature to get us to be self-centered, to get us to only be concerned about ourselves and what we falsely think will make us feel better about ourselves, to become angry, to steal, to let rotten words spew out of our mouths.  Why?  Because he wants a foothold in our lives.

So what does he do?  He comes to us like a friend.  He convinces us that sin is good and pleasurable.  He tempts us to sin and to sin and to sin.  Then he flips his hat accusing us and feeding this insecure self-talk that goes on inside of us things like, “I can’t believe I did that!  I’m so stupid!  I’m such a failure!  I’m an awful person!  I’m worthless, useless.  Everyone else has it going on and I’m going backwards in life.”  Then he flips his hat back and says, “Hey, don’t you want to feel better about yourself?  Point out the sins and failures and mistakes of others!  It will make you feel better!  Spread it around so that others see how much of a better person you are at least than so-and-so!”  No matter how much the devil may try to get you to think it, he’s not your friend, he’s your enemy.  He knows that if we’re full of garbage inside, all we can give out is garbage.  If I’m living according to my old sinful self all I can give out is garbage, falsehood, anger, stealing, rotten speech.  Gossip stems from this insecurity inside of us that thinks we need to make ourselves feel better by tearing others down.

Think about it, if I’m not at peace with myself and with my God I have nothing to give you.  If I’m not built up, I’m in no place to build others up.  Rather, I try to bring everyone else down so that they can be miserable like me.  Misery loves company.  What comes from our hearts comes out of our mouths.  “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks” Jesus said.  If we are bitter and angry and upset and frustrated inside, guess what’s going to come out of our mouths?  If we are insecure, frail, and troubled inside what’s going to come out of our mouths?  And our words are a powerful way to tear other people down.  And here’s the devil’s lie, we think it will make us feel better about ourselves to use our language to hurt others or spread gossip, but the truth is: it doesn’t help, it just hurts us more.  And so the cycle continues.

Where does this cycle end?  Right here: “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”  What is the truth that is in Jesus?  It is the reality, it is the real historical facts, Jesus, God’s Son was born into this world, lived perfectly, never gossiped, used His mouth to always do what is right, Jesus died on a cross as God’s lightning rod against all sins, including every sin of the tongue, Jesus rose victoriously from the dead to prove that the payment for sin was made in full.  And He did that for you!  That is the truth, the reality.  It is that truth, that reality that teaches us to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  If we can’t control our tongue, we’re failing to appreciate the gospel.  God’s changed us.  We don’t need to rip others apart to feel better about ourselves.  God’s taken away our hearts of sin and given us hearts of faith, he’s taken our worthless rags of sin and given us Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness.  “I’m a forgiven, redeemed, baptized, eternal child of God and the devil can’t change that!”

It’s this gospel that feeds our new self, enabling us to put off falsehood and speak truthfully, to not become angry giving the devil a foothold, to not steal but work hard, and “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  God wants us to use our speech to build others up and literally the end of that last verse reads “to give grace to those who listen.”  Where does grace come from?  The ultimate source of grace and every blessing is God.

It’s only when we are filled with the grace of God that our lips will be filled with blessing, benefit, and encouragement for others.  If our hearts are off, our mouths will be off.  If the scope on your gun is off, it doesn’t matter how close you put the crosshairs on the bullseye, it’s going to be off.  But If our hearts are centered on grace, our lips will drip with grace to build others up and encourage.  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” Jesus said.  God has filled your heart with His grace and love.  “It is by grace you have been saved”  God has “justified you freely by his grace through the redemption that came in Christ Jesus.”  “From the fullness of His grace we have received grace upon grace.”  “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.”

Filled with His grace God commissions us to throw off mouths of gossip and to be His grace givers throughout our lives.  And too many of us forget or underappreciate the great power resting in our mouths.  It’s not enough just to like someone in your heart, it needs to come out of your mouth.  People in our world are starving for encouragement, starving for affirmation, starving for something positive.  The devil loves to tear people down, make them feel awful and use them to tear others down with harmful words and gossip.  God, however, fills us with His grace.  Encourages us by the gospel.  Uses our mouths to be grace givers to share with people the ultimate encouragement which is the good news about sins forgiven in Jesus and he uses our mouths lift others up in their day to day lives: “You did a wonderful job!  Dear, that was an amazing dinner!  I really like that about you!  I’m so proud of you dad!  You do so much for us mom!”

Encouragement comes from the gospel.  The more you know the awesome encouragement, the awesome grace God has given you, the more compelled, motivated, empowered, you will be to not use your words to tear others down, but to use them to build others up and drip God’s grace from your mouth!  Amen.

Free to be kind and gentle!

5th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 6:27-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, You’re driving in your car and all of a sudden you hear a strange ding coming from somewhere in the car and you look down and there on the dash board is one of those dreaded check engine lights indicating that something is not working correctly, something is out of sync, something is failing in your engine.  So what do you do?  Well, there’s a number of things you could do.  You could keep driving your car and ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there.  You could find a piece of black tape – my sister actually did this with her car – and put it over the light so that you don’t have to look at it.  You could find the fuse or the wire that controls the light and disconnect it.  All of those things might have a way of dealing with the light, but none of them really get to the heart of the problem.  In fact, in some cases if you keep driving a car when the check engine light is on you can end up doing some serious damage to the engine.  There’s another option of dealing with that check engine light.  You could take it to a mechanic and have them hook it up to a computer and he could explain to you what the problem with the engine is and fix the problem so that the light turns off.

Well, in a way, anger is kind of like that check engine light.  It can come on suddenly, when you don’t expect it and there’s always a deeper problem, a reason lying underneath that anger.  There may be all sorts of ways to try and deal with anger by covering it up, bottling it up inside, masking it with a cold shoulder or the silent treatment, ignoring it, etc.  But if anger isn’t dealt with it can cause serious damage to our own lives and to the lives of other people.  It can devastate some of the most important things of our life like our careers, our jobs, our families, our marriage, and, yes, even our faith.

This sin of anger really infects us all.  Even my 7 month old baby knows how to get angry.  If mom sets him down when he doesn’t want her to, he knows how to scream and be upset.  My other children know anger, if their toy is taken away by another child, they each know how to scream, to hit, to pinch, to get even.  Even adults know anger well.  Road rage is a common problem in our world.  When people mistreat us, when we get a raw deal, when there’s injustice, when there’s abuse of any kind, or jealousy, all of those things can cause anger.  Now, not all anger is a sin.  Jesus Himself was angry.  In His anger He drove the money changers out of the temple.  There is something called righteous anger.  Righteous anger, however, is only present when God’s honor is at stake.  We may have a righteous anger against sin, against wickedness, against evil, against false teaching that twists God’s Word.  But the truth is, each of us is far more likely to be tempted to unrighteous anger than righteous anger.  And although we may become angry at our situation, at our circumstance in life, at our job, or whatever, what about anger toward other people?  What does God tell us?

That’s where Jesus’ words have a way of striking us right between the eyes.  Why?  Because it’s totally foreign to our nature.  Our sinful nature would never dream of doing what Jesus tells us here.  Our natural reaction is to hate our enemies and to do harm to those who hate us, but Jesus says to do the very opposite: love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.  It would be natural to return evil words with evil words, but Jesus says the opposite: bless them and pray for them.  We might think ok, ok, that’s fine and good as long as they aren’t physically doing anything to me.  Our natural reaction to someone hitting us would be to hit back, but Jesus says to turn the other cheek and if someone takes our coat, to give him our shirt as well, and if someone takes something from us we shouldn’t demand it back.

But wait a minute, we might think.  This is crazy??  Right?  Is Jesus telling us to just let people walk all over us?  What is Jesus’ point?  Well, God wants us to see Him has the One who remains in control no matter.  If revenge is needed, if pay back is needed, God will make sure that it’s taken care of.  As far as it is for us, though, He wants us to repay evil with good so that those who mistreat us will be ashamed and in that way defeat evil by doing what is good.  Letting someone hit us again is better than filling our hearts with anger and resentment that lashes out and wants to get even.  Letting someone take our coat and our shirt would be better than let our hearts be filled with anger and resentment that wants to get even.  Finally, this is Jesus’ point: It is better to suffer in body and in property to every extent than to have our souls taken over by anger and bitterness.

But what if, for instance, a burglar woke me up in the middle of the night banging on the front door insisting to come into my house so that he could take whatever he wants from me.  Is God saying let him do it?  Actually, it would be loving for me to call the police and have the man arrested.   You see, true love looks for the best interest of everyone.  Helping someone in their sin or remain in their sin is not loving.  If someone in my life perpetually abused me and felt no remorse, it would be loving for me to point out the error and separate from that person for a time perhaps even to break the relationship.

Interestingly, the word Jesus uses here is not to like someone like a friend, rather it is to love, to love the unlovable and seek the best interest of the person loved.  It would not be in a person’s best interest to continue in unrepentant sin.  Loving my enemies or loving those who hurt me also means that I don’t get angry with them and look for a way to get even or get back at them in order to see them suffer.  True love means that I care so deeply about other people that I sincerely want what is best for them no matter who they are and ultimately that means faith and eternal salvation.  That’s the true essence of what Jesus said: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Finally, every Christian is foremost concerned about his or her soul and wants others to help, aid, and support them spiritually.  True love would then move me not to allow someone to stay in their unrepentant sin and yet at the same time true love would move me to respond not in anger and rage, but in kindness and forgiveness no matter what someone does to me.  Think abou tit, how much anger would I cling to and harbor if my number one concern with everyone I meet is their eternal welfare?  How much would I fly off the handle, become enraged, yell, scream, when I’m foremost concerned about someone else’s eternal soul?  But how often isn’t our concern not so much with the eternal welfare of others, but our own wants and desires?

So, is what Jesus tells us even possible?  Is it possible to love your enemies?  Is it possible to not get angry?  Finally, as a Christian I can let things go, I’m free from anger, because I can forgive.  Why?  Because I know how much I myself have been forgiven.  God had every right to inflict every single ounce of His eternal wrath against you and me.  God had every right to be angry with us.  God’s anger against us would be totally justified.  God is the owner and Creator of the universe, whatever He decides goes, whatever He says is right and proper.  So if God had decided to be angry with you and me forever for being sinful, He would have been totally justified.

But that’s not who our God is.  God isn’t like that.  Instead of directing His righteous wrath against you and me for our petty little problems and our petty little squabbles, He directed all His wrath against His own Son.  Jesus became the lightning rod for all of God’s righteous anger against sin.  On that very cross God turned this sinful world upside down with His love.  He shook everything up.  He broke the rule of reciprocity.  The rule of reciprocity that otherwise would dominate our lives says, “Whoever does bad to you do bad to them and whoever does good to you do good to them.”  God blew that up on the cross.  He inflicted punishment on the only one who ever did Him right and He showered love on all of us who’ve time and time again done Him wrong!  He punished Jesus for our sins so that He could shower His mercy, love, and grace on you and me!  There He rescued you, there He freed you from anger, there He forgave all your sins, there He made you His own child and heir of eternal life!

Knowing that, seeing that, realizing that, appreciating that makes all the difference for our lives.  Knowing God’s love means we can be loving – even to those who hurt us, even in circumstances that are unpleasant, even when things don’t work out the way we wanted, even when people disappoint us.  Knowing God’s love means we can turn anger down and be loving and gentle instead.

Warning lights in our cars serve a purpose- they warn us of deeper more serious problems.  Temptations to become angry come at us all the time and will continue to come, but perhaps they can serve as a warning to us.  Next time you’re tempted to be angry be reminded of your deeper problem beneath it all: your sin.  But then remember what God has done with all your sins: forgiven them.  Then you can see this life for what it really is: not all that important, but temporary, fleeting, passing.  You can see people in your life, even people who antagonize you, as who they really are: souls bought by the blood of Christ who need to see their sin and their Savior.  Then you can let it go, live freely, free of anger, free of bitterness, and free of resentment, and free to smile and let it go, free to forgive, free to love, and free to be kind and gentle to all.  Amen.

Live Life Purely!

6th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:21-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,  What I have here is the employee handbook that I received for the part-time job that I had while I was at the Seminary studying to be a pastor.  Why I still have it, I’m not sure.  But this handbook details in 24 pages all of the dos and don’ts and policies that employees of this company must follow.  It has all kinds of rules in it: pre-employment policies, in-service meetings, training, substance abuse, personal phone calls, rest and meal breaks, performance reviews, dress and appearance, use of company vehicles, etc.  Then there’s even a separate list of 27 work rules including things like: failing to begin work promptly, no illegal drugs, alcohol, or firearms, falsifying time cards, theft of work property, sleeping on the job, spreading malicious gossip and rumors, even using profane or abusive language while on duty.  And I’m pretty sure that I had to sign some sort of document saying that I agree and will abide by these rules set up by the company.  Perhaps your work place has a similar handbook.

Now, even if there are things in here that I think are rather silly or ridiculous, I, as an employee, had no right to change them or to choose to disobey.  If I did, the company had every right to lay me off or fire me.  And over the course of about 4 years working at the company I saw plenty of people who were “let go.”  Such standards or requirements are part and parcel of our society.  Not only companies have set standards by which they follow, but also the government.  There are cleanliness and health standards that every food service company is required to abide by.  There are tax requirements, conduct requirements, the list could go on, and typically for every infraction of a standard there is a corresponding consequence.  We might not like them, but if we choose to disobey them, we can expect the consequences.

Well, ought not God have expectations for the creatures whom He created, who belong to Him?  He does and they are the highest of expectations.  In fact, we get a sampling in Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  Unfortunately, however, humans at Jesus day’ and even humans today have taken God’s laws and twisted them to mean something that God didn’t mean.

Our text begins with Jesus addressing the 5th commandment.  Some, however, took the 5th commandment and thought, “Well, as long as I don’t actually murder someone, I’m keeping the 5th commandment.”  What Jesus tells us here is that you can actually “murder” someone in your heart or with your words.  Holding a grudge or insulting someone or calling someone a name or anger or hate or bitterness all stem from the same poisonous root as murder.  And what does Jesus say?  “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  If I mock someone or insult someone with my words or even in my thoughts, I put myself on the fast track to hell.

Jesus goes on about someone going to worship and realizing someone has something against him and first going to be reconciled with that person.  What Jesus is teaching us here is that we cannot pretend that our horizontal relationships with other people have no bearing on our vertical relationship with our God.  If we have a broken horizontal relationship with another person, that can damage our vertical relationship with God.  Likewise having a vertical relationship with God must affect our horizontal relationships with others.  If I refuse to seek to be reconciled with someone (whether or not the other person is willing) or if I refuse to forgive someone who’s sinned against me from my heart, then there must be a major issue between me and God.  Having a good relationship with God necessitates me wanting good relationships (at least on my part) with other people.

Jesus goes on.  The thought of the day was that as long as you don’t actually go and sleep with someone who is not your spouse, you haven’t committed adultery.  And that thought is very much alive today.  I’ve actually had married people tell me, “It’s ok to look, just don’t touch.”  What does Jesus say?  If you so as much as look at another person (man or a woman) with impure thoughts or lustful thoughts, you put yourself in the danger of being thrown into hell!  A person can commit a terrible, damnable sin without actually doing anything, just inside the heart.  Then Jesus addresses divorce.  In fact, God hates all divorce.  Why?  Because no matter what there’s sin involved.  A man may in essence divorce his wife without realizing he is doing it by simply having an affair or committing adultery and thereby breaking the marriage bond.

And in the last part of our text Jesus addresses how we use words.  The thought at the time was that some oaths were more “weightier” than others, as if what we say in one place or the words we use carries more weight in one context than in another.  Jesus scraps that whole thought and simply points out that we shouldn’t use any of our words carelessly.  The tendency to use words carelessly, to break promises, to mislead comes straight from Satan, the father of empty, misleading, and broken promises.

So how do you measure up?  How do I measure up?  Have we used our words or thoughts to “murder” someone?  Have we allowed broken relationships with others affect our relationship with God?  Have we committed adultery in our hearts?  Have we used our words carelessly or frivolously?  If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us must come to the conclusion that we have.  And since we have, we’ve broken God’s most basic law and failed to meet his expectations and should be fully ready to meet the consequences: to be thrown in the fires of hell.  That’s what any employer would do; that’s what any judge would do.

But that’s not what God did.  Instead of casting us into hell, God sent the very one who spoke these words.  It was Jesus who never committed a sin and never held an impure thought, even once.  He remained completely pure in his thoughts and words and actions.  So he could be the perfect Lamb of God and sacrifice his life for your life, his death for your death, his suffering hell for your suffering hell.  You see, after convicting us of our sin and seeing how much we deserve hell, we cling to our Savior who’s righteous life and innocent death paid for our sins.  Then we have a whole new attitude when it comes to God’s commands.  We don’t see them as some sort of checklist or point system to follow to “get in good with God,” no, rather, in thankfulness we now look to God’s will as our opportunity to give him thanks.  These words take on a new meaning for the Christian.  What is Jesus telling me about how to live to say thank you to him?  Our attitude is, “How can I do what you want, O Lord?”  “How can I follow you?”  “How can I serve you?”

Yes God doesn’t want us to murder, but there’s more than that.  God doesn’t want us to even harbor anger or bitterness in our hearts toward someone else.  Yes, there is such thing as righteous anger, but that’s only when God’s honor is at stake, if someone is trying to discredit God.  Otherwise there is no reason for anger or insults, they aren’t found on the lips or in the heart of those who want to follow Christ.

Yes God doesn’t want you or me to commit adultery.  But there’s more!  He doesn’t even want lustful thoughts to enter our hearts!  Any sin leads away from God and when sin gets a foothold in our lives and we repeat that sin again and again and again we put ourselves in danger of losing our faith and going to hell!  So, Jesus directs: cut if off!  If something is causing me to sin, cut it off.  If watching a movie causes me to sin or lust, cut it off!  It would be better to never what a movie again, than to go to hell.  If a friend is leading me to sin or leading me to lust, cut it off!  It is better to not have any friends, than to go to hell.  If looking at something causes me to sin, move your neck so you don’t even look!

In a world so full of divorce where the question is way too often how to divorce amicably rather than whether to divorce or not.  God’s simple direction is: don’t divorce at all!  Rather, as God’s people, be faithful to your marriage vows and reflect the beauty of a Godly marriage to the world.  Live purely.  Don’t break the marriage by committing adultery, don’t be unfaithful, don’t break the marriage for any flippant reason.

Yes our words are powerful.  Instead of trying to “reinforce” our words with frivolous oaths because no one will believe that we are telling the truth unless we bolster them, God wants us to be faithful with our words.  He wants us to be honest, to use our words in order to say what we mean and only what we mean.  He wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no and people know us to be so faithful and honest that’s all that’s needed.

The psalmist says, “Blessed is the person…whose delight is in the law of the Lord.”  Yes, washed clean in the blood of Jesus, we WANT to follow God’s will and His ways and what He wants.  Amen.

He is Coming. Live in His Light!

1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever!  Amen.  In the name of Jesus, who once came to redeem us and will come again to take us home forever, dear friends in Christ,  “But you promised!”  How often haven’t you heard those words before?  If you have children or grandchildren, it’s quite likely that you’ve heard those words a lot.  Perhaps you promised to take your child to the park or out sledding or to a store after they cleaned their room, but then something came up that you couldn’t avoid and you had to go back on your words.  And, especially children, have a way of remembering exactly what you promised, “But you promised!”  Generally, we like promises.  They give us something to look forward to.   But the problem is, we aren’t in control and even if we might make a promise, we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to fulfill that promise.  Well, God makes promises too.  But unlike us God is able to keep ALL of His promises and it’s God’s promises that keep us going.

In our text for this morning through the prophet Isaiah God made a promise.  He first made this promise to the people living in the land of Judah in the 700s BC.  What was life like back then?  Well, after a brief time of prosperity in Judah under kings Uzziah and Jotham, things seemed to be good outwardly- worship continued, the economy was growing, worship services were well attended- but for many it was just hypocrisy.  People’s hearts weren’t really devoted to God, they were sucked into treasuring earthly prosperity.  Then Ahaz took over as king and things really slipped.  He made images to the false god Baal and promoted open idolatry in Jerusalem.  And so, God allowed the King of Israel to attack, and Syria, and the Philistines, and the Edomites.  Then God graciously allowed Ahaz to ask for help from Him, and what did Ahaz do?  He rejected God’s help and sought the help of the King of Assyria- the growing world power.  Assyria took care of Judah’s enemies but then forced them to pay tribute.  And yet, in spite of all this, Ahaz continued to get worse.  He put an altar of a false god into the temple of the Lord and sacrificed his sons to false gods.  And, as usually happens, as the leaders, so the people.  So, in chapter 1, God said, “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.  Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children give to corruption!  They have forsaken the Lord…turned their backs on him.”

And then right after chapter 1 comes chapter 2.  (Go figure).  But instead of lambasting the people for their rebellion, there comes this wonderful promise:  “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”  Here God is using picture language.  The Lord’s temple was built on a mountain in the city of Jerusalem, it was mount Moriah, the same place where Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac.  And the purpose of the temple in Jerusalem was to symbolize God living among His people.  And so, the temple, the mountain, the place, also sometimes referred to as Mount Zion, became a picture of the Lord Himself and His people, the Church.  In other words, Isaiah is saying, the pinnacle, the highest point of all history will be when the Lord fulfills the purpose of the temple and fulfills His promise to come to this earth and live here Himself and establish His Kingdom.

And since God kept that promise “all nations stream to it.” Whenever people hear the gospel, the record of how God fulfilled His promises, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens people bringing them into God’s Kingdom no matter what race, nation, or background they are.  And the people who are streaming into God’s Kingdom are saying, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  When people hear the gospel and are brought to faith it excites them to share it with others.  And when people hear the message of the gospel, hear what God has done for them, hear how God has rescued and saved them, it also excites them to hear and learn what God says and to do what God wants.

And so, after Jesus completed the work of salvation, the word of the gospel went out from Jerusalem and spread across the earth and across time, so that, at just the right time, it came to you and God brought you into His eternal kingdom.  And the result?  Peace.  True peace.  Conflict and discord between people and nations are almost always the result of self-glorification or selfishness.  “I’m better, I’m more important, I want more for me.”  But when God brings someone to faith that person realizes that he or she is completely sinful and that everything in life is corrupted with sin, so, why should I fight over it?  Instead, Christ, who rules in our hearts, settles our hearts through His Word bringing peace and even more, bringing spiritual peace: peace of conscience, peace of heart, peace of mind and soul, knowing God is my Savior and not my enemy.  Knowing that I have the forgiveness Christ won for me.  I live at peace with others and the world around me because God has rescued me and will rescue me by taking me to heaven.  That peace is what Isaiah pictures when he said, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”  With Christ ruling in my heart I have no need to go to war with anyone.

So, what amazing promises are held out for God’s Old Testament people here!  The Lord will come, His kingdom will be established over all the hills or kingdoms of the earth, people from all over the world will stream to worship the one true God, people from all over the world will long to learn about God and walk in His ways by doing what He commands, and there will be true peace – inward peace with God that leads to outward peace with others and with the world.  Amazing!  And what do God’s promises do for the people of Judah?  “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”  In other words, since you have such amazing promises, live as God wants you to, get rid of the idols, stop treasuring gold and silver, treasure the Lord instead!  Don’t look for earthly glory, look forward to eternal glory!  Stop being hypocrites when you worship God just going through the motions, but worship such a God from your heart!

And what does this mean for us today?  God’s promise to come and the great blessings He promised with His coming were meant to move His people to live for Him.  What God promised through Isaiah some 700 years before Christ was born has continually taken place even up to today.  Nations and kingdoms have come and gone throughout the years, except one, God’s Kingdom, His mountain, which is raised above every other.  Also, Christians from all different backgrounds are brought to faith and with a godly excitement want to hear God’s Word, want to walk in His ways, want to invite others to God’s Kingdom.  Christians have experienced true peace, spiritual peace in Christ.

And yet, does this description characterize us?    The mountain of the Lord’s temple is chief, raised above all others, in other words God’s Kingdom is far greater and more important than any kingdom of this earth.  But are we more caught up with the kingdoms of this world, the politics, the news, does what we hear or read in the news affect our attitudes or moods, or, do we maintain a simple trust in God that His kingdom is far greater than a United States, a China, or an Iran?  Are we “streaming” to God to hear His Word and receive His Supper every chance we get?  Are we eager to learn from God?  Eager to walk in His ways?  Eager to share His gospel with others?  Do we live at peace?  Are we ready or will Christ’s coming catch us by surprise?

To a people terribly straying away from Him, God came with unexpected grace here.  He promised the OT Israelites  the coming Savior and a glorious new Kingdom.  And in great grace God did come.  But not just for the Israelites, He came for the Gentiles, the Germans, the Norwegians, the Americans, the Native Americans, the Chinese, He came for you and me!  He came to give us the peace that really counts, the peace of Christ and His forgiveness.  God kept that promise and one day He’ll keep His other promise too, His promise to return at any time and take us into His kingdom forever.

So, as we prepare for Christ’s first coming and as we live ready for Christ’s 2nd coming, let us take to heart Isaiah’s words.  Let us see God’s kingdom as most important in the world.  Let us be eager to hear God’s Word at every opportunity, let us be eager to learn God’s ways, Let us be eager to walk in His ways- showing His kindness and care to our own families, to our fellow Christians, and finally to any and all.  Come, house of St. Mark’s, Christ is certainly coming, let us walk in the light of the Lord!  Amen.