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See the Savior

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Recently I watched a video of the procedure known as Lasik eye surgery. In this surgery, a laser is used to create a thin circular flap in the exterior tissue of the cornea. That flap is then folded back to give access to the underlying cornea. A highly specialized laser is then used to reshape the cornea so that it more accurately focuses light on the retina for improved vision. I sat in awe as I watched the patient’s sight improve almost instantly because of this procedure.

I bring this up because today we are going to talk about sight. Specifically, spiritual sight. What we are invited to see today is that with greater precision that Lasik surgery, Jesus Himself provides the vision necessary so that we may see Him as our Savior.

Today’s text reveals to us a man who is blind. Oh, he can see physically just fine. But as far as spiritual sight goes, he is completely and totally blind.

The text says, And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Here was a man on a mission, searching for an honest answer. We might wonder how many others he had asked this question as he desperately sought the assurance of knowing that his salvation would be secure. Unlike the Pharisees, he was not trying to trick or trap Jesus. No, this man legitimately saw Jesus as the One who could finally help him. He was even willing to kneel before Jesus, to take a position of humility before Him, in hopes of finally getting his answer.

It is an answer that we have so often seek after as well as we ask the same question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In a survey taken in the early 1990’s, it was revealed that three out of four Lutherans said that they were trying to attain the ultimate gift of heaven and eternal life by “living good lives,” “obeying the commandments,” or “being good Christians.”

What this statistic clearly shows us is that we Lutherans are not immune to the same blindness that this man had who knelt at Jesus’ feet. It is the blindness of self-righteousness. Like this man must have concluded, we tell ourselves the lie that we are good people. And we further that lie when we compare ourselves to others; then we see ourselves as better people. A daily diet of this behavior puffs up pride which only keeps us from clearly seeing the truth before us.

The truth is that pride, more often than not, is a mask of insecurity. Though this man kneeling before Jesus pridefully declares that he has kept all the commandments from his youth (which we will examine more later), he still is insecure about his salvation. 

The same can so often be said of us. We put on errs before others that we have life all together, but the truth is, that actually, deep down, we are really an insecure people. We bury our past and all the hurts hoping that if we push them down hard enough and long enough that eventually they will go away. We fret wondering if we have done enough to right all of the wrongs we have done. But on the outside no one would ever know. We put on the smiling face and tell everyone we are ‘just fine’ so that no one really knows what is actually going on within us.

But below the surface of that facial façade, we are battered and bruised by the reality of this sin-filled, fallen world. All too often we bear the burdens of being betrayed by those that said they would love and care for us. Inside, we are left with one question: What do I have to do? What do I have to do to make things right? All too often when we ask this question, we begin to view life as if it were a ladder of achievement or a set of steps in hopes of gaining security in our lives.

And it doesn’t take long for us to look at God’s commandments in a similar way. We begin to see the commandments as a checklist of sorts. If only I do this, then I will finally be in favor with God. If only I accomplish that, I will finally be able to make up for what I did back then. Because after all, we all have sins that haunt us and plague us, right? Things that we have done or failed to do, and the devil knows just how to press the right buttons to shake the security of our salvation.

So what do we naturally turn to? We turn inward toward ourselves. What must I do to inherit eternal life? What do I need to do to make this right? Isn’t that what we ask in a relationship that might be on the rocks. “Just tell me…what do I have to do to make this right, to save this friendship, to heal this family, to fix this marriage?” It doesn’t take much for us to ask the same question before God as well.

It just goes to show that we think much more highly of ourselves than we ought to when come before God. We actually have the audacity to think that we could do something to achieve eternal life, just like this man who knelt before Jesus. We actually think that we are somehow capable of being ‘good’ before God. (Pause)

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother (Mark 10:18-19).

When we first examine these verses, it appears that Jesus is telling this man that eternal life is, in fact, a ladder or a set of stairs to climb. It looks like he is saying, do all these things and you are good to go. But that is far from what Jesus is doing here.

With laser like precision, Jesus is exposing this man’s false sense of security. With the care of a surgeon, he is unveiling this man’s sinful pride and arrogance. He is leading this blind man to see just who the Savior is.

And he said to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:20-22).

Here was a man who had found his security in life. Unfortunately for him as he walked away disheartened and sorrowful, his security was not in the Savior. For this man, his security was in his wealth.

But that’s the thing, when we fail to see Jesus as the Savior, we become insecure when it comes to salvation. And rightfully so. But what happens is that we are inclined then to misplace our security. Maybe it is in our money or our possessions. Maybe it is in our job title or the position we hold in life. Maybe it is in the affirmation and affection of a person, a parent, a spouse, or even a child. Maybe it is in ourselves and our accomplishments.

Here’s the thing though: The security of salvation comes only in the One who is Good, only in the One who saves. And today the Savior who is the only One who is good places before us the commandments of God to show us that we are sinners. He removes our spiritual blindness so that we may all see we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. He helps us to see that we will never find security in what we do before God or anyone else. An inheritance is not earned. An inheritance is a gift. A gift given by none other than the One who opens our spiritual eyes. His name is Jesus. He is our Savior.

It was our Savior Jesus who was the One who came and followed the law to perfection. He did that because we were not able. He did that because just like He looked at that man and loved him, so He loves us. In love for us, He went to the cross to bear our burdens and our sins, to die our death so that we would have an eternal inheritance. With eyes of love, He looked upon all of humankind from that cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

All too often we live out the lie thinking we can do all that is needed to be perfect. But, Jesus knew full well that there was nothing we could do to earn eternal life. He knew we couldn’t complete the to-do list of the commandments. He saw us in our battered and bruised state in this world. And like so many of us have had to endure, He was betrayed by one His own so that we would not have to do anything to secure our salvation. He did it for us. It’s finished. It’s done.

Let that sink in for a moment. For all of us who constantly find ourselves burdened by the weight of our sins and those committed against us, take a deep breath and take this in:

As Jesus breathed His last, you may breathe a sigh of relief. The separation is ended. Your salvation is secure. The work is done. You don’t have to work your way to Jesus. He came to you.

And He comes to you once again today. Through His Word and His Holy Supper. He is here for you. To forgive you. To strengthen you. To sustain you. Be at peace, and see your Savior before you.

It is just as we will soon sing after receiving the Savior’s body and blood in the Nunc Dimittis:

(8am) Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.

(10:30am) Lord, bid Your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled. These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, This child so long foretold. This is the Savior of the world.

Your Savior comes to you and He calls you to follow Him. He will lead you through this valley of the shadow of death, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So, take a deep breath. You have nothing to fear. Your salvation is secure. See your Savior is here, and He is looking in love upon you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Pastor Stefan Wismar

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text for this 20th Sunday after Pentecost is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark, chapter 10.

          I was finishing up teaching Bible Class one Sunday morning and part of that Bible class was looking at those Bible passages that deal with the subject of divorce. As I was packing up Mike approached me with his Bible open and pointed to Mark 10:11, “And Jesus said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”” And then he said, “So, I’m screwed then?” You see Mike had gotten married very young and just a year or so after that marriage both him and his wife, with no infidelity involved, realized they had made a mistake. Citing irreconcilable differences with no malice they divorced and each moved on with their lives. Later Mike fell in love married, had two children and along the way he and his family had reconnected to their faith in Christ. By the time I was his pastor they had become quite committed to the work of the congregation with Mike even serving as President.

          So why bring it up? I bring it up because it illustrates that even a divorce that occurred years and years before without even a fight or a mean word spoken. A divorce that was all legal and in good order. And yet still the divorce haunted his conscience with the realization of its sinfulness. And of course, no way to go back and fix it. Such is the power of the most intimate law between a man and a woman when it has been transgressed.

          And this is at least a starting point for understanding why Jesus answers the way in which he does when the Pharisees ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The question hinges upon one’s understanding of ‘lawful.’ Jesus points them to answer from the laws of Moses and they answer correctly: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Jesus then reminds them that the precedent for Moses civil legislation regarding divorce was because their hardness of heart. In other words, Moses made the law as a practical necessity to deal with a terrible situation: Men were abandoning their wives for other women. So Moses made a law to make it clear that the divorce was official.

But Jesus immediately points to a higher law that is prior to Moses. The law at the beginning when God made them male and female. The law at the beginning when God said a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. And what God has joined together in this way Jesus makes clear that man should not separate. The disciples ask him later about this issue and Jesus is even more stark in his reply: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” And Jesus, in Mark, does not cite the exception that he does in Matthew where he adds the “except for sexual immorality.”

          When Jesus points to the higher law that was given at the beginning in contrast to the civil law of Moses he asking us to wrestle with how our understanding of the civil law relates to that of the moral law. The easiest way to summarize this is with the question, “Just because it is legal; does that make it moral?” Christian Ethicist Scott B. Rae in his book Moral Choices, answers the question in part in this way, “The law is the moral minimum. It is the moral floor, not the ceiling!

The majority of our most interesting moral dilemmas occur when confronted with the question of how far beyond what the law requires our morality demands us to go. In other words, how far beyond mere compliance with the law do my moral convictions tell me I have to go? Most of the pressing demands of morality are in those spaces where the law is not definitive, where the law is silent, or where the law allows one to do something unethical.”

          When Jesus challenges the Pharisees with the law at the beginning he is telling the Pharisees, your divorce may be legal but it is NOT moral. In fact, your immorality even has a specific name: Adultery. He is saying, “Your piece of paper makes it legal but it does not excuse your lack of love and concern for the well-being of the one with whom you have been joined in holy matrimony. You have carelessly and callously broken a sacred union. And no ‘certificate’ undoes the hurt and bitterness and anger and brokenness you have wrought.”

          A certificate seems an easy ‘legal’ way out of a marriage. And it isn’t a whole lot different today. Minnesota is a ‘no fault’ divorce state. This means that if you or your spouse believe that your marriage is irretrievably broken (meaning, so badly damaged that it can’t be saved), and the judge agrees, then the court will issue a divorce order. There is no need to get into why the marriage failed, or who was at fault. The only difference, it seems, between this and Moses’ divorce legislation is that at least in Minnesota you have to go before the judge.

          Of course, you still need to divide the property and deal with the children and this is where things can get nasty. It becomes the place to enact one’s vengeance. However, in a ‘no fault’ state community property is generally divided equally between the spouses while each spouse keeps his or her separate property. Community property is distributed equitably which isn’t necessarily a 50/50 split. But all others estates, assets and earning are divided in this manner.

Which means it doesn’t matter how much a spouse cheated they still get equitable distribution of the shared wealth.

This would seem to be in place to prevent undo vengeance. Maybe it does, but it does not prevent bitterness. It does not prevent anger bordering on rage. And it does not undo the brokenness. Why? Precisely because the civil law is a moral floor not a ceiling. It is a bare minimum requirement designed to keep society somewhat together. So, the divorce may be taken care of easily enough ‘legally.’ But everyone feels that something much greater has been undone. Not just the ones getting the divorced but their children and their families and their friends. Everyone feels a little bit of the pain. Everyone feels it because everyone knows the higher law that Jesus points us to: The moral law given at the beginning that man should not separate. The moral law written upon our hearts. And when it is violated, even if the civil law dissolves it easily, there is still damage. Severe, deep, painful hurt and despair. Again, the question is “Just because it is legal; does that make it moral?” Or more specifically, “Just because my divorce was legal, does that make me moral?” Or more stark, “Just because my divorce was legal, does that still make me an adulterer?”

          The weight of such questions when seriously considered and honestly answered is overwhelming. Hence, the immediate response of Mike in my conversation with him after Bible class that day: “So, I’m screwed then?” By which he meant, “I guess this sin isn’t forgivable.” He thought for many years it was fine because it was legal and they both thought it ok. Now he wasn’t sure. And there was no way to go back and fix it.

          Divorce hurts. Even if the exception for sexual immorality is at play—there is still so much brokenness. And there is sin—even if that sin isn’t adultery. There is sin before and there is sin after. The pain of divorce lingers. And it becomes the occasion for yet more sin.

Anyone touched by a divorce knows this. Perhaps this is why the Lord God chose to use it as a way to express his broken relationship with Israel in the Old Testament.

          Through his prophet Hosea the Lord tells his chosen people Israel that he is going to divorce them. Divorce them for their unfaithfulness. Hosea was commanded to be a living illustration of this brokenness: Commanded to marry an adulteress. Then he was to name his daughter ‘No Mercy’ and his son ‘Not my People,’ so that Israel would understand that they are children of spiritual adultery. They had cheated on the one true God by adulterating themselves with other gods. And as children of adultery they would receive no mercy and they would no longer be God’s chosen people. If you read Hosea the language is rough even if it is true. Rough as all that divorce entails.

          But God is not like us. He only divorced his people to bring them to repentance. But through Hosea he kept promising that a day would come. A day would come when he would restore them. A day when he would have mercy on No Mercy and he would say to Not My People you are my people. A day when they would in love call upon their God as, “My Husband.” A day when the seemingly unforgivable sin of spiritual adultery would be forgiven. A day when the seemingly unrepairable wounds of spiritual adultery would be repaired.

          That day was a day when darkness covered the earth and the Lord of Life, who called all things into existence and called them good, hung on a cross and pleaded with God the Father to forgive. To forgive because he was willing to take on our sin and bear its pain.

          “So I’m screwed then. I guess my divorce isn’t forgivable.” That thought can haunt. But God in Christ is clear.

From the mouth of Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” You know only Jesus can say that because every sin is spiritual adultery against him. Only Jesus can say that because Jesus is always faithful in his love even when we are not. And because of that love, only Jesus has paid the price of all sin through his suffering and death on the cross. It is his to forgive or not to forgive. He chooses to forgive. And so it is that having paid the bridal dowry with his innocent, suffering and death he reconciles with his people and marries them again and calls them His bride.

O Bride of Christ, rejoice; Exultant raise thy voice

To hail the day of glory Foretold in sacred story.

Hosanna, praise, and glory!

Our King, we bow before Thee.

          When the pain of divorce lingers and haunts. When the bitterness you thought was long gone pops up again. When you thought you had finally forgiven and yet you still have thoughts of revenge. When you feel you’re screwed and this is never going to get better. Your bridegroom Jesus is still here. Still here. Still full of love. Still full of forgiveness. Come again and again to worship where your bridegroom offers forgiveness and life. Open his book and hear his promises of comfort and hope and peace. Hear it. Read it. So that you will be sure. For where Jesus is concerned, divorced or otherwise: There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

From Complaining to Praying

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Does anyone ever complain in your household or in your workplace? Do you ever complain? You know, as I thought about it, I think moms are the ones who have to deal with the most complaints. And I think it most often has a lot to do with food. So often this is how it goes: Mom works really hard after a long day of caring for the kids to get supper on the table. Then the first few bites are eaten, and here it goes: “I don’t like this! This isn’t good! Can I have something else?” And it really gets worse when Dad has the audacity to join in. Suddenly all that work that made that meal possible is negated by a collection of complaints.

The people of Israel had their fair share of complaints as they wandered in the wilderness after having been set free from slavery in Egypt. It had been over a year since their departure from slavery, and all the provisions they had brought with them had run out. Now they were left with the manna from heaven. Scripture tells us that the manna was like coriander seed and the people would gather it, grind it, boil it, make cakes out of it, and it tasted like cakes baked with oil. But as Veggie Tales says, it is a dish that is filling, but bland. Day in and day out, they ate the same thing. So they complained.

“And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).

At first, it is hard to imagine why these people would complain. After all, they had been slaves for 430 years, and now they were free. Who cares what is on the menu now? Then I am reminded of being in Kenya. One of the main dishes that is served in Kenya is ugali. Ugali has the appearance of mashed potatoes, but it is really only corn flower and water. It is very filling, but it is bland. For a Kenyan, it is what can be afforded day in and day out. For us spoiled Americans, if we aren’t careful, we complain.

We complain a lot, don’t we? What’s at the heart of a complaint? Why do we complain? Almost without fail, we complain because something isn’t going our way. The dictionary defines a complaint as “a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable.” In essence, it is that I am forced to bear a burden that I just don’t want to bear.

Moses found himself in that position with the people of Israel. He would walk by the tents of the people, and without fail, they would be complaining. Ever been in a situation like that before, where it seems like everywhere you turn there is negativity? It can really bring a person down. And that’s the way it was for Moses. So what does he do? He complains. After all, as it so often goes, negativity breeds more negativity.

Listen once again to his complaint to the Lord: Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:11-15).

This is one down dude. He looks around him and sees 600,000 men, plus women and children, probably about two million people. He sees them all and thinks that it is his responsibility to care for all of them. Like several other prophets throughout the Old Testament, he wanted to die rather than put up with this grumbling bunch. For Moses, the burden was just too big.

Perhaps you can relate. I am well aware that we have a lot of people in this congregation going through very difficult circumstances. And I am also aware that there are many circumstances that I am not aware of that people are enduring. Life is hard. A lot of times it is because of the tangled web of sin we have woven for ourselves, and other times it is simply because we live in a sin-filled fallen world. Either way, life is tough going. So, it’s no wonder that we complain.

But as we look at our text, there is a stark difference with how the complaints are handled. The people of Israel sat around by their tents and complained among each other. We’ve been in those tents before, haven’t we? The dinner table. The office. One person starts griping, and before long, everyone’s grumbling away as if the sky were falling.

Then there is Moses. What does he do with his complaint? He took it to the Lord. Instead of complaining to Aaron or Joshua or anyone else, almost like a form of gossip, he takes his complaint to the only One who can do anything about it. He humbles himself by laying his burdens at the feet of the Lord in prayer, confidently trusting that he will be both heard and answered.

Now the answer he gets from God is not what he wanted. Remember, Moses wanted to die. Instead of death, he gets help. Help from 70 elders to help him carry the load of leadership among nearly two million of God’s people. Help that Moses rejoices in when Eldad and Medad start prophesying in the camp. What relief there must have been for Moses to see that the burden was no longer his to bear alone.

Then again, it was never his to bear alone. These were God’s people after all. He had set them free from slavery. He had saved them from the hands of the Egyptians by allowing them to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. And He had provided food to fall from heaven in the wilderness. It was all because of God. Moses was merely his instrument to carry out this task before them.

But that’s how it goes when we get to complaining, isn’t it? When we complain, we fail to see the countless ways our God continues to sustain us. We fail to see that “He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. He defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” Instead of thanking and praising Him, serving and obeying Him, we complain.

So, the next time any of us are tempted to complain, follow the example of Moses and lay it all out at the feet of the Lord in prayer. After all, life isn’t easy. It’s a difficult world we live in, and there is a lot we can’t handle. I know a lot of people like to say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Well, that’s not in God’s Word. God doesn’t not tempt us beyond our ability and He will provide a way of escape, but there is nothing that says He won’t give us more than He can handle. If anything, He constantly gives us more than we can handle, just like He did for Moses. And the result was that Moses leaned upon His Lord all the more.

It is as Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV).

Though our God had every right to complain about us, to declare us unsatisfactory or unacceptable (as Webster defined a complaint)…though He had every right to complain about us, in love for us He invites us to turn our complaints into prayers. He invites us to cast our burdens upon Him because He cares for us.

Just like He was for Moses, He is here to help us. Now like Moses, that help may not come in the way we think it should go, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t help us. “He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children as their dear Father.”

We don’t have to fear going before the Lord with anything that weighs upon our hearts and minds, be it a complaint or anything else. After all, He is our omniscient God; He already knows everything anyway. So, why not lay it all out there before our God in the sure and certain confidence that He will answer us according to His will?

That’s how it was for Jesus too while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. If ever there was a man who had reason to complain, it was Jesus. Here He was being directed by His Father to be crucified for the sins of the whole world. Talk about a burden to bear. A burden He shares with His disciples in saying: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39). The Gospel of Luke also tells us: And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

And yet through all the sorrow and agony, He still submitted to the will of His Father. Even though it meant pain and suffering, He still pressed forward with fulfilling the will of the Father. He bore the burden of your sins and mine upon Calvary. And there upon the cross, He uttered the most heart-wrenching complaint that has ever been heard: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It is a forsakenness that none of us can ever relate to, nor will we ever have to relate to. For when Jesus was forsaken on that cross for your sins and mine, He made sure that we never would be. We are forgiven. We are saved eternally. We will never have to be alone. And our prayers, complaints and all, will never be responded to in silence.

Now when our heavenly Father looks at us, He sees His beloved Son Jesus, and He delights in hearing our prayers, every last one of them. But consider this the next time complaints arise in your mind. Take a moment and think about and meditate about Jesus in that Garden of Gethsemane. Ponder those drops of sweat that were like blood pouring from His brow. Consider the agony that He endured. And then focus on His words of ‘not my will, but Thine be done.’ And watch and see how God turns your complaints into prayers of thanks and praise, for how God’s will was done for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Comforting Words

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It is my understanding that when someone is wandering in a desert, that their eyes have a way of playing tricks on them. But it’s really no trick at all. A mirage is a natural occurrence when the surface is hot and the air is cool. When light enters through the cool air into the hot air just above the burning sands, the rays bend creating an image that looks as though the surface might be wet. So for a wanderer in the desert wilderness, it certainly makes sense why someone might run after a mirage hoping to cool their parched tongue with a drink of water. But alas, a mirage is only an optical illusion. There is no water to be had.

To put our hope in an illusion can only lead to one result: death. Like a wanderer in the desert wilderness, anyone who tries to quench their thirst with sand from a mirage will only die as a result.

Isaiah writes comforting words for God’s people who find themselves wandering in a desert wilderness of sin and death. His words are words of comfort for us as well so that we may all be directed away from the mirages which only lead to death and toward the only One who can truly quench our thirst and give us eternal life.

Listen once again to our text: Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water (Isaiah 35:4-7a).

For Judah, the outlook was bleak at best. Enemies surrounded them. It would not be long and the nation of Babylon would enter in and drive them into exile. Like their forefathers who wandered the wilderness with Moses, they too would soon be wandering in a land away from home. It would not be long and they would be desperately hoping for these words of Isaiah to come into fruition.

And even though his words would come to fruition, even though Babylon would be overcome by the nation of Persia, and even though King Cyrus would allow God’s people to return home and build the temple once again, Isaiah had the people of Judah looking ahead much further than that.

There was a far greater promise that was yet to be fulfilled in their homeland that they were to fix their eyes upon. This would be no mirage off in the distance. This was the fulfillment of a promise that had been passed down from generation to generation ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The comforting words of Genesis, chapter three tell us that the offspring of Eve would come and He would crush the head of the serpent. The evil one would be destroyed. He would be destroyed, and all reason for fear would be removed.

You see, it’s one thing when comforting words are spoken. It is a whole ‘nother thing when those words are actually backed up with the action of a person. And in this case, that man would be Jesus. He would be the One to come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He would come and save his people.

But He would come and save them from far greater enemies than Babylon or Persia or anyone else. He would come and save His people from sin, death, and the devil. In fact, that’s exactly what the angel told Joseph as Jesus entered this world: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 18:20-21). 

That’s exactly what He did on the cross of Calvary. And all along the way leading up to the cross, He fulfilled the prophecies and promises that had been told about Him. In fact, our Gospel reading is evidence of that. There was a man who had a speech impediment and was completely deaf. But Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spit, touched his tongue and the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released. Just like Isaiah had prophesied, the mute man was no doubt singing for joy.

How comforting is it to know that we have a God who backs up everything He says and everything that was prophesied and promised about Him. As it says, in the book of Titus, God never lies. What He says is no illusion. It is no mirage off in the distance which only disappoints. No, our God is faithful to His Word from beginning to end.

That’s what makes it hard to fathom that as we navigate the Scriptures and see God’s people in action, more often than not they are steeped in rebellion. More often than not they are going away from God rather than following Him. It is as if they are fixated on a mirage off in the distance hoping that it provides something greater than what God can provide. It’s so baffling. Why drink the sand, if there is ample to drink from the One who truly is Living Water?

Then again, how many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we allow our eyes to get fixated on the false promises of this world? “Get rich, and you will be happy.” “Buy this, and you will finally be satisfied.” Do this, and you will finally please everybody.” But every one is a false hope. Every one is a mirage that is only like drinking sand in a desert which leads to death.

Yet, we still get caught up in it, don’t we? We work more and more hoping for a better life, but for what? A few extra bucks? I am reminded about a line that my home pastor used in a sermon once. He said: “No one ever laid on their death bed and said, ‘I wish I would have worked more.’”

And no doubt no one ever bought anything and was ever satisfied. Not in our consumer culture where even when you buy it, there is already a new model that’s being released. We are a society that teaches that enough is never enough. I have even thought of moving to Africa just to get away from it all. But then, as soon as I got off the airplane in Kenya, what is before my very eyes: a large billboard for the latest smartphone. So much for getting away from it all!

And when it comes to pleasing people, there is simply nothing you can do to please everybody. To try and be all things to all people, no matter how hard you try never works. Because invariably, there will always be someone that you have let down. And besides, we are called upon to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10), which means in this post-Christian culture we are going to upset a whole host of people if we are to remain faithful.

Needless to say, we all get caught up in chasing after the mirages of this world. So, where do we turn? Where are we to go in this wilderness filled with blazing sand? The book of Hebrews rightly tells us to, Fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what the Old Testament was intended for as it pointed to the coming of the Christ-child. That’s what the New Testament is intended for as it reveals His death and resurrection for us and points us forward to His return.

As we mark Rally Sunday today, I can’t emphasize enough as pastor that we need to be in the Word, Old and New Testament alike. If we are to look anywhere else for comfort, we will only come up with a mouth full of sand which leads to death. But, here in the Word of God is where Jesus is for us. He is the Word that became flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). Which means that prioritizing of the Divine Worship Service, Bible Class, and Sunday School are essential. Rightly ordering our weeks and our lives around the Word of God who became flesh by entering this desert wilderness for us is the only way we will truly ever be satisfied.

As Jesus said in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Satisfaction doesn’t come in money, stuff, or the works we do. Satisfaction comes in the shed blood of Jesus Christ that He poured out for us upon the cross of Calvary.

And it is with that very blood along with His body that our thirst is quenched. Nothing is more satisfying than receiving the Son of God into our body as we hear from the lips of the pastor those words of Jesus declaring that our sins are forgiven. Every last mirage chasing sin is gone…forever.

Those comforting words of forgiveness, life, and salvation are a constant echo of God’s Word of promise ever since the day the drenching waters baptism were poured over our heads. On that day we were promised that our Savior would never leave or forsake us. And through it all, come what may, He has been ever faithful to His promise. Just as He will be faithful to His promise to come and save us (Isaiah 35:4) for all eternity, just as He was prophesied in our text for today. It is such a comfort to know that we have a God who never goes back on His Word. Thanks be to God! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Stand Firm with the Whole Armor of God

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A belt securely fastened around the waist. A breastplate to ward off vital enemy blows. Shoes studded with nails for holding the line. Shields covered in water-soaked leather to douse the enemy’s flaming arrows. Helmets of bronze to send a message of intimidation. And a sword to slay any attacker in close combat.

It was a picture that was fixed in Paul’s mind as he sat in the prison cell being guarded by Roman soldiers. It is a picture for us to keep in mind as we are called upon to stand firm with the whole armor of God.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Fellow soldiers, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in a real spiritual battle. This reality more often than not gets downplayed, but do not be fooled. As Martin Luther once said: “Whenever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel right next door.” Yes, Satan is near us battling for our very souls. Scripture tells us that your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1st Peter 5:8-9).

Satan is seeking to devour us eternally. He’s not prowling around seeking to devour non-Christians. He already has them. No, he is on the attack against  Christians. And he wastes no time in getting down to business either.

From the very moment that we are baptized in the name of the Triune God, the devil gets down and dirty. He hits us with an onslaught of temptations to try and drive us away from our Savior. He wants us isolated and alone. He delights in our misery. He simply can’t stand the thought of anyone being a Christian.

This onslaught of temptations was the same way it went for Jesus right after he was baptized. Remember when the Spirit cast him out into the wilderness. For forty days with nothing to eat, he was tempted by the devil. For forty days, Satan and the Son of God went toe to toe. For forty days the devil threw everything he had at Jesus.

Unlike Jesus though, we are simply no match for the devil. It is as we just sang: “The old satanic foe, has sworn to work us woe. With craft and dreadful might, he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal.” By our strength alone, we are helpless and hopeless against the evil one.

Martin Luther put it this way in the Large Catechism portion of the sixth petition of “Lead us not into temptation”: “We Christians must be armed and expect every day to be under continuous attack. Then we will not go about securely and heedlessly as if the devil were far from us, but will at all times expect his blows and fend them off. Even if at present I am chaste, patient, kind, and firm in faith, the devil is likely at this very hour to send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely endure, for he is an enemy who never lets up or becomes weary; when one attack ceases, new ones always arise” (Book of Concord, p. 455).

So let us not be naïve. We are under attack. Every day Satan is out to bring us down. From grudges and gluttony, to pride and pornography, to laziness and lying. With every temptation to sin, his goal is to separate us from the Savior. And unfortunately, every day he is successful in his endeavor. Every day, he gets us to fall into his traps that he lays out for us to fall into. Sometimes…a lot of times…it is quite embarrassing how easily he gets us to fall into those traps. Which just goes to show how weak we truly are. Our flesh is too weak. We simply can’t stand against the schemes of the devil. He’s just too powerful for us…

…But…He is not too powerful for our Lord. It is as the hymn we just sang continues: “No strength of ours can match his might. We would be lost, rejected. But now a champion comes to fight, whom God Himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only Son, adored. He holds the field victorious.”

That’s right, victory is certain because Jesus Christ has already won the war. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Though Satan threw everything he had at Him, Jesus stood firm, fastened to the cross of Calvary. And with three last words, He thrust the sword of the Spirit right through the enemy. It is finished. And it was. And it is. And it forever will be. Sin, death, and the devil are done for.

Though Satan may prowl around seeking to devour us, he does so as a defeated enemy. Two thousand years ago, He met His match in the Son of God and he has been reeling ever since, simply trying to grab hold of any last followers before his time is up. And it won’t be long and his time will be up. It won’t be long and those trumpets will sound. It won’t be long and our Victor will descend from the clouds. And what a day that will be!

Until then, our Savior does not leave us empty handed. Until then, He does not leave us without help or hope. In baptism, we were clothed with Christ. In baptism, were covered in the blood He shed in victory. In baptism, the Son of God Himself passed His battle-tested armor on to us so that we may be able to stand firm against the devil and all his works and all his ways.

Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. Three separate times we hear of Satan going in for a full frontal assault at Jesus. And every time Jesus counter-attacks with the same weapon: Again and again, He says…It is written…It is written…It is written. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12a).

Talk about a weapon to ward off the wicked foe. A weapon He used from the cross to defeat the devil once and for all. A weapon that we are equipped with as a part of the whole armor of God.

From the belt to the breastplate, from the shoes to the shield, to the helmet, and the sword. He does not leave us vulnerable to fall to the foe. We are strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10).

Let us never forget though that it is by His strength and His might that we are able to stand against the devil. As Luther writes in the Large Catechism: “If you attempt to help yourself by your own thoughts and resources, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil a wider opening. For he has a serpent’s head; if it finds an opening into which it can slither, the whole body will irresistibly follow. But prayer can resist him and drive him back (Book of Concord, p. 455).

Therefore, it’s no wonder that Paul instructs the whole army of God to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20).

Fellow soldiers, let us be fervent in prayer as we face the attacks of the evil one. Let us not be arrogant in thinking we can stand firm on our own. To do so would only guarantee our defeat. But there is One who is interceding on our behalf who sits on His throne in heaven. Though He became weak by becoming one of us to save us, He now stands secure in victory in the strength of His might. His name is Jesus, our King, and our Lord. Fellow soldiers, let us call upon His name, and He will be faithful to deliver us.

At a time of transition like this in our congregation it is essential that we remain fervent in prayer. The devil is going to try and take advantage of this opportunity to stick his slithery head in here and drive division between us. Knowing that, let us call upon the name of the Lord seeking His protection and wisdom as we navigate this process ahead. Therefore, I ask you as Paul asked the Ephesians, to pray for me as well as my family. Pray that God may use me to boldly declare the Gospel to you. And all the while, I will pray for you also that God may protect you and be at work in your lives to accomplish His will here in this place. And we can be confident that with His strength and His might we will be able to stand firm with the whole armor of God.

“Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpower us. Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage. His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail! One little word subdues him.”

In the name of Jesus, let us pray. I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word of God is For You

nullWhen I was growing up, I rode the school bus to school. One of the privileges of riding the school bus was that the bus driver selected a couple of the older kids to be bus monitors. A bus monitor’s responsibility was to assist the bus driver in reminding people to remain seated, keep their feet out of the aisle, and things like that. It just so happened one year that I was selected for this position. I was excited to be given such a position of power. But that was just it. I abused the position I was in, failing to see that I was supposed to be helping the bus driver, not making it harder on them. I acted as if I was in control of the bus, instead of recognizing that I was also a passenger. The standards I held others to, I did not think applied to me. And if people were out of line, I threatened to tell on them. It was not long, and I found myself fired from the position of bus monitor, and for good reason.

          As we enter into another school year, perhaps teachers can somewhat relate to this situation. In each class, there are no doubt a fair share of tattletales who think that in some regard they hold the power in the room. What’s more, those individuals have a way of viewing that the standards that they hold others to do not apply as much to them. In essence, they are very good at pointing out the faults of others. However, they fail when it comes to seeing their own faults.

          Such is the case with the Pharisees and the scribes in our text for today. They are given the opportunity to stand in the presence of Jesus and have a conversation with him. And what do they decide to hone in on for their discussion? The disciples’ hands. The disciples were eating with dirty hands, defiled hands. The text reveals that Pharisees and Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders.

          Now there is certainly nothing wrong with clean hands. No doubt, as the school year begins anew, all teachers will be reminding their students to wash their hands for snack and lunch and after using the bathroom. And for good reason as we don’t want to assist in the spread of germs.

          But that wasn’t the issue here. The issue for the Pharisees and scribes was not the spread of germs. It was the tradition of the elders. You see, in order to keep from breaking the laws of God, the Pharisees had established countless other laws to serve as a fence, if you will, around the laws of God so that no one even came close to breaking God’s laws. The problem with that, was that the traditions of the elders were held in higher regard than the laws of God.

          The exchange between the Pharisees, scribes, and Jesus makes that abundantly clear. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?

          Let’s stop for just a second, and take note that these are the tattletales in action. They are filled with a false-sense of power, and they are quick to point out the faults of others. Unfortunately, this false sense of power which they abuse against others blinds them from the reality of their own sinfulness. This is what Jesus helps to point out.

          And he [Jesus] said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8).

          On the outside, the Pharisees and scribes gave every indication that they were pious, holy men. They seemed to say all the right things and do all the right things. The problem was that what they said and did was more in alignment with the words of men than of God.

          And Jesus wasn’t done pointing this out. And he [Jesus] said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13).

          You see, the people were being inconvenienced by having to care for their parents and the financial burden that went with it. So to “fix” the problem, a law was made allowing someone to declare “Corban” and they were off the hook. No longer did they have to care for their parents. Instead they could offer Corban, a financial gift that they could dedicate to God. The money they would have used for caring for their parents was now God’s. However, the crazy thing about this money dedicated to God, was that it didn’t have to go to the church. It could be spent however the child of the parents deemed appropriate.

          Jesus saw this as a heinous crime against the fourth commandment which tells us we are to ‘fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.’ So much for all of that.

          The question that is present in all of this is…When does our word or the words of another usurp the Word of God? Let me ask that again…When does our word or the words of another usurp the Word of God?

          We might be quick to answer…Never! Never do our words or the words of another usurp the Word of God. But as we examine the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes, can we be so quick to answer that way? Or like the Pharisees and scribes, are we also quick to point out the faults of others while we ourselves only pay lip service to God? As it said in Isaiah: Do we honor God with our lips, but our hearts are far from him?

          We can use the fourth commandment as an example to see how we are doing, since that is the one Jesus used with the Pharisees and Sadducees.

          In reading the new catechism, there is plenty of helpful information in the question and answer section to help us think about what it means to honor our father and mother…what it means to not despise or anger our parents…what it means to honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

          For example, the Catechism asks: “How can I show that I honor and cherish my parents as gifts of God and as His representatives here on earth? Certainly, the Pharisees and the scribes with their law of Corban missed the mark on this one. But how about us?”

          Well the Catechism goes on to ask: “How do we fear and love God in keeping with the Fourth Commandment?”

“We fear and love God by not despising our parents, guardians, or other authorities. Despising means looking down upon them or making fun of them; disobeying or rebelling against their God-given authority.”

“We fear and love God by receiving and recognizing parents and authorities as His representatives. We do this by honoring them; serving and coming to the aid of our parents; obeying our parents, pastors, teachers, employers, and government authorities; loving and cherishing our parents and other authorities on account of their God-given vocations.”

Now should you be asking, “What if my parents or other authorities poorly carry out their vocations from God? In faith and obedience to God’s Word, we still respect them as those who have been given the privilege of representing God to us. But should they demand something of us against God’s Word, then we obey God, as Scripture says, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

And that’s really the point with this text. God’s Word usurps everyone else’s word, including our own. We may not always like what it says. The Pharisees and scribes certainly didn’t with respect to the fourth commandment. No doubt we feel the same way from time to time. But that doesn’t give us credence to alter God’s Word for our own convenience, nor does it somehow give us the right to point out when others fail to obey God’s commands, while failing to recognize the times we fall short. God’s Word is for us, and that includes all of it. He gave it all to us for our good.

It is good for us to hear the Law to be shown our sins so that we see our need for a Savior. Without the Law, we would never see our sin or repent and turn from our sins and follow Him. We would only wander away from Him as the Pharisees and scribes had done. Like them, we may be inclined to think that we have a pretty good handle on our lives, that somehow we are good people. But by whose standard?

The truth is “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The truth is, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1st Corinthians 6:19-20).

Because each of us had fallen short of the glory of God, Jesus was sent to pay that price. That price was not with gold or silver, but rather with His holy and precious blood. You see, when Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he could have gone about things differently. He could have tattled on all those that gathered round and pointed out all their faults. He could have pointed out all the inconsistencies in their testimony which would have only proven his innocence. But like a lamb led to the slaughter, he was silent. He was silent and instead of pointing out their faults, He took them all upon His shoulders. He did the same for us. Upon His shoulders He bore our sins on the cross as the weight of the world was pressing down upon Him. And from His very lips, He served us by speaking the words that are the sweetest to have been spoken in all history. “It is finished.” Those words were spoken for you. For you and for me.

Those words show that even though our hearts are far from God, His heart was beating in rhythm with the Father. His heart was beating for you and for me as He shed His blood in love for us. In doing so, He was doing exactly what His Father had directed Him to do. He was loving and honoring His Father by accomplishing His will and now we are the ones who benefit from such a great act of love. Forgiveness and salvation our now ours.

There is simply never an instance where God’s Words are usurped, by yours, mine, or anyone else’s. From the Law to the Gospel, we need it all. God’s Word declares that we are sinners, sinners in need of a Savior. And God’s Word declares that the punishment that should have been ours has been finished off once and for all by the One who honored His Father on our behalf. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Eat to Live; Live to Eat - Pastor Gless

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

A couple of years ago, I was headed to a conference in St. Louis at the seminary. While there, I decided that I would try and connect with a family friend who was attending the seminary. I called him up and asked him if we could meet to catch up, and he agreed. We agreed to meet up for a meal together, but then it dawned upon me that we never decided where we would eat. Now this is a big deal for me. I love food! But even more, when eating with someone else, I want to know that they will love the food as well. So I sent him a lengthy text offering some suggestions, and I will never forget his reply. He texted back, “Adam, I get the impression that you are one who lives to eat. I eat to live, so wherever you decide will be just fine.”

Contrary to my mode of operation for life of living to eat, Jesus instructs those who are listening to him in our text for today that they need to ‘eat to live’. [Jesus said:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:51-54).

People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Jesus is to be our appetizer, main course, dessert, and even that evening snack we sneak in. We are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things as the first commandment instructs. There is simply no other way to eternal life. As it says later in the book of John, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

This very truth is what we mark today with the Lord’s blessing in the giving of Bibles and Catechisms to our incoming third and fifth graders. Today, we mark the passing on of the faith from one generation to the next. Today we provide our children with the food for their souls.

This milestone also serves as a great reminder for all of us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. All too often in the busyness of life, we lose sight of that priority. And don’t get me wrong, I get it! Life is crazy! Life is busy! There are days where devotions and prayer do get lost in the shuffle. There are days when a quick bedtime prayer is all that happens. But the key is to not let this exception become the rule.

Consider it this way. What if you skipped a meal? I bet you would be hungry, but you would survive and get over it. But what if you made that a common practice? The eventual result would be that you would starve to death. So it is with our faith life. Jesus doesn’t want us to starve to death, so He rightly orders us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He tells us that if you want to live, and live eternally, you gotta eat.

The people that were listening to Jesus in our text didn’t like hearing that. It wasn’t as much because of the cannibalistic way that He was speaking. Though that was no doubt disturbing to them. Rather, it had more to do with what He meant by what He was saying. They knew where he was from and who his family was and what his family did. But in no way were they willing to accept that this guy here before them was the promised Messiah. He didn’t fit their mold. They wanted somebody else. So they left. In other words, they left to dine elsewhere.

It is estimated that there are over 650,000 different restaurant companies in the United States alone. This means that when we dine out, there are a lot of options. We love options. Which also happens to be the reason that so many of us like buffets.

Buffets provide numerous food options for us to dine on in one sitting. My parents took full advantage of buffets when we would travel as a family. My parents were no dummies with a couple of growing boys. They would take us to eat in the late morning with the whole idea was that if we ate well then, we wouldn’t need much more than a snack to make it to supper as we would travel. My brother and I didn’t really care. We just loved the vast amount of options that we could select from in which to eat. Sometimes I went for waffles, other times I went for eggs. Sometimes I went for waffles and eggs and whole lot of bacon. It was great! Gotta love those options when ya eat!

Here’s the thing though, those who were listening to Jesus that walked away had gotten it stuck in their mind that there were more options when it came to eternal life. They could walk away, and in their minds, they would be just fine. But that just isn’t true.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to eternal life, there are not a whole lot of options. In fact, there is just one. Imagine that! Going to a restaurant, and there being only one thing on the menu. Well that is the way it is when it comes to the gift of eternal life. If you are going to eat in order to live, then the only course to dine upon is Jesus.

Unfortunately, in our day and age, more and more are walking away looking for other options. How many of us remember a day when there were no businesses open on Sundays, or no activities scheduled on Sundays? There was a respect, a reverence for the Lord’s Day that no longer seems to exist. Now there are options. How many of us remember a day when it was expected that the whole family got up on Sunday morning and went to worship, no ifs, ands, or buts about it? But now there are options. The question is, are the other options good for us? Do they carry with them the promise of eternal life?

Going back to the buffet illustration, have you ever been there trying to decide on whether you will have the salad or another piece of fried chicken, the fruit or more dessert? I am sure we all have. I am sure we have all weighed the options, and if you are like me, on countless occasions, you have taken the option that is not as healthy for you.

The same is true when we take the option of anything other than being in the presence of Jesus in the Divine Service on Sundays. We are choosing the option on the buffet of life that is the slippery slope to joining those that walked away from Jesus. And I know, we may argue that it is only one Sunday. But, just like we indulge in a dessert or two, it doesn’t take long before unhealthy dining becomes a habit.

Just like unhealthy dining is bad for us, Jesus doesn’t want us to dine in an unhealthy way spiritually either. He doesn’t want any of us to walk away from Him as if life was a buffet of options. He knows that all the other options out there lead to death, so He wants us to come here and be with Him. And not just be with Him, but feast upon Him.

I am reminded of my first time in Kenya when we went to the village of Duca Moja, literally 100 miles beyond the middle of nowhere. The morning after we arrived, we woke up and walked to the building they had built to use as a church. It was a tin shed, large enough to hold 50-60, give or take a few. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, people started showing up. People walking from all over came to this tin shed in the middle of nowhere. They came to hear Pastor May teach on God’s Word, which he did for nearly two hours. They filled the place, and then some. People were overflowing outside the building as well. I sat there and marveled. Here, these people didn’t have a dime to their name by my standards for shelter and food, yet here they were in droves to be fed by the Bread of Life, the Word of God. As I think back, it is as Jesus said on the sermon on the mount in the beatitudes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

Like those people in Duca Mojo, here on this day as we eat, drink, and inwardly digest Jesus, we will be satisfied. It is a guarantee. You see, nothing else or no one else can tantalize our taste buds like Jesus can. Nothing else can please our palette like He can. Nothing else can satisfy our stomach’s grumbling like He can. Though there may be so many more options out there on Sundays, nothing else can provide satisfaction like Jesus can.

It’s no wonder that Peter answered Jesus the way that He did when Jesus asked if he and the other disciples wanted to leave as well, to go and dine elsewhere, if you will. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69).

Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us so that we may have eternal life. He came here to live the perfect life we couldn’t live and die the death that should have been ours all for the sake of providing satisfaction. He served Himself by drinking the cup of God’s wrath to deliver satisfaction for our sins. Crucified, dead, and buried, He delivered the satisfaction we so desperately needed so that we would not die eternally…so that we would have eternal life.

And that is what He promises to us here on this day as we hear His Word and feast upon His Holy Supper. Here at His table is where Jesus Himself comes to us. His flesh is true food, and His blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on Him will live forever.

When we follow Jesus’ command to eat his flesh and drink his blood, when we eat to live, His life is given to us. His body, His blood, the work He did on the cross, the life and salvation He won, the resurrection, all of it is now ours. We are now given new life, and with that new life we are transformed. Our desire is changed. The more we eat His Word and His Sacrament in order to live, the more we will desire to live to eat. As the Psalm said last Sunday, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8a).

It is good to rightly order our daily lives around the Bread of Life. It is good to prioritize being in the Word of God and praying daily. It is good to rightly order our weeks by beginning them with being served by our Savior in the Divine Worship Service. It is good, because there is simply nothing that compares to being fed and nourished by our Savior who promises eternal life.

People of God, if you want to live eternally, then you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. Eat, drink, inwardly digest Jesus as if your life depended upon it. Because it does. Eat to live; live to eat. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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