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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.

Sunday's Coming!

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“Sunday’s Coming!”

It was Friday. My nerves were up because my time was down. There was so much to be done and so many people to get to know. It was Friday and our belongings were in storage and our house in Wisconsin still not sold. Becca and our then one and only child (1½ year-old Bella) were sitting at her parents’ house in Waconia wondering what life in Mayer was going to be like.

It was Friday. I was thinking, “What were these Zion people going to be like?” My mind was racing. I still had a sermon to finish! It was Friday and I knew Sunday’s coming.

That was 13 years ago. This past week it was again Friday when I again sat in my office thinking about you the beloved people of Zion. I considered the many years, the many joys and even the sorrows that we’ve shared together during my time—all the baptisms, the weddings, the confirmations, the potlucks, the graduations, along with the funerals, heartaches and sorrows. 

It was Friday and I knew my last Sunday was coming. I read again these words of Jesus: 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” After reading these words I then prayed, as I have often done, that on Sunday (today) you would once again hear and believe the Good News of the Gospel; that by the shed blood of Jesus Christ you are forgiven and made a dear and precious child of God who will be raised up on the Last Day.

Yes, it was Friday and the Words of Jesus were prompting a flood of memories. Again from the Gospel: 51I 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.” These words reminded me of the many Sundays we’ve shared the Lord’s Supper together. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, I put into your hands the Bread of Life, the very body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was Friday and I considered the many hands I have looked upon while administering the Lord’s Supper. It will be hard not to see those hands; the tender hands soft with gentleness and care, the strong hands thick with years of hard labor, the little hands and the big hands. Yes, I know your hands; the stained hands, the broken hands, even the angry hands, along with the frail hands, gnarled hands, ailing hands and even the trembling hands. I will miss those hands.

It was Friday and the hands of Jesus were being stretched out. It was Friday and the mockers and the scoffers were out in full force. It was Friday. The soldiers spit in His face and they struck him on the head over and over again (Matthew 27:30).

It was Friday and the whip brutally scourged his body (Matthew 27:26) and darkness covered the land (Matthew 27:45). It was Friday and Jesus was dead on the cross.  But that was Friday, and Sunday’s coming! 

It was Friday. The cynics who had been watching the trial unfold were looking at the world and saying, “As things have always been so shall they be. You can’t change anything in this world. You can’t change anything.” But those cynics didn’t know that it was only Friday and Sunday’s coming! 

It was Friday. And on Friday, the forces that oppressed the poor and marginalized the meek were in control. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!

It was Friday. Women were weeping and the disciples were running in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. It was Friday and the tomb was sealed. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming! 

            Scripture declares what happened on Sunday: 1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24).

The whole message of the Bible had been built up to this day (Sunday). Because the world was filled with sin, that meant there had to be a Friday. But God’s unending message has always been Sunday’s coming!

When Adam and Eve gave into Satan’s temptation and brought the ugly and agonizing reality of sin into the world, God immediately declared Friday would be necessary. But not to worry, because He also said Sunday’s coming. In Genesis 3:15 he says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.  He will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” 

So it was on Friday, that with each swing of the mallet and with each pain filled breath, Jesus certainly felt more than just a striking at His heal. When that Friday ended it looked as though the Devil had won and that the Son of God was defeated, sealed in a borrowed tomb. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!   

Time and again the Old Testament speaks about this day. Prophecy after prophecy tells of this day coming. In 2 Samuel 7:12-14 God says to King David, “I will raise up one from your offspring and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father and he will be my son.”

But on Friday the Son of God was yelling, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming

On Friday Mary was crying her eyes out. Hopes were crushed. Friends were disowned.  People were disgraced, buried by hurt and confusion. But that was Friday and Sunday’s coming!

Isaiah 25 tells about this Sunday: 7[God] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Time and again the message of the Old Testament it SUNDAY’S COMING!

On Friday, Herod thought he’d had his laughs and Pilate thought he had washed his hands of some trouble. On Friday the Pharisees were strutting around, laughing, and slapping each other on the back. They all thought they were in charge, but they didn’t know that it was only Friday and Sunday’s coming!

Sunday has come! Today Jesus comes directly to you as the Bread of Life, putting into your hands and into your mouths the very bread that comes down from heaven in the Lord’s Supper. Through all the filth and sin of our lives this is a meal that makes us and say, “Thank God Sunday’s coming!”

Many of you have have heard me use this phrase before. I simply borrowed it from Christian speaker Tony Campolo, who borrowed it from someone else. Sunday’s coming is a phrase that reminds us we are a Sunday people; that Sunday is not only coming, but is here!

Today is Sunday after all. Why do you think we worship on Sundays? It’s a reminder of the greatest event that has ever happened in the history of the world. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. So Sunday declares the devil is defeated, death has been destroyed, and you have the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting welling up within you.   

Sunday reminds us that Jesus Christ is Lord. Sunday reminds us that Jesus died, rose, ascended, and is coming again to take away your pain and tears, and fill you with everlasting joy.

However, life does not always feel so joyful. Sometimes life feels more like it’s a Friday than a Sunday. Your pastor is leaving. You’ve got unpaid bills. Or your health is bad and you’re in a world of hurt. Life is broken. You’re full of sorrow. Your sins are many. You’ve got questions about God. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed by life.

In fact, maybe like Jesus it’s Friday and you are crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps you feel lost in the depths of Friday’s darkness. 

On Friday Jesus was over whelmed by the work that was before him. He was beat down by the debt of sin He was paying. His flesh was ripping, His blood was dripping, and His strength was slipping. He was burdened to the point of death. But that was FRIDAY and SUNDAY’S COMING.

Friday’s darkness was overcome by Sunday’s light. Friday’s despair was overpowered by Sunday’s resurrection. He who said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” not only said it, but he proved it! He who said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, brings you this very bread today!

When life seems like you can’t take it any more—when it doesn’t make sense, when the hurt is too much, when the days seem pointless, and your life feels worthless—remember that SUNDAY’S COMING! On this day you are fed the bread of life so that every day you can live your life in the strength of Christ.  

Sunday reminds you that Jesus died and rose specifically because He loves you! He loves you with an unconditional and irreversible love. He brings forgiveness for your faults, healing to your hurts, wholeness to your broken lives, and meaning to your existence.

Sunday declares the tomb is empty and death is defeated. In fact, if you’ve ever lost a loved one and lived in the darkness and pain of Friday, or maybe your own mortality sees the darkness of Friday creeping in, let me remind you that Sunday’s coming! 

The Living Bread from heaven comes to you this very day and feeds you with His life even as you life in the midst of this broken and dying world. When life deals you the worst it can give, we believe the power of Christ that exploded on this world on a Sunday some 2,000 years ago is still here today. We know that Sunday’s coming!    

This is Gospel truth. This is what Sunday is all about. God so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for you and that meant Friday had to happen. But guess what, Sunday’s coming! And today Sunday is here! That’s the Good News. 

No matter the pastor that serves you, (and you are being left in good and capable hands), they are called to do so in the name and stead of Jesus Christ. They are called to do so in the confidence that Sunday’s coming.  

Beloved members of Zion, I thank God for each of you, for your faith, and for the great privilege to serve and love you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may see me from time to time throughout the district, or even back here at Zion once and awhile, but as I say goodbye for now, I do so knowing that Sunday’s coming! I leave knowing that today you are given the Bread of Life and that next Sunday, you will have it again.

Sunday’s coming! It’s the Good News that this world so desperately needs to hear. People are longing for some hope. They are looking for some light. Jesus Christ gives it!

When you are overwhelmed, you can know Sunday’s coming. When someone feels they can never know love again, tell them Sunday’s coming. When they’ve lost their belief in the goodness of God, tell them that Sunday’s coming. When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, Sunday’s coming! When you are burdened by sin, Sunday’s coming! When you are staring at the grave of a loved one, the empty tomb of Jesus says, Sunday’s coming!

We are not ashamed of Gospel of Jesus Christ, because to all of those who are on the brink of despair, you and I can stand and yell at the top of our lungs, “IT’S FRIDAY, BUT SUNDAY’S COMING!”  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Don't Be Afraid - Pastor Woodford July 29, 2018

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48…And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Walking on water is overrated. It’s really not that big of a deal. Some simply don’t see what the fuss is all about. At least that’s what the group of insects called water striders is saying. These six legged arthropods have been walking on water for years. Equipped with special hydrophobic legs (legs with tiny hairs), they can walk indefinitely across the surface of the water without even getting wet.

But they are not the only ones protesting. The basilisk lizards have made their claim to fame by not only walking on water, but by running on water. These little lizards can run at a velocity of 4.8 feet per second for approximately 15 feet before sinking on all fours and swimming. When these little guys get going they are a sight to see.

However, there is yet one more group of protesters. Believe it or not there is a group of Minnesotans who claim they have a seasonal ability to walk on water. They call themselves Ice-Fishermen... With just six inches of solid ice they can walk for miles and miles on any lake, river or ocean.     

Joking aside, the fact is that when Jesus walked on the water it was and is a big deal. For the manner in which He walks on the water is like no other creature. He walks on the water not simply as any other creature, but as the very creator of all there is.

Sure, scientists can give wonderful natural explanations of how water striders use the surface tension and their hydrophobic legs to skim across the water or how basilisk lizards are equipped with little flaps between their toes to help support them, creating a larger surface and a pocket of air that allows them to skim across the water. They simply offer an explanation of how these creatures can logically and naturally do what they do.

However, for a human being to walk upon the water as Jesus did was a profound event. It was not logical and it was not natural, at least not to the disciples. Mark records they were so frightened by this event that they all cry out in terror. It’s not natural for an ordinary human being to walk on the water.

However, Jesus was not just an ordinary human being. The only way someone can walk on water like this was if He was the very one who created the water. Sure scientists can take two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and form water, but only God can create those elements out of nothing, form them into a liquid and place it upon the earth simply by speaking it into being:  “God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.”(Gen. 1:9)  

Jesus walking on the water was a big deal. It showed who He was and the power that He possessed. The disciples were fighting against the wind and the waves all night. It was so bad that the sail was down and they were using oars to try and row across the lake. However Jesus simply walks across the surface of the water, defying the sea bottom, ignoring the wind, and laughing at the waves. And when He reached the boat verse 51 says, “the wind ceased.”

I wonder if Psalm 89:9 may have come to the disciples mind: “Lord, You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” Jesus had already calmed a storm, now he walks on water and again makes the wind to stop. The conclusion the disciples should be able to draw from this would have to be that Jesus was God himself. Who else could control the forces of nature and the elements of creation like that?

Yet, I think it’s hard for us to consider the awe of being in Jesus’ presence for this remarkable event. We’ve seen too many special effects on TV and too many computer generated movies to readily appreciate what it was like witness Him walking on the water. But make no mistake Jesus walking on water was a big deal. Jesus stilling the waves and stopping the wind was a big deal. Who else but God could do such things?   

What do you believe God can do today? When you hear these accounts of God’s power and might do you hear them as a nice story, but think they have no real relevance for you today?  Do they compel you to a deeper trust in God or do you simply dispel them as fanciful tales? 

Remember the disciples. They witnessed these profound events first hand but still had their own doubts. In verse 52 Mark tells us, 52They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” 

Hard hearts. In other words, they were unbelieving hearts. Though they had just witnessed Jesus miraculously feed over 5,000 they refused to believe the divine miracle that it was. So what happens?  Hard hearts and unbelief, along with fear and panic.

But contrast this with the people who recognize Jesus after His boat lands. Verse 55 says the people 55ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was.” It is an interesting comparison. Those seemingly closest to Jesus were struggling with doubts and hard hearts, while those not as close openly believed. What’s that all about?

Or maybe the better question is which group are you in? Are you in the crowd of people running about telling others of Jesus? Or are you in the boat with the disciples?

I have to confess that many times I am in the boat with the disciples. I am close to God, yet at times I have many doubts and many questions. “If God is love why do bad things happen to good people?” I love Jesus, but sometimes my heart is hardened—scarred with hurt, overcome by anger, filled with selfishness.   

It is a curious occurrence. At times we are floating on mountain tops certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that the power of God is real and the presence of God is certain.

And then there are those times that we are drowning at sea, sinking in doubt and disbelief, anxious and afraid, and wondering “Does God really exist?” “Is all of this really true?” 

Do you ever question God?  Do you ever have doubts? Are you ever uncertain about the presence of God and His redeeming power? Hop in the boat with me and the disciples and let’s find out what happens:49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

You see, the good news is whichever crowd you’re in Jesus has something to say to you. To those closest to Him and yet overwhelmed by the fear and doubts of life, Jesus says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” When terror and doubt are present, Jesus speaks words of comfort. When the waves of fear and the winds of disbelief are blowing the voice of Jesus brings calm. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And to those who are far off, Jesus has something to say, He has something to offer. His invitation whether you are near or far is, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:29). When you are weary and worn, frightened and fatigued, such divine rest is a welcome respite.

A few weeks ago in the middle of the night Klaci, my six-year-old daughter, came into our bedroom visible shaking and crying. “Daddy I had a bad dream. Can I lay by you?” As I let her crawl in next to me, she told me the dream was about something “really bad” that happened to her and to me and how it seemed so real and scary.

I reassured her that it was just a dream. Nonetheless, as any of us who have had bad dreams know, dreams can be disturbing. Bad dreams put doubts in our minds and pits in our stomachs. They make us question what is real.

As I lay there with my arm around her as she was still whimpering and shaking with fright, I spoke to her in a reassuring voice that she was O.K. Daddy was there. She was safe. And within a few minutes she was peacefully back asleep.         

When there is fear, a familiar voice brings comfort. When there is doubt, soothing words bring calm. Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” These are words you are invited to hear over and over again. They are words meant to help you exercise your faith, turn away from your fears, repent of your sins, and turn to Christ for comfort, rest, and redemption.  (I realize it’s not the exact same way as me comforting my daughter. But this is the nature of what it means to live by faith—you exercise your faith by trusting Christ and His Word as you bear up under all the heaviness and heartache this sin filled, fallen world throws at you.   

No matter how many bad dreams you have or no matter how many of your bad dreams become reality, the words of Jesus stand firm, they speak clearly, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”Whether in your personal life, in your work life, or your congregational life, Jesus Words are for you right here and right now.

They are not some pie in the sky lofty, warm fuzzy, happy feeling that will somehow float down on you and magically take away every bad thing in your life. Rather they are Words that bring eternal truth to your present situation. They are powerful Words that point you to Jesus, who Himself experienced fear and anxiety as His own death on the cross approached. And just as He saw through His own death to His resurrection in His moment of anxiety, His Words point you beyond the restricting moment of this life to the eternity of the life to come.    

Yes, the Words of Jesus Christ have the power to dispel your doubts, undo your unbelief and sanctify your soul. His Words call you to exercise your faith. They speak comfort into your life, and they put the devil at bay.

            Water striders, basilisk lizards and ice-fishermen, only do what comes natural to them. So it is with Jesus.

When the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh walk all over you, Jesus walks right up to you with His own body and blood, even on this very day, to give you life and salvation. When sin wants to sink you, the shed blood of Jesus forgives you!

When the raging waters of this world overwhelm you, Jesus takes control of that water having baptized you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and claims you as His very own. That means you are His and He is yours!

He stopped at nothing to make sure you hear His words of comfort. He walked on water, carried a cross, was rejected by the Heavenly Father, buried in a tomb, and then raised from the dead so that you can hear His words, believe His Words, and live by His Words. Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Amen.

The Shepherd's Compassionate Provision

 

nullIt was an exciting time for the disciples. They had been sent out by Jesus to proclaim that people should repent. While out doing so, they had cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. They had much that they wanted to share with Jesus. So, Jesus suggests that they get away from it all and rest awhile.

But have you ever tried to get away from it all for some R and R, rest and relaxation, and whatever it was that you were trying to get away from finds you anyway? In today’s day and age, this typically happens if the cell phone is not turned off. Emails from work still make their way into the inbox. Phone calls and text messages still buzz and beep. Getting away from it all has become quite difficult.

So it was for Jesus and His disciples. The text says, For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31b). They couldn’t even get a bite to eat in, the crowds were pressing them so hard. So they made for the boat to try and find another desolate place. But it didn’t matter, the text says, Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them (Mark 6:33).

Talk about determination on the part of the people. And talk about no chance at all for Jesus and His disciples to get some down time away from it all. It looked like that would have to wait for another time. Perhaps you can relate.

But here is where the text makes a shift away from trying to get away from it all. It says, When he [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).

That is the emphasis of our sermon for today. The Shepherd’s Compassionate Provision. May we as hearers of God’s Word trust in the Shepherd’s compassionate provision for us.

Here we see Jesus make an about face, to use the military term. He had been trying to get away from the people so that he could hear the testimony of His disciples. But then, all of a sudden, he saw this crowd, this determined crowd that would stop at nothing to see Him. And the text says that he had compassion on them.

Compassion. In the Greek this word means that Jesus felt this compassion for the people down to His very soul, even to His very bowels. It is a compassion that runs so deep where mercy and sympathy is moved to action in order to relieve people from their distress. That kind of compassion.

Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep, as you know get the reputation for not necessarily being the brightest of animals. Without a shepherd, they wander and get lost. They get disoriented, and they fall prey to predators as they meander about.

When Jesus looked at these determined people who had literally chased him around the lake, He had compassion on them. He saw them in their need, and like a good shepherd, He desired to tend to their needs. And that need was first to teach them.

It could so easily be lost in this Bible story that when Jesus had compassion on these sheep-like people, that the first thing He did was teach them. We tend to focus on the miracle that comes later, but Jesus places an emphasis first and foremost on filling them to the full with something far greater than mere bread and fish. He gives them the bread of life. The Word of God. The food for their souls.

As the people listen, the disciples start to realize they’ve got a problem. It’s late and there is no food in this desolate place to feed this large crowd. So, the disciples devise a plan of action to share with Jesus: Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat (Mark 6:36).

The disciples want to scatter the flock. They want to take the easy route. Because the easy route will mean that this will no longer be their problem, and they will finally get the time away from it all that they had been hoping for. Jesus, however, has a different plan in mind. But before carrying out that plan, He tests His disciples with a simple command: You give them something to eat.

You can almost see the jaws drop on the disciples faces. What! Are you kidding me? And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat? (Mark 6:37).

It is quite hard to fathom that disciples who had just gotten back from casting out demons and healing the sick would all of a sudden think that there would be a problem with something as simple as feeding these people. But this just goes to show that they didn’t fully realize who it was who stood before them.

So Jesus proceeds to show them once again. He tells them to gather up what they can find. Five loaves of bread and two fish are found. He says, “That’ll do.” Then the miraculous takes place. Five thousand men, plus women and children eat and are satisfied. So much so that twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected after everyone had eaten. Once again, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides for His people, His flock.

But how often are we like those disciples who stood there in disbelief, doubting the provision of the Lord? When problems or troubles arise in our life and we get overwhelmed, where do we first turn? Do we turn to the Lord or do we turn to ourselves and wander away from the Lord?

The second commandment directs us to call upon name of the Lord. The second commandment is: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Is this our mode of operation, our m.o., when troubles find us in life? When financial burdens arise, when a medical diagnosis strikes, when conflict at work or school comes up, when a congregation enters into a time of vacancy. Are we first turning to the compassionate shepherd for His provision, or are turning inward toward ourselves?

The disciples started by looking inward toward themselves and quickly realized their limitations. They didn’t have the ability to care these people and their needs. They needed help. And that’s exactly what Jesus provided. The people were hungry, and He fed them.

We also are in need of help and provision from our Shepherd. I think about that now probably more than ever as a congregation that is facing some very big changes here in the near future. We need help. We do. You see, the devil is going to try and take advantage of this opportunity before us in hopes of scattering the flock. He is going to try and cause conflict and devise division and destruction in the church. He will attack the pastors and their families, because He knows where best to attack to bring down the Church. And the temptation will be when such attacks happen, to turn inward. To try and figure it out on our own. To dig our heals in and say, “We can do this! We can overcome!” But we can’t. We can’t do it on our own. We need help.

And so, we call upon the name the Lord. We call upon His name and the same Shepherd who looked out at those people with eyes of compassion will also have compassion upon us. He feels it right down to the very depths His soul and bowels. It was such compassion that led him to a cross to suffer and die for us. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. And we are His sheep. He is here to help us with all that we need in body and in soul, just as He has been doing since the start of this congregation back in the nineteenth century. After all, it is His Church. And here in His Church, is where we find all the provision we need. Forgiveness is here. Life and salvation is here. All because our Shepherd is here.

So do not be anxious or afraid. Just like He provided for those people and they ate their fill and were satisfied, so it is with us. As the 23rd Psalm told us, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1). We do not have to want when we have a shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters to fulfill our needs. As He gathered those people in groups together, so He gathers us. He gathers us in His house to sit side by side to be fed with the Bread of Life, the Word of God. He gathers us at His table to nourish and strengthen us with His body and blood. Through His undershepherds, the pastors of Zion, He fills us to the full so that our cup runneth over with His compassionate provision.

But it is true that the temptation during this time of transition and vacancy will be to only look inward. To look to ourselves and only focus on our cares and concerns. LCMS President Matthew Harrison once wrote in a collection of essays: “Proclaiming Jesus and loving the neighbor has to do with who and what the church is as the body of Christ. Where proclamation of the Gospel and acts of love and mercy are missing, the church’s life is not what Christ intended it to be.”

In no way do we want to lose sight of who we are during this time of transition by only focusing on ourselves. We are the Church, called to be the Church to a growing community, to feed them with the life-saving gift of the Gospel, to share hope and teach Christ. Teaching, just as Jesus first taught those people in our text for today. First we are taught, and then we share what we are taught of Christ with others.

So it is that our mission statement will remain the same, along with our vision and strategy. And we will continue to call upon the name of our Good Shepherd to help us to carry out that mission, vision, and strategy here in this community and even to the ends of the earth. All along the way, we can trust that the Good Shepherd will be faithful to compassionately provide for all that we need in body and in soul. 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.

Homecoming - Pastor Gless

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Homecomings are meant to be a time of joy. Homecomings are meant to be a time of smiles and laughter and stories shared. Homecomings are meant to be a time of embracing and open arms.

I can remember coming home from college each year. My parents would wrap me up in a warm embrace. They couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces. They would have me sit down and tell them all about the experiences and adventures that I had had over the course of the year at school in Chicago.

But that pales in comparison to the homecoming that we would have when my brother would return home to America from deployments overseas. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we couldn’t wait to see him, to hug him, to hear all that he was willing to share with us. To know that he was finally home was the best thing ever.

That is what homecomings should be like, or so we think. Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus experienced at all in our text for today. There were no smiles or laughter. There were no open arms longing to embrace him. Instead, the homecoming He received can be summed up in one word: Rejection.

He went from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:1-3).

Even though we can’t read tone in the Bible, we ought not think that these questions were asked with some sort of kind-hearted gentleness. These were questions of doubt, jealousy, anger, all mixed up together into a pot of hatred and disdain. So much so that the text says that Jesus could do no mighty work there. Not because He was incapable, but rather because the works He did were to give testimony to who He was as the Son of God. Had He performed miracles there, it would have only heaped judgment upon them as their anger increased and their rejection raged on.

The sad thing is that this is not the first time Jesus faced such a homecoming rejection. Three chapters before our text for today, we hear of the only other time that Jesus went back to his hometown. It was just after He called His disciples, the text says, Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:20-21). His own family thought He was crazy. So much so that they wanted to seize him. The literal translation was that they wanted to arrest him. Probably to lock him up in the insane asylum, or something like that.

That’s what makes what happens in our text for today so striking. When Jesus is rejected by his hometown family and neighbors, when they literally take offense at Him, what does it say that He did? And He went about among the villages teaching (Mark 6:6). He didn’t stop teaching because the people didn’t like what He had to say. He kept on going from village to village, teaching to anyone who would have ears to hear what He said.

I am reminded of a story that Pastor May once told me about a group of ten Somali men who came to him to be instructed to be pastors. Now in Somalia, being a Christian comes at the risk of one’s life because of the threat of the Muslim extremist group, Al-Shabaab. You can’t even cross the border with a Bible in your luggage. Christianity is not tolerated at all.

But this didn’t keep these ten men from coming to be instructed as Christian pastors. Once they had been instructed, they returned back home to Somalia. Unfortunately, five of these men were killed for their faith. Some time passed, and those five men returned to Pastor May for more instruction…only this time they came with seven more men. Now there were twelve men. When asked why they were doing what they were doing if it would only mean their lives were at greater risk of being ended, they responded in quite striking fashion, “What difference does it make if we lose our lives? If we die as Christians, we will go to heaven. But many of our family and neighbors do not yet confess Jesus as Lord which means they will go to hell. We are here to learn how we might teach them to know what we know so that they too may be saved.”

As we consider how Jesus kept going in His teaching, how these Somali men kept going in their witness of Christ, how about us? Do we keep going in our witness…even when we face rejection? Truth is, our homes are meant to be the starting points for our life as witnesses of Christ. Yet, it would seem that when we are in our homes or neighborhoods, we are more consumed with what others think of us and trying to keep up appearances. We allow the words and actions of others to shape and mold us. And in the case of our witness of Christ as Savior and Lord, we often choose to be silent because we are fearful of what others might think or say about us. We are fearful of being rejected.

Fellow Christians, let’s ask ourselves: Who are we trying to please? Are we trying to please others? Are we trying to please ourselves? What’s guiding our witness of Christ to others, be it in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces? Is the fear of rejection driving us to be silent?

What we see from Jesus in our text for today was that even when He was rejected, He kept going from village to village. Now that doesn’t mean it didn’t pain Him to walk away from His hometown. We can assume that as Jesus walked away, His heart ached. He knew this would be the last time that He would walk those streets of Nazareth, yet how sad it must have been knowing His own family and neighbors wanted nothing to do with Him. That, no doubt, hurt a lot, and yet He kept going.

It is the same thing He instructed His disciples to do when they faced rejection in their witness. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11).

Here we see that Jesus fully expected His disciples to be rejected just as He was rejected. That’s why He gave them instructions on what to do when it happened. So it will be with us. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we are going to be rejected. Expect it. If the Son of God was rejected, then so will we be. The question we ought to consider is that if we aren’t being rejected, then who are we caught up in pleasing? Is it others? Is it ourselves?

Jesus was only consumed with pleasing one person, and that was His Father in heaven. So much so that He willingly and voluntarily came to this earth to be rejected by His hometown, by chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and unruly crowds. He was spat upon, mocked, and whipped by His own people and government. He was hauled off to die on a cross. And it was there that He was rejected by His Father. Imagine that, bleeding, suffering, dying…crying out to the only One who could help Him and what is the response? Rejection. That’s what He gets from His Father.

Jesus is rejected by His Father, so that we won’t be. He endures the rejection that should have been ours in our place. He paid that price. He secured our salvation with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He removed all of our sins so that we will not be separated from God for all eternity.

That, my friends, is good news for us! Because the truth is, while we are in this world, we will be rejected. In fact, Jesus said that we will be hated. He said to His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19).

The thing is though, as we face this harsh reality of rejection in our witnessing here on earth, we do so in the confidence that our salvation is secure. We are His baptized believers who have the gift of the Spirit given in baptism working in us. We have been fed and nourished by His Word and his body and blood. We have everything we need and more. Our cup is overflowing, so that we may keep going with His blessing upon us…keep going to the cross and the empty tomb where a homecoming awaits us that will be filled with eternal smiles and laughter and warm embraces as we fix our eyes on Jesus for all eternity. It is as we just sang, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home; Earth is a desert drear, heaven is my home. Danger and sorrow stand, round me on every hand; Heaven is my fatherland, heaven is my home.”

As we share hope and teach Christ, may we keep going knowing that Jesus will never leave or forsake us. And may we pray for a faith that is like those Somalis who found their security in Christ and the salvation He has so graciously given in the home of heaven. 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.

The Lord of Your Life

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The Psalmist cries out, 8To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.” But the Psalmist is not alone. Today we also hear the woman with a chronic bleeding disorder, and a father of a terribly ill little girl. They’re all crying out to the Lord. Of course, there is your voice too. You know what it is to cry out for mercy, to long for help, and to ask for relief.

How many nights do you suppose the woman lied upon her bed, crying aloud to the Lord? How many years was she waiting, pleading, begging, and hoping to simply touch the Holy One of God? Did she pray Psalm 30, saying, 9What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? 10Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper.” The Psalmist gives expression to her lament. It does for you as well.

            How many sleepless nights did Jairus endure? His precious little girl was at the point of death. No small sickness, this little girl was gravely ill. He was desperate. Any parent here knows what his terror stricken soul was enduring. The death of a precious child is utterly heart wrenching. Undoubtedly, his prayer was similar to the words of the Psalmist, “To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.”

Such pleas for help capture our own longings. The Psalms give expression to our voices. From hurting souls to hurting bodies, you cry out. From worried minds to burdened hearts, you plead for help, especially during these trying days of living in a chaotic secular age, which is very often antagonistic toward your faith.

You strive to be faithful but the deception of society, the lies of our age, the fickleness of your faith, and the unrelenting attacks of Satan press down heavy upon your soul. With the Psalmist, with the afflicted woman, and with Jarius, you cry out for God’s mercy. You walk through life one day at a time. But you do so with Jesus Christ on you side.

After all, He’s the most powerful being in the universe. He’s invincible. He’s incorruptible. He’s irresistible. You can’t outsmart Him. You can’t overpower Him. You can’t stop His love. You can’t thwart His plan. He owns all of history! He’s built eternal paradise. And He’s in your corner. In fact, baptized into Him His Holy Spirit is literally in your body, so where you go, He goes.  

Yet, for many, perhaps even you, these can seem like hopeless times. People long for purpose and direction, for meaning and hope. The recent number of Hollywood suicides remind us that even when you supposedly “have it all” it is still no replacement for loving the One who truly does have it all and will give it all to you on the Last Day.

Yet, anxiety abounds. Unrest creeps into your life and sets up shop. You worry about the future—the future of this country, the future of this community, the future of your career, and now even the future of this congregation. “What will happen? Who will lead? Where are we headed? How are we going to carry on?” Whether it’s about the country, your career, or the congregation these questions can so often press down on you.

So with the Psalmist, with the woman, and with Jarius you pray, “To you, O LORD, I cry, to the Lord I plead for mercy.” Jesus is quick to answer. Remember, all of time and all of History are in His hands. He is Lord over all! So yes, He answers. But perhaps not in the way you may want, or in the time you might want it. But let’s be clear, He does clearly answer us.

He answers first with His incarnation, where He walked around in your fragile flesh, and felt the burdens of this world. He answers with His bloody cross, where He had every evil deed, every wicked thought, and every twisted way of thinking nailed to His body. He answers by His glorious resurrection and magnificent ascension, showing how He’s utterly invincible and incorruptible.

He answers with His Holy Spirit to baptize you, lead you, and protect you. And one day, when He returns, He will answer once and for all, where every last man, woman, and child who ever walked on the face of this planet will know that He is the Lord of all Lords and King of all Kings. 

Until then, we walk by faith, praying for mercy, and trusting that come what may, Jesus still gets the final say—that in His almighty, invincible, incorruptible, and irresistible self, He brings hope and salvation to lost lives and order to an age that is full of chaos and disorder.  

But walking by faith can be hard to do. In our “instant” everything society, we feel like Jesus should be instant messaging us with a remedy for our every affliction, and a plan of action for all the anarchy. Therefore watching, waiting, and walking in the ways of the Lord can feel frustrating at times, especially when you want Him to give you an answer right here and now.

Consider the woman in the Gospel lesson. Listen to how long she had endured her affliction: 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but only grew worse.

These two verses give us insight into the tremendous suffering and patience of this woman. Twelve years! Anyone here who’s endured similar suffering, who’s been pushed from doctor to doctor, appointment after appointment, with no answers and no relief, knows the burden of her plight. She was suffering not just from her affliction itself, but also from all the so-called physicians who were all too happy to take her money and add to her suffering. Perhaps you know this feeling.

But then there’s also Jairus. His daughter was in dire need. He says it plainly to Jesus: 23…My little daughter is at the point of death.” If someone is at the point of death there’s no time to spare. No dilly-dallying around. No taking the scenic route, and certainly no stopping for some woman grabbing onto your clothes. This is urgent. Your little girl is at the point of death. She needs Jesus to get there right now. There’s no time to waste!

However, time is not the master of Jesus. You and I are bound by it, subject to it, age by it, and die in it. But, Jesus is the creator of it, walked through it, and is the master and judge of it. So He’s happy to stop and help a suffering woman. And in a single moment her suffering ceases. 

Yet, that single moment also meant death to a little girl. How could Jesus be so cruel? Why did he wait so long? He knew Jairus wanted Him and needed Him right now.

Jesus presses on. He walks through the anxiety of the moment, through the chaos of time, and through an affliction that’s run its course, and commands the little girl to arise.

When the creator of time and the Lord over life commands a body to do something, dead or alive, your body obeys. In fact, when He touches the unclean and afflicted, you become clean and whole. When He heals, diseases dissipate. When He forgives, your conscience is cleansed.

Jesus touches you this day. Under bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus touches you. It strengthens your faith to look at the present circumstances of your life and see Jesus’s promise of hope and deliverance. It strengthens your faith say that you can confidently believe He is in control.

And whether or not He brings immediate relief to your afflictions or makes society get its act together, your eyes of faith are called to bear up under His cross and hold onto His love.

By faith you look into the future and see that His life, His death, and His resurrection remain true and powerful whatever the time and whatever the circumstances. Sickness, afflictions, the whims of society, your sin and my sin, and even death itself does not, cannot, and will not get the final say. Rather, the Lord of your life, Jesus Christ, gets the final say.

In the mean time, He’s sent His Holy Spirit and Word of truth to help you, guide you, and sustain you in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has overcome the madness, the chaos, and the hurt of this world.

Crucified, dead, risen, ascended and coming again, He is the Lord of your life, the Lord of the Church, and the Lord over all of history; He’s invincible. He’s incorruptible. He’s irresistible. No one can outsmart Him. No one can overpower Him. No one can stop His love or thwart His plan. Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life and Lord over all. Be at peace. You’re soul is safe with Him. Amen.

Questions & An Answer

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Last week, Mark’s reading ends: And with many such parables He, Jesus, was speaking the word to them as they were able to hear it.  34. And He was not speaking to them without parables; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples.  Perhaps the discussion was like our Job Reading today. Or Psalm 124. “Had it not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say, …Then they would have swallowed us alive… When their anger was kindled against us; Then the waters would have engulfed us, …Then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.” [Ps.124 vs.] Here is a warning to us “that God is our help in the name of the LORD.”     

“On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” “And leaving the crowd, they took Him along in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with them.” [4:35,36]   Jesus has been teaching with authority.  He has been using parables.  He was explaining everything to His disciples. He has healed the sick around His home base in Capernaum. He has cast out demons. He has said “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.”  He invites His followers “go to the other side of the Lake to continue as The Strong Man who has entered the Strong Man’s house and begun to rob it, that is, Satan’s kingdom, which is well and active to this day!  You do believe that Satan rules all those who are without faith in Jesus, do you not?

Jesus, tired, hungry, and committed wholeheartedly to His mission, leaves with the newly appointed 12 Apostles’ along with others to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The sailors who take Jesus along are experienced ones.  Jesus is not out of His senses. Nor is he casting out the demons with the power of Satan.  He invites them to go to the Decapolis, pagan territory.  Therefore, the Word says, ‘Leaving the crowds behind, they took Him as He was…  

The Sea of Galilee is subject to sudden, strong, whirlwind storms coming off the eastern mountains [Mt Hermon.]  [These are like our northeasterner snow and rain storms which come in off the ocean, strong and heavy] Psalm 124:8 affirms that the Jews knew: “our help is in the name of the LORD who made Heaven and earth.”  Jesus knows that Satan is going to continue to resist His work and mission.  Then “there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.  And He, Himself, was in the stern asleep on the cushion.” [37,38a]

I remember on Canandaigua Lake, Canandaigua, New York, on the east side of the Lake, being caught in a rowboat, alone, in a heavy downpour. All I could do was row as fast as I could without bailing, heading for the shore and safety.  It is scary, fearful, and anxious time for sailors.  So, from the East, a whirlwind storm can arise any time.  This text, however, is not about whirlwind storms or storms in life.

Nevertheless, we often experience whirlwind storms in our lives!  These can be addictions, abuse, broken families, divorce, broken relationships, illness, sudden & untimely deaths, and the like.  Yet, we know where to turn in them!  What an opportunity these whirlwinds and others like them afford us with the unchurched or under-churched.  What do we do in these storms? What do the unchurched do without hope; or chasing after pleasures that never please; or think that God does not exist, or even care; or be in relationships built on emotion and feelings as they experience them.  To whom do they turn for help?  To where do they turn for help?

Jesus is the parable in this text!

Because the storm of the wind and waves was swamping the boats, the sailors became anxious and angry and afraid. Why? Because Jesus is fast asleep on the ballast bag, there to maintain stability in troubled waters, calm and unafraid.  This raises the question: What do you want Jesus to do for you in your whirlwind storms?   What do the non-religious want done for them in theirs?

They were surely troubled by this overwhelming storm.  They awoke Jesus and said: “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”  Have you ever heard yourself ask this question? I know I did during   a typhon in the South China Sea in 1968 aboard a carrier. I watched ships, large and small, bobbing and tossing, and sliding around and wobbling, as in the waves like corks in a Child’s bathtub. It was scary!

Think about what “do You not care that we are perishing” says! How little faith or understanding of Jesus’ mission they possess, or we possess!  Earlier they thought Jesus was out of His senses. His mission is to bring the Kingdom of God to you, in truth and life: repent and believe the Gospel [1:15]. This is the rescue humans need! We need the seed planted to grow into humble faith.

So how does Jesus show you when you are disturbed and afraid of the storms in your life?  Do you turn to the Word, or do something else? The text: “Jesus, got up, and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.”  Is He silent? Did nothing happen? Did Jesus speak? Did we hear and with understanding?

What do you turn to in our whirlwind storms in life? Does Jesus care that we are perishing?  Yes, Yes, He cares! Look to the Cross.  “Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  He “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Heb12:2] He suffered rejection, abuse, whippings, thirst, and a cruel death, caring for the whole world and you! And Me. Jesus went to the cross uncomplaining forth to die in our behalf as the sacrifice acceptable to God for grace, mercy, peace and the forgiveness of our sins, that we might have hope, and eternal life with Him on account of His substitutionary death in our behalf. He is fully man and fully God! Yes! Amen. He cares for all sinners!

Jesus got up from the cushion, and “He rebuked the wind and said to the sea; “Hush, be still.”    He has been teaching with authority. He has been healing the sick. He is the Word become flesh.  “O God, who dost still the roaring of the seas; The roaring of the waves, And the tumult of the people…and those who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Thy signs.” [Ps.65: 1a, 7, 8a] 

The Word says: “and the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”  The elements; the demons; the unclean spirits; the wind and the sea obey the Word spoken by Jesus!     What about us?  Who is this the disciples ask.  

Jesus then addresses the second question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  Come, now brethren, let us reason together here.  Who is this that commands the waves and wind to cease and they become calm?  Who is this that is concerned that we are perishing?   Who is it that is calling us to participation in His death and resurrection that is the object of the good news of our salvation?  Is it not God in the Flesh-Jesus, Himself, who saves? 

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  41b And He no longer tells us to tell no one, though He gave only one answer.  And those who have faith have the one answer. 

In our faith, how do we obey without fear?

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” 2 Cor.5:21

Jesus asks us, today, “Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith? Jesus asked, but did not answer.  We are called to be ambassadors for Christ. What a beautiful calling we have.

In Baptism, God incorporated us into Jesus’ death and resurrection, gave us participation in His death and resurrection; gave us the forgiveness of sins, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us; that we might be ambassadors for Christ, “as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  What a wonderful gift this is to all believers in Jesus Christ to be ambassadors for Christ to a dying world, a Satan busy world. This is how we obey the Word, by being faithful spokespersons for the Lord Jesus Christ in all that we think and do.  What a great privilege we have as followers of Jesus sharing the good news of salvation in His name.  He is our help in time of need and theirs help, also, by faith.

God made “Him, Jesus, to be sin in our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” that is, in Jesus!  He is faith’s object.  [2 Cor 5:20,21] God calls us to be righteous through faith in Jesus, that we might become the righteousness of God through the obedience of faith.   Therefore, Receive grace meaningfully.  

And, “working together with Him,” Jesus, “we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain” … [2 Cor 6:1 a]. We have been rescued, we have been saved from perishing, we have received grace upon grace!  This is the acceptable time, behold, this is the “Day of Salvation.”  This is the purpose of the Church.  It is like an upside down boat into which we enter to worship Jesus, the author and perfecter of our Faith; to not be disturbed by the struggles of our lives, the storms, the whirlwinds; and to remain calm in the One who calms the waves, and stills the wind, Jesus Christ, our crucified, buried, risen, ascended and seated Lord who calls us through the Gospel preached to believe that we are forgiven sinners, working to redeem the world from sin, death and the power of the devil by preaching repentance and believing the gospel until He comes again.  Our boat is a hospital for sinners! What a wonderful message, assured by God in the Flesh who stilled the waters and calmed the waves and increased the faith of those who repented and believed the Gospel by His presence.  

In the grace of God, go into the world in which you live and be an ambassador of Christ if you know the answer to the question, “who is in the boat with you?”  Remember who invites you into the boat with Himself.

Regardless of what is going on around us, [though now we have a new, major whirlwind storm of our own as a congregation] we can be assured that Jesus wants us not to perish but be saved, and to continue moving forward and growing in faith believing that God in the Flesh is with us in each step of the way. 

Amen. Amen. Amen. Go in grace and peace, Jesus cares that we are perishing.

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