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The Scandalous Savior

Sermon: “The Scandalous Savior”             

LSB Series B; September 26, 2021

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21

Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-50

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

Scandals. Scandals are everywhere and have been present throughout all time. From the perspective of the disciples, Judas’ betrayal was likely deemed a scandal. From perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was likely deemed a scandal. But those aren’t in our lifetime.

Here are some scandals from our day and age:

In the world of sports, Lance Armstrong was found guilty of a doping scandal, Pete Rose was found guilty of a gambling scandal. And then in another doping scandal through the use of performance enhancing drugs, there was Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. 

In the world of celebrities, we were overwhelmed with details about the college admissions scandal involving Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli. In the world of business, there was the Enron accounting scandal and Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme scandal. And in the world of politics, history will rightly never let us forget about the Watergate scandal.

Scandals are everywhere. They are everywhere, and they are often met with the question: “How dare you?” “How dare you?”

That is what the disciples were in essence asking as they witnessed someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name.

John said to him [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38).

Representing the disciples, John made it clear that whoever this exorcist was that had used Jesus’ name to cast out a demon, was in fact, invading their proverbial turf. It was as if they were saying, “How dare you? Who do you think you are to invade our turf? We are Jesus’ posse. Not you! What you are doing is downright scandalous!”

Note that John and his fellow apostles gave no support for this fellow follower of Jesus, and there was no sympathy for this once-demon possessed individual. All John and the other disciples were interested in were themselves and protecting what they thought was their own. Jesus was their teacher, and any power He had was meant to rub off on their shoulders, not on anyone else’s. 

But Jesus was quick to rebuke John and his fellow companions: Jesus said: “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward (Mark 9:39-41).

This is much the same thing that was going on in the Old Testament lesson. A young man came up to Moses and complained that Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. And Moses immediately responded: Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29).

What Moses and Jesus made clear was that it was in no way scandalous by any stretch of the imagination for others to do work in the name of the Lord. Rather, it would be wonderful if everyone were busy doing works of the Lord, even if that work is simply giving a cup of water to someone in need.

Instead, Jesus taught them that what is downright scandalous is if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin. That is downright scandalous. In fact, the Greek word for ‘causing someone to sin’ is skandalon, giving us none other than the word: scandalous.

If ever there is something that warrants the question: “How dare you?” it is leading someone astray from the faith. And Jesus gets downright serious here. If you lead someone astray from Him, then it would be better for that person to have a great millstone hung around their neck and be drowned into the sea.

When I looked up how much a millstone weighed in Bible times, the answer ranged from several hundred pounds to over three thousand pounds. The point Jesus is making is obvious. It is better for you to drown and die than to lead someone else away from Him.

But Jesus wasn’t done with His rather uncomfortable images. Hand causes to you sin? Cut it off. Foot causes you to sin? Cut it off. Eye causes you to sin? Tear it out.

Talk about scandalous! These sound like a lot of scandalous actions…and Jesus is the One seemingly advocating for them.

Or is He? Is Jesus advocating for hand and foot severing and eye gouging? Or is He getting at something a bit deeper? Is He inviting John, His other disciples, and us, who are so consumed with looking at and judging the lives of others, protecting our own turfs, and puffing up our own pride, to stop and consider our own actions first?

Because let’s cut to the chase here. Our sins not only impact us, which they do, but they also impact others. If we choose to sin, likely there are others who are watching us. If we choose to justify our sinful action, then others learn that sins are not that bad and don’t need to be confessed. We not only lead others astray from the faith, which is scandalous, but we also make a mockery of the sacrifice of the Son of God.

Nowhere is this seemingly more prevalent than when you are in the presence of a child. Children are like sponges. They rightly follow the line: “Monkey see, monkey do.” So, if an adult swears around them, what are they likely to do? If they hear adults gossiping about other adults, or they see their parents form cliques with other adults, what are they likely to do? If they see adults behave irresponsibly with regards to sexual promiscuity, alcohol, pornography, you name it, what lifestyle are they likely to lead for themselves? 

The point again is: What we say and do matters, not only for ourselves, but also for the lives of others. And we ought not think that our influence is limited to kids. It is downright scandalous for Christians to put on a front here in church, but then go out and behave with reckless abandon the other six days of the week. It not only fails to honor what God has done for you, but it teaches others that being a Christian doesn’t matter when it comes to how you live your life. And we all know that is not true. 

It does matter that as Christians who have been forgiven in Christ live our lives with uprightness and integrity. In no way are we perfect, and in no way are we holier than thou. Instead, we follow God’s commandments in love for Him and love for our neighbors. And when we fall to sin, we immediately repent so that we can be forgiven and so that others can see that we, too, need a Savior.

That is what Jesus is getting at when He ends our text with the topic of salt. Salt without flavor is no good. But we who have the salt of salvation alive and well within us have much to use to season this world with in speaking of the Savior Jesus Christ.

Because when we talk about scandals, there was none greater than what He endured. It was absolutely scandalous that God the Father in heaven would send His Son to earth for a bunch of losers like us who only deserved to be cast into hell. Yet, it was into hell’s unquenchable fires that Jesus went to save all of us who have gone astray again and again.

Now, no one in their right mind would ever send their Son to do such a thing? Such action would only be met with the question: “How dare you? How dare you send Your one and only Son to die? That is downright scandalous.” Yet, such is the love of our Savior. He is a Scandalous Savior. He defies all human reason and does the unthinkable…all to save you, and me too.

But, as you know all too well. He did not stop there. Though it wasn’t a millstone in front of the tomb, the stone was rolled away from the tomb nonetheless, and He is alive. Just like He told His disciples would happen in our text last week. Just like He promised us. 

Though we are fraught with scandalous sins of our own, He met it all head on with a scandal that only could be His own. Crucified, dead, buried, and ascended, He has untied the millstone from our necks and raised us back to life. 

The unquenchable fires of hell no longer await us. They have been quenched by the salvific work of our God. Quenched by the waters of our baptism where the scandal of the Son of God was made our own as we were made His own. 

It is just as we have sung again and again this month: “There is nothing worth comparing, to this lifelong comfort sure! Open-eyed by grave is staring: even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Tuning into the Truth

Sermon: “Tuning into the Truth”             

LSB Series B; September 19, 2021

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20

Gospel Reading: Mark 9:30-37

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

Men have this remarkable gift known as “selective hearing”. It allows us to tune into the things that we want to hear, and tune out those things that we don’t want to hear.

Let me provide you an example. When I am watching a game or a movie that I am enjoying, Emily may come downstairs and ask for help with something she is working on. But, where she might think she is going to receive help right away, what I heard is that she needs help at some point, but not necessarily now, so I am free to continue watching whatever I am watching. As I said, it is a remarkable gift.

But….what men have found to be a remarkable gift, women don’t always agree. You see, as I understand it, men’s ability to tune out what they don’t want to hear invokes frustration in the woman. They desire eye contact and a response, and a more immediate response than, “I’ll get to that at some point.”

All kidding aside, we all have a tendency to tune into what we want to hear, and tune out of what we don’t want to hear. Men just seem to use the tactic more often, and that is to their own detriment as it often damages communication with whomever they may be engaging with in conversation.

It’s like when we get into our cars. We sit down, buckle up, and then tune into a radio station. If there is a commercial, a song, or a program that we don’t like, what do we do? We tune into a different station, until we find something that we like.

The disciples were struggling to tune into Jesus as they were walking with Him. He was attempting to take this time they had together and tell them some very important details about what was coming up in His life. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:31-32).

Jesus was inviting them to tune into a very key truth about Himself and what it meant to follow Him. In fact, this was not the first time He had invited them to tune into such details. Back in chapter eight, Jesus had also told them about His forthcoming death and resurrection. Needless to say, they hadn’t tuned in well at that time either.

Are we any different? After all, who wants to hear bad news? Who wants to hear that your leader that you have been following these past couple of years is about to go and suffer and die? It’s no wonder they tuned Jesus out. Who wants to follow the guy who’s going to die? We would likely have tuned Him out as well.

How easy is it for us to tune out the Word of God when something is said that we don’t like to hear? When something challenges the worldview we have adopted for ourselves, we have a tendency to change the proverbial channel.

Throughout the Covid pandemic with all of the online services, was it just easier to change the channel to a church that had a better production or perhaps a more entertaining presentation, whether it was a faithful congregation or not? Or how easy was it to tune in for a moment, and then just turn it off in exchange for something you wanted to do more? Needless to say, that even though there are certainly advantages to offering worship online, time will tell if such endeavors were truly beneficial for building up the body of Christ as a worshipping community. (Pause)

But it doesn’t just happen because of Covid. It can be easy to tune out the Word of God and tune into a host of other options. One such example is the infiltration of sports on Sundays. I read somewhere that this day, Sunday, no longer belongs to the Lord. It belongs to the National Football League. It would honestly be hard to argue with that. But it doesn’t stop there, does it?

From professional sports to peewee leagues, the notion of “Remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”…by setting it apart to be renewed and refreshed by God’s Word has increasingly become lost in our day and age. The Word of God has increasingly become tuned out by the demand to pursue greatness on the athletic field, court, or otherwise. 

Greatness was exactly what the disciples were after as well. Everyone of them wanted to be the best. And we can’t blame them. We all want to be the best. Just think, ever since we have been little, our parents told us “to do our best”. But just because we have been told to do our best, does not always mean that we will be the best. We struggle to understand that though, especially in a world full of participation awards and trophies for 27th place, or however far it goes. The disciples were no different.

Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34).

Like us, the disciples had egos. They had seen how Peter, James, and John had been selected to go into Jairus’ house. They had seen them be selected to go up the mountain of Transfiguration. So, like many of us in our work worlds, athletic attempts, or the neighborhood playground, they began jockeying for position and rank…but at what expense?

When we are consumed with pursuing our own greatness, it can be far too easy to lose sight of the One who is the greatest. Just take the example of sports, for example. It used to be that Sunday was a protected day, but a few games here, a tournament there, and before you know it, the importance of worship and receiving God’s gifts week in and week out is diminished…all in the pursuit of personal greatness.

But, greatness only comes in first tuning in and being served by the One who truly is the greatest.

The disciples really struggled to tune into this truth. And that’s because they were less interested in listening to Jesus and more interested in talking about what they wanted to talk about: Who was the greatest?

Recognizing that this was such a tough lesson to tune into, the text tells us that [Jesus] sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:35-37).

You see, some conversations you just gotta sit down for. You know the ones. The tough ones. The ones that go against the grain. It is safe to say that Jesus thought the disciples sinful pursuit of greatness was one that warranted Him sitting down.

It is safe to say that the topic of sports on the Sabbath day is another one that would warrant sitting down for a much longer conversation. As pastor, I would be lying to you if I said I was not concerned. For years, it has become very clear that the pursuit of greatness through athletics and other extracurriculars has become tantamount to establishing identity and worth in this world. But at what risk? What happens when the spotlight goes out? What happens when the athletic pursuit comes to an end? What happens when the child has learned to replace worship with whatever else there is out there in this world? Will they return to where the Greatest One truly is located…here in His house?

Look, I know this goes against the very fabric of our society. And I know this is not a popular message as it goes against the grain. But there is a reason Jesus sat down to talk about this matter. We are obsessed with ourselves. So obsessed that we, like those disciples, can so easily tune out what Jesus is trying to teach…

The life of a Christian is not about being first. It is about being last. The life of a Christian is not pursuing becoming the rich and famous so that we can be served, but rather to love our neighbors as ourselves and to serve them. 

That’s why he brought a child before the disciples as an object lesson. A child in Jesus’ day was insignificant with regard to greatness. They were the lowest on the proverbial totem pole of popularity. With a 30% infant mortality rate and another 30% death rate by the age of six, children were deemed weak and insignificant. Yet, Jesus tells them to put aside their pursuit of greatness, and start serving those less significant than themselves. That, according to Jesus, is what greatness is all about.

Sunday after Sunday, Jesus welcomes us here to tune into greatest story of the Greatest One who ever walked this earth. He invites us into His story. 

His story was anything but great by worldly standards. There were no accolades or awards. His life was one of lowliness and humility. Born of a virgin, placed into a manger, visited by lowly shepherds, the son of a poor carpenter, rejected by family, friends, His Church, His nation…His life was nothing that we would desire. So, it’s no wonder that we esteemed Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted.

But He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed [Isaiah 53].

The One who was first, became last. The One who is the greatest became the least…and it was all to save you…and me too.

There is not-a-one of us here that doesn’t get caught up in the pursuit of greatness and the desire that all lights would shine on us. Sure athletics is one way it is done, but we do it on social media, we do it in conversation as we puff up in pride trying to one up others. We are more interested in tuning into ourselves than into Jesus.

And in spite of all of that, Jesus loved us so much that He lowered Himself from greatness. He left His throne in heaven and He became the lowest on the totem pole. He became the insignificant one. So insignificant that His own Father rejected Him as He suffered and died…suffered and died to take our insignificant, lowly selves and raise us from death to give us lives…lives of significance. 

Our identity is not in how much greatness we can get or how much the spotlight may shine on us. We find our identity in His light shining on us and then we reflect that light of His in love for others.

I love the refrain from the chorus line of the old hymn, The Old Rugged Cross: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” (Pause)

May God protect us from selective listening in every area of life, but especially when it comes to tuning into the Word of God. Through His Spirit, may God help us to understand where true greatness is found, and daily increase our faith in the One who humbled Himself by dying and rising to make us great! 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.

With Just a Word

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

            Words are everywhere and make up everything. When you look around outside what do you see? Well of course you see creation. With just a word, God spoke and everything around us came to be. If you look in our surrounding community you see, at least in Mayer, you see a river, corn fields, farms, houses, schools, a church, restaurants, people, animals, everything that God has created. And God created them using…yep you guessed it…words. There is not a single thing that the Lord did not speak into existence. By the very breath of his mouth and curling of his tongue the entire universe was created from the most expansive galaxies to the smallest atoms that can only be seen under a microscope. All of it created with just a word. So when you look outside, what do you see? Well you see words because all that the Lord created, you have words to describe it with. You look down in your yard and you see the grass. It might finally be getting green. Maybe you’ve let it grow a little bit long so that the green will stay for just a little while longer. Everything you see is categorized by words and descriptions that are each unique and quantified by the various senses they engage as we encounter them in our everyday life.

            Some of you might recall various sights, smells, sounds, touches, and even tastes all that are described by just a word or rather just a few words. In the summer you might smell fresh cut grass, flowers in bloom. In the fall you might feel the crisp air as you gather around a warm fire with family and friends. In the winter you might feel the freezing temperatures and the cold snow outside while being warmed inside under the protection of your own homes. In the spring time you might recall the smell of a freshly plowed and spread field, though that might not smell the best. All these seasons, each of our experiences in life are described by words. 

            The reading from James for this morning cuts right to the chase in convicting us in these words. He doesn’t hold back and rather is quite blunt, but not untruthful, in all that he has to say to us today and how it applies to our lives. He calls us to recognize all of creation and the words that we use to describe it. And he calls us to look at our relationships and examine what words we use and how we describe them. James gives us great description about how our tongues shape our words and our relationships with those around us. He first describes a horse, a rather large animal that is capable of great help if trained appropriately but also great harm if mistreated or miss trained often to the harm of those around them.  He tells us about how such a small bit in their mouth can guide and direct them as the owner sees fit, either for work, for play, or for training. He also describes to us something much larger, something that could require a number of people to control in its entirety but is steered ever so directly by such a small rudder going wherever the will of the pilot directs. 

            All of these things he uses to describe the tongue. It is small member, often going unnoticed in its affinity for blessings and curses. James here doesn’t butter this up for us at all. He jumps straight to the point demonstrating to us how much evil the tongue causes. He writes, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by man kind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With just a word the tongue causes such evil by the words that we speak and utter. No one is exempt from this and if we really think hard enough, we can all bring to mind a time when we used our own tongues for that same “cursing.” With just a word we can, and do hurt or harm each other. That person is stupid. They are completely incompetent. Do they even understand anything? With just a word we can divide families, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers…did you see what he was wearing the other day? Did you hear what they did? Did you see what they look like? If I’m being really honest though I don’t think Minnesotans always say any of this outright. No we prefer the passive aggressive comments that might not come across as hurtful but really are intended to. We make comments like “Nah I’m not mad. Don’t even worry about it” to someone’s face but then behind their back we say things like, “can you believe this person? Where do they get off?” I’m sure in some way, shape, or form we are all guilty of comments like these.

            That being said, James does point out that our tongues and the words that flow forth from them don’t only come out as curses that divide but also blessings that unite. He writes, “…it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. With just a word we bless our Lord and Father and with just a word we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. This is probably the most convicting portion of this passage. When we are cursing one another be it through passive aggressive comments or otherwise, we are, with just a word, cursing someone else who has been made in the very image of God. No human being can tame their tongue. No human being but Jesus that is.

            It’s Palm Sunday a wonderful day filled with joyous celebration. The crowds gather around Jesus as he walks up to the city of Jerusalem. He asks his disciples to go into the city and as a man for a colt, the foal of a donkey, and tell him that the Lord has need of it. They do so. As the great parade continues we see people waving palm branches in their hands and laying their coats in the streets for the Lord to tread over. Hosanna they shout as they wave their hands in praise. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he they say. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. With just a word we hear the great proclamation of the Lord the King coming out of the crowd. It’s with that word that we here as well begin that Holy Week. 

            A few days later the crowd has a different tone. No longer is it blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus has been brought out to Golgatha. Bruised, beaten, nearly dead. He was led out to the place of the skull to be crucified publicly. It seems that the whole crowd that once joined around him in hope shouting blessings has taken a drastic turn. No longer are their tongues mouthing words of praise but curses. With just a word they speak curses to him. If you truly are the Son of God take yourself down from that cross they say. With just a word the call him out not understanding the true nature of his work. With just a word they shout and mock him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews” or “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down from that cross that we might see and believe. But Jesus’s response wasn’t one of cursing rather as Isaiah writes, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

            Jesus died on the cross for you taking the curse of sin upon himself for you. As it is written in Galatians Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree and in 1st Peter, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” With just a word then, we hear Jesus speaking life to all of us here today and for all time. With just a word he proclaim, “father forgive them for they know not what they do. And with just a word he forever declares. It is finished. With just a word, it is finished. The same God who with just a word spoke the world into existence, speaks forgiveness, life, and salvation with just a word. 

            With just a word come blessing and cursing as James points out to us. Our tongues are something to be controlled and as James commends us by saying it ought not to be so. As we go through life we have ample opportunity to put down and belittle those around us but even more so do we as followers of Jesus have the ability to bless one another with just a word. With just a word we can pray with and for one another. Send an encouraging letter. Instead of using words to tear down, we can build one another up. Instead of speaking words that divide, we can with just a word, unite, encourage, show hospitality, among many other things. Words are all around us after all. It is with a just a word that the universe was made, and it is with just a word that it has been redeemed and remade. Because of that we too, as those who have been redeemed by Christ, can use our words for blessings. May God grant us that strength to bless those around us with just a word. Amen.

            And may the peace of God which transcends all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.  

Courageously Confident in Christ

Sermon: “Courageously Confident in Christ”             

LSB Series B; September 5, 2021

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a

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

Courage. Who do you think of when you think of the word “Courage?” Perhaps you think of a firefighter who runs into a burning building. Perhaps you think of a soldier who advances upon the enemy. Perhaps you think of the medical professionals who are on the front lines of the pandemic. Perhaps you think about the police officers who ward off violent protests. What about a new student who walks into a classroom full of new peers? That certainly takes courage. Or what about someone going back to work after losing a loved one? That takes courage as well. Or maybe your mind went in a completely different direction. Perhaps when you thought of the word, “Courage,” you thought of the lion from the Wizard of Oz. After all, what did he not have that led him to join Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man who were “off to see the Wizard?” As he petted his tail, and cried, it became apparent that he did not have any courage.

Confidence. Who do you think about when you think of the word “Confidence?” Perhaps you think about that friend that seems to be comfortable talking to everyone in every social engagement. Perhaps you think about that public speaker that seems to rattle off fact after fact without even pausing to look down or take a breath. Perhaps you think of an actor or actress who puts themselves out there night after night for all to see. Or maybe your mind goes to your favorite Superhero or favorite athlete, or maybe you have a role model that you look up to because of how they carry themselves in any circumstance thrown at them.

Now put them together. Courageously confident. The Bible is chock full of examples of those who are courageously confident. They look and see that danger is all around them. The odds are up against them. Everything appears as if sure and certain defeat is imminent. And yet, as the saying goes: “They go in where angels fear to tread.”

Think about the story of Joshua and the city of Jericho. There, the people of Israel had finally made their way into the Promised Land after over four hundred years of slavery and forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet, as soon as they got there, there was this fortified city with big, scary people in it. Yet, what were they told to do? March around the city once for six days. Then, on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, have the priests blow their trumpets, and the walls would come tumbling down. And that is exactly what happened.

Or take the story of David and Goliath. No Israelite in Saul’s army wanted to fight against the nine foot tall Philistine. They were too scared, and for good reason. He was a beast of a soldier. Yet, along came this young, ruddy looking shepherd boy who spent his days playing the harp. And with a sling and a stone, he stood up to the giant, slung the sling, and down the giant went…forever giving us the line, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

Or how about the story of Gideon? At first there was some apprehension on his part. After all, the Midianites had been stealing from the people of Israel for far too long, and their army was too vast to even think of standing up to them. But, then Gideon was told to rally the troops, and then of all things to do, to reduce the army. God told him that he had “too many” soldiers. So, in a couple of moves, the army was reduced from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300. Then, in the middle of the night with torches and trumpets, those three hundred soldiers sent the army of Midian into a frenzy and God turned them against themselves, and the enemy army was defeated as the people of Israel cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.”

So, what do these three true Bible stories have in common, and what do they have to do with our text for today from Isaiah 35? In each instance, the servant of the Lord was courageously confident as they faced adversity and what appeared to be sure and certain defeat. And where did their courage and confidence come from? It came from the Lord. So it was for Isaiah as he wrote the words of our text today. 

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” (Isaiah 35:4).

How could Isaiah write with such courage and confidence? He had just written about the destruction of Edom in the previous chapter. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the nation of Assyria. Like the eye of a hurricane with its clear blue skies and calming winds, there they were, in the middle of doom all around them. In fact, in the very next chapter, he would write of Assyria’s invasion of Judah. So, how could he write like this? 

How could he write with courage and confidence: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 

The answer is that Isaiah was holding on to a promise. His courage and his confidence didn’t come from within. It came from the coming Christ. Back in Isaiah chapter seven, there had been a promise made: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). And what does Immanuel mean? God with us.

You see, Isaiah was waiting for the fulfillment of a promise…a promise he knew beyond all doubt would come to fruition. So, there was every reason to be strong. Every reason to “fear not!”

The same is true for us. We are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to come and save us when the Last Day comes. And we do so in the confidence that He will follow through on what He said. Just as He was with Joshua at the walls of Jericho, just as He was with David before Goliath, just as He was with Gideon as they defeated the Midianites, so He will be with us as we await His return. We can count on Him because He has never let us down.

But sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the battle is already won. We find ourselves two thousand years removed from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and that distance has a way of driving doubt into our hearts and minds. And where doubt dives in, fear is soon to follow.

When we consider our lives as Christians, are we living in courage and confidence? Are we boldly sharing what we have been given to share, or are we more like Peter when he was walking on the water? How many of us when the going gets tough as Christians, even remotely so, just take our eyes off of Jesus and look at the wind and the waves of this world, and so we wallow in worry?

What is at the heart of worry and anxiety? It is a lack of trust. What we see in Isaiah is that he trusted in His God to fulfill His promises. He knew that God would come through. Even though Assyria would overtake Judah. Even though Babylon would destroy them and send them into exile. He knew God would not abandon His people or forsake the promise He had made all the way back in the Garden of Eden. He would send His offspring. He would defeat Satan. He would swallow up death in victory.

Even though everything Jesus faced the greatest adversity as He was unjustly tried, whipped, and led to the slaughter. Even though it looked like sure and certain defeat as He hung there on the cross in darkness as they railed insults at Him. Even though He looked like the loser, in what appeared to be failure, was met with His cry of victory: “It is finished!” And it was. And it is. It. Is. Finished.

So what do we have to fear when it comes to being bold in our faith? Nothing. Yet, how do we shake ourselves out of the worries and the fears that fill our mind? How do we stand up for Jesus in a world that becomes ever more hostile to Christians with each day that passes?

The answer comes in what Jesus said to His disciples as they cried out in fear as He walked upon the water. Jesus said to His disciples: “Take courage, it is I.”

Courage and confidence don’t come from within. Courage and confidence come in Christ who has come and keeps coming. It is just as we pray: Thy Kingdom Come. 

The Kingdom of God comes as Christ comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. The Kingdom of God is here. This is where we come for courage and confidence in Christ.

Baptized in His name, we are clothed with the courage of Christ. Nourished with His body and blood, we are filled with His confidence. We have Christ in us as we await His coming again on the Last Day.

See here today that we have all that we need to be courageously confident as Christians. Let’s not let Satan convince us otherwise. Now is time for us as Christians to replace fretting with following. It’s time to give up thinking we are losing, and listen to the words of our victorious Lord. And it’s time for us to stop the silence, and speak up.

We have good news of great joy to share. We have the truth that will set people free. We have God’s Word in our hearts and on our lips…and His Word never comes back void. So, what are we afraid of? 

Isaiah wrote: 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” (Isaiah 35:4).

So, “Take courage,” Jesus, our resurrected Savior is coming again. The victory is already won! It is a guarantee! Death can’t hold us, and the grave can’t keep us. You can count on it…because you can always count on Christ to follow through on His Word. In His 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 Armor of God

 

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

            The armor of God is a passage that we are all probably very familiar with. We’ve recited it, read about it, even seen pictures of an ancient soldier fully dressed in battle armor ready to go to battle and fight against any danger that might come his way. This passage also provides great comfort as it demonstrates to us all physically what we have as we stand firm against the challenges that we face in this world. That being said, I want you to hold on to three things as you listen today. First, the struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places and this present darkness. Second, our armor, as it is understood and used here in our passage, is used for defense. Third and finally, the battle is already won and this is something that we need to hold on to no matter what. 

            There was a time, when I was younger, that I really liked knights, armor, swords, and shields. And if I am being completely honest with myself, I still do like all of those things. Particularly when I was younger, I liked creating such things. I loved taking newspaper, or cardboard and either duct tape, or packaging tape and fastening together and wearing all of the armor around that I had created. I would shape it to mostly fit over my shoulders and chest. I would fasten it around my waist. I would make delicate arm guards and leg guards as well as a “sword” and a “shield” and however meager they might have looked I believed that they would protect and defend. I even managed to make a rather precarious helmet that didn’t always stay on or fit correctly but anyway.  Now this armor wasn’t exactly comfortable, nor did it cover me completely. Needless to say, that if we were attacked in any way shape or form, not that we were going to be anyway, the armor made of newspaper, cardboard, and duct tape would in no way be able to keep me safe from any sort of harm. 

            When we think about armor, maybe we think of safety, security, a strong perhaps impenetrable defense. By and large that’s what armor is there for and that’s what it was used for way back in the times of knights fighting over kingdoms with swords and shields. A warrior was only as strong as the strength of his own armor and time and time again the armor would protect but in that same vain, the armor would fail.  That is also what armor is used for now even though the types of armor may have changed. Now we have satellite networks, missile defense lines, and “bullet proof” body armor used to protect military service members. We even see armor within our own bodies as they have been intricately created and sustained by the Lord are also dressed in an armor called the immune system. This beautiful system that our Lord designed to protect our bodies from sickness. It is an armor that our body creates on its own as it encounters various illnesses and diseases. 

When we look out at the present world that we live in, it’s easy to forget what our battle is against. Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood but against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. It’s easy forget this when we out at the world and see the “armors” that we once thought would protect us don’t seem to be standing strong as they are beaten and battered by evil forces at work in this world. It’s easy to forget this when we see nations like Afghanistan taken over in what seems to be over night by a group that desires fear and dominance over the people and that those same people’s lives are in danger having very little to no protection at all. It’s easy to forget that the battle is not against flesh and blood when our very own flesh and blood seems to not work and the immune system that is meant to protect us from disease is bypassed in almost a blink of an eye.  

And when you really consider the armor that you have it’s hard to believe that the armor can be used as defense at all. Rather, it seems that the armor that we do have is simply made of cardboard, newspaper, and duct tape, you know, the armor that we made and believed imaginatively in the fragility of our minds would protect us from any evil plight, plague, pandemic, or power suddenly burns up in flash as these flaming darts fly in and attack us from all sides leaving us seemingly stripped of any security and safety. 

That’s just the thing, any sort of armor we make up ourselves will not withstand the forces of evil in the heavenly places. But that’s the amazing thing about the armor that we are given from the Lord. With the strength of His might we can stand against. Remember that the armor we are given is meant for defense. Paul doesn’t tell us that the armor is meant so that we can go on the offensive and strike out against the forces of evil are fighting knowing that the battle is already lost. Then with the armor of God we are able to stand. Three times this is written in verses 11 through 14. Paul writes, “put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the devil’s schemes…take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to with withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm…and stand therefore with the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness…” The armor that we are given gives us the strength to stand against the powers of darkness and the forces of evil at work in this world.  Put on the full armor of God, the belt of truth that is Jesus and what he has done, the breast plate of righteousness as you have been clothed in righteousness through your baptisms, the shoes of readiness given by the Gospel of peace. This ties into our school theme verse in that we are to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have. The Gospel of peace gives us that ability to be prepared. 

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith that is used to extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one, the helmet of salvation which keeps you focused on what you have received from Christ and finally the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The word that we receive each day. The word we return to, day after day, week after week. It is the Word of God that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It is through this Word that we are given that we can use, not as opportunity to lash out, condemn, and judge but rather speak the truth in love. 

  When you think about this armor you might think, “well that sounds like heavy stuff.” How can I possibly manage to carry all this around all the time?  Well, that’s why Ephesians 6:10 is so vitally important because it demonstrates where the strength to carry this armor comes from. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The strength that you are given to carry this armor and stand firm in the world that is full of the forces of evil at work, is firmly seated in Jesus and his victorious work.  

He is the one who stepped into our world and took on the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places and he defeated them. He stepped into our world that is constantly under attack from these powers of darkness and put things to right. He himself did the work that he knew only he could do. Isaiah 59:16-17 says, “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” God in Christ went to battle fully armed and ready. His work on the cross where he hung naked and vulnerable without any security or protection where he died for you and for me. And then in the tomb where he was raised to life again granting us the full armor of God as truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation given to us all in and through the Word. We then as we receive that word. As we are blessed with His gracious gifts of armor, we are able to stand firm against the devils schemes. 

We can acknowledge the struggles that we will have in this world just as Paul writes for us to be alert to what is going on. We can recognize how the devil is at work but his work is only the efforts of an already defeated loser, and though at times we may recognize that he is indeed stronger than we are by ourselves, he is not stronger than Christ. And it is in the armor of God that you are clothed and that you find a solid defense, refuge, comfort, peace, and protection as we live in this world. We can look to Jesus at all times knowing that just as he is raised from the dead, the victory all has been won and is given to all those who are in Him.  Amen.

And may the peace of God which transcends all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

From Upside Down to Right Side Up

Sermon: “From Upside Down to Right Side Up”             

LSB Series B; August 22, 2021

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 29:11-19

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

The other night I was downstairs sitting in my recliner reading one of my favorite books to the boys, The Hobbit. In the chapter we are in, Bilbo, the Hobbit is in the forest of Mirkwood with thirteen dwarf companions led by the King of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Together, these fourteen comrades are making their way to the dwarves long lost home, the Lonely Mountain, where there is treasure galore that is being protected by the evil dragon Smaug. But, for now, they are stuck in the forest of Mirkwood, and the density of the forest has caused them to lose their way and they don’t know their way out. So, in a point of desperation, the dwarves insist that Bilbo climb one of the tall trees to the very tippy top to see if he can tell which way to go. So, up, up, up, he goes, even on the smallest of branches, and there he is able to surmise which direction he thinks they should go to get to their destination.

It is that image of Bilbo, whether you have seen the movie, read the book or not…it is that image of Bilbo up in the trees above the forest that I want you to keep in mind. For there above the forest where they had lost their way, Bilbo was able to clearly see the direction he and his companions were supposed to go.

You see, like Bilbo and the dwarves who had lost their way in the depths and density of those woods, how many of us have found it difficult to navigate this world we are currently living in? How many of us feel lost as it just seems like things are so messed up, as if our world is flipped, turned upside down, like the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire would say? 

What we find in our reading from Isaiah today is that there is nothing new under the sun. The world is in many ways in chaos and flipped turned upside down as he communicates with the people of Judah.

Recall with me a moment that two weeks ago I told you that the nation of Israel was divided, with Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Well, now things were worse than mere division. Now the Assyrians have invaded and toppled the nation of Israel, and Judah was feeling the pressure of this advancing nation pressing in all around them. The situation looked completely and utterly hopeless.

Like other nations in times of distress, the temptation was to form an alliance with another nation in the hopes of warding off the advancing nation. But in the chapter after our text today, we see that Isaiah told the people of Judah that in no way were they to go down to Egypt to form an alliance with them. Simply trust in God, and He would take care of them.

How many of us are struggling with that reality these days? How many of us are looking around us and thinking that this world has become flipped turned upside down? Have you ever thought or said, “Remember the good ole’ days”?

Right now, all over the news is the push for school systems to adopt Critical Race Theory into their curriculum. “The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.” So, at its surface, it sounds beneficial in a nation that has an ongoing history of tense and often horrific race relations. But digging deeper, “critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. The goal is to deconstruct and upend power structures in favor of the oppressed” (Woodford, Social Justice and Critical Race Theory, page 24). 

The transgender movement is much the same. “Instead of adhering to objective science, when patients claim to have discovered a “true” sexual identity at odds with their body, psychiatrists focus on “preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex…” Scientific and technical resources have been wasted and professional credibility has been damaged by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it” (Anderson, When Harry Became Sally, page 17).

And it doesn’t stop there. We live in a world that promotes the killing of our own human race through abortion and euthanasia, we turn a blind eye to those that use “fetal matter” for scientific research, we see the disregard and disrespect of the police department that is here to protect and serve us. Life in this world is a mess. It is indeed flipped, turned upside down.

Or is it? While many of us have concluded that this world has just gone to Hades in a handbasket, is it really any different, than say, Isaiah’s age, or even before that, Adam and Eve’s age?

Ever since the fall, our world has been flipped upside down. As we heard in last week’s sermon, God made everything and said that it was good. Then He finished His most prized creation and said that it was all very good. But that didn’t last long. It was not long before a couple of bites into a tempting piece of fruit changed all of that. Good was replaced with evil. Perfection with sin. And life with death. In a mere moment, everything was upside down.

Isaiah found himself entrenched in that very reality as he spoke to the people of Judah. Instead of their hearts being inclined toward and near the Lord, their hearts were far from him. They were more concerned with the affairs of humankind than they were with God. Instead of turning to God in repentance and for help, they instead turned to their own devices.

Listen to what Isaiah writes: You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding” (Isaiah 29:16).

When the world seems flipped upside down to us, our last inclination is to look at the source. The source is none other than sin. Sin that originated all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve thought the potter should be regarded as the clay. And we are no different.

Critical race theory may have a damaging agenda, but that in no way negates our need to repent for all of the times we have made racist comments or had racist thoughts or treated someone differently because of how they looked. The transgender movement may be damaging, but that in no way negates our need to repent for the times we have failed to love and care for those struggling with the sex God made them to be. So it is for every time we have failed to repent for not coming alongside the women who have endured an abortion or any time we have failed to show respect for people in authority, police department or otherwise.

You see, it is very easy for us to sit back and say that this world is flipped, turned upside down because of others. But, it is entirely different to sit back and examine where we are a part of the reason this world is the way it is. Each of us like those Pharisees in our Gospel lesson is guilty of the sin of hypocrisy. We fail time and again at practicing what we preach, and we love to sit back and judge others while failing to come to terms with our own sins. How many times have we drawn near to God with our mouth, honored Him with our lips, and yet our hearts are far from Him? (Pause)

Remember that image that I told you to keep in mind. It was of Bilbo, the hobbit, way up in the tree clearly able to see which direction he and his companions needed to go. What I did not tell you was that the reason they were lost in the first place was that they had failed to listen to their leaders Gandalf and Beorn who had told them to stay on the trail.

We fail to see the way through our own hypocrisy because we are more consumed with listening to the talking heads of this day than we are to God’s Word. We are more consumed with blaming the upside down state of this nation and world on others than taking a good look at our own hearts. It’s time to open our eyes and see the forest for the trees. We are sinners. All of us. Like Bilbo, who climbed that tree to see where he and his companions were going, we need to climb the hill to Calvary once again to repent and get our direction straight.

The good news for us as sinners is that there is One, the Holy One of Israel, who has already climbed it ahead of us. And He did it by flipping His world upside down. Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

There on that cross, He took into His wounds, into Himself, all of those times you tried to be God and unseat the Potter even though you are the clay, all of those racist remarks that you have made or thought, all of those times you treated someone differently because of their appearance, all of those times you failed to care for someone struggling with their God-given sex, all of those times you may have failed to care for someone struggling after an abortion, all of those times you failed to respect those in authority over you, all of those times that you have been a hypocrite.

Everything that you have done and failed to do that has flipped this world upside down, He took upon Himself. And even though things looked upside down all around as darkness covered the land as He bled and died, three days later He rose to life. And it was in that moment as your guilt was taken away, and your sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7) that everything that was once upside down was turned right side up.

It may not look like it yet, but be assured that everything is as it should be. God is most certainly in control, and a day is coming when we will see that very truth with our own eyes.

Isaiah writes: In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 29:18-19).

 When Bilbo was up above those trees, he said that the sun almost blinded him and that he could finally breathe. So it will be for us on the last day. Our eyes will behold the Son, the Son of God, and we will be able to breathe the fresh air of forgiveness, life, and salvation…and we will forever be with our Lord. 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 Sign of Life

Sermon: “The Sign of Life”             

LSB Series B; July 25, 2021

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 12

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

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

We see signs all over. There are stop signs, speed limit signs, billboards which are signs of businesses promoting their products. Signs are everywhere. 

It is an unfortunate reality when we see signs that remind us of the reality of mortality: signs of death. We see signs that tell us how many traffic deaths there have been in the last year. We see signs that tell us about drunk driving that leads to death. We see crosses alongside the road that declare that someone dearly loved died at this very location. Even when we see signs that have a little baby on them with the words: “Choose Life,” we can’t help but be reminded of the over 60 million babies that have died due to abortion.

Such signs as these, and no doubt you can think of others, make us crave for a sign of life. We open the paper and there is the obituary section. We pick up the phone and someone we loved has just breathed their last. We hear about an upcoming diagnosis, and we know it is just a matter of time. And then there is our own mortality that ever lies before us as every ache and pain reminds us of just how fragile we truly are. Signs of death are all around us.

We long for signs of life. And so it went with Noah and his family. For an entire year they had been aboard this boat filled with animals. Yet, they could no doubt still hear the screams of those who had lost their lives in the flood. Many were family members, many were friends, and yet they had not listened to the Word of God. Their hearts and minds had been filled with wickedness. So much so that we are told in Scripture that “the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6).

To think of God regretting having made his most prized creation. To think that it came down to wiping them off the face of the earth. How could it have gotten so out of control? Such is the sorrowful situation of sin.

And yet, with their feet finally upon dry land after the flood had subsided, were Noah and his family, eight souls in all. The animals were all making their way to their new habitats. The surrounding plants and flowers refreshed the eyes after only having seen a wasteland of water for what must have felt like an eternity aboard that ark.

Though no doubt filled with excitement, the heartache of all that had taken place no doubt weighed heavy upon them. They were literally the only ones on planet earth. All their relationships, every last kin and friend, was gone. They were completely and utterly alone.

Perhaps you have felt that way. Among all of the negatives that came out of the pandemic, the one that was heard again and again was the overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Isolation. Quarantine. Separation. Words that have taken on a new meaning with a new frame of reference that will never fade from our memories.

Though the pandemic would seem to be drawing to a close and the death rate has fallen, the cry for a sign of life yet remains. The presence of sin in this world still lives on. Though the tidal wave of a global pandemic would seem to have somewhat subsided, the ripples are still felt.

Noah and his family no doubt felt the same. The rocking of the boat was done, but in many ways it still felt as though they were adrift at sea. They were longing for something to give them some hope, something to cling to as they were still drained emotionally by the devasting sense of loss that loomed all around them.

It makes me think of every person who has ever buried a loved one. The funeral is over. The meal is done. The hotdish leftovers are in the freezer. And then the weariness overwhelms the one who is drowning in a sea of sadness. They collapse into a chair only to be surrounded by pictures on the wall, pictures on the end table, then memories flood the mind, and then the flood of tears follows as the grief only grows…the devastating sense of loss looms all around them.

In times such as these, for all those who have grieved…for Noah and his family as they grieved, there is such beauty in this true story of the Word of God. It is story of God’s salvation as He provided them a way of escape. And now there before them was none other than this breath-taking sign of life…the sign of the rainbow.

A rainbow. With its brilliant array of colors…red, orange, yellow, green, and blue, indigo, and violet too. Seven colors for those eight souls to behold in all of its beauty. And there attached to that sign in the sky was a promise…a promise that God would never again flood the whole earth to destroy all flesh. What a sense of relief, comfort, and hope this must have brought to their weary and heavy hearts. At last, it was a sign of life. (Pause)

Now, it is safe to say that the rainbow in today’s context has been misconstrued. In no way was it ever intended to represent gay pride or transexual pride or anything of the sort. It was and always will be a sign of life and hope that is seen in the sky as a beautiful promise from God…a promise that He was and always will be a God of love and compassion in the face of sin and judgment. 

We as the Christian church need to reclaim the rainbow for what it is really intended to communicate. Martin Luther once wrote: “This sign [of the rainbow] should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment” (Luther’s Works, Volume 2, p. 148).

When we see a rainbow in the sky, we should instantly be reminded of the flood and how God hates sin and nearly wiped out the entire human race. Yes, God’s judgment is real. But, how many respond to God’s judgment today the way that most did in Noah’s day?

Yet, at the same time that we recall His judgment, we also remember that the sign of the rainbow in the sky is one of life and hope, salvation and compassion. He did not allow the human race to be extinguished by the waters of the flood, but rather in the ark, their lives were preserved.

So it is with us. We all will face that last day know as the day of judgment. On that day, the unfortunate reality is that there will be those that are swept away into the lake of fire in hell. But, for those of us who are baptized into the ark of the Christian Church and believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, we will be saved eternally.

It is interesting to note that on the ark, there was only one door. Perhaps, that was a way of God, pointing Noah, and us as well to the fact that there is only one way to be saved…and that’s Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Now such a black and white truth makes what the sign of the rainbow has become in today’s society so difficult for us to take. I am guessing that many of us here have friends or family members who have aligned themselves with a worldview that is in alignment with what the current rainbow flag promotes. I am guessing that for those that experience such realities in their families and friendships, there is a great deal of hurt because conversations have weighed heavy. I am guessing that there is also a great deal of worry about that family member or friends status when it comes to salvation in Christ.

Well, let me tell you that the ark of the church is a place for people who hurt. The ark of the church is a place for people who worry. The ark of the church is also a place for people who are steeped in sin, no matter whether it is the sin you struggle with or if it is a sin that someone else struggles with, heterosexual sin, homosexual sin, transexual sin, or otherwise. 

The ark of the church is a place where people come to have their sins forgiven and washed away, no matter what that sin may look like. This is a place where we who worry are met with a God who tells us to cast all their anxieties on Him because He cares for us. This is a place where our hurts are met with the healing balm of the Gospel. This is a place where the wounds that are often left open and gaping, are covered in Christ’s love and compassion.

That is what the sign of the rainbow in the sky is really all about. It is about a God of salvation and compassion. It is more than just a bow of an array of colors. It is a sign of God’s love for sinners who need a Savior. It reminds us that even though we should have been doomed to die, we have been granted life and salvation.

That is, after all why Noah and his family entered into the ark in the first place. It was so that God would preserve their lives. And that is what He did.

And that is what He does today as well as we gather in the ark of the Church. It is here that we are given proof that God will preserve our lives from judgment.

We receive that proof in the sign of the cross made on our hearts today where we were reminded of our Baptism. In a flood of water combined with God’s Word our sins were forgiven and our salvation was secured. And we receive proof here as we receive His visible sign of grace under bread and wine. His body given for us. His blood shed for us. All of it, just like the rainbow, is a sign of life given to us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In His 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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