9th Sunday after Pentecost

9th Sunday after Pentecost

August 11, 2019

Genesis 15:1-6

“Faith That’s God Strong”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon this morning is today’s First Lesson from Genesis 15.

My dear friends,

Many have commented on my weight loss this year and yes, it is something I am actively working on. But I found that, to really keep going, I had to take my exercise to the next level, so I joined a gym. For the first time in my life, I belong to a Fitness Club – Crunch Fitness. In addition to the treadmills and elliptical machines, I also use the weights. I lift weights to make and keep my upper body strong. I’m not exactly there yet, but I do want to be stronger. But I’m going to have to work at that to make it happen. Me; only I can do that.

Naturally, when we think about a strong faith, we assume a person with a strong faith has a spiritual strength within themselves. We think that must have been the case for Abraham. Our OT lesson and Epistle lesson texts identify the “strong” faith of Abraham, as do lots of other passages in the Bible. So, we hold Abraham up as an example of strong faith because there was some special spiritual strength he had…I get that, but it doesn’t work that way. Strong faith doesn’t really mean there’s anything about the person that’s strong physically or spiritually. Strong faith is ONLY about God. Abraham’s God-given faith is strong because it displays the belief that nothing is impossible with God.

You remember the story. Abraham lacked a son whom he and Sarah dearly wanted. The Lord had promised just that. In fact, he promised a great nation from Abraham’s descendants, but that had been years ago. By now Abraham had begun to accept that what he was looking for would no longer happen. Then comes those great words of promise from our text: “your very own son shall be your heir.” Abraham had a need; to have a son with Sarah. God promised to meet that need. Nothing is impossible with God.

What needs did you bring to church today? Are you looking for a change, some progress, some hope. Maybe you want answers. Life is full of questions, you know. Abraham in Genesis 15 is a LONG ways from El Paso, Texas. It’s long ways from Dayton, Ohio. In all matters of need we call upon and cling to God, knowing He will provide even if the situation may seem futile. As Luther points out in the explanation of the 1st Commandment, to believe in God (faith) means to entrust yourself in Him completely, even if that means your need is met in another way. Completely. Easier said than done.

Sadly, that is not the case for the majority of people. They have not set their hearts completely on God but they have given up…on our nation, on their hopes and dreams, on themselves. A situation seems hopeless, people feel helpless, and faith becomes the first causality of despair.

Last week the rich man in the parable of Luke 12 was called a “fool” because he forgot that everything in life we receive comes from God’s hands. In our times of distress and misfortune and hopelessness, we are encouraged to turn to the Lord for help and call on him. But rather than do that – turn to One who is strong – we fall into the same trap. We foolishly rely on our sinfully weak selves and we lose hope for a better tomorrow, especially when the bullets start to fly and innocent people start to die.

Abraham is a hero of faith because he accepted an improbable proposition of having a son—something human reason would call impossible. People in their 90s having children. A child? Yeah…right! That seemed too impossible for Abraham to imagine ever happening. But it happened…didn’t it? Friends, your Christian faith, too, should be open to improbable suggestions.

There is no statute of limitations on miracles. Even in extreme cases where medical reports describe futility and little hope, when your life situation feels like it’s on life support, when the relationship is on its last leg, or you feel your health or financial situation offers what you think can only be a bleak future, even if you’re flooded with hopelessness and despair, there may still be confidence in divine intervention. God can make things possible. There is hope and there is trust. And that trust is strong because it is God who provides.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the text is at the end. Abraham received righteousness and with that salvation. In other words, God not only moved things in Abraham’s life with the promise of a biological son and a nation from that, he also brought to Abraham redemption; Abraham got more than the life of a son, he was given eternal life. It is exactly the case with us. It is only through faith that we receive God’s righteousness. Real faith – God strong faith – worships Christ on the cross and risen again alone; it’s not something you do or earn or accomplish. Strong faith is not like a gym membership; it’s not just coming to church and giving a check now and then, it’s knowing and trusting that God will provide more than you can even begin to fathom. Like Abraham, you may have to wait for it, but God does provide.

Strong faith is utter dependence on God for all things including eternal salvation and life and then responding with a lifestyle in this world so that other people will know you have a strong faith not to show off by flexing your “faith muscles,” but to show the lost that there’s a better way. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Strong faith is not something strong about the person themselves; it’s the sure and certain hope of what you cannot see right now.

Let me ask you something: What is the strength of your faith today? Are you feeling weak? Maybe it’s because you’re trying to do too much of the lifting. At the gym, you do the physical lifting, but let God do the heavy spiritual lifting. If there’s strong when it comes to faith, it’s always God Strong. Pray for a God strong faith especially when the bullets start to fly and never EVER lose hope – not for yourself, your family, or your country – for nothing…NOTHING…is impossible with God.

Amen.

8th Sunday after Pentecost

8th Sunday after Pentecost

August 4, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

“Rich Harvest”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 12.

My dear friends,

If you like corn, I have good news for you! I recently returned from the heart of the Midwest and I can report that, after a rough spring of flooding, the corn crop in Nebraska should provide a rich harvest. From what I saw, the corn is green and strong and thick and tassels are coming in. But, take that for what’s it’s worth. You know I’m not much of a farmer, but I do know if a crop looks good or bad. I also know this: while the field offers a rich harvest, let’s not forget God and His involvement. And that’s a truism that extends beyond the farms and fields.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said something kinda shocking to our modern American ears: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Wait…what? Sounds “Un-American,” right? If life isn’t about getting and holding on to stuff, then for what then do people live? An existential question, to be sure, but a legitimate question nonetheless. If life is not about getting stuff, then what is life all about? What level of significance…of importance….are we to give our possessions – the rich harvest that God provides us with?

To help illustrate, Jesus told the parable of the Rich Fool, which was going along just fine until God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ”

Interesting choice of words…“fool.” It’s a common word in the Bible (118 times), but Luke is the only Gospel writer to use this specific word, a word directly tied to the OT version of the word “folly, meaningless, or worthless” that is very common in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The rich man’s world view was meaningless, worthless; it’s not a compliment.

So…how do we avoid being “fools?” What are we to do when our field—whatever our field may be—yields a rich harvest? This parable does not say that we may not have an abundance of possessions. This parable also has no intentions to give us a guilty conscience over a good yield of crop or a successful increase in money/possessions. The parable doesn’t teach it’s a bad thing to improve your possessions or investments.

On the surface, you almost – almost – have to admire the rich man; he’s being a good manager of a company who looks ahead and plans accordingly. Okay…so if a rich harvest and money and possessions and success in general aren’t bad, then why is the rich man called a “fool”? He is called a fool because he lives in false security; he is so consumed by greed he neither acknowledges nor thanks God to his eternal peril.

The rich man told his eternal SOUL to “relax; eat, drink, be merry” (v 19). Again, on the surface, that sounds good, right? To have the resources so you can just breeze through life? There is nothing wrong with that so long as you remember that behind that rich harvest, all those possessions, is a loving God who calls you to be a thankful, gracious, faithful, generous steward in and with all things.

The rich man is a fool because he does not see life as a gift from God. All the rich foolish man wanted was to take life easy, eating, drinking, and being merry are all creature comforts of this world…a world that quickly ends without warning, and then what? Then what indeed. And what happens to all the stuff? All those “treasures” you enjoy? When you’re gone, there’s a good chance that many will be sold for pocket change or end up at Goodwill. You know that, right? Think beyond this world and all its stuff.

It ended so tragically for the rich man who only thought of this world and not the next. Jesus said that what mattered – what really mattered – was to be “rich toward God” (v 21). Friends, The true purpose of life is to be “rich toward God.” What does that mean? Well, it has nothing to do with how much money you have, and that’s good. Wealth can come between God and people. As Martin Luther put it, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god,” and how many Americans put their heart and their trust in their stuff? Want proof? Just look around you!

Samuel Escobar, a missiologist from South America, speaks about the stark difference between the Northern and Southern worlds. While the South—South America, Africa, much of Asia—is spiritually alive, it is materially poor. In distinction, while the North—Europe and North America—is wealthy in material terms, its spirituality is at an all-time low.

2 Cor. 8:9 describes Jesus and one who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” Jesus became poor, was stripped naked, He literally had nothing, and hung on a cross; all He had left to give was His body and blood, so He gave that too. He did so that we would be rich in God’s grace. By Jesus’ death you have the eternal riches of heaven. I don’t know how much money you have or don’t have…but you are already rich in the things that truly matter…heavenly things through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith, you are rich in Christ.

To be rich toward God means that we are aware of our dependency on God in all facets of life. Being rich toward God means we recognize God as the provider of all our possessions and being constantly thankful. Being rich towards God means displaying a willingness to share out of our rich, abundant harvest. Rich toward God means to turn to him in times of plenty and need. To be rich toward God is to know that in him we find mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness and life and love through the death and resurrection of his Son.

Have you heard of “The Giving Pledge?” This is an effort by more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest people to help society by committing more than half of their wealth to charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will. People like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and MacKenzie Bezos of Amazon have signed up. Together they’re ready to give an estimated 500 billion dollars away. Hey, that’s great and all, but let’s not forget that “riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). Be a good steward. Be generous. Be thankful. Be rich towards God. Be ready for when your soul is required of you.

500 billion? That can buy A LOT of corn.

Amen.

7th Sunday after Pentecost

7th Sunday after Pentecost

July 28, 2019

“See Jonah Personally”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today I’d like to finish my sermon series, “Jonah in July,” and today’s sermon is entitled “See Jonah Personally.”

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? According to USA Today in April of this year, they ranked the worst jobs in America based on job satisfaction, the amount of stress, the future of that kind of employment, and the income. According to USA Today, the 5 worst jobs in America today are taxi drivers, loggers, newspaper reporters, retail salesperson, and enlisted military personnel. That’s interesting. I don’t know about all the jobs in the military, but I know which job I sure wouldn’t want. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who returns your loved one’s possessions after they’ve been killed. That cannot be a great job, but he came knocking on our family’s door.

PFC Bruce Carlyle Anderson graduated from Indus High School in 1966 and in May 1968 he joined the Marines knowing full well he’d go to Vietnam. He arrived in country in November 1968 to serve as an antitank assaultman. During his tour he was wounded twice and also had malaria. In July 1969, he was on patrol when a land mine exploded. Bruce lost his life from multiple fragmentation wounds caused by the land mine outside of Quang Ngai. He was 22 years old and the only member of his platoon to be killed in action. Sometime later, a man delivered Bruce’s belongings to his parents – my grandparents. Everyone left the house to let Bruce’s parents have some time with the items alone. No more than 15 minutes passed when my grandmother stepped outside and asked if anyone wanted coffee. Huh? How could she be so calm? How could she be so composed in a dreadful time like this? I found out how, and I’ll do my best to explain and do so by what we know about Jonah.

My uncle Bruce was called by his country to go and fight in Vietnam, so he went knowing it might cost him his life. In the 8th century BC, the prophet Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh, that great city, but Jonah chose to run away instead. Jonah HATED his job as a prophet and he just wanted OUT! But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? Dodging what we don’t want to deal with?

All of us are a bit like Jonah in that sense. We have faith…we believe…but when the going get rough – when life gets dark and the storms of life pop-up as they do this time of year here in South Florida – we want to yell “pass” to God’s way/will (Don’t want to do this, don’t want to deal with this, don’t want to think about his) and run towards other ways to find relief or escape. We should be running TO the One who can calm the storms of life by the power of His Word and His grace.

Dealing with a job you hate is one thing. Losing a child or loved one in any way is difficult. Living each day in pain or fear or without hope are challenging. Everyone’s got something they deal with, a lesson I learned powerfully this week. Look left to right and around you. See those people? EVERYONE you see…they are dealing with something.

But here’s the thing…as you deal with the life and death “somethings” of your life, you’re not alone. In your times of crisis…the dark and stinky times of your life…you don’t face these challenges alone. Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. The LORD was with him through His grace-filled word. Friends, when you are in the dark and stinky belly of the great big fish of life, you are not alone. God’s Word made flesh, Jesus and His love and grace are always with you.

Jonah did a job he didn’t want to do, but look at the outcome! A whole city repented! It’s a miracle! How can that happen? 120,000 people repenting from an 8 word sermon? That’s amazing…and so is grace; amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. God empowers this kind of change of heart, and a change in behavior when we turn/repent. Sin makes us do crazy things, say awful things, and causes inaction when we should take action and God can still work in us despite our rebellion. It is almost impossible even to imagine that Nineveh would repent at the short sound of this reluctant prophet’s voice. In the same way, when we repent of our sin, it is a miracle in our hearts that we have heard the Gospel and responded positively. Repentance, true repentance, changes our course from its current path to a different one – a better one with a better outcome! Every day is a chance to change, so why put off action until tomorrow? What if there IS NO tomorrow? Can you live the rest of your in regret? Repentance worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life?

The prophet Jonah, though, hoped the Lord would destroy Nineveh; talk about a lack of job satisfaction! Jonah hated Nineveh; they were his enemy, but in reality Jonah was his own worst enemy. The main problem in the book of Jonah is Jonah! And Jonah was angry that God would show grace to the enemy of Israel.

Have you ever been angry like that with God? Have you ever pouted and resented God because life hasn’t gone the way you expected? Are you angry because life has taken turns you didn’t see coming? Things not going your way? Are you afraid and concerned about where life goes from here?

If so, let it go and let God and grace have their way in your life. God is working all things for good in your life because of Grace…you just need to give it time to work/play out. GRACE. That’s the heart of God! Let’s talk more about grace.

When the family gathered back in the house, everyone now saw Bruce’s possessions. Clothing. His medals. Personal items. And a Bible. A little now-blood-stained Gideon’s New Testament shaped to the contour of his butt from having it in his back pocket so much. In the book of Jonah there are 3 statements of faith. In the book of Jonah there are 3 statements of faith. Inside the cover of that Bible the family read a statement of Bruce’s faith and as a family we knew that it was well with Bruce’s soul. God’s grace had reached out and saved a marine who provided the ultimate sacrifice for our country. That’s why Grandma could make coffee. An enemy land mine took her son’s life, but the Lord saved his soul and set him free and that grace-filled truth comforted the family instead of anger and resentment and trying to run away.

There really isn’t an ending to Jonah; we don’t know the ending, and that’s okay because that’s also is true in life. We know for sure what eventually happens. A time comes for us to die, and what do we rely on? In life, in death, we find our hope in God’s grace just like PFC Bruce Anderson and just like Jonah.

Your next chapter of life is waiting to be written. Will you ever Pass? Pray? Preach? Pout? Probably…it’s called life. But in all things, rely on God’s grace for “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” A gift of God indeed…just like the book of Jonah. Just like life itself.

And, as always, it’s good to be home.

Amen.

6th Sunday after Pentecost

6th Sunday after Pentecost

July 21, 2019

Jonah 4:1-11

“See Jonah Pout”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. As I continue this sermon series, “Jonah in July,” today’s sermon, is based on our First Lesson from Jonah 4.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

In 1921, David and Lisa Flood answered God’s call to the African mission field. The Floods arrived in the Belgian Congo and hacked their way into the country’s interior. But not a single village would allow them to enter. The natives told them their gods would be offended if they allowed white people into their villages. But the Floods weren’t ready to give up. What can I say? God is good! They still wanted to reach the locals. Besides, Lisa couldn’t travel because she was pregnant, and her malaria, which she had caught not long after arrival, was getting worse. During this time she kept talking about Jesus to a little local boy who came to see her who was fascinated with her increasingly distended belly. The boy was the Floods’ only “convert.” A few days after giving birth to a baby girl, Lisa Flood died, and David buried her in the Congo jungle.

Understandably, David’s heart filled with bitterness. Why did God allow this to happen? His beloved wife Lisa…dead at 27! How could he take care of a baby in the Congo jungle? And all they had to show for more than a year in the wilderness was a boy who probably didn’t understand anything they’d tried to teach him! In frustration and pain, David cried, “You’ve failed me, God. What a waste of life!” David Flood gave his baby girl to another missionary couple and David sailed home alone. With every passing day, his resentment deepened. He began drinking heavily. Great start to a sermon, right?

Sadly, David Flood epitomizes many people today both Christian and non-Christian. They’ve been disappointed and hurt in life and now they’re angry with God (easy target)…just like Jonah. Like David Flood, Jonah received a missionary call from God. His call was to go to Nineveh, and he finally arrived by way of the belly of a great fish. In Nineveh, Jonah preached his message, the people miraculously repented – what can I say? God is good! – and then Jonah left as soon as he could.

God not wiping out the Ninevites so greatly displeased Jonah that, like David Flood, he became downright angry with God! He resented God for using him to help Israel’s enemy. Why would God ever use him for such a purpose? It didn’t make sense to Jonah – just as life didn’t make sense to David Flood – just as life doesn’t make sense to us sometimes. Jonah’s attitude got so bad that in his pouting he pleaded with God, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live” (v 3). Whoa.

Have you ever been angry like that with God? Have you ever pouted and then resented God because life hasn’t gone the way you expected? Are you, a family member or friend holding a grudge against the Lord because you think He doesn’t care about your life or your problems? Are you angry because life has taken turns you didn’t see coming? Things not going your way? Are you afraid and concerned about where life goes from here? Sound like someone you know?

The prophet Jonah hoped the Lord would destroy Nineveh. He left the city and sat on a hill from which he could see what God might do next. He even made a little shelter to protect himself from the sun. At this point, ironically God didn’t work over Nineveh, but instead He went to work on Jonah. Jonah hated Nineveh; they were his enemy, but in reality Jonah was his own worst enemy, just as we can be at times. The main problem in the book of Jonah is Jonah!

First, God provided a huge vine to give him shade to ease his discom­fort. What can I say…God is good! God desired to show compassion and mercy to Jonah through that vine, just as God wanted to show mercy to Nineveh. That’s the heart of God! He cares for us, He cares deeply about is, even when we pout and har­bor anger and resentment toward Him in our hearts!

Then, “When dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (v 7). Now, why did Jonah get so upset when God had the vine destroyed? It was because that plant took care of him! It was of use to him! Jonah’s problem from 1:1 to 4:11was that he never thought of anybody but himself! Jonah never thought about the “big picture,” but only himself. Jonah was downright, thoroughly, sinfully selfish. Lots of us struggle with Jonah’s problem, don’t we?

But not God. God sees the “big picture” because He painted it. He cared so much for Jonah, for Nineveh, for you, and for all creation that eight centuries later his Son, Jesus, climbed a hill outside another great city, Jerusalem. There, God allowed His own Son to be nailed to a cross. That day something far more precious than a plant died. On the cross our Savior willingly gave His life in the ultimate act: ultimate unselfishness, sacrifice, love, life. And even when we pout and are selfish and angry with God, brother, or neighbor, He continues to show His grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love for the sake of Jesus. What can I say? God is good!

After many years had passed, David Flood’s daughter, Nancy, moved back to America and Nancy got mar­ried. For many years Nancy tried unsuccessfully to locate her father. While looking for David Flood in London, Nancy and her husband attended a mission convention where they heard an African preacher testifying of the great works God was doing in Zaire…the for­mer Belgian Congo. After the speech was over, she approached the man and asked if he’d known missionaries David and Lisa Flood. The African shared that Lisa Flood – Nancy’s mother – had shared the Gospel with him when he was just a boy. He added that the Floods had a baby girl, but he didn’t know what had happened to her. Nancy introduced herself, and the two of them hugged and wept. The little boy Nancy’s mother had proclaimed Christ to, through the power of the Holy Spirit, had grown up to evangelize his own people, who now had in their midst 110,000 Christians, 32 mission stations, several Bible schools, and a 120-bed Christian hospital. What can I say? God is good.

See…I told you Jonah was about more than a big fish. And what happens now? How does this pertain to you? Is that really how Jonah ends? Well, I’ll tell you all about it…just as soon as I get back from Nebraska that is.

Amen.

5th Sunday after Pentecost

5th Sunday after Pentecost

July 14, 2019

Jonah 3:1-10

“See Jonah Preach”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for our sermon series on the book of Jonah is today’s First Lesson read from Jonah chapter 3.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude and laced with profanity; the bird talked like a wounded pirate. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot swore using words John had never heard before. John, in desperation, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot about his change of heart when the bird said, “May I ask what the turkey and the chicken said?” That my friends, in a nut-shell, is how repentance, a major theme of Jonah chapter 3, works; turning from one chosen course to another course with a better outcome.

Let’s set the scene in case you weren’t here or forgot. Jonah got his call from God from which he ran away (“see Jonah pass”). In his efforts to run to Tarshish, he was thrown overboard from his ship in the middle of the storm and Jonah ended up inside the great fish. After a prayer taken from the Psalms (“see Jonah pray”), Jonah is then heaved onto dry land to, once again, go to Nineveh – the capital city of Assyria where God had called him to go in the first place.

The people of Nineveh were a powerful, arrogant, violent, wicked people. Jonah is a little guy from a weak nation at the edge of their soon to be empire. They might have strung him up from condemning their city, but they don’t. They listen to him. Mind you, it might be easier to listen to a prophet who has recently spent the last three days in the belly of a fish. His skin and hair are bleached white from the digestive juices, his clothes are half digested, there is a dried up piece of seaweed hanging off his ear. I might listen to a guy like that, a guy who says: “Repent, or God will do to you what he just did to me!” Whether Jonah showed up like that (appearance), or he cleaned himself up a little before arriving, the people still hear his message (power of the Word) and believe it. They recognize that they have been doing great evil, and they repent; they turn (3:5).

The pagan Ninevites demonstrate the greatest example of corporate repentance that we find in the Bible! They hear Jonah preach (maybe the shortest sermon EVER) and by the Holy Spirit they spontaneously respond in faith. They declare a fast, they all remove their clothes, put on sackcloth with ashes on their heads and go about mourning, which are all classic signs of repentance in the OT.

Even the king, when he hears the news of their impending doom, gets off his throne, removes his royal robes, puts on sackcloth, and sits down in the dust (3:6).

He extends the fast not just to people, but to the animals as well. Nineveh goes from this powerful, arrogant, wicked city to become a city of massive mourning. You couldn’t hear yourself think in Nineveh in those days! Have you ever heard a hungry cow? All of Nineveh’s cows and sheep and camels and horses would have been complaining loudly, the people would have been sitting in the streets calling out to God to forgive them, babies would have been crying for their mothers to feed them! What a racket! What a change of heart!

That’s because God empowers this kind of change of heart, and a change in behavior. Sin makes us do crazy things, say awful things, and causes inaction when we should take action and God can still work in us despite our rebellion. The king doesn’t just call the people to fast and mourn, he calls for a change in behavior. He says in verse 8: “Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.” The Ninevites repent and believe…all from an 8 word sermon!

The repentance that we see in Nineveh is nothing short of a miracle. It is almost impossible even to imagine that Nineveh would repent at the short sound of this reluctant prophet’s voice. In the same way, when we repent of our sin, it is a miracle in our hearts that we have heard the Gospel and responded positively. Every day with wrestle with the fact that we are Simul Justus et Peccator or “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We live in this dichotomy every day: we sin but we also believe, and so we repent and repentance changes our course from its current path to a different one – a better one with a better outcome!

Talk about a change for a better outcome. Like the king of Nineveh, Jesus exchanges his royal robes for rags. He gives up the right hand of God for a wooden manger. He exchanges His heavenly throne for a rough hewn cross. He surrenders His flesh and blood that you might not have to. He turns wrath to love; suffering to joy; loss to gain.

What do you need to repent of today? What secret sin do you need to turn from? What anger or issue do you need to let go and walk away from? What lie have you left hanging out there that need resolution? What words need to be said or action taken, but you are hesitant to do so? Repent. Turn. Find a better outcome.

My friends, it doesn’t matter whether a sermon is 8 words, 8 minutes, or 8 pages long. What matters is that the Word of God will work mightily in those who hear it to bring repentance which leads to God’s loving daily forgiveness. Why put off action until tomorrow? What if there IS NO tomorrow? Can you live the rest of your in regret? Repentance worked a miracle in the lives of the Ninevites. Are you ready for that miracle in your life? If so, then repent. Turn. Make those changes today before a stinky prophet shows up at your door. Repent. Turn. Before it is too late.

Amen.

4th Sunday after Pentecost

4th Sunday after Pentecost

July 7, 2019

Jonah 2:-10

“See Jonah Pray”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today I would like to continue my series on Jonah – “Jonah in July.” Today as we consider Jonah 2, we will “See Jonah Pray.”

My dear friends,

For those who missed last week, WHERE WERE YOU?! Nah…just kidding; no worries. Let’s bring you up to speed on Jonah. The 8th century BC prophet Jonah was called by God to go to the capital city of Israel’s enemy Assyria. Jonah had NO interest whatsoever in going to Nineveh, and so he chartered a ship and sailed towards Tarshish which is the geographical opposite direction of Nineveh. While enroute, a great storm came up and threatened the ship and the souls on board. After casting lots, the lot fell on Jonah who admitted the storm was his fault because he was running from God; Jonah had passed on God’s call. In response, the sailors hurled Jonah overboard into the sea where a large fish swallowed him up and that was the last time we saw Jonah. Chapter 1 is all about seeing Jonah pass on God’s call. Today we see Jonah pray from inside the fish.

Jonah too found himself in unfamiliar and scary surroundings, a place dark and stinky, and that is putting it mildly! In Jonah chapter 1 (“See Jonah Pass”) Jonah had run away from his problem and, in essence, run away from God. He doesn’t want to go to Nineveh as God had called him to do, he didn’t want this for his life, and now his shoes are starting to smell like fish guts. That’s not gonna come out anytime soon; those sandals are ruined! Jonah’s got bigger problems than wrecked footwear. He doesn’t know what will happen or what to do and its causing anxiety.

In a sense I feel as if I’m preaching to the choir. You know what that feels like, don’t you? You’ve got financial concerns, you’ve got relationship issues, for those of you blessed with children, you’ve got parenting issues – “small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems!” You’ve got health issues. It’s the one great constant I deal with in 16 years of ministry: in lives stained by sin, everyone’s got something they deal with. Look left to right and around you. See those people? See those empty spots where people normally are? EVERYONE you see..and don’t see…are dealing with something.

But here’s the thing…as you deal with the “somethings” of your life, you’re not alone. Like the father watching over his son in the darkest night, you’re not alone in your times of crisis…the dark and stinky times of your life. Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. The LORD was with him through his word in the book of Psalms.

Jonah’s prayer, which is a model prayer of faith and hope, is a prayer that cites the Psalms 11 times in 8 verses! When Jonah prays about his distress (2:2), it is a reference to Psalms 18 and 120. When Jonah prays about waters closing over him (2:2) it is a reference to Psalm 69. When Jonah prays about his life being brought up from the pit (2:6), it is a reference to Psalm 30. When Jonah was at his lowest point physically – inside that great fish – he found himself at his highest point spiritually…in prayer! Jonah did not pray for deliverance from the fish. Jonah did not pray to God “make this stop; make this go away.” Jonah knew he deserved death, not deliverance. However, deliverance is exactly what Jonah got. Here’s another great constant that I find true – God’s intervention into our lives is found in the most unusual ways and unexpected places; God comes to us and works through people we never expected!

Additionally, Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus. Just as Jonah faces the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah experienced separation from the LORD, so did Jesus. And just as Jonah prayed from the Psalms, so did Jesus. In Matthew 27:46, from the cross, Jesus “cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and that cry is wording from Psalm 22. Even as Jesus is bleeding and dying to pay humanity’s price for sin – not for anything He had done but for every dark, stinky, and sinful thing you’ve done – even as He approached death, Jesus is still praying and praying from the Psalms no less!

How strong is your prayer life these days? Is your default prayer always “Lord, make this happen or stop that from happening”? Do you find it hard to pray the Psalms because you’re not even sure how to find Psalms in the Bible let alone what they say? Is your faith weak because it’s getting a steady diet of TV and chaos with a side order of anxiety? When you are feeling spiritually weak, turn to God and His Means of Grace – Word and Sacraments. Get your faith back on track by being in the Word, taking part in Bible study, being faithful in worship, and learning to let God’s will be done in your life rather than always trying to impose your will instead.

Friends, when you are in the dark and stinky belly of the great big fish, you are not alone. God’s word in the Psalms is with you. And God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, is always with you too. It is His divine love and grace and peace and forgiveness and connection in prayer that enables us to survive in the belly of the great big fish that we call this life! And note how chapter 2 ended. The great fish barfs (word of judgment) Jonah out onto dry land and just imagine his appearance: bleached white by stomach acids, skin all wrinkly, smells terrible, fish entrails and seaweed in his hair. Jonah is wrecked! And what’s Jonah next move? Come back next week and find out.

Amen.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

June 30, 2019

Jonah 1:1-17

“See Jonah Pass”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today I would like to begin a new sermon series on the book of Jonah and with that being the case, the text that engages us is the First Lesson read from Jonah 1:1-17.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Roughly 750 – 725 BC is the best date to affix to the writing of the book of the “minor” prophet Jonah. But other than that, name something you know about Jonah OTHER THAN the “big fish” typically thought of as a whale. Anyone? That’s a problem. The book of Jonah has been called an “ornate tapestry of rhetorical beauty.” Jonah is a gracefully designed narrative that discloses a profound theology…and all anyone can remember is the fish! That, my friends, is about to change.

Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century in Israel, which was “prime time” for prophets. The nation of Israel was in trouble…big trouble over idolatry and the behavior of their wicked kings. Assyria was threatening to overrun the people (which they did), and Jonah is called to go Nineveh (600 miles to NE); the capital city of Assyria – a nation remembered in history for its inhumane warfare and bloodshed. They would either show extreme violence in pitched battles or lay siege to a city, one of their specialties. During the siege, an Assyrian leader would “Good Cop/Bad Cop” the people inside the city walls, but however the Assyrians got in, it was always BAD for the city’s residents. And it’s to this group of people, to this great enemy nation, to this enemy city, that God calls Jonah to go, but Jonah “passed” on God’s offer and took off away from Nineveh and instead fled towards Tarshish (2000 miles opposite direction) which was about as far away from Nineveh as anyone could even fathom.

But you know the feeling, right? Running away from problems? Dodging what we don’t want to deal with? The phone rings and you just know it is your aging neighbor who wants you to come over and check her mailbox for the third time today or try to find her stupid cat which she hasn’t had in 20 years. Or maybe money is tight and both the car payment and the mortgage are a few days late. You start to screen your calls with your caller ID. We ignore that giant medical problem or issue in our relationship screaming for our attention choosing instead to turn a blind eye towards it in hopes it just goes away on its own. It is not uncommon for sinners to run from problems. It is a trait we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve who ran away from God in the Garden of Eden. Passing on the inevitable or running away is never a productive thing. Saying “pass” to God’s call or running away is useless. Pretending that everything is okay is pointless. Ignoring our issues or sugar coating our struggles is not helpful. If God is leading you in a direction but you’re not ready, willing, and able to follow and you’re on the run, don’t think God is going to ignore it.

Jonah said “pass” to God’s call and tried to run and at every turn he went further and further down: going down to Joppa (v. 3), going down into the ship (v. 4), lying down in the innermost recesses of the ship (v. 5), and then thrown down into the depths of raging sea (v. 15)! It’s worth noting that going “down” in the Old Testament is almost always depicting a movement towards death. Jonah went down so deep that he literally entered what he thought was going to be his tomb…the belly of the great fish, not “whale” in verse 17. In Hebrew, there is no word for “whale.” Regardless, in there it would have been very, very dark. And probably stinky too. But very dark.

It’s also noteworthy in chapter 1 that the LORD employs the wind – one of God’s favorite “tools” – to bring order out of Jonah’s chaos. Do you think it’s just random chance that it was wind that pushed back the waters of the great flood to bring back life to earth (Genesis 8:1)? Just chance that wind divided the waters of the Red Sea that the Israelites might live instead of being killed (Exodus 14:21)? Just chance that Jesus walks on water in the midst of the raging storm (Matthew 14:24-32) and also is able to calm a storm (Mark 4:41)? No. God sends the wind; He sends storms to awake us to faith – so that when we cry out to Him, He can then calm the storm through His love for us in Jesus. It’s ironic that the pagan sailors pray while the prophet of God – Jonah – doesn’t. Not yet.

When things were at their worst for Jonah, he made one of three great confessions of faith in this book. In 1:9 Jonah said, “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” And, well, in response the sailors throw him overboard!

What does that mean for us? It means that all of us are a bit like Jonah. We have faith…we believe…but when the going get rough – when life gets dark and the storms of life pop-up as they do this time of year here in South Florida – we want to yell “pass” to God’s way/will (Don’t want to do this, don’t want to deal with this, don’t want to think about his) and run towards other ways to find relief or escape. We should be running TO the One who can calm the storms of life by the power of His Word.

Are hard times going to come? Of course. Does faith make everything easy? Absolutely not. Will Jesus take all my pain and burdens away? Sorry, but no. Yet He offers something better. He offers not something to run from, but towards. He spreads His arms wide at the cross to call you unto Himself when the seas of life roll with huge swells and white caps. He calls you to come unto Him, sins forgiven, and receive the peace, grace, mercy, love, and life that only He can truly provide.

Do you have a Tarshish? Do you have a place that you know is the exact opposite of the place where God wants you to go, that is calling you to go to? Are you scared by the rolling waves of life that never seem to end? Has life become incredibly dark and a little stinky? Jonah thought the hard thing to do would be accept God’s will and Jonah’s way would be easier so he said “pass” to God’s way and tried his own way. As it turned out – as it ALWAYS turns out – God’s will and way was better than Jonah’s way that has now landed himself inside a dark and stinky fish.

In the same way, friends, let the Lord have His way in your life. Know that He IS leading you towards what is good for you. You may not see it now, but you will. Trust and obey; don’t tell God to “pass;” He knows far better than any of us what the right way is. How does Jonah get out of this? How do we get out of our dark and stinky life situations? Well, you’ll have to come back next week for the answer to that question.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

June 23, 2019

Luke 8:26-39

“Who Is In Control Here?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson from Luke 8.

My dear friends,

For modern, enlightened, technologically-advanced folks like ourselves, we dismiss talk of demons and demonic activity as reflecting an old, primitive worldview; “the people in the Bible didn’t know any better, but we do.” Do we? Do we really? Who is in control here?

For the people of Jesus’ time—indeed, for Jesus himself—demons and demonic possession were an every day reality. Know how many times the word “Demon” shows up in the Gospels? 60 times! Casting out demons was a most significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Are demons real? Absolutely! One must be careful not to overreact, however. Some people see a demon behind every scary bush, every offensive song lyric, every naughty website. But don’t go too far the other way and just assume that in our modern world the demons packed it up and went “bye-bye.” Satan’s greatest accomplishment was to get Adam and Eve to rebel against God and introduce sin into the world. His greatest trick was to convince the world that he isn’t real. No one ever fights against what we don’t believe is there. So…who is in control here?

Where Jesus is frequently met by crowds, in this particular instance in Luke 8, he is met by only one man. The reasons for this become immediately clear. There is no crowd because they know this naked maniac resides there. The man is completely out of control and on the verge of self-destruction, one who is already living among the tombs in the midst of death—perhaps a death that he himself longed for at times.

The demon identifies itself as “Legion.” A Roman legion’s official strength was anywhere from 3000 to 6000 men; an overwhelming force has overtaken this man. It is clear that the man is not in control in any way. If he had moments of clarity, imagine the depth of this man’s burden and defenselessness and vulnerability and helplessness; you think he wanted to be this way? No way! That’s not the life he wanted for himself and no doubt he very much knew he wasn’t in control; he was in control of nothing.

The Gerasene demoniac is more like us than we may realize. “No way,” you no doubt reply, “I’m not possessed by a demon and I’m in control of my life.” Is that right? Granted, I’ve not seen any signs of demonic possession, but how in control are you really? The idea that we’re “in control” in life is an illusion. We put on a “brave face” for everyone else – so everyone can see “shiny, happy people” – but in truth most of us under that paper-thin veneer, are barely keeping it all together. It wouldn’t take much for the whole house of cards to come down, would it? So I ask again…who is in control here?

Our “demons” aren’t bogey-men who hide around dark corners. They are far more insidious, more subtle but every bit as dangerous and exponentially more scary. They drag your mind to some very dark and unpleasant places. Events “just happen,” and next thing you know, BLAM! You’re living a life of isolation – from God and other people – living amid the tombs of pain and regret and anxiety and worry and uncertainty. And there is always – ALWAYS – sinful rebellion against God that keeps us isolated, bound, and on the verge of losing control. So, who is in control here?

My dear friends, it’s during the darkness and pain and shame and uncertainty that we are called to remember that the word of Christ is eternally authoritative; it changes our tragic sinful human realities. Consider what happened. There was no magic wand, no holy hand grenade. Jesus speaks. He speaks and the man is clothed, in his right mind, and he gets to go home. Who is in control? JESUS IS IN CONTROL! He always has been and always is. Even the cross of Christ shows that He is in control. Through his innocent suffering and death, He reverses Satan’s accomplishments. Sin and death are resolved; Satan has no more cards to play. Your sins are forgiven, you are restored to God. He is in control.

It is here – Church – that we are ever mindful of the power of God’s Word. Through the teaching and preaching of Christ’s eternally authoritative Word, through the Word in and with the bread and wine, and the water in Baptism we see who is REALLY in control. In Baptism, you’re no longer a naked maniac running around. God clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, forgave your sins, marked you as one redeemed by Christ, and welcomed you home.

However, before we start “high-fiving” each other in Christian victory, let’s not forget. A significant human failure also appears in this text. The townspeople come out and they see the man clothed and in his right mind and the herd of swine bobbing in the sea. Their response to this control exerted by Jesus? They ask Jesus to leave their region. They are afraid to be too close to him. Sound familiar? We want God to be in control, but not TOO MUCH in control. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is to see God at work and pretend nothing has really happened. Or we vacillate the other way. It’s neither God nor a demon; we assume stuff “just happens” because God doesn’t really work in our lives any more than demons do.

We are so technologically advanced that it’s almost too easy to dismiss texts like todays. By faith we know that God is in control. As Christ came to us through Baptism, and as He continues to come to us through His Word and Sacraments, He remains with us always, completely, and totally in control. Now…go live like God is in control of your life, proclaiming all that God has done for you in Christ.

Amen.