Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Do Not Be Anxious!

Matthew 6:24-34 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
            When it comes to the relationship between us and God and money, it really is a matter of priorities—of what comes first in our hearts.  Only one can hold that first place in our life that is reserved for the one that we call God.  It can be either money or God at the center of our life but it cannot be both.  We cannot serve two masters—we cannot serve God and money.
We know what the world has chosen.  Our nation’s financial life is an exercise in wretched, sinful excess.  Young women are cultural icons for having purses that cost tens of thousands of dollars.  CEO’s get paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year for bankrupting their companies.  The average Joe charges on their credit cards like there was no tomorrow and when their limits are reached they use the equity in their homes like it is a piggy bank to fund more financial foolishness.
Of course they hang their head in their hands for the god of Mammon that has ruled their lives has been shown for what he is—a powerless idol—unworthy of their devotion and trust. 
But what about us?  Do the Lord’s words apply only to others?  The truth of the matter, is that Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters, really applies to us more than it does to the unbelieving world.  The world serves only one God—the false god of Mammon.  We Christians are the ones who try to have it both ways. 
If we have given even a bit of our confidence in the future and our heart’s peace and our security over to our job or our bank or our 401K and IRA—we should be convicted by Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving two masters—for we have ceased to love and serve and trust in God above ALL things and we must confess that sin as idolatry, repent of it, and be done with it.
Jesus assures us today that our heart’s peace about the future need not be found in what we can hold in our hand-- but is to be found only in a heavenly Father who graciously and generously provides for his children.  Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 
The answer that Jesus is looking for is:  YES it is!  Life is more, much more, than food and clothing and the point that he is making is this:  Since God has given us our life won’t he just as certainly give us the smaller gifts we need to preserve that life?! 
Absolutely!  That we are living and breathing at this moment is a sure sign that God has given us our life; provided for that life up to now; and will provide for that life in the days to come.  Of course, this way of thinking is only a comfort to those who know God as the Giver of life in the first place. 
Those who believe that their very existence is merely the last event in a chain of haphazard, random of events over billions of years that could have just as easily happened otherwise-- take no comfort from knowing that God will provide the necessities of life because they don’t know the God who gave them life-- and they live in fear of a cosmos that seemingly acts without mercy or meaning. 
But we who believe in a loving heavenly Father do take great comfort in knowing (from all that we see around us and from our own life’s experience) that God does indeed provide for his children.  The Creator who has given us our life-- promises to provide for that life-- and reveals the truth of that promise in the created world.  Jesus says:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you,
            These words were not spoken in the synagogue or temple—not in a disciple’s home—but in the great outdoors—and Jesus invited all who are listening to simply open our eyes and look at the world around us. 
The birds were flying from place to place without a care in the world, gathering what they needed, building their nests, feeding their little ones without the benefit of all those things that we think are a necessity if we are to be fed.
Jesus mentions harvesting and reaping and barns and plows.  Maybe today he would say checking accounts and contracts.  But the message is the same:  the littlest creature that wouldn’t catch our eye is seen, loved, and provided for by God. 
And if God will do that for birds, won’t he do the same for his children?  Of course he will!  We are infinitely more valuable in God’s sight than birds.  The One who feeds us with the Body and Blood of his Son in Holy Communion to sustain our spiritual life will certainly give us the food we need for this earthly life!
As further proof of the Father’s provision, Jesus directs his disciples to the beauty of the flowers of the field.  There has never been an item of clothing—no matter how costly—that could compare in beauty to a plain ole Texas roadside covered in wildflowers.  It takes your breath away every time you see it! 
And so here’s the question:  If God is willing to go to all that trouble for a bunch of plants on the side of a road that only last for a few weeks out of the year, won’t he also provide us with the clothes that we need?
Of course he will!  We are God’s children and he has made us for eternity.  The One who has provided us the robe of Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism will certainly give us what we need to clothe our bodies and preserve our earthly life. 
Besides directing our attention to our own life and the life around us as sure signs of God’s provision, Jesus also warns us about the futility and sinful foolishness of worrying about our earthly needs.  He says:  “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  
And of course, the answer is:  none of us!  There is not one blessed thing that can be changed by worrying about our life—not one—besides the fact that the vast, vast majority of things we worry about never come to pass in the first place. 
            Jesus’ judgment on our anxieties and worries and on our fussing and fretting about material things is that, not only is it fruitless—it is faithless.  He says:  O you of little faith!   
            Now, you may be saying to yourselves that Jesus’ teaching about not serving money and watching birds and flowers seems a bit irresponsible.  Jesus’ teaching about not worrying seems a bit impossible.  But of course the problem was not with the Lord or his words—it was with us—with our lack of faith. 
That is why Jesus speaks to us today about the place and role of money and material things in our lives and he lays a rock-solid foundation upon which we are to build our faith:  his promise that we have a heavenly Father who will provide for us just as surely as he provides for all creation—in fact, even more assuredly for we are his children.  Jesus says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 
The unbelieving world has no choice but to seek after money and they cannot help but worry—for they do not know what we know:  that we have a heavenly Father who knows just exactly what we need and promises to meet those needs. 
God’s eyes are constantly turned towards us and he is constantly looking out for our best interests and so we are free to put aside concerns about material things and put first things first.  Jesus says:
 “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
            Jesus wants us to understand tonight that a life spent acquiring the things of the world—a life spent living by the values of the world—a life spent worrying-- is a life that is wasted for time and eternity.
Instead, the Lord gives a different kind of life—a life as his child in his kingdom.  Jesus was sent into this world for that very purpose—to give his life as a ransom to set us free from a life that is empty of meaning because it is focused only on material things which never last. 
His death on the cross earned the forgiveness we need for all those times that we have had divided hearts and for all those times we have failed to trust him as we ought.  And his resurrection is God’s guarantee that even death cannot rob us of those things that truly, eternally matter.

Today we give thanks to God, our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son for all his blessings and tender mercies and we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to trust him more deeply in the days to come.  Amen.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Let Us Be Thankful to the Lord!

Luke 17:11-19 The Bible says that:  On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. The picture we have before us today of our Lord Jesus Christ is a beautiful summary of his mission:  journeying toward Jerusalem where he would lay his life down on the cross for our sins and take up it up again, leaving his tomb empty with the promise that ours will be empty as well one day.
That was his mission-- and the promise that Jesus makes to us is that, by his death and resurrection, we will change us forever and unite us to God and restore to us the wholeness that our Father wants us to have—a wholeness that has been taken from us by Satan and the deadly effects of sin—just like what had happened to the lepers that day.  
The Bible says that:  As Jesus entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance.  If this journey to Jerusalem is a pictorial portrayal of our Lord’s mission in this world (and it is!) then the scene he encounters here in this village is the perfect picture of why that journey to the cross was necessary at all.
Ten lepers standing at a distance—separated from their loved ones—cut off from the temple—united only with one another in their misery and brokenness. 
There is no clearer picture in the Bible of what sin had done to us than this picture of the ten lepers. 
God created us for life.  Rich, abundant life.  God created us for fellowship with himself and for life together with our fellow man.  But this scene is what sin has done to all of us:  cut us off from God’s presence; cut us off from one another; cut us off from the beauty and fullness of life that God wants us to have. 
Sin has made a chasm between us and God.  A holy, righteous God cannot have fellowship with sinful, unrighteous people.  And sinful, unrighteous people can never have the kind of friendship with one another that they were made for because their self-centeredness always drives a wedge between themselves and others.
And the ugly effects of sin go even deeper than broken fellowship.  The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” and that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men.” 
Here in these ten lepers we see those deadly effects of sin.  These men were under a death sentence. 
A world that was ruined by sin had turned against them in this terrible disease and they knew that they would surely die in the most horrible way—literally piece by piece until they would no longer resemble the human beings that God created and intended them to be.
This is why our Lord set his face towards Jerusalem.  This is why he was so resolute in going to the cross.  This is why he had to go all the way into a cold, dark grave:  because we are part of an entire world full of people just like the lepers who were under a death sentence--alienated from God and one another—the image of God so disfigured in us that we no longer resembled what God created us to be. 
Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a mission of mercy to save us and restore to us what sin and Satan had robbed from us.
The Bible says that the lepers:  “lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” While all ten may not have been models of thankfulness, they were models of faith for they recognized the truth about themselves (and their great need) and they recognized the truth about Jesus (that he could meet that need).
These men suffered under no illusions about their broken condition.  They couldn’t hide it like we try to do.  They knew the ugly truth in the distance between themselves and those they loved.  They knew the ugly truth in their pain and suffering and deformity.  They knew that such was their brokenness that only God could help—that’s why they called out to Jesus.
Whether we see it or not—whether we are willing to admit it or not--the same broken condition is true of us.  The same ugliness of sin is there.
There is conflict and distance between us and those we love.  Our aches and pains are a sufficient testimony that we are not going to live forever.  And we see that in ourselves there is no power at all to stop this trajectory towards death and the grave.  We have our own place in this sad group of ten broken men. 
That is why when they heard that Jesus was coming and when they saw him journeying towards Jerusalem they called out to him in faith for the help they so desperately needed—and their cry--Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!—was not just a call for help—it was a confession of real faith.
 It was a confession of their great need!  It was confession of their lack of resources!  It was a confession of faith in Jesus to meet that need and provide their healing!  The Bible says that when Jesus saw them he said to them:  “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
This may seem like an odd kind of answer to us but the lepers knew exactly the promise and hope found in those words.  The Law required that the priests declare when someone had been healed and so even though the lepers didn’t yet see their healing—they believed Jesus’ promise and stepped out in faith, believing what they could not see. 
This is what Jesus wants from us too.  His redeeming work outside the walls of Jerusalem has been accomplished.  Our sins have been forgiven.  The devil has been defeated.  Death has no claim on us. 
But we still struggle with sin- and the devil still tempts us- and our loved ones still die.  In other words, we can’t see the fullness of our salvation quite yet.
And so like the lepers we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight.  But also like the lepers, our faith in Jesus will not be disappointed for we will receive the mercy for which we ask!  The Bible says that:  as they went they were cleansed.
            When we began our meditation on these verses we talked about how these lepers were emblematic of all people and what sin and Satan have done to us—that it has alienated us from God and put up barriers between us and others and brought death with all of its ugliness into our lives so that we don’t always resemble what God created us to be. 
But this healing of the lepers is also a promise to all of us that the compassion and power of Jesus can be counted on—that our faith in him is not misplaced—that when we call to him he will listen—that he can be trusted to heal us and make us whole.
The Good News for us is that Jesus’ compassion and powerful presence that day in the healing of the lepers is the same power this day to heal what is broken in our lives and we can count on receiving the same wholeness that they received. The Bible says that:
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.
            In Luther’s explanation to the first article of the creed, he says that for all God has done for us, it is our duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him.  It is our duty to thank God.
All ten of the lepers had a need.  All ten of the lepers had enough faith to turn to Jesus.  All ten of them received healing.  But this Samaritan had even more—he had a heart that was thankful for the mercy he received from Jesus. 
His faith moved him to praise and thanksgiving for what God had done for him and that faith directed him to the feet of Jesus.  What about us? 
Thankfulness to Jesus for all that he has done for us is our duty- but it is so much more than that—it is our delight.  The Samaritan was glad to have that opportunity to worship and praise God at the feet of Jesus.  Now he was truly whole—body and soul—because he knew that in Jesus God had saved him and that knowledge moved him to worship and thanksgiving. 
When we are thankful for the mercy of Jesus we are showing that we understand that we have a gracious God who loves to give good gifts to his children and we are blessed doubly when we recognize that and call it to mind and give him our thanks and praise and worship.
In the Small Catechism Luther talks about the reason we pray for our daily bread when God gives it to all even without our prayer.  He says that we pray for our daily bread so that we may realize it is God’s gift and receive it with thanksgiving. 
There is something missing in our relationship with God when thanksgiving is missing from our lives.  Jesus asked his disciples and the man who was healed and the crowd who gathered around: 
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
            All of them had to report to the priests.  All of them wanted to see friends and family from whom they had be separated.  All of them had a lot to do now that the leprosy was gone.
But for nine of the ten the most important thing was left undone—and that was a life of worship and thanksgiving in the presence of Jesus. 
            When Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith had made him “well” he was talking about much more than just having clean skin like all ten received.  He was talking about the wholeness in body and soul that God gives through faith in Jesus—a wholeness that shows itself in a life of worship and gratitude for the mercies of Jesus.

            Dear friends in Christ we too have been made well through faith in Jesus.  Our sin-sickness has been washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism and our great high priest has declared us clean in his sight.  May this wholeness always lead us to worship Jesus and be thankful for the Lord’s mercies!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37 It’s a situation that could be the lead-in story on the evening news.  A traveler is beaten, robbed, and left for dead.  And to add to the horror, there were bystanders who looked on--who could have helped-- but didn’t want to get involved.  It could be the cover story in a Newsweek series on crime in America-- but what it is a story some two thousand years old--the story of the Good Samaritan.
As we reflect on God’s Word to us today, I would like to consider it in this way: (1) the question of the lawyer: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (2) Jesus’ answer in the example of the Good Samaritan (3) and the challenge of Jesus: Go and do likewise.
What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  It was a question meant to trip-up or trick Jesus into making a mistake.  St. Luke tells us that the lawyer was trying to put Jesus to the test.  Any thought of sin or guilt and the need for forgiveness and grace apparently never entered the lawyer’s mind when it came to this question about his life with God.  He wanted to know what he needed to do to merit eternal life. 
We’re not immune from this idea that our relationship with God is based on what we do rather than on his grace—it’s a part of our fallen nature to think this way.  We want to believe that because we lead decent lives and give to good causes we’re somehow more “deserving” of salvation than those who don’t.  But life with God is based on his grace-- not our works.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus answers the lawyer this way, “Since you’re an expert in the Law, What is written in the Law?  The lawyer gives the perfect answer--the answer right straight from the Word of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus had summarized the law just like that.  Perfect! Jesus says--Do this (and keep on doing it) and you will live!
The lawyer asked a legal question and Jesus had him given him the legal answer.  If you fulfill the Law—loving God above all and loving your neighbor as yourself—and keep on doing that perfectly for all your days--then you will live. 
Case closed--right?  Well....not quite.  At this point in the dialogue we begin to see a bit more of what the lawyer is really all about–the truth about his spiritual condition--that what he really wanted to do was to justify himself.  In fact, what he thought he needed to do-- was to justify himself. 
But if the lawyer had taken just a moment to take a good, hard look at himself in the light of God’s Law, he would have given up all hope of trying to justify himself. 
You see, anyone who has truly applied that summary of God’s Law to themselves:  love God with your entire being and your neighbor as yourself–has despaired of “doing” something to gain eternal life. 
To measure our lives by the standard of God’s law is to know ourselves for who we really are: those who have failed to love God and neighbor as we should—those who lack the ability to DO something to inherit eternal life—those who cannot justify themselves.
That’s what the lawyer should have realized about himself-- but he thinks there is still a chance.  “Who is my neighbor?”  In other words, he thinks to himself:  “If I can just get this neighbor thing nailed down then maybe I have a chance--just limit the neighborliness needed--give me a checklist of those I have to be nice to, and I’ve got it made”.
I think it’s interesting that he didn’t ask Jesus about loving God correctly.  So deluded was he about his real spiritual condition that he took it for granted that he loved God with the fullness and depth and breadth of his being as is commanded by the Law.  But his attitude towards others showed the truth-- even about his relationship with God.

Jesus knew what was in the lawyer’s heart.  He knew the self-righteousness and self-deception that blinded him to the truth about himself and God and Jesus wanted to pull him off of that shaky foundation and show him how profoundly he needed the mercy and grace of God—how helpless and broken he really was.  And so Jesus told him this story.
A traveler is beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left for dead.  Passers-by—men who knew it was their duty to help him, men who were experts in the law, ignored his need.  Finally, another man saw him, had compassion on him, treated his wounds and provided what was needed for his full recovery.  And –he- was- a -Samaritan.  You can almost hear the gasps from the crowd two thousand years later!
A Samaritan!  The hero of a Jewish rabbi’s story!  Incredible!  Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  Jews prayed that Samaritans would not be saved.  Samaritans were not received as converts.  For a Jew to eat food touched by a Samaritan was the same as eating pork.  And it was better to die than for a Jew to accept help from a Samaritan. 
And so for Jesus to use a Samaritan as an example of one who fulfilled the Law when even the religious leaders wouldn’t--well, it was just stunning! 
Jesus does something else that is remarkable in this parable.  He shows what the question should really be, holding up the mirror of the law before the lawyer—so that he can see how far he really is from keeping the law—how far he really is from God.
The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?”–trying to narrow down the list so that we can be merciful to as few as possible and still justify ourselves.  Instead, the question is:  “Am I a neighbor to others?”   That is, do I have this quality of “neighborliness” and mercy and compassion?  Do I have this love for others that is truly the fulfillment of the Law?

The answer is no.  No for me--for you--and for the lawyer that day.  We have all failed to love our neighbor as ourselves preferring instead to look the other way when we come across those in need-- soothing our own consciences with the excuses that seem so right at the time.  All of us have failed to love others as ourselves and in doing so have failed to love God above all.
But I want you to notice what Jesus does.  He doesn’t say “Aha!”--gotcha you wretched sinner!”  He doesn’t point his finger.  Jesus is so gentle with the man.  Even in turning this question back on the lawyer—Jesus’ purpose is to get him understand the truth of his spiritual poverty so that he can see that he has a need even greater than the man beaten and robbed—that is he is even more helpless when it comes to saving himself.
Jesus simply asks the lawyer to be the judge in his own trial.  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?  The priest?  The Levite?  Was it those experts in the Law?  Or was it the Samaritan?  The lawyer had no choice but to render a verdict:  the one who was the neighbor was the one who had compassion and showed mercy--the Samaritan.  Who would have ever imagined it?  The most unlikely of heroes!
Jesus told this story so that the lawyer might see the truth about himself with his self-righteousness and self-deceit stripped away--that he was the man who was helpless in the face of spiritual enemies more powerful than himself—that he was the one beaten and broken by the forces of evil--that he too must hope, for the help of hero, who is filled with courage and compassion—the One who stood before him.
Then as now, Jesus is the most unlikely of heroes in the world’s eyes.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son” the people of his day asked?  Not a mighty king.  Not a brave warrior.  Definitely not what was expected-- either then or now!  A Jewish carpenter from a backwoods town–and yet, true God in the flesh on a mission of mercy and love.
 Jesus told this story to reveal the truth about the man- but he also told it to reveal the truth about himself.  Jesus is the true Good Samaritan, who looked with compassion at a world full of people who had been wounded and injured and broken-- and had compassion on them—just like the Samaritan had compassion on the beaten and broken traveler.
It was Jesus who left his place of honor and dignity at his Father’s right hand and humbled himself to come into a world filled with danger and violence to help those who are by nature his enemies--just like the Samaritan in the parable left his donkey and entered into that dangerous situation to help an enemy.

It was Jesus who poured out his life-blood on the cross that healed our wounds and it was Jesus that paid the full price for our salvation just like the Samaritan who gave of his riches to provide healing for the wounded man. 
Life apart from God is much more desperate than the traveler wounded by robbers for we would have perished eternally if Christ had not given of himself into death for our sins.  It is in his death and resurrection that we are restored to wholeness of life--delivered from the selfishness that so often characterizes our life with God and others--now ready to bestow mercy on others from the boundless love that has been poured into hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine how grateful the traveler was when the Samaritan stopped to render aid?  How thankful he was that the Samaritan did not pass by like the others?  Can you imagine how his life and attitude and outlook were changed by the mercy of that most unlikely of heroes?   So it is with those who know the care and compassion of Jesus, the Good Samaritan.
Jesus concludes his conversation with the lawyer with these words, “Go and do likewise.”  For the lawyer it was a challenge.  Jesus in effect says, “O.K.  You think you can keep the Law--you want to justify yourself--go ahead--give it a try--go out into this broken, needy, dying world and truly be a neighbor to all those you come into contact with.” 
“Go and do likewise”–try to keep just this one small part of the Law and you will quickly learn how shallow your own mercy really is--how meager your own spiritual resources are–how desperately you need what only I can provide. 

We don’t know what happened to the lawyer.  Did he go into the world and give it a try?  Did he begin to see the truth about his own great need in the mirror of the Law?  Did he eventually despair of trying to save himself and turn to Jesus with repentance and faith, trusting only in God’s grace?  We hope so!
Christ concludes his Word to us this morning with the same words he spoke to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise”.  But for us who have put our hope for eternal life in Christ’s righteousness–for those of us who have stopped trying to justify ourselves and simply learned to rest in God’s grace--these words are not a burden but a gracious invitation to show our love for Christ in acts of loving compassion for those in need.
We probably won’t come across someone beaten, robbed, and left for dead this week.  But we will have an opportunity to help someone--to encourage someone--to pray for someone--to give time or money to someone in need. 

Let’s not pass by on the other side of the road like the priest and Levite pretending that we don’t see.  Instead, let us follow the example of the Good Samaritan, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and reach out to others in mercy and love.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Faith Comes From Hearing

Romans 10:9-17 All of us have struggles in our life of faith.  Often times there is a fairly significant gap between what we say we believe and what we actually live out in our lives.  When we go through hard times we wonder to ourselves:  Is God really with me?  Is he really working for my good in this trial?  We struggle with the same old sins and never seem to make much progress in living a holy life.
These trials and struggles and doubts and difficulties seem to pile up on one another and cause us to doubt whether we are really even a Christian at all.  They cause us to question our life with God and wonder if we really will be saved at the last.  I want you to hear what God says to you today in his holy Word:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
            When we are confronted by our sins, when we struggle under trials and temptations, when we never make the spiritual progress that we want to make:  I want you to remember these words:  you will be saved!  You will be saved! 
Your salvation does not rest on your sin-less-ness.  Your salvation does not rest on your spiritual progress in holy living.  Your salvation does rest upon your good works.
Your salvation rests safe and secure upon the rock-solid foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ:  that he is the one true and living God in human flesh who has died for you on the cross to take away your sin and has been raised to defeat death for you.
That is what Paul was inspired by the Spirit to write when he said:  Jesus is Lord.  Not just that Jesus in our master—of course that is true!  But this earliest Christian creed:  Jesus is Lord means that Jesus is Jehovah, Jesus is Yahweh, Jesus is the Savior God who has always come to the aid of his people and now has taken upon himself your flesh and bore your sins and died in your place and was raised as your Great Champion over sins and death.
That is who Jesus is and that is what Jesus has done and believing that, God himself, in his divine courtroom has declared you not guilty:  not guilty over your sins; not guilty over your doubts; not guilty over your failures.  Not guilty—now and forever! 
Believing that- and confessing that:  you are right in God’s sight and you will be saved.  It may seem at first glance that believing and confessing are two different things but that are not—they are simply two different aspects of the same thing:  the heartfelt faith that Jesus is our Lord and Savior that comes to us as we hear and believe his Word. 
Believing is what happens in our heart as we trust in Jesus for our salvation and confessing is the public testimony of that same faith: that Jesus is my Savior from sin and death and the one and only hope for all mankind-- and so it has always been:
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
            The Scripture that Paul is quoting is from the prophet Isaiah and here’s the point:  in the Old Testament and the New Testament; for God’s ancient people the Jews and for the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Paul’s day; for every person in every time and place; there was, and is, and always will be, one and only one way of salvation and that is faith in the promises of God regarding his Messiah.
 For Adam and Eve he was the Seed of the Woman whose shed blood would crush Satan.  For Moses he was the greater Prophet who would speak God’s Word.  For Abraham he was the sacrificial lamb sacrificed in place of his own son.  For David he was the Good Shepherd and everlasting King who would care for his people.  For Isaiah he was the virgin-born child who was the everlasting father and the crucified man who was stricken and afflicted and whose would bring peace.  For Zechariah he was the humble King who would come to his people on the back of a donkey and for Malachi he was a refining fire and morning star and God himself in his temple.
For us he is the baby of Bethlehem and the man of the cross and the victorious champion standing beside his grave alive and he is the ascended, reigning king. 
For Jew and Gentile, for Israel and the Church, for people in every time and place he is Jesus Christ, God in flesh and EVERYONE who believes in him will never be put to shame and EVERYONE who calls upon him in faith will be saved and EVERYONE who lives in him and with him will be blessed by God with riches beyond measure.
Believing in Jesus:  we never have to worry that there is another way of salvation; that there is another way to have a life with God; that there is another way to have a rich, abundant, blessed life in time and eternity. 
Trusting in Jesus we will go through life unafraid and unashamed-- and when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead--we will not cower in fear but we will lift up our heads knowing that our redemption is at hand. 
This is true for all people, without exception, who call upon the Lord in faith.  But at the same time, it is true ONLY for those who call upon him in faith. 
The way of salvation that is found in Jesus Christ ALONE is so broad that his arms of love stretched out upon the cross embrace all people without exception-- but it is also so narrow that only those who hear the Good News and believe in him will be saved.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
            I have told this story to my Bible class before so I apologize to them in advance.  I was already at the seminary when my little sister called me on a Sunday afternoon after a mission festival at her church and she said, “Allan, do you now that everyone who does not believe in Jesus will go to hell?! “  And I said, “Well, yes, Kristi, I know that.” 
I think that she really did too-- but the missionary’s sermon struck her that day in a very profound and personal way as to just exactly what is at stake when it comes to people hearing about Jesus—that if they are to be saved, they must hear of him and believe in him. 
And so I hope to do the same for you here today because, when this connection is made in the people of God, the way they view the church is changed forever.
In our world today there are seven billion people.  Two billion of them identify in some way with Christianity.  Let’s say all of them are Christians (which they are not) but that leaves five billion people who, if they were to die today would be lost forever and go to hell for eternity. 
Men, women and children.  Decent, kind, upright people.  Families and friends no different than your own.  All of them separated from God eternally because they did not hear of and believe in Jesus.
And so then Paul asks those questions that connect every unbelieving person in this world directly to you as a believer:  how can people believe in Jesus if they have never heard of him?  They can’t!  How can people hear of him if no one ever speaks to them about Jesus?  They can’t!  How can someone ever speak about Jesus is there is no church that calls them and commissions them and consecrates them to do so?  They can’t!
With these questions we have gone on a necessary journey that connects the person who has been blessed by God with saving faith in Jesus Christ (that’s you!) to every person in the world who does not have saving faith in Jesus Christ and needs to hear of him before they die and face God’s judgment and everlasting punishment. 
Brother and sisters in Christ, there are people in this world and in our community who will be lost forever unless WE take our part in God’s work by supporting the mission of the church throughout the world and unless we speak about Jesus to those around us. 
And if we are timid and hesitant about speaking up-- and if we say that the church ought to be about some other kind of work and have some other priority--hear the judgment of the living God on those who go about his work of talking about Jesus:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
You can a lot of things about my feet—beautiful is not one of them.  Especially in the ancient world people’s feet took a beating.  But this most humble part of our body God counts as beautiful as we are about his work in bearing witness to Jesus even when that message is not always well received.  The Bible says:
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
            Here in this verse we come face to face with the great impediment that keeps so many of us from bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ:  that there are those who will reject our message.  This is not unique to us and it is nothing new—Isaiah experienced it in his day--Paul did too.
But in these same verses is an incredible promise that ought to stir us up and move us on in the Lord’s mission:  faith DOES comes by hearing the word of Christ!  Listen to that again: faith comes by listening to the word of Christ!  Do you understand what a wonderful, powerful promise that is!?  That as the Good News of Jesus is shared, there in that place, in that moment, in that person’s life, the Holy Spirit is at work brining about faith when and where it pleases him.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ!  We can say “amen” to that in our life and we can take our stand on that promise as we witness to others!  Amen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Let the Children Come to Me!

Luke 18:15-17 All of us have heard the old story about the plumber whose bathtub doesn’t drain or the mechanic whose car has bad brakes or the attorney who doesn’t have a will.  Maybe we have seen that Norman Rockwell painting of the overweight doctor with a cigarette in his mouth lecturing his patient about his health. 
The point being that even people who ought to know better are often times blind to the needs that are right before their eyes.
The same thing can happen in the church.  All of us know the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. 
This command and invitation involves brining people into the Kingdom of God and training them in his ways. 
The Church at large-- and this congregation-- have responded to that glorious invitation to take our part in the Lord’s mission to save all people.  Paul was sent to the Gentiles.  Thomas made it as far as India.  By the beginning of the second century A.D. Christianity was already established in Great Britain.
So it has gone down through the ages as the people of God have responded to the Lord’s call to make disciples of all people.  Our own congregation supports missionaries in Asia and Africa and it is exciting to hear those stories of how the Good News of Jesus has touched people all over the world.
The commission of Jesus to make disciples of ALL nations really does mean ALL.  ALL includes people of every nation, tribe, people and language.  It includes God’s ancient people the Jews.  It includes people across the world who we will never know until we get to heaven. 
But brothers and sisters in Christ, this charge to make disciples of all nations—to bring people into the kingdom and train them in the ways of the kingdom-- also includes those who are closest to us—those we know and love best. 
It also includes those who the Lord, in his wisdom, has placed into our care in our families.  It includes our children.  We begin to fulfill the Lord’s Great commission and take our place in this important mission work when we bring our children to Jesus and teach them the ways of the kingdom of God.  The Bible says that:  The people were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them.
I would not have to make this point at the beginning to the people of the ancient world but in this place and time it does need to be made:  there were children in that place who could be brought to Jesus at all!
We live in a culture that is ambivalent at best about children and at world is outright antagonistic.  It is legal in our country and throughout much of the co-called Christian West for parents-- who have been gifted by God with a baby-- to murder that baby in utero.  St. Mother Teresa was absolutely correct when she said:
The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child…
And even where the child is allowed to live there is still profound ambivalence about how children are to be regarded—as a blessing or a burden.
Our godless, materialistic culture sees children as a burden or an imposition or a roadblock to our self-will and our self-love and our self-determination.  But the people who were bringing their children to Jesus that day knew God’s own truth about them:  that they were blessings from God and that the family who had more children had more blessings.
There is nowhere- and I mean nowhere- in the Bible where God speaks of children as anything other than his blessing.  Sadly, the people of God have forgotten that today as the birthrate among Christians is no different than that of the unbelieving world around us. 
But the believers who came to Jesus with the children, even their infants, believed that their children were blessings from God and they wanted for them the blessings that only Jesus can give.  The Bible says that when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
When we hear these words and picture this scene in our minds we can’t help but wonder to ourselves, “Why on earth would anyone keep a child from Jesus?  Who thinks that is a good idea!?” 
But the disciples did-- and so do many people in the church today as well.  They do it because they really do not understand that children—and even infants—also need what only Jesus can do for them and that is forgive their sin and make them a part of God’s family.
There is nothing in this world sweeter and more precious to us than our babies and children but we have to believe what Jesus says about them—that flesh gives birth to flesh—that they too must be born again from above by the Holy Spirit if they are to have their own place in God’s kingdom.  The Bible teaches that:
Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people…
Every one of our children—born of their parents’ love--are part of Adam’s family and because they are a part of Adam’s family the judgment of God pronounced upon Adam falls upon them too.  No one is excluded from that—no one.
And yet the God who created them, loves them-- and desires to be a heavenly Father to them-- and has sent his Son Jesus Christ for them—to die on the cross for them and to give them a new and eternal life in his kingdom. 
That is why Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church—so that all people could have a life with him through baptism and faith in his teachings— even, and especially, our children. 
That is why we bring our children to Jesus in the waters of Holy Baptism-- so that the saving benefits of his death and resurrection can become their own.  That is why we teach our children to obey everything our Lord has taught us so that they can come to Jesus and take their place in his kingdom.  The Bible says that: 
Jesus called the parents and the disciples to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
I know that every parent sitting here this morning wants the best for your children.  I have absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever!  You sacrifice for your children.  You pray for your children.  You encourage them and disciple them and guide them and pick them up again and again when they stumble and fall.  You want the best for your children.
But brothers and sisters in Christ, I will tell you that the “best” when it comes to your children is not the right kind of career.  The best is not fame and fortune.  The best is not a lifetime free from worries or difficulties.  The best is for them to take their place in the kingdom of God and be his children first and live with him forever.
As parents we don’t always know what to say or do when it comes to our kids.  We have—and will—make parenting mistakes.  Praise God that he has made our children resilient enough to survive our parenting-- and praise God that he forgives us and helps us begin again in the power and help of the Holy Spirit to fulfill our calling as Christian parents!
But brothers and sisters, whatever other mistake we may make, we cannot get this wrong:  that our first priority as parents is bring our children to Jesus and see them take their place in his Kingdom and learn his ways.
That I why we baptize them.  That is why we read them Bible stories before bed.  That is why we teach them to pray.  That is why we bring them to church and Sunday School.  That is why we have a Christian school and early childhood center.
This Church understands that our responsibility as Christians- first and foremost--is to see that our children are brought to the faith and trained in the faith and taught the faith so that they can be a part of God’s kingdom in time and for eternity.  Jesus says:  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
That our children are to be our very first mission priority—that our children first brought into the Kingdom of God and trained in its ways is not an exception to the way that God works in this world or something out of the ordinary—but it is the very pattern for ALL our mission work and evangelism efforts!
Every person in this world—by nature—is just as helpless in spiritual things as is the tiniest newborn baby!  Every person in this world—by nature—has just as much to learn about God’s kingdom as does the youngest child in our early childhood center.  No one comes into the Kingdom of God in any other way than by simple faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so then, to fulfill the Lord’s mission in this place we need an early childhood center and we need a Christian school and we need a vibrant Sunday School if for no other reason than that WE would learn that the Lord’s love and care and concern for souls extends to ALL people, even the least in the world’s eyes-- and so our love and care and concern is to extend to all people, even the least in the world’s eyes, beginning with those who are closest to us. 

When we pray for and encourage and support Christian education we are showing that we take seriously our Savior’s words when he invites the little children to come to him and promises them a place in his kingdom.  Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hear the Word of the Lord!

Jeremiah 7:1-11 It is important to be in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.  It so important that it’s one of the Ten Commandments:  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Luther’s Small Catechism explains it this way:  “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
God wants us to be in worship and Bible study on the Lord’s Day to receive Christ’s gifts of forgiveness and the strengthening of the Spirit.  But as I always remind our confirmation students, it’s not just our presence that God wants-- but our thoughtful worship.  Hearing God’s Word means taking it to heart.  Learning God’s Word means putting it into practice in our lives.
I am so thankful to God for everyone present here today-but we ought to be aware that the devil and our flesh can misuse this sacred time in God’s house by turning it into an outward act that has no real connection to our lives in the week to come-- because we do not take to heart what we hear or put it into practice in our lives.
That’s what happened to the people in Jeremiah’s day.  They kept the outward form of worship but they never let it change their lives.  They still did, and said, the right “religious” things.  But God’s word had absolutely no influence on their lives—they went on living in unbelief just like they had before- with no improvement of life.
God intends for his words of law and gospel to change us—to deepen our faith and influence our decisions and to lead us in his ways.  Our lives ought to be different in this new week because of what we have heard today from God today.  The Bible says:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.
            When we come into the Lord’s house, what we ought to expect to hear—what we ought to demand to hear --is the Word of the Lord!  Not a stringed-together series of amusing anecdotes.  Not what the pastor thinks about politics or current events.  Not some self-help pep talk.  But we ought to hear God’s word of law that condemns our sin and his word of gospel that forgives our sins in Jesus. 
God has given to pastors what he wants preached-- and that is his written Word-- and you should not listen to any man who comes in the name of the Lord bringing anything else other than God’s Word.  BUT-- when the Word of God is preached-- you ought to receive it for what it is:  nothing less than the Lord’s Word to you
When you walk into this place for worship you ought to have an expectancy that the one true and living God of the universe has something that he wants you to know—that he wants to change the way you live and deepen your faith in Jesus and guide your life by his Spirit.  He certainly wanted that for the people of Jeremiah’s day.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 
            These words were spoken by God through Jeremiah at a particularly dark moment in Judah’s history as the temporal judgment of God was about to befall them.  But even in that late hour-- it was not too late.  There was still time for them to hear the Lord and take his words to heart and put them into action in their lives before they were carried off into exile.   
            Specifically, God wanted them to amend their ways and deeds.  In other words, change how they were living—renew their faith in him—and commit to doing things differently in the future.  God wants the same for us.
And so let me just ask you in all honesty, when was the last time you heard something in church or in Bible study and you said to yourself, “You know, I’m wrong in this.  I’ve done the wrong thing.  I’ve said the wrong thing.  This part of my life isn’t right”.  And you told the Lord you were sorry and asked for his forgiveness. 
But you left the Lord’s house and did not do one concrete thing to change the situation or make it right-- and your life was not one bit different than it was before?  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:  Amend your ways and your deeds! 
In other words:  be reconciled to that person you are at odds with!  Stop petting those pet sins!  Change the way you treat the people in your marriage and family and church!  Amend your ways and your deeds while there is still an opportunity and do not think for an instance that merely being present in the Lord’s house is a substitute for a living faith and a changed life.  Jeremiah told the people of that day and us too:
Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
            So what did Jeremiah mean by this, that these were deceptive words?  After all, they WERE in the temple of the Lord!  How could they be deceived about that?  What he meant was that the people were deceiving themselves with these words, thinking that they promised something that they didn’t.
About 150 years before, the northern kingdom experienced the judgment of God at the hands of the Assyrians.  They suffered God’s righteous wrath for all the years they had worshipped false gods in pagan places when the true temple and the true worship of the true God was in Jerusalem.
When Jeremiah spoke these words, the people of Judah were still worshiping in the temple.  They were still offering up the sacrifices.  They were still going through the motions of worship.  Outwardly, it looked like things were fine.
But when Jeremiah came to them with God’s Word, warning them of judgment to come, calling them to amend their lives before it was too late—they turned a deaf ear to what God had to say and went on as before, denying that they even needed a savior.
You see, alongside of Jeremiah there were false prophets who told them they had nothing to be afraid of—that Jeremiah was just a fear-monger—the God would never think about letting anything happen to his temple-- and so long as they were saying the right words and doing the right things in worship-- they had nothing to fear.
But they were deceived-and there is no deception as dangerous to our souls as a religious deception-- for it blinds us to the truth about ourselves and the truth about God! 
We have a beautiful sanctuary.  The creeds and confessions of our church are faithful and true.  We have worship services that are dignified and God-glorifying. 
But they have a purpose beyond this time and place of worship:  that you would repent of your sins and trust in Jesus and amend your ways and your deeds. 
And if you tell yourself that it is plenty good enough that you have come to church—that God ought to be satisfied with your standing and sitting and bowing—you are in a particularly dangerous place spiritually because what God really wants is to change your life beyond this hour—for time and eternity.  The Bible says:
If you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
            When we are truly sorry for our sins- and when we truly believe in Jesus -our lives will be different.  Not perfect—but better.  Not without sin—but always hating sin and desiring to be done with it.  Striving to love God and man as the law demands.
Our faith in Jesus is not some set of theological propositions we try to keep straight in our heads—it has an impact on every facet of our lives—on our life with others and on our life with God.  And so what does that mean for you this week?
Amendment of your ways and your deeds means that, when it comes to your life with others, you will make a real, concrete effort to do what you know is right from God’s Word.  Anger and lust and coveting and gossiping will be taken to the cross and left behind, washed away in the blood of Jesus.
Amendment of life means that, when it comes to our relationship with God, we will make a real effort this week to be faithful in our prayers and bible-reading—that we will turn aside from occasions for sin and walk by the Spirit.  It means that we will stop misusing God’s name and stop worrying--that we will rest in the forgiveness of Christ.  
When it comes to amending our ways and our deeds we must resist the temptation so say:  it’s too late to change now.  It’s not!  No more than it was for the Israelites. 
This is a day of God’s grace—a day that he has given for us to hear that Jesus forgives us and that the Spirit will help us—that so long as we are living and breathing God will keep his promise to bless us and forgive us and change our lives for time and eternity.  Sadly, the people of Jeremiah’s day refused God’s salvation and turned a deaf ear to his call for repentance.  He told them:
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.  Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
            They did the very opposite of what God asked of them.  They mistreated their fellow man and they abandoned the Lord for false gods.  The regarded the Lord’s house as a lucky rabbit’s foot that would keep them safe-- rather than the place to hear the voice of God calling them to heartfelt repentance and faith.  The way they lived- and the way they worshipped- revealed that they really had no faith at all.
They were going through the motions of worship—but God saw directly into their hearts.  The temple that had been set apart for the worship of the true God (to hear his voice and receive his forgiveness) had become a den of robbers—not because God was not present there with his gifts of forgiveness-- but because the people had no faith to recognize him there.
This place too is set apart for the worship of the true God—to hear his Word and receive the forgiveness that Jesus Christ won for us on the cross—to be renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament so that we can amend our lives.  God is here with the gracious gifts of forgiveness and life he gives in Jesus Christ.
What about us?  We must not think that we are magically immune from sins and failures of God’s ancient people --for we are not.  We need the deliverance from sin and death God has given in Jesus just like they did-- and God’s call through the prophet to amend our ways and our deeds is spoken to us too! 

And so I pray that, as we hear and learn God’s Word this Lord’s Day, we would take it to heart and put it into practice in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Examples for Our Instruction

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 As I read the words from the beginning of our text, I want you to underline the word, “all.”  The Bible says: 
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were ALL under the cloud, and ALL passed through the sea, and ALL were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and ALL ate the same spiritual food, and ALL drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
            Do you know how many folks are included in that word “all”?  Six hundred thousand men over the age of twenty besides all the women and children—certainly over two million people.  Millions of people delivered from slavery to freedom—millions of people cared for--by the powerful, merciful love of their Savior God.
All of them walked on dry land directly through the waters of the Red Sea, led by Moses, while their enemies perished in those same waters.  All of them were miraculously fed in the desert by food from God that came down each day from heaven.  All of them had their thirst miraculously met for decades in that dry land.  All of them were guided on their journey to the Promised Land.  And Christ walked with them every step of the way. 
In every way—in every moment—in material blessings and in spiritual blessings-- the Lord generously, graciously met the needs of all.  Six hundred thousand men over the age of twenty left Egypt as free men.  Do you know how many entered the Promised Land?  Two! 
The Bible says:  With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  That has to be the greatest understatement in the Bible!  Most of them!?  Two out six hundred thousand is certainly “most” alright!
God’s purpose in their deliverance—God’s purpose in their freedom—God’s purpose in their provision (to bring them into the Promised Land) was fulfilled in two of the six hundred thousand men who started out on that journey, for the rest were “overthrown” in the wilderness.  In other words, God exercised his temporal judgment upon them on account of their sins.
Under the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul recounts this sad history so that we would learn from it—so that the same judgment would not befall us as we journey to heaven. 
We have all been set free from slavery to sin and death (much harsher masters than Pharaoh) by the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  All of us have been baptized into Christ Jesus, our spiritual enemies washed away.  All of us are fed with food from heaven in Holy Communion.  All of us have our material needs generously and graciously met.  All of us have the abiding, guiding presence of Christ to walk with us through the wilderness of this world on our journey to the Promised Land of heaven.
What more could our Savior God possibly do for us than he has already done- and promises to do in the days to come -just like he did for all of those who came out of Egypt, of whom, two entered the Promised Land!  The Bible says that: 
These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
            Paul was supremely aware from the history of God and his people that it is entirely possible to have been blessed by God in mighty ways and still not enter heaven because of our own abject rejection of his grace and our own stubborn unwillingness to turn form sin. 
In the verses immediately preceding our text Paul speaks of this very thing in his own life and says that he disciplines his body and keeps it under control so that after preaching to others he himself wouldn’t be disqualified from the imperishable crown of eternal life. 
If Paul knew this about himself, how much more should we know the same about our own life of faith!  And so Paul records this story for us so that we would learn from it and take the lessons of history seriously and not repeat them and lose our way to heaven!
What was it that kept all but two men from entering the Promised Land?  Paul says it was:  idolatry; sexual immorality; putting God to the test; and grumbling.  These sins undermined their journey of faith; earned God’s judgment;  kept them out of the Promised Land. 
And so then we have to ask ourselves:  Do I fear, love and trust in God above all things?  Do I attribute all good things in my life to God alone?  Does he come first in my life and is that priority readily seen in how I live my life? 
We have to ask ourselves:  Am I leading a sexually pure and decent life in word and deed?  Do I entertain myself with sexual immorality in movies or TV or the novels I read?  Am I endeavoring in my marriage to love and honor my spouse?  Am I making excuses for- and room for- the sexual sins of those around me?
We have to ask ourselves:  Am I tempting God by turning God’s grace into a license for sin in my life?  Am I excusing some pet sin rather than repenting of it?  Am I continuing to sin with no real sorrow and no real amendment of life, believing that I will still be forgiven?
We have to ask ourselves:  am I grateful for every single blessing of body and soul, large or small that the Lord has poured out upon me or am I embittered by what I don’t have and envious of what others have?
We must ask ourselves these questions seriously because these are exactly these same kinds of sins that kept all but two men out of the Promised Land and sin will have exactly the same deadly effect on our own life faith.  The Bible says that:
These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,
            Most of us have heard the phrase “Those who will not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” and that is exactly why the Holy Spirit wanted Paul to write these words—so that believers in every time and place would learn from the lessons of salvation history. 
Even for the people of Moses’ day, every time God exercised his judgment upon some of them—and there were many such occasions-- all of the rest of them should have learned from it. 
            Paul says that is especially true for us Christians, on whom the end of the ages has come.  All of human history- and all of salvation history- has reached its culmination in Jesus Christ.  He is the alpha and the omega, the first and the last—he is the purpose and fulfillment of all of human history-- so that there is not one thing left undone- that must be done -before the final judgment and the end of the world. 
            From the moment of Christ’s ascension into heaven, the world continues to exist only until that moment the Lord has gathered to himself all of those who are his.  And so it is especially incumbent upon us, that in this late hour, we do not fall victim to our sins and miss the crown of life. 
But how do we do that when so many who have come before us—so many who were blessed by God just like we are blessed by God—have missed out?  The Bible says:
Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
            To withstand temptation, to complete our journey through the wilderness of this world, to receive the fullness of God’s redeeming work we must, first of all be on guard in our own lives for those very things that kept so many Israelites out of the Promised Land. 
We must have deep sense of humility that recognizes that we are no different than they were—that their story in the Bible is not recorded so that we can say:  “Those bad Jews”-- but so that we can see ourselves in their story and learn from them. 
We must also understand that the temptations we face are no different and no greater than the people of God have faced in the past—that in this is both warning and a promise. 
We are just as susceptible to Idolatry and sexual immorality and grumbling and tempting God as were the Israelites. 
But we are also just as capable as trusting God as was Daniel when he was thrown into the lion’s den; and we are just a capable of sexual faithfulness as was Joseph as when he fled the temptations of Potiphar’s wife; and we are just as capable of gratitude as was Naaman when he was healed of leprosy; and we are just as capable of repenting of our sins rather than testing God’s grace as was David when he sinned. 
We are capable of the same because the God who has saved us is the same and will strengthen and sustain us on our journey.  The Bible says that:
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
            When we look at the salvation history of our own lives we can see that our story is the same as God’s ancient people—that it is the story of God’s faithfulness rather than our own faithfulness-- and that is Good News indeed.  God promises that he who began a good work in us WILL bring it to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so then with every temptation we encounter, God makes a way for us to face it and remain faithful in the midst of it.  He moderates the intensity and duration of our trials.  He raises up people around us to encourage us when we struggle.  He gives us his Word and Sacrament for spiritual strengthening.  And today he warns us-- in the strongest way--about the dangers of falling away.

God desires that we would live with him in heaven forever.  That is the reason he has created us and redeemed us and provided for us in our daily life.  Let us take seriously the examples from salvation that are written for our learning and walk the narrow way that leads to eternal life.  Amen.