Monday, July 30, 2012

Sermon on Genesis 9:8-17, 9th Sunday after Pentecost, "Remembered by God"

Sermon Outline:  
1.      Rainbows—borrowed as a symbol for all kinds of things, logos, movements, even Emmanuel Lutheran’s logo. But what’s the true meaning and message of the rainbow? Setting the stage—why the Flood (widespread violence and wickedness on earth—sound like today?); yearlong destruction, Noah and family disembarking, God’s unconditional promises to Noah and all creation: physical blessings, not spiritual or a promise of eternal salvation.
2.      God’s covenant never again to destroy all the earth by Flood. Few today fear a global flood, but the threat of catastrophes certainly on our minds—tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, end-of-the-world movies. Our share of violence today—feel somewhat insulated (in US), but tragedy breaks through our sense of security—Colorado, terrorist attacks; other countries where danger is a part of everyday life—not safe to worship in many places in Nigeria—bombings, suicide attacks, gunmen, fires.
3.      Violence is deeply imbedded in our sinful human race. Many times over probably deserved God’s destruction again, like in the Flood. But the rainbow proclaims God’s mercy and peace with creation. Withholds His total judgment, even as it greatly grieves Him.
4.      Why repetition of the covenant? Persistence of grief or fear: (Luther) “How…difficult it is for a conscience that has experienced God’s wrath and the terrors of death to let comfort come in! These experiences remain so firmly entrenched later on that a heart becomes fearful and terrified even in the face of kindnesses and comforting words…[so Noah and his family] could not be talked out of their fear and terror by a word or two; a great abundance of words was needed to drive back their tears and to soften their grief. Even though they were saints, they were still flesh, just as we are. We, too, need this comfort today, in order that despite a great variety of stormy weather we may have no doubt that the [flood] gates of the heavens and the fountains of the deep have been closed by the Word of God. The rainbow makes its appearance even now, to be a sure sign that a universal flood will not occur in the future…this promise demands also from us that we believe that God has compassion on the human race.” The rainbow assures: compassionate God, slow to anger, faithful in promises
5.      But why does God say (2x) “I will remember my covenant”…“I will see it and remember”? God is not forgetful, but it’s for our assurance that God is unfailing; never breaks His promises. This is His steadfast love. Actually OT is full of passages talking about God “remembering”—mostly prayers in the Psalms: “remember your mercy and steadfast love; remember your congregation; remember your faithfulness to Israel; He remembers us, His covenant, His kindness.” God is letting us, no inviting us to hold Him to His promises. Like a child who grabs hold of their father and says, “Daddy, remember you said we were going to the park! Remember you promised we would play on the swings!” We cry to God in our distress, in our suffering, when we are surrounded by evil, fear, and even great evils like random shootings and violence, and we call upon His promises, His mercy and steadfast love. We take hold of our Father and say “Remember! Remember your love for us! Your promises!” We too need constant reassurance and reminders of His love, because our peace and security, is often shaken and stolen. We need to know God remembers.
6.      But we also want God to forget: Psalms “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;” “Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.” Ask God not to remember our sins, as indeed He promises to do. Jeremiah 31:34 speaks of the New Covenant He will make. Says: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
7.      Covenant with Noah is still in effect—to the end of time—but only physical blessings. Yet proof of God’s faithfulness. But the Greater Covenant, the New Covenant has been made in Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross for us. There, in that New Covenant with us, Jesus stepped into our violent and bloody world, where the innocent so often die—and He became the ultimate Innocent Victim—the Perfect Son of God. He submitted to the bloodthirsty hands of men, to win God’s decisive victory against sin and evil. Secure God’s greatest promises for us. Eternal, unshakeable promises. Promises to forgive and forget our sin—as His love keeps no record, no memory of wrongs. Promises to give life and deliverance through a dark world into His heavenly future. Promises that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And Jesus invites us to come to God and call Him Father—pray for Him to remember His promises, remember His steadfast love and mercy. And when we stand condemned and guilty in our sins, we cry out in repentance to God, and call on Him to remember Jesus Christ and His cross—to remember that He died for us!
8.      And with those prayers to God, we join another who prayed to God for remembrance: the thief on the cross, a sinner like us, who prayed: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Here we come to a great and comforting truth—that God remembers us. He remembers us because of His promises and His steadfast love for us. He remembers us because He always remembers what Jesus did for us on the cross. How He bled and died to take away our sin. How He came forth from His tomb to bring life for us. Just as ancient, yet enduring sign of the rainbow witnesses God’s faithfulness and remembering, so also Jesus’ death on the cross for us witnesses to God’s unimaginable faithfulness and greater blessings. And there He proclaims to us again as in days of old—that He remembers us—He remembers you—and we shall be with Him in paradise! Truly, it is good to be remembered by God! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. What was the reason that God flooded the whole earth in Noah’s day? Genesis 6:1-13; 2 Pet. 2:5. How does it foreshadow the Last Day on earth? Matt. 24:36-39; 2 Pet. 3:1-13.
  2. Read about God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17. What specific promises were included in this covenant? Where they mainly spiritual blessings, or physical blessings? Explain what it means that this was an “unconditional covenant.” Who would guarantee the keeping of the covenant? Who else besides Noah was included in this covenant, and why is that significant? (see. 9:9-10, etc)
  3. How does the Rainbow, as the sign of God’s covenant, testify to us today?
  4. What is the likely reason for the frequent repetition in this passage, about who is included in the promise, and God’s promise to keep it? Why might Noah and his family have needed these reassurances after what they experienced over the last year? Gen. 7:6, 11; 8:13-16. What simultaneous emotions would it have stirred to see the destruction of the world, while safe aboard the Ark?
  5. Why does God say He will “remember” His covenant to us? How is that intensely comforting? What do we call on God to remember for us? Psalm 25:6-7; 98:1-3; 103:11-19; 105:7-11; 106:44-46; 111:4-6; 119:49-50; 136:23. What do we ask Him to not remember? Psalm 25:7; 79:8; Isaiah 64:9; Jeremiah 31:34.
  6. What does it mean for us to be remembered by God? Luke 23:40-43. How does God’s faithfulness in His covenant to Noah and us and all creation assure us of His faithfulness to us in the greater promises and New Covenant in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "What is the Church?"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      Monuments of time and history: Great Wall, Pyramids, or Brooklyn Bridge. Took a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears” to build them. Mammoth designs and dangers in construction often meant the injury or death of the workers. Impressive; standing many hundreds or even thousands of years, but time and weather endlessly wear away at them and age them. With ongoing maintenance the effects of time might be stalled—but eventually, even the great monuments of time will succumb to rubble and dust.
2.      Another structure: far surpassing all others in glory—the Christian Church. Built for the glory of God, not the glory of man. Stretching through time and to eternity—a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to build. Not talking about bricks, mortar, stone, and wood. Not about church buildings. That’s not the “Church” I’m talking about. Living structure, living stones, members of the body of Christ. Jesus’ blood, sweat and tears builds it. Different from earthly structures. Time, death, decay don’t destroy the building. Unique in that when Christian’s die, they don’t cease to be a part of the church! Alive and well in glory!
3.      So what is the church? At its heart and core; what is central to its identity? It’s not about a physical building with a sign out front that says “church.” It’s not any old organization of people united for any good purpose. It’s not a certain pattern of rituals or ceremonies followed in worship. It’s not official recognition by the government as a church or non-profit. All of these ideas could be mistakenly identified as the church. While some may or may not go along with the church, they all miss what is at the heart of the church. To clear up the confusion, and get at the heart of the matter, the church is a very simple thing. Luther said it was so simple that even a 7 year old boy knows what it is: “The holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” The church is, in its essence, in its heart and core, believers who hear and follow Jesus’ voice. Sheep and their Good Shepherd.
4.      So when Paul calls the church the body of Christ, or a structure being joined together, growing into a Temple in the Lord, why does this “spiritual structure” take Jesus’ blood, sweat, and tears to build? And who are the “bricks/living stones”? Not a simple matter of going to a brickyard and taking a stack of bricks to lay into a wall. Living structure, made of people. Enmity, hostility between the people—Jew to Gentile (all non-Jews). Why the hostility? Jesus “broke down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances.” The Law brought hostility, commands and decrees of God put a curse on all those who disobeyed. Hostility from Jew to Gentile, and from both to the law and ultimately to God. Rom. 8:7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Jam. 4:4 “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God?”
5.      What kind of curse does the law set on people? Gal. 3:10 “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Cursed if you can’t keep it perfectly, and none can. Would that create some hostility? Resentment toward God? Toward those who think they’re pulling it off, and act self-righteous? Or in the other direction, resentment toward those who despise God’s commandment and blatantly disregard or defy it?
6.      Conscience stirred up and afflicted by the curse—left as strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Such was our condition. All this hostility and enmity boils up within us and between us and others because of sin. Not because the law is evil or bad—rather it is good—unflinchingly good. It gives no relief for our error. The law gives sin its power over us, because it puts us under that curse. The law is no friend of sinners, and has no mercy on the disobedient. It is a taskmaster and prison guard.
7.      So it’s our sin, my sin, your sin that is the bitter root of all the hostility and enmity. And because it is pervasive, spread through every one of us, it took Jesus’ blood, sweat and tears to become our peace, to make us one in Him, in His holy Christian Church. In His human flesh, He came under the curse of the law for us. Died on the cross, under the full hostility of sin, so that He could redeem us from the curse of the Law. Nailed the demands and accusations of the law to the tree. Emptied it of its curse and power over us, end of hostility.
8.      Made peace with us and with God through forgiveness. He becomes the cornerstone, the Rock on which the church is built. Apostles and prophets surround Him as the foundation on which the church, this living, spiritual building/structure is built. Jesus went through this tremendous sacrifice and death, to make us members of His body, the church. Just as individual bricks laying on the ground are not yet a building, so also Bible doesn’t envision “Lone Ranger” Christians or “hermit Christians” who try to “go it alone.” We don’t find our greater purpose or sense of belonging apart from the Church, but as we are “incorporated” or “built into it.” “Incorporated” literally means “united in one body”—just as we all as separate people are joined into something greater than ourselves, the Christian church. Not to lose our individuality, but to belong, and to use our unique gifts and talents in service to others. No, we are called into community and fellowship with other believers. We need the mutual support, care, prayer, fellowship, instruction, rebuking, reconciling, and most importantly, Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament, which form and identify the Church. Reflect on this passage later today on how many phrases and works show the rich meaning of community that is found in the Christian Church. That Christ draws and joins us together in Him. He is our Head, He is our Cornerstone—our life and our peace flow from Him.
9.      Where on earth is this church to be found? If the Christian church is lambs who hear the voice of Jesus, their shepherd, how do I find it? After all, this “living building” of the church is not like the Great Wall that you can plan a tour to go see. Not a cathedral or a physical building that you can make a pilgrimage to. But then is the church an entirely invisible or internal thing, with no external marks to identify it? Faith in Jesus Christ alone makes one a believer and true member of Christ’s church. But only God can never be deceived, and only God knows truly what’s in each person’s heart. But this does not mean the church cannot be known.
10.  External marks: The first is the pure teaching of God’s Word. “Pure” because it is on the pure teaching of God’s Word that we are have healthy growth in faith. One would not knowingly give their child tainted milk to drink, saying “Well, it’s still milk.” Rather you would give them pure milk, so they would not get sick. So when God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity, this is one sure sign of the church’s presence. Secondly, the Sacraments, or Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated according to Christ’s command. These two are directly commanded by our Lord Jesus, and instrumental in His giving grace to us. Both visible actions, God attaches the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And they too, like the Word of God, should be used as Christ commanded. They are not our ceremonies to do whatever we like. They are Holy and given by Him to be used as He instructed. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Take drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
11.  Where these things are present: the Word of God and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is at work building His Church. With the Word of God, with Baptism and the Supper, we can be confident that here we are being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) Jesus died to make us what we are—the Christian Church. To join us together in His One body, to make peace with us by forgiving our sin and taking the curse on Himself. While we still labor under weakness and frailty, suffering, and even death, the Church might not look like much to the world. But when we join the heavenly host, we’ll truly see why the Church surpasses all the monuments of history in glory, and why Christ shed His blood to bring us near to Him—and to bring all glory and honor to God who fulfills all His purposes in Christ and in us. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen to audio at:

  1. What kind of “structure” does Ephesians 2 say that Christ is building? In what way could you say that it took a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears” to make it? Luke 19:41-44; 22:41-44; John 19:31-37. Read carefully in Ephesians 2:11-22. What does it say His blood and His death accomplished for His people?
  2. What is this “structure” built on? Eph. 2:20. How is it different from any earthly structures or physical buildings? Eph. 2:21-22.
  3. Use the analogy of individual bricks or stones compared to a structure of which they are a part, to explain why Christ puts us in community in the church, rather than leaving us in isolation. How do we “living stones” retain our individuality and purpose, while becoming part of a greater whole? Why does this truth lead Paul to mix metaphors between a building and a body? Eph. 2:14-16, cf. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 12:12-31.
  4. How does this body/structure grow unlike an earthly building? How is it more like a living organism than a static structure? Col. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:4-5 How does the (physical) death of individual Christians (amazingly) not lead to the gradual decay and decline of the Christian church? Rom. 8:38. How do they remain part of the body, as it continues to grow through time? John 11:25-26
  5. What “hostility” or enmity did Christ have to overcome by His death and blood to make us all members of His body, this “structure” the Church? Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21. Reduced to its simplest definition, what is the Christian Church, as every 7 year old (should) knows? “The believers and lambs who hear Christ’s voice and follow Him”. John 10:1-18
  6. Though the Christian Church’s true membership is hidden from our eyes, what outward signs serve as identifying “marks” so that we can recognize where the Church is here on earth? John 8:31-32; 14:23-26; 20:21-23; Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sermon on Mark 6:14-29, for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, "Keeping a Clear Conscience"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      Intro: “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”--Luther  “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Herod Antipas is a prime example of how it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience, and why God gave us our conscience to listen to it and  God’s Word; rather than competing voices and interests that would move us to sin. Paul’s example: “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16)
2.      What is our conscience? Inner voice that testifies (gives witness) to God, and the knowledge of right and wrong. Some describe it as our “moral compass.” Romans 2:15 is key: “They [Gentiles] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” Shows two things: 1) work of the law is written on our hearts, so conscience bears witness. We know what is right, and that it is demanded of us. Can’t pretend not to know. 2) conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse: The conscience issues “warning sounds” (Wells) when we do wrong. It judges us and accuses us when we do wrong. Conscience both reveals God’s will, and holds us accountable to it, so that we are accused when we disobey.
3.      David Wells says that “Conscience…is more like the moaning of a prisoner in his cell than” a lecturing professor. “It is an alarm signal whose noise can be turned down but not off. It is our [inner] reality, which is inexplicable in the absence of God, and inconsolable apart from his grace.” In other words, conscience doesn’t require deep intellectual knowledge, but the sense of guilt that everyone feels when they do wrong. We can try to quiet the alarm sound, but not turn it off, though we make many other attempts to escape it. And finally, that we have a conscience makes no sense apart from the existence of God, and it cannot be comforted or consoled apart from Him. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Augustine)
4.      Who has a conscience? Everyone. We have no excuse. Herod heard the voice of conscience but ignored it. Terrified conscience that John was raised. Proceeded against his guilty conscience to execute John, fulfilling a foolish oath and trying to save face with his unlawful wife and dinner guests. Sins were multiplying out of his control.
5.      Herod took Herodias, the his step-brother Philip’s wife, to be his own, while both their spouses were still living and married. To the crimes of incest and adultery, Herod would later add the murder of John the Baptist. Stirred up war with the King of Arabia, his father-in-law from his first wife, and Herod’s army was destroyed. His later treacheries got him and his wife exiled to France. “Some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism” (Josephus). His evil came down on his head and others, literally and figuratively.
6.      Herod’s tormented conscience at Jesus’ miracles. His fear and reluctance to kill John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man. Perplexed by John, but also eager to hear him. Didn’t seem to go much beyond the level of idle entertainment though. Later, this same Herod, at the trial of Jesus, sought idle entertainment by seeking miracles from Jesus, rather than giving a serious audience for truth. Like the men of Athens (Acts 17:20) who “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” He listened, but his heart was not touched. He did not give glory to God or listen to conscience.
7.      Herod Antipas continually ignored his conscience, and it brought great evil down upon himself and here especially John the Baptist, a righteous man. Herod Antipas is an extreme example of one who corrupted his conscience by continual sinning and indulgence in evil. But we should not think his example is extreme and we’re safe from doing the same kind of damage to our conscience by continual sinning or indulgence in evil. There is no such thing as “tame sins” that will only do what we want them to. No harmless, little sins. They will germinate and grow. Ignoring our conscience is a way of giving more and more permission to sin, and greater evil becomes possible. When we give into our sinful passions, sin takes the reins, and we deceive ourselves if we think we can control all the consequences of our actions. This is why we should always strive to keep a clear conscience toward God and man. We should never knowingly violate our conscience.
8.      Listen to your conscience! Stop at a crucial decision, and ask of your conscience (informed by God’s Word) if what we are about to do is good and right. Is it sinful or displeasing to God? Is it hurtful to myself or my neighbor? Is it dishonorable? Is it unlawful, even if we think we can achieve good ends? Are we trying to do evil, so that good may result? Warning flags! Halt! Go no further! All reasons to stop and take a better course of action. Pause and consult God’s Word for wisdom. Seek out advice of trusted believers.
9.      However we should not be permanently paralyzed when we are called to action, but to strive to act boldly in good conscience. It will be impossible to navigate life perfectly without making bad choices and decisions, where sometimes looking back shows our errors. All of us will at times have a guilty conscience, and that’s a good thing! Not that guilt itself is good, but that it means your conscience is working and doing its job! But neither is it good or right to remain burdened with a guilty conscience. A conscience continually weighed down by sin and ignorant of forgiveness may even simply give into sin, thinking there is no remedy. Sins and bad choices rightly grieve us, but we can and must take hold of God’s remedy: laying our sins before God in repentance, and asking for His forgiveness. The conscience is renewed and restored to seek what is good by the knowledge of our forgiveness.
10.  The voice of conscience can be an intensely painful call, when it brings to remembrance things that we’ve regretted. Silencing (or trying to) the voice of conscience is a dangerous path. If we willfully warp our conscience to excuse or justify our sins, then we face the fearful prospect of enabling ourselves to have greater permission with evil. We increase the boundaries of what we are willing to transgress, and find our resistance fading away. Again, the remedy is to seek a clear conscience, not a stifled one. It seems amazing, and it simply is...that God can transfer the guilt of our conscience to His Son Jesus, so that our burden is lifted! We must acknowledge, we must confess our wrongs, but then to do so is freeing and unburdening. The secret then, to a clear conscience is no secret at all! God wants it to be public knowledge and to be openly proclaimed that repentance and forgiveness of sins are found in Jesus Christ!
11.  The conscience that knows that God’s mercy and willingness to forgive is a blessed and free conscience. It is a heart that knows that when we return to the Lord we’re freed from the guilt of sin, and relieved to discover that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13). This is the conscience that is light and free, because in our baptism we have appealed to God for a clean conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as 1 Peter 3:21 tells us. And that appeal to God for a clean conscience is joyfully and faithfully answered with a ‘YES’! “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Co 1:20).
12.  “A clear conscience is a blessing bestowed only by Christ, on account of His [death as our substitute] on the cross (cf. 1 Pet. 3:16), and it simply cannot be [given] by self-effort or [the approval of others]…It is the “blood of Christ” alone that can “purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Heb. 9:14; cf. 10:22).” May we all confess our sins before Jesus and joyfully receive His blessing of a clear conscience to live freely and joyfully in His love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Why is it dangerous to go against the voice of conscience? What does God give us a conscience for? Rom. 2:15. What does it do (say)? Why should we strive for a clear conscience? Cf. Acts 24:16
  2. Who has a conscience? How (or when) is conscience like a prisoner moaning in his cell? How can it’s “alarm sounds” be turned down, but not off? Ps. 32; 51. Why is the existence of conscience unexplainable without God, and its wrestlings inconsolable apart from Christ?
  3. Read Mark 6:14-29. What signs of conscience (and ignored conscience) are evident in Herod’s actions? What consequences faced Herod (and many others) because of his mounting sins? See Josephus, the Jewish historian for corroborating historical evidence about Herod Antipas.
  4. What is the danger of convincing our conscience that we can commit “small sins” while aiming for a good purpose? How does Scripture contradict the idea of the “end justifies the means?” Rom. 12:21
  5. What are two different ways the conscience can be harmed? 1 Tim. 4:1-5; Titus 1:15. What behavior and thinking are responsible for each?
  6. What remedy does the Bible supply for a burdened and guilty conscience? Joel 2:13; Mark 1:15. How is baptism an appeal to God for a clean conscience? 1 Peter 3:16. What act of God provides us with a clean conscience? Heb. 9:14; 10:22. What assurance do we have that God will grant us this promise of forgiveness? 2 Cor. 1:20

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13, for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, "Taking Offense at Jesus"

Sermon Outline: 
1.      Jesus’ visit to His hometown wasn’t what you might expect. Family visit, warm welcome, reunion of friends and neighbors. Left a young man, a carpenter; returned grown, now a teacher (!) filled with astonishing wisdom, and performing mighty works! Same guy? Little kid from down the street? Now with a band of disciples, teaching in the synagogue about the kingdom of God, and repentance. Sizing Him up against the little kid they remembered, wondering who does He think He is? The Son of God? Well, yes, He is! They took offense at Him. Scandalized. Stumbled over.
2.      As one author put it: “The people were also scandalized by Jesus’ lowly origin. They found it difficult to believe he was any better than they or his family were. In their opinion he was nothing more than an ordinary craftsman. Their physical knowledge of Jesus prevented them from having a spiritual knowledge of him” (J.A. Brooks). So it was difficult for neighbors and even family to honor Jesus as a prophet among them. Instead they only saw the child who grew up down the street. Too familiar a face. Ezekiel faced a similar rejection, OT reading: “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek. 2:5). Stubborn and rebellious people refuse to hear. Same today. Jesus said, “a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives, and in his own household.”
3.      What makes people take offense at Jesus today? Or do they? How are we prevented from having a spiritual knowledge of Him? Unmistakably, a major part of the offense and rejection of Jesus (and later His disciples…and John the Baptist) was the way they confronted sin. First word is of repentance. Then, the gospel of forgiveness. “They went out and proclaimed that people should repent.” John the Baptist and Jesus both proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
4.      The message of repentance confronts us on the most basic level of our sinful nature. Sin can be comfortable, pleasurable, habitual; can be deeply ingrained, covered by pride, pride itself can be sin! So any time our sins are confronted, we want to cry out like a little kid “Don’t tell me that!!” It’s ok if it’s someone else’s sins, or a safe and generic “nobody’s perfect” or even “we’re all sinners”—but don’t name my sin! We’re always defensive about our own sin.
5.      But what if you don’t think Jesus could ever offend anyone at all? Strange that today we sometimes unconsciously turn Jesus into a tame and mild-mannered man that never ruffled anyone’s feathers and only spoke sweet things. Are we surprised that He could say anything challenging or rebuking to anyone? If that’s the ‘Jesus’ we’ve come to think of or believe in, we’ve manufactured a fraud, and are not being true to the character of Jesus as He’s revealed in the Gospels.
6.      The Gospel of Mark is especially noted for the abrupt and sincere way that it lays out Jesus’ hard sayings, and the rude reception and dishonor He received from people. Mark never glossed over it, because we need the full-fledged Jesus to be our Savior. Not a shadow of Him, or a fuzzy picture, but the full, clear picture. Jesus spoke hard words to the proud, the self-righteous, the pretenders and the cruel. He spoke gentle words to the despised, the lowly, the broken and poor. He spoke law to those who were unrepentant, who held stubbornly to their sins, and spoke Gospel to those who were suffering.
7.      Jesus’ neighbors didn’t receive Him then, but ask ourselves, do we receive Him now? Not a face-to-face visit, but as we hear Him in His Word. Do you listen to Him as a prophet, as your Savior, as the very Son of God? Do we welcome His words of rebuke when He calls us to repent of our sin? Do we take offense at Him, or do we honor Him with a receptive heart? Jesus said, Matt. 11:6, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As Jesus prepared His disciples for their rejection for His name’s sake, He told that some would show hospitality and welcome Him, while others would give them the same treatment as Him.
8.      Jesus’ claim to Godhood as offense. Jews, people today. Mere man. Physical knowledge (great teacher), but no spiritual knowledge. Not flaunting, didn’t use miracles to impress. Cross would be the greatest offense. Deut. 21:23 “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Greatest rejection. But through this horrible rejection, dishonor, and death, Jesus made His claim to being God clear by rising from the dead. This miracle brought it all together.
9.      How did Jesus handle “rejection?” What about how He instructed His disciples? Didn’t send down fire to destroy the towns (though James and John asked once). Didn’t turn to hatred, revenge. Lamented over them instead: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” God’s heart is moved by compassion for the lost. Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief.” Must really take a lot to surprise God—He’s seen it all. But unbelief is astonishing to Him. Not logical, understandable, reasonable. But in our stubborn, rebellious, sinful nature.
10.  What does Jesus teach His disciples to do when they are rejected, in His name? He sends them out with nothing but themselves, relying completely on God’s providence and the hospitality of others. They are to return with nothing more. Don’t trade up for better accommodations. When they were rejected, they were to do what they could where they could (sacrifice) and then move on. Don’t get stuck on it. There were plenty more people in need of help and the message. So also for us, there are many times when we linger and dwell on rejection, and don’t move on. A person’s heart may not be ready.
11.  But finally, how does a heart become hospitable to Jesus anyway? How do we become receptive to Jesus and honor Him in the first place? Not for a single one of us does it happen through our own natural good will. 1 Cor. 12:3 “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” Only by God’s Spirit working on and changing our heart are we or were we made receptive. Ezekiel 36:25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God has to do “heart surgery” on all of us to make us receptive. Have ears to hear, His Word.
12.  So let us pray in the words of the Psalm, that God would give us a heart that would be receptive to and honor Jesus as our Savior, and as the One who endured being rejected, so that we might be forgiven and accepted by God: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. How was Jesus’ return to His hometown not received with such a warm welcome? Mark 6:1-6. How did Jesus’ own family react to Him during His ministry? Mark 3:21, 33; John 7:5. How did this later change? 1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 1:14. What was the cause of their dishonor toward Jesus?

  1. Why is rejection and dishonor part and parcel of what Jesus, the prophets, His disciples, and Christians today still face, when bringing God’s Word of repentance and forgiveness? Ezek. 2:3-5; John 17:14; Matt. 10:16-25.

  1. What does it mean in Mark 6:5, that Jesus could do no mighty works there, except a couple of healings? It shows that Jesus “was not the kind of miracle worker whose primary purpose was to impress His viewers.”

  1. What is astonishing about unbelief, viewed from God’s perspective? Psalm 14; Rom. 1:19-23. How had Jesus given ample opportunity to believe? What gets in the way of our believing? Matt. 13:13-17

  1. How is a person’s heart made receptive to Jesus and His Word? What is the “prep work?” Mark 6:12; 1:2-5. Who alone holds the power to change a heart toward God? 1 Cor. 12:3. How does the Spirit make the heart receptive to Jesus, after He’s done His prep work? Ezek. 36:25-27.

  1. How would Jesus’ rejection continue all the way to His cross and beyond? Also for His disciples? How are they and we to respond to rejection? How do we honor Jesus and receive His Words rightly?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Sermon on Lamentations 3:22-33, 5th Sunday after Pentecost, "Waiting on God"

Sermon Outline
1.      Only reading from Lamentations in our calendar of readings. The highlight or crown jewel of comfort in an otherwise dark and gloomy book. Context helps set the contrast, and fuller appreciation of the hope Jeremiah expresses. Not spoken in a vacuum, or out of a bright, rosy, easy life. Much sounds despairing. But there was legitimate reason for the gloom!
2.      Jerusalem was under siege for two years, as the Babylonian army surrounded them and cut off all food supplies. When the food finally ran out, and they were weak from starvation, the Babylonians broke through the city wall and began destroying the city, setting fire to all the buildings. Worst and most devastating, they looted and burned down the Temple of the Lord. Everyone who was not killed by the Babylonian army was taken prisoner and made a slave for life in Babylon. Only a few of the very poor inhabitants of Jerusalem were left to farm the land. Jeremiah had prophesied from the Lord that this would happen. Worst of all, this tragedy was preventable. The Kingdom of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem had repeatedly been called to repentance for their wickedness and idolatry, but they stubbornly refused, and would not believe that such a tragedy would occur. Rather than putting their own wickedness to death through repentance, they tried to put Jeremiah to death for what he foretold. Jeremiah sorrowfully watched as all of these things unfolded just as he warned.
3.      Out of this great bitterness when Jerusalem fell, Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. A tragedy on a national, spiritual, and personal level. Laments are poems that express grief and sorrow. We all know afflictions in our lives, and although they may not be as dramatic as the Fall of Jerusalem, they are no less painful or bitter when we experience them. Certainly you remember times of great loss, prolonged sickness, or trouble in your closest relationships, when you were in despair or your soul was heavily burdened with sorrow.
4.      Sorrows, suffering, evil and trouble all come to us quite unwelcome, uninvited, and unwanted. Sometimes we’re directly responsible through our own sinful actions, but quite often the causes of suffering are complicated and unknown. More often than not we do not know the reasons, and are left with the painful and unanswered question, “Why?!?” Though we know suffering, pain and evil ultimately owe their origin to human sin, but we very rarely can say why our specific sufferings came about.
5.      How do we respond? It would be great if patience and faith were something that could be learned through a quick sermon or Bible study, or by reading a pamphlet. That you could simply “add that gift to your inventory” and have that skill nailed down and learned, like a short lesson in balancing your checkbook, then mastered. But instead God teaches us patience through trials and difficulties, in stretching us to grow beyond our perceived limits. It’s repeatedly tested and tried, and never completely mastered. We are constantly in the “school of the Holy Spirit” where He trains us and helps us to grow through life.
6.      In the time of suffering or trial, we may lose everything, depending on the severity of our affliction. And yet with Jeremiah, we can say that “the Lord is my portion” or “the Lord is all I’ve got!” “He’s the one thing I won’t let go of!” When God takes away from us, when He prunes us, and brings suffering for reasons that we don’t or can’t know, it ought to turn us to become even more dependent on Him. God is our portion, our inheritance, everything we’ve got, and marvelously, He is the most valuable thing we could ever have! Being deprived of all else, and having God alone, doesn’t leave us impoverished, but wealthy beyond all measure! Faith sees this. And so it would be truly tragic if in the time of suffering or affliction, we would also surrender God as our portion. That we would lose hope, or stop seeking God—this would be true poverty.
7.      If earthly things are taken away from us, health, wealth, or happiness—would that in any logical way move us to surrender that of far greater value—God Himself? And yet we do. In foolishness, or in despair, in unbelief or in hopelessness, we walk away from God just when we need Him the most. Jeremiah and the Psalmists and Job, all who were intimately familiar with great tragedy, grief, and loss, instead poured out their souls to God. They passionately lamented, they spoke out loud of their sadness, their loss, their anger and frustration. They waited and waited. They “dumped” it all on God—at His invitation to cry out to Him in their distress! Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Psalm 34:17-18, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” 1 Pet. 5:7 “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.” You aren’t helped by hiding in your heart and keeping silent about what God knows you are thinking about and feeling! God wants you to pour out your soul to Him in prayer!
8.      The “lamenters” in the OT brought it all out into the open, not so that they or someone else can deal with it, but so that God can. So often we turn to ways of burying, denying, silencing, or removing our grief, instead of pouring it out before God. For those Old Testament saints, many did not get an answer to their laments. Not that they weren’t heard, or that God did not refresh and renew them—for He did. But it still was not clear how God was going to deal with suffering and evil. Not until the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
9.      There God gives His definitive answer to suffering and lament. There, Jesus’ cries a lament, taken from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He expresses the cry of the righteous, wondering where God is in their distress. Jesus went even through the agony of death, and into the silence of the grave—with no answer to His question. No voice from heaven would answer the “why.” In this life we will never find an intellectually satisfying answer for pain, but rather we can only taste God’s rich and merciful love.  (Schulz, The Problem of Suffering, p. 11). It’s not as though a logical explanation would take away the pain or the hurt of what we go through. But we can taste and know God’s love. We can taste and see that He is good.
10.  And on that first Easter morn, when Jesus rose from the grave, we had our answer that God delivers even from the hand of death! The answer to Jesus’ lament, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken men?” was His rising from the dead. As our passage from Lamentations ends, “The Lord will not cast off forever, but though He cause grief, He will have compassion.” Though there be mourning, God’s mercies will again be renewed like the rising of the sun, morning by morning. Though we feel abandoned by God, He will again return to us. Though God brings us through grief, He will again have compassion. The answer to suffering is not an answer that explains all the how’s and the why’s, but an answer where God meets us in our human suffering, joins Himself to it, and suffers it for our sake. Not merely as a side-by-side sufferer that we can look to for sympathy, not in a misery loves company way—but One who suffered as a substitute, so that He can bring us salvation. That His life counted on behalf of ours. Jesus suffered so that we might have forgiveness and life. So that the grave would not be the end of us. So that the promise of life and hope would live beyond death, not only as long as we can stretch our earthly life. As Hosea 6:1-2 says, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
11.  As we see in verses like this, our Christian patience and hope lives on in the knowledge that He will restore and lift us up again. That God brings us low through suffering and repentance of sins, so that He might lift us up, bind our wounds and bring us healing. Like the wounds of a surgery, that are painful and sore, so also we go through healing, but through it God brings us always closer in His grace. This side of heaven we will never fully know or understand suffering or pain, but we can abundantly taste of His love and mercy, all of which is a foretaste of the feast to come. What we taste in small measure now, will be never-ending in heaven. With this hope and confidence in God’s steadfast love—with the constant reminders of God’s faithfulness to His people throughout history, we can patiently wait on the Lord and seek His salvation.

Sermon Talking Points
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Listen to audio at:

  1. The Hebrew word hesed is a rich Biblical word, that is hard to express simply in English. It is frequently used to describe God’s loving-kindness, His steadfast and unfailing love. It is said that God abounds in hesed, His steadfast love is not in short supply. See how it is used in Exodus 34:6-7; Neh. 9:16-17; Joel 2:13.
  2. This great passage of hope (Lam. 3:22-33) cannot fully be appreciated outside the context of the great gloom and suffering that Jeremiah laments throughout the book. Read the surrounding chapter at least to gain a greater appreciation of the contrast between his despair and hope. How does hope (more accurately: “Christian confidence”) shine all the brighter in the midst of real suffering and tragedy?
  3. When are the times in your life where you have lamented, or are? Did you actually voice your sadness, or mourn out loud, or could you not find words? Compare/contrast some examples of laments in the Bible: 2 Sam. 1:19-27; Ps. 79; 83; 89:38-51; Lamentations. How is this Biblical approach different from the way we are told or expected to deal with grief today? What could we learn from the practice of “lamenting?” How do all the laments of the faithful finally find their answer in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
  4. In what way is patience both a learned part of the experience of suffering, and also a necessary part of our response to suffering itself? What is our patience “waiting for?” What does it hope to receive? Lam. 3:22-26, 31-32. Psalm 130:5; Isaiah 40:31; Jeremiah 29:11.
  5. How does God’s “record” of salvation in the past give the believer confidence in the deliverance and future to come? Re-read Lam. 3:28-32 in the light of Jesus’ suffering and unanswered cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How is our cry together answered in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? How does it again show God’s hesed