Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sermon on Ezekiel 36:22-28, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, Exaudi (1 Year Lectionary), "God Vindicates His Name"

Sermon Outline:
Context: Prophet Ezekiel, less than 600 years BC; on the world stage the Babylonian empire was rising, and over a couple of decades during the lifetime of Ezekiel, his homeland of Judah was overthrown. Ezekiel > exile early with the king, nobles and officials. Writes of God’s promised restoration of Israel—His redemption plan.
Ch. 36 God lays out His agenda to act for the sake of His holy name. He’s going to act to vindicate His Name. Restore honor and holiness of His Name. Why needed? What had they done? Defiled or polluted the land—not with toxic waste or chemicals, but a pollution of toxic deeds/actions/beliefs. Worship of idols (Ezekiel calls them fecal deities, or something more disgusting..), bloodshed in the land, expelled from their land by the curse for their obscene disobedience. Problem—the dishonor was not “contained” to the people of Israel alone—they had profaned or dishonored God’s Name also. This is the effect when we bear God’s Holy Name—we represent Him. Honor or dishonor
God declares why He will act—not for their sake, but for His Holy Name. Recalls Deut. 9, coming into promised land—not because you were a righteous or holy nation, (stubborn!), but to show to all the nations God’s power and glory. Same here. In the sight of the nations, among the nations, God will restore the holiness and honor due His Name by taking matters into His own hands. Grace alone! Not because of their goodness, but God’s grace alone, for the sake of His own name. So that the nations will know that God is the Lord
Do we dishonor or profane God’s Name? Lord’s Prayer “Hallowed be…” Keep God’s Name holy by living godly lives…profane His Name by teaching or living contrary to His Word. Protect us from this Heavenly Father!  1 Timothy 1:8–11 (ESV) 8 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
Broad range of sins that profane God’s name, and we are to avoid them. Abuse of parents, murder, sexual sin, slave dealing (or kidnapping?), lying, making false oaths, and everything else contrary to sound doctrine. The evil of the world must be set apart from Christians and God’s Name. Not to pollute or profane God’s Name by engaging in these practices
Instead, called to live a life worthy of His Name, in all godliness and self-control. Repentance and forgiveness, even for the chief of sinners.
How’s He going to do it? Vindicate? His punishment was already upon the people—now it was time for grace. 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. 26 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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
First—purge them of their uncleanness and idolatry—sprinkle water, cleansing. Hard to miss association with baptism and the washing/cleansing in the blood of Jesus. Isaiah 52 “sprinkle many nations”, Hebrews 10:22 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 12:24 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Baptismal waters bring us the cleansing performed for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. Purity, holiness, restored honor from all your guilt and shame, no blot or blemish
Second—new heart and new spirit. Heart transplant! Old stone, stubborn, inflexible, unable to be reformed—new flesh! Living, beating, shaped by Spirit of God
Third—Spirit within you! Walk in my statutes, carefully obey my rules. God transforms from the inside out. Life is redirected from sin and evil, foolishness of sinful pursuits to godliness and wisdom and good. Learning from and obeying God’s commands. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen. Delight and obedience, to glorify God’s Name. holiness of name
Fourth—dwell in the land—I will be your God and you will be my people. Return from exile, God’s presence with His people. Revelation—God will be the God of His people for eternity. Intimate presence of God among His people—He had left their Temple before because of the great insult to His Name and holiness that they had brought through idolatry. Now He promises to be back among them as their God.
By these four gracious acts, God is restoring the honor due His Name, vindicating the holiness “before the eyes” of the nations (and Israel).
This would come to full realization in Jesus Christ, God carrying out His full agenda to restore the holiness and honor of His name, in the sight of all nations—bore great dishonor and His Name was profaned, defiled as He hung on the cross. Polluted with our sins. But in death He buried our old heart of stone, together with the uncleanness and pollution of our sins, sprinkled clean water on us, to cleanse, restore, make whole again.
Acted for the sake of His Name, not on account of our righteousness, poured out grace abundantly. Work of the Holy Spirit is prophesied, transforming hearts, new obedience, faithfulness. God has restored the honor of His Name and made us cleansed and holy, fitting bearers of His Name to bring glory to Him. Give thanks that God acted, and that we are the undeserving beneficiaries of His grace! Lord keep us obedient to you so that we may honor and glorify your Name in the sight of all people. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What can cause God’s land to be defiled? Psalm 79:1; Ezekiel 36:16-21. How does this mean that God’s Name was profaned by Israel? What was their punishment for this? Ezekiel 36:18-19.
2. What was the reason God acted to “vindicate His Name”, and what was not the reason? Ezekiel 36:22. Compare this to Deuteronomy 9:4-7. In both cases, what is God trying to teach His people?
3. In what way had Israel “profaned” or defiled God’s Name among the nations? Ezekiel 36:22-23; 13:19; 22:26. When God acts to vindicate the holiness of His Name “before their eyes” (36:23) or “in the sight of the nations” (20:22), what does He intend to show them?
4. What is considered “profane?” 1 Timothy 1:8-11. How does God address such gross sin? 1 Timothy 1:12-15. How do we live a life that is worthy of the Lord, and honors His Name? Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10.
5. What are the actions that God takes to vindicate and honor His own name before all people? Ezekiel 36:24-28.
6. How will He cleanse them from their uncleanness? Ezekiel 36:25. In what ways does God cleanse His people through “sprinkling?” Isaiah 52:15; Hebrews 10:22; 12:24. What cleansing comes through the washing of baptism? Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5-6.
7. What kind of “heart transplant” does the Holy Spirit give us? Ezekiel 36:26-27. What was our heart condition before, and what is it after? What new willingness flows out of this “heart transplant”? (v. 27); Romans 7:22 (and following). What remains a struggle for us?
8. Ezekiel 36:28—God promises to dwell with His people, and be their God. Why is this both essential for our survival in faith, but also deeply comforting?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sermon on John 16:23-30, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Rogate ("Ask!"), 1 Year Lectionary

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our Gospel reading from John 16, Jesus tells His disciples “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
·         Jesus urges us to ask boldly and He will answer! amazing promise, but this simple promise creates a crisis of prayer or a crisis of understanding for countless people.
·         two ways to understand: one leads to a crisis of prayer and doubt. the other to fullness of joy
·         Reread. Where is emphasis? Next sentence “in my name.”
·         natural tendency: latch onto “whatever you ask”—because we want to take Jesus’ words as a genie-in-the-bottle promise. Examples: cars, wealth; healing grandma—we wonder “what gives?” >>Crisis: ask, but don’t receive! Have Christians “mastered” this promise?
·         neglect the qualifier: in my name. bulletin quote: “in the name of Jesus” not a magical tag that we attach to prayers, to get whatever you want. Rather
“Jesus promises you whatever is in His name. All that’s in His name, He says the Father will give you.” Picture it like this: God has a big treasure chest and written around the outside of that chest are the letters J-E-S-U-S. Everything inside of that chest is in the name of Jesus. The Father promises you any and everything that He’s put into that chest. It’s yours. After all, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.” So, the big question is: what’s in the name of Jesus? Because whatever is in that name is what the Father promises to give you!

·         NT search: includes forgiveness, God being with us, the holiness of God, hope, blessing, Jesus’ presence, baptism and the right to become children of God, salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and much more! these and more are attached to the name of Jesus. Seek and ask for these in the treasure box of the Name of Jesus, we are assured by Jesus that He will give them to us. Spend too little time reflecting on and asking for what’s in His name! This is the way to enjoy the fullness of the promise—many Christians who have learned contentment
·          Understanding Jesus’ promise in this way, leads us into the fullness of joy. find His joy in His Name. Chasing the “whatevers” of this world—treasures outside that chest, is a quick way to disappointment. Store up treasures on earth, Jesus warns—and you never know when they will rot, rust, fade away, be lost or stolen. But treasures in heaven—i.e. spiritual things, these can’t diminish or be lost or stolen.
·         The problem: we stand next to that treasure box, the name of Jesus—and we turn up our noses and look longingly at all the stuff outside it. Selfishly or greedily, we want “that”, whatever it is, instead of what God’s offering in the name of Jesus.
·         Predictable outcome—one way leads to joy and contentment in all circumstances, high or low. The other way leads to a never-ending hunger for more, and a lot of grief. James 4, dark effects of that mindset: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.” God isn’t interested in providing us with the things we don’t need, that aren’t in Jesus’ name because for one thing, those aren’t the real treasures, and for another thing, we use them wrongly. But this doesn’t mean God doesn’t provide for what we actually need and bless us in many unexpected ways.
·         But then Jesus says: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God”. direct to God the Father, assurance He personally loves us, because we love and believe Jesus is His Son. This verse is so important on a day like today, when we see the kingdom of God enlarged by several baptisms, and several confirmations and professions of faith. The Father Himself loves you because you love Jesus and believe Jesus came from God. This is why our youth will come forward to confess their faith. It’s why children are welcomed into the arms of Jesus for His blessing, in baptism. It’s why adults come to profess their faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. All ages, follow the call of discipleship, to believe and follow Jesus. They’ve come to the treasure box of Jesus’ name, and are asking for the gifts inside—and God is freely granting them.
·         How far will I go with Jesus? Confirmands’ vows: “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” And they answer, I do, by the grace of God. It should catch our attention that this is a deeply solemn promise—saying that we intend to remain faithful to God, even till death. The next question similarly asks if we will stand by this confession and church, even to death, rather than fall away from it. And you notice that the answer is, “by the grace of God.” It’s something we could never do on our own strength, but only by God’s grace. Can’t say it without thinking of Peter—“even till death!”
·         But even if I should stumble on the journey of discipleship, or in a moment of trial lack the courage—not saved because we gave our life for Him, but because He gave His life for us. This is why Jesus’ love is a love above all loves—not to be traded or surrendered for anything. John 3:16. God’s love, Jesus’ death, priceless value placed on you. In His Name, sins forgiven, salvation delivered, washed under baptismal waters, dressed in innocence, sin is purged away. This is why we love Jesus and believe in Him. This is why we say that by the grace of God we’ll stick with Him till death. Wouldn’t say that about any person from ancient history, 2,000 years ago in a place I’ve never been—but because of the extraordinary fact of His death on the cross for us, the perfect example of humility and earth-shattering divine love, expressed in words of forgiveness spoken from the cross, and because of His glorious resurrection from the dead, that convinced even former enemies like Paul, that He was the Son of God, and that turned disciples who, like us, might doubt whether we could, except by the grace of God, stand by Jesus, even till death—His resurrection turned them into the most courageous men and women who spread the Gospel all over the world, till generations later it has reached us today. To the One who loves us so deeply, and teaches us that God, His Father loves us the same—to Him we are bold to ask all that He has promised us, in His Name. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In John 16:23 Jesus refers to an approaching moment: “In that day…” When is He referring to? John 14:18-20. What would happen, and how would it change the direction of their prayers? To whom could they ask direct?
  2. How does the meaning of 16:23 change if you put the emphasis on  the phrase “whatever you ask” vs. the phrase “in my Name?” How could that lead to misunderstandings of this verse? How does Jesus in verse 24 guide us to which should correctly be emphasized? How does this lead us to correctly understand the verse?
  3. What will we find promised “in Jesus’ name?” 16:24; 27; 33; John 3:16; 5:24; 6:27, 63; 7:37-38; Luke 11:13; James 1:5, etc. Meditate on the picture of a filled treasury of spiritual gifts, marked with the Name Jesus, in contrast to the worldly treasures we long for outside that treasury. Cf. Matthew 6:19-21.
  4. How can you express the Father’s love for us, as we love Jesus? It is incomparable. For young and adults, who confess their faith in Jesus, why is this a love above all other loves, a love that is not to be traded or surrendered for anything, even in the face of death?
  5. What has Jesus given to us and for us, out of His great love?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sermon on John 16:5-15, for the 5th Sunday of Easter (1 year Lectionary), Cantate (Sing!), "Spirit of Truth"

Sermon outline:
·         Sorrow on disciple’s hearts—Jesus’ farewell speech (before cross, resurrection, ascension). Leaving them—we also long to be comforted by Jesus’ personal presence. Jesus’ ongoing presence—the Spirit, teaching, Lord’s Supper, joined in living relationship and salvation through baptism. Not orphans—but they won’t see Him. Disciples’ sorrow—this is not to our advantage! Jesus’ answer—it is to your advantage, because the Spirit is coming! Now Christ’s ministry, not in one location—but ministers through His Helper, the Holy Spirit, to the entire Christian ministry across the earth. Jesus is everywhere His Spirit is outpoured, and the works of the Spirit are done, and people directed to Jesus.
·         Works of the Spirit (others listed John 14-16)—convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. As Christians we often want to celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and being led by the Spirit, etc—but do we rejoice that “convicting us” is central to the Spirit’s work? Can’t have it any other way—if we want to be taught and comforted by the Spirit, must also be convicted of our wrong doing. He must assault the works of the devil, which include our sin, unbelief, self-righteousness.
·         Clarified:  concerning sin because they do not believe in me. This is the major sin of the world! Unbelief! All others stem from this. It’s the bad root that must be uprooted and replaced with a living attachment to Christ the Vine—also work of the Spirit. Faith is the new root of life in Christ. Unbelief in Jesus is the sin that condemns. All the other stuff is the bad fruit on the tree. You can pluck all the bad fruit you want off the tree, but if the tree and the root is bad, it won’t change. Becoming a Christian is not a “cut and paste job”. Only by being grafted into the New Vine, Christ, can we bear good fruit. Change in belief, in identity. Spirit’s power, not ours to accomplish.
·         Unbelief in Jesus: independence from God—refuse to rely on God’s help, or to acknowledge or praise God for creating us, redeeming us, etc. Unbelief denies God’s role in our life, without which we could not even exist—even if we never acknowledge Him. Living as though there is no higher authority
·         Concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. The Holy Spirit convicts us about righteousness because we must know and understand what true righteousness is. Gerhard writes that people naturally think that a life that is honorable and filled with achievements counts as righteousness before God. Consider how many times you hear at a funeral how someone was “such a good person.” Not always meant in terms of that person deserving eternal life in heaven—sometimes just trying to “speak well of the dead” and remember them well—but how often is it said in that context or understanding? Even Lutherans who have heard all their life long and been taught from their pastors that we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, still have answered in large numbers in surveys, that being a good person gets you into heaven. Wrong! The Holy Spirit must convict us of righteousness to clear away that false self-righteousness, and to establish in its place the true righteousness of Jesus Christ, who is going to the Father.
·         Thing about unbelief and righteousness—mostly can’t see it, unless a person tells us what is going on in their hearts. Outward good deeds we see—but this is the point—that is not what justifies before God. Faith, hidden in the heart, the work of the Holy Spirit, declares us righteous before God.
·         Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 12:31 (ESV) Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. Coming hour of Jesus’ crucifixion and death—this would be how the ruler of this world—the devil, would be judged and cast out. Holy Spirit convicts us of this reality—the devil rules over the world of chaos, rebellion, and disobedience to God’s order, but he’s been cast out and judged. Disarmed, defeated, chained. When we abandon God’s design, His commands, for our own way, we’re living under the rule of the devil. That life will be filled with evidence of discord, suffering, bad consequences, etc, that witness to us against a life of sin, and by the Spirit’s conviction, should steer us to repentance.
·         As with false righteousness (i.e. trusting in ourselves), so also with false-judgment, we want to judge ourselves, rule ourselves. This is the lie of autonomy—that we are independent, self-ruling, self-governing people. Even the devil “the ruler of this world” tried to bribe Jesus by thinking that He could rule everything, if He just worshipped the devil. Not true, but we’re enticed by the same lie. Think that we can make up our own rules as we go along, and there is no one higher than us to answer too. But this is a gross deception, as we must all answer before God in judgment.
·         So what is the right judgment that the Holy Spirit leads us to? The judgment that the devil and his weapons of sin and unbelief stand judged and are cast out. That the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been exalted and glorified, and that this righteousness of Jesus is the only thing that stands up before God. The righteousness by which we are forgiven and judged innocent on account of the mercies of Jesus Christ. This is the judgment the Holy Spirit brings to our hearts. Earlier in the Gospel Jesus speaks about faith and judgment: John 5:24  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Faith in Jesus is the only way to pass through the judgment from death to life.
·         12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Spirit of Truth—in opposition to all lies, deceptions, and errors—fed to us by the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, which is all too happy to aid and abet the devil for our own pleasure or personal gain. Our sinful flesh means that we have a built in conflict of interest with the truth. The Truth, however, will set us free. Spirit of truth continues Jesus’ work. Not His own authority, but from Jesus’ authority which comes from the Father. “Proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Sent by both to carry God’s message to mankind.
·         Some, from a spirit of error, will try to rip out of context that Jesus has things to say “but you can’t bear them now” to imply that Jesus had radical new ideas which were yet to be told, and are not contained in the Bible, but would later come from the Spirit. This is obviously contradicted by the immediate context—“not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak,…take what is mine and declare it to you.” Spirit’s work is to highlight and glorify Jesus. Not to depart from or add to what Jesus taught. Beware of those who would us this verse to smuggle foreign ideas into the Bible. Read the whole passage!
·         Truth is needed now more than ever—especially the Way the Truth, and the Life. With hearts full of sin and blindness, the world is busy building props and pretensions that hide the True God from us. And from that unbelief springs all the other bad fruit and sin in this life. But Jesus stands as the One who was sacrificed and glorified, to cast out the ruler of this world, and who was raised up for our justification, that the bad root of sin and unbelief would be put to death and replaced with a new, living, growing bond to Himself, the Vine, in whom we will bear much fruit. Jesus as the Truth is the only real solution for a world under the rule of sin and evil, and for that reason we continue His proclaiming ministry, convicting hearts by the Spirit of sin, righteousness, and judgment. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. John 16:5—where or to whom is Jesus returning? Though Jesus’ disciples (including us) view Jesus’ departure as a disadvantage; what reason does Jesus give us that it is actually to our advantage? John 16:6
  2. Name as many of the jobs or duties that the Holy Spirit will perform, according to Jesus. John 16:8, 13-14; John 14:17, 26; 15:26. Carefully examining Jesus’ words in each of these verses, is there anything to suggest that the Holy Spirit will teach new and innovative things that diverge from Jesus’ teaching? How do these verses instead express a complete harmony between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  3. Who is the “ruler of this world” that Jesus says is “judged” in John 16:11, and when and how does it happen? John 12:31-33; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14.  
  4. In John 16:12-14, how would the Spirit be the further instructor of the disciples? How does Jesus always remain at the center of the Spirit’s teaching? And that in turn all goes back to whom? John 16:15.
  5. Why is the truth under so much attack today? How is truth lost or undermined? When truth is lost, what do we lose with it? John 14:6. How do we regain and establish the truth? How does the truth confront us or make us uncomfortable? How does it reassure us of God’s salvation? 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Sermon on Isaiah 40:25-31, for the 4th Sunday of Easter (1 Year Lectionary)--Jubilate (Shout for Joy) Sunday, "Who is Like God?"

Sermon Outline:
·         The conclusion of a conversation (begins vs. 9): “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:25-31—God is asking, Have you considered His greatness? The size and reach of the universe? We have the most meager and inadequate measurements to try to grasp it. Man has not instructed God in wisdom or understanding, as if we could teach Him anything—neither about justice or knowledge. Compared to God, we are utterly nothing—dust, a drop in the bucket, nothing and emptiness. God is incomparable to anything we might compare Him too, and the thought of comparing Him to idols and false gods is an utter insult and foolishness. He is the One who laid down the foundations of the earth and stretched out the heavens like a tent. Our existence is momentary in comparison.
·         Don’t like to think of ourselves this way, as dust and nothingness, and it is greatly humbling, but the truth. How often have we challenged God’s wisdom or justice, whether openly or secretly? We forget our place when we try instructing God. God is God, we are not. Dangerous when we arrogantly presume to instruct or question God. We don’t have the total knowledge to understand any situation. Our own wisdom is nothing in His sight, however convinced we may be of our own view of the situation.  
·         As witness to His power, God cites His creation of all the “host” or stars of heaven. “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.”
·         In the night sky we can see at most about 3,000 stars with the naked eye. When Galileo turned his telescope skyward, he increased the number of stars he could see 10X, to about 30,000. One hundred billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. And the Milky Way is just one of 100 billion galaxies in the known universe!! Multiply that and there is an unfathomable number of stars in the universe. Jeremiah 33:22  “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant.”
·         Crude estimate: 1 followed by 25 zeroes. And God knows them all by name! Not one is missing or forgotten. And no less amazing, He numbers every hair of your head (Matt. 10:10). Knowing this about God, how can we think that He doesn’t know or care about every least thing that is happening in His universe. It is not a careless waste or vast meaningless expanse, but it’s His glory and wisdom to display and to know. These verses are a comfort when we fear that we have been lost in the midst of all this grandeur and enormity—but God is intimately aware of everything, including us.
·         Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?’ It’s easy to feel forgotten and lost in the universe—insignificant place, smallness, seeming that God doesn’t pay attention. My “right” or justice is neglected by God. When we sense that injustice in this world, or against us goes unchallenged, or when we cry out for help, and no apparent answer.
·         God’s answer: 28    Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29          He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31. Calls back to God as Creator—the Everlasting God. Expresses His total control and awareness of creation. While we wrestle with exhaustion, weakness, and reach our point of surrender—no strength to go on—this is not true of God. God not only is untiring in His work and care—but also supplies His strength and renewal to those who wait for the Lord—rely on Him.
·         One of the hardest things—to wait for the Lord. Waiting involves patience, faith, dependence. When we are eager for a quick solution to our problems, waiting is the hardest thing. It means a solution hasn’t come yet. How long must we wait? This question is asked of God dozens of times in the Psalms. Over and over, why don’t you answer. But they always put their trust in God’s goodness and salvation, even though they don’t know how long. Hebrews 11:13 (ESV) “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Even till death! Never received the things promised, only had faith in them from a distance.
·         But what is the reward of waiting? 31but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. For those who are laid low by the sins and struggles of life, feeling in the pits, or in the muck and mire of whatever troubles beset them, the picture of soaring on wings of eagles is uplifting. That our strength would daily be replaced and renewed means that we will be able to continue to run the race, to carry on and not faint or surrender.
·         How does God bring you this strength and renewal? Day by day we surrender the sinful flesh through repentance, and baptized into Christ He crucifies and buries our old sinfulness, together with all its arrogance and pride, its self-pity and victimhood, its doubtfulness and impatience, and Christ also raises us with Him to newness of life. In that newness of life Christ supplies us with humility and trust, with compassion for the needs of others and perspective on our own crosses, so that we bear them together. He fills us with the hope, faith, and patience that we need to wait on the Lord, especially in the hardest times. The Holy Spirit richly and daily forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers, and keeps us together in the Church of Jesus Christ in the one true faith. Gathered in the name and the remembrance of Jesus, we also feed here on the strengthening food of Christ’s body and blood. In fellowship with Christ and with each other, God renews and strengthens us by the Bread of Life, so that we may run and not be weary, walk, and not grow faint. Truly, we can confess and say, “Who is like God?” Powerful, glorious, and gracious. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Isaiah 40:25-31 is the conclusion of a conversation and challenge to consider who God is, and what He does. The discussion begins as early as Isaiah 40:9. Read from there through vs. 31. What rhetorical question does God raise in vs. 25? In what way is God incomparable? Cf. v. 18.
  2. In Isaiah 40:12-14, what are the things about God and what He has done that we are unable to measure? What does that tell us about God, and about our relation to Him? In vs. 15-17, how does God measure us?
  3. What is ridiculous about comparing God to an idol or false god? Isaiah 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 46:1-7.
  4. In Isaiah 40:26, was are the “host” whom God has created, brought out by number, and called by name? Psalm 147:4; Nehemiah 9:6. How does God’s incredible attention to detail in the enormous vastness of the universe speak of His care for us? Matthew 10:30.
  5. What circumstances sometimes lead us to fear that God has forgotten us or neglected our “right” (i.e. to care for justice)? Isaiah 40:27; 49:4, 14. How do we know that God has not forgotten, and that He is in control? Isaiah 40:28-31; 49:14-16.
  6. What does God do for us when we are weakened or exhausted by the trials and sufferings of life? Isaiah 40:28-31. Why can’t we understand or comprehend His ways?
  7. Why is it difficult to “wait for the Lord”? Isaiah 40:31. What is the blessing of doing so? Psalm 103.
  8. In John 16:16-22 Jesus talks about the themes of waiting for Him, suffering, and the reversal of our sorrow to joy. How do these words increase our hope? 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Sermon on John 10:11-16, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter 1 Yr Lectionary, Misericordias Domini, "Known by the Good Shepherd"

Expanded sermon outline:
Shepherd theme in Bible—several uses: 1) describe God in His relation to 2) His people as flock or lambs, 3) but also the leaders, priests, and prophets. Bad shepherds—Ezekiel 34 (wider context) and Jeremiah 23—false teachers, abusive, rule with force and harshness, neglect to feed, protecting personal gain and trampling the poor and needy. Sheep are scattered, none to seek them. God Himself will intervene.
Actions of God as shepherd—Psalm 23, protects, leads, feeds, comforts. Personal knowledge, love, care. Ezek. 34, search and recovery, heal and strengthen, destroy the enemies, justice. Zechariah 11-13, shepherd of the doomed flock, to be betrayed, pierced, mourned over, and struck, so the sheep are scattered. Leads to Jesus’ description: John 10—lays down His life for the sheep
Knowing God as our Good Shepherd—comfort and reassurance, not a hired hand. Not distant, detached, unconcerned with what happens to us. Belonging, invested, has something at stake in us; precious—won’t let us remain lost and endangered. Great love! Great news!
But it’s one thing to consider from the side of how God loves and cares for us. Another to reflect on how Is 53, we all, like sheep have gone astray. Lost, wandering, runaways, forsaken the safe pastures for “greener pastures” and left the Shepherd who loves us. Or think we don’t need a shepherd. Pretty well take care of myself, thanks!  For our sin, for our sake, He had to be crucified, lamb led to the slaughter. Costly price of our straying—His suffering and death—but we have returned to “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” But greater love has no one than this, than that He lay down His life…
14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.   "Christ says: 'I am the Good Shepherd and know those who are Mine, and I am known by my own--just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.' 'Knowing' here does not just imply 'recognition'. Instead it means--according to the nuance of the original Greek--to simultaneously love, to accept some one from the bottom of the heart, and consequently to care for him....This is a powerful passage. From it we can see that just as much as the heavenly Father is attached to Christ (His Son whom He inwardly loves) so also Christ is attached to His beloved sheep, whom He likewise inwardly loves from the bottom of His heart." (Johann Gerhard, Sermon on John 10)
Personal knowledge and deep love. If someone tells you: “I love you like your my own son or daughter,” you know that’s not a casual friendship or love, not even just a really close friend—they’ve extended to you the family bond of love and kinship that’s ordinarily reserved only for those closest to us. I don’t have the right to be treated as a sibling or son in your family, and all the rights and privileges that entails. We can’t just invite ourselves into that bond with anyone we please. It has to be given to us. God welcomes you and I into His family on just such personal and loving terms. God’s knowledge of us is so deep and thorough—nothing hidden from Him—but still this tremendous love. Lays down His life.
16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus looks outward, beyond those already gathered. God’s mission—seek and save the lost. Is 56, God speaks of gathering the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, bringing them to His holy mountain: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” We are some of the “others” outside of Israel. Many more yet remain. God intends to gather one flock, one shepherd. Simple unity around Jesus—the church as One. Echoed in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Yet why so many divisions? Different churches? Sad reality—reality that Jesus prays in John 17 to fix--22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Many divisions come from falling away from the word, which is why Jesus so earnestly warns against wolves (in sheep’s clothing)—false teachers sent by the devil to “steal, kill, and destroy”. These require us to stand firm on the word of God against thieves or wolves. But some divisions come for petty or foolish divisions and controversies—mountains out of molehills—selfish pride in the way. Outwardly the church is sadly divided—but the spiritual reality Jesus tells: one flock, one shepherd. That is the reality now in time, church is true believers who hear and follow the voice of Jesus, the One Shepherd, but also the future reality yet to come—the full restoration of the unity of the church around Christ in heaven. But now or then, it is still one flock, one shepherd. Jesus knows His own, and it is a great blessing to be known by Him, to be sought after when we were lost, to be carried when we were found, to be laid down in green pastures to feed and be kept safely in His church and in His arms. To be known by Him is to be loved from the bottom of God’s heart! The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. Shepherds and the theme of shepherding and sheep are a theme that runs all through the Bible. Name some major characters in the Old Testament who were shepherds.  How does the Old Testament portray God as Shepherd, and His people as His flock? Psalm 23; 95:7; 100:3.
2. Read Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23. Who are the “shepherds of Israel” that God harshly criticizes in these passages? What are they doing to the sheep? What is God going to do in response? Ezekiel 34:11-16. How will God Himself care for the sheep after this?
3. How does Jesus directly claim this title in John 10? How does His ministry agree with the work of the divine shepherd described in Ezekiel 34?
4. What is the difference between the work of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and a “hired hand?” Why is their concern (or lack of concern) for the sheep so different? What different descriptions of the work of the Evil One are used in John 10:1-18?
5. What actions prove the goodness of the Good Shepherd? John 10:11, 14-15; Isaiah 53:6-7; Why do we need a Shepherd?
6. Explain and describe what it means that Jesus knows His own, and His own know Him. Read through the whole of John 10 for examples. Why is it a comfort for us to know this? How do we respond to and follow His voice?
7. Who are the “other sheep” that Jesus has? John 10:16. Isaiah 56:6-8; Romans 1:16. How does Jesus gather them in? How do we gather (or get gathered in? Romans 10:14-17. What beautiful truth does this verse (John 10:16) also reveal about the Church, under God’s shepherding? What sad fact often seems to run against this? compare and contrast to John 17.