Monday, August 27, 2012

Walk the Tightrope of Faith (A sermon based on Ephesians 5:15-20)

With the influence of the world on the outside and the sinful nature on the inside, it's a struggle to keep walking the line of faith. And if we fall off, the results can be eternally deadly. But thank God that we don't walk the line alone. God the Holy Spirit guides us every step of the way, keeping our focus on Christ through the Word. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Ephesians 5:15-20 and be encouraged to walk carefully... 

Walk the Tightrope of Faith

A sermon based on Ephesians 5:15-20

Sunday, August 26, 2012 – Pentecost 13B 

On June 15th of this year Nik Wallenda became the first man to cross Niagra Falls on a tightrope in 116 years. And the very first person ever to cross the 1,800 feet directly above the falls with the mist and the spray and gusts of wind hitting him from all sides the entire time. And, of course, you may have seen it since it was on live television with a peak of 16 million viewers, setting a record for the most viewers of a non-sports TV special ever. His next challenge? He wants to be the first person to walk the 5,000 feet across the Grand Canyon.

Now I don't know about you, but I can guarantee you will never get me to willingly go on any high wire, even if it's only five feet across and two feet off the ground. I have a fear of heights. (Or really a fear of falling from them since I'm not scared to view heights from the ground.) But just the thought of walking a tightrope makes me nervous. It's tough. It's scary. And in Wallendas case, with no safety net beneath him most of the time, the smallest error can result in death.

As Paul addressed the Ephesian Christians in this morning's text, he told them that their walk of faith was sort of like walking a tightrope. You must be careful. It's not easy because the evil world around you will try to hit you from all sides and knock you off. And because failure can be deadly, it can be pretty scary. But then Paul encouraged the Ephesians (and he encourages us) by reminding them that we don't walk the rope alone. The Holy Spirit will guide you and keep you on. Listen now to Paul's encouragement to the Ephesians and to us in Ephesians 5:15-20…


15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.


I.              The World Will Try to Mislead You and Knock You Off


Our text begins with the words, "Be very careful, then, how you live…" but the Greek literally says, "Watch carefully, therefore, how you walk." And the Greek word translated "carefully" is akribos, the word from which we get our English word, "acrobat." So perhaps a translation that would fully bring the illustration out would be, "Therefore, watch how acrobatically you walk." We don't just mosey or meander through the walk of our Christian life. Our movements are planned and careful and accurate as if we were walking on a tightrope. Or as one pastor once illustrated, "Walk as though you were barefoot in a backyard that's home to five or six big dogs—walk carefully!"

And why do we walk this way? Well, Paul says "therefore," so we need to look at the verses before these to find out why. In the first two verses of Ephesians 5 Paul spelled out why we want to walk the tightrope of faith. We heard those verses last week: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)

By our actions we prove ourselves to be sinners—by ignoring every opportunity to be loving and self-sacrificing in our self-centeredness, by acting foolish and neglecting the Word through which we understand what the Lord's will is, by getting drunk with alcohol, or greed, or pride, and acting just like the wicked world around us. And as sinners we know that we deserve to fall off the tightrope—that we deserve to fall, not onto a nice springy safety net, but to fall endlessly into the depths of eternal death in hell.

And yet, in love, Christ gave himself up for us. He was thrown down into hell on the cross in our place. Now, with our sins removed by his sacrifice, we are God's dearly loved children. Now, forgiven by him, we long to live a life that's pleasing to him in thanksgiving. Now we strive to walk acrobatically.

But that walk of a Christian life isn't easy. You know that. You live the struggle. You know that it would be difficult enough to walk across Niagara falls on tightrope without any distractions. But imagine someone actively and maliciously trying to knock you off the line. That's what Paul alludes to when he says, "the days are evil." The sinful world around us wants to make us lose our faith in Christ. It wants us to lose sight of him. It wants to knock us off and make us look to the temptations it offers, or look to ourselves and our own efforts and how good we are for our security. It wants to make us fall.

And not only is the world aggressively attacking on the outside while we try to "walk the line." But we struggle with our own sinful natures as well. Imagine trying to walk a tightrope when you've had too much to drink and are a little tipsy. It's not easy, is it? That's why cops make someone walk along a line to test sobriety. The results of such a foolish attempt would be deadly. And that's what our own sinful natures try to make us do. "Get drunk," they say, "not just on alcohol, but deaden your senses with mind-numbing entertainment of movies and TV. Ignore God's will and act senseless and foolish, because that's more fun. It's too hard to walk the line, too boring to stay sober, too dull to live carefully according to God's will. So give up. Give in. Act like the world around you."

And with such pressure hammering on every Christian on the outside and throbbing in every Christian on the inside, it is difficult to stay on that tightrope. And it always will be. That's why Paul's verbs are all in the present tense, "continue to do these things all the time." But don't give up. Don't give in. Because even thought we can't live a life pleasing to God on our own, we don't have to! We have the help we need! We have that help from God himself.


II.            The Spirit Will Guide You and Keep You On


How do we get rid of the influence of alcohol and foolishness? Well, let me ask in this way: How can I remove all the air from this glass? One person might suggest, "Suck it out with a pump." But as difficult as that would be with such a wide rim, it wouldn't work anyway. It would only create a vacuum and shatter the glass. Anyone figure out the right answer? It's simple really. You fill the glass with something else. [Fill the glass with water.] There. No more air in the glass.

That's how we get rid of foolishness, drunkenness and debauchery, which causes us forget about Jesus. We're filled up with something else. Paul continues, "Instead, be filled with the Spirit…"

Are you under the influence? You should be—but not under the influence of wine. You shouldn't be filled up with alcoholic spirits to get a bogus lift, a temporary high, that influences you to do more evil. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who influences you to do wholesome things, to encourage each other, to make the most of every opportunity, to walk the tightrope of faith in wisdom doing what's according to God's will.

In this way, filling and guiding us, he will keep us on the tightrope of faith. Now imagine that you're trying to walk across a tightrope while there's someone on a catwalk right along side you holding your hand every step of the way. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He strengthens us in our faith. He keeps us in our faith. He keeps "our eyes [fixed] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

The Holy Spirit will help you recognize your sin and repent of it turning to God in confession. He will remind you of God's grace in forgiving every sin through Christ's death in your place. He will help you understand God's will for your life. He will help you to ask and to answer the questions, "How can I make the most of this opportunity? What would God have me do in this situation to express my thanks to him?" The Holy Spirit will keep you balanced on the tightrope of faith holding your hand every step of the way.

So, how then are we filled with the Spirit? Paul tells us how in verses 19 and 20. Verse 19 reads, "[by] speak[ing] to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. [By] sing[ing] and mak[ing] music in your heart to the Lord…"

Though it's not explicit, Paul seems to be suggesting that public worship with liturgical forms was already being developed and used. And this worship filled the Ephesians, and still fills us, with the Holy Spirit. Through music, regardless of the style, all of God's people, not just the pastor, speak the Word of God to one another. Through God's gift of music in the Psalms and our hymns, we connect the intellect to the emotions, we join what's in the head to what's in the heart.

Martin Luther clearly recognized this power of music and how the Word of God could be conveyed in poetic and artistic forms that would fill people with the Holy Spirit. That's why he set out to write as many hymns as he did in German, the language of the people. And it wasn't just a teaching aid, but a way that his parishioners could encourage and fill each other up. And since that time the Lutheran church has been nicknamed "the singing church."

Arguably you could be a Christian and never go to church. It's possible. But why would you want to? Here in worship with your fellow believers singing to God… and to you, you're encouraged. You're filled with the Holy Spirit and kept on that tightrope of faith. Make the most, then, of every opportunity and worship with fellow believers as often as you're able!

Paul continues with another way to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He says, "[by] always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Paul says always give thanks. It's an ongoing attitude in your heart every day. And we have so much to be thankful for! God gives us food and shelter, sleep and rest, friends and family, honest work, the list goes on and on… And of course we can't fail to mention the greater spiritual gifts he gives us as well: faith in Christ through the Word, forgiveness of sins, a new life of gratitude in him with the ability to please the Father!

And when Paul says "give thanks for everything," he really means everything! "But why should I give thanks for getting dumped?" "Why should I give thanks for the financial ruin I'm in?" "Why should I give thanks for the cancer he sent my father?" You should give thanks for two reasons: 1) even the things that seem horrible, as if no good could come of them, God promises to work for your good—to draw you closer to him. And 2) when you say, "Thanks God for this pain and hurt—the suffering that has brought me closer to you, that kept me connected to Christ, the suffering that reminds me that life isn't all about this life and that nothing can rob me of the glory that you have prepared for me in eternity!" when you speak like this, you fill those who hear you with the Spirit! Strengthened by God's Word, through you, they are better equipped to rejoice in their suffering.

By the way Wallenda's reason for wanted to cross Niagra Falls? He wanted to share his faith. He credits God for giving him the ability do what he does. He says his Christian faith is the most important part of his life, publicly prays before every wire walk and wears a cross whenever he performs. And if you watched the broadcast of Nik Wellenda crossing Niagra Falls, perhaps you heard what he was saying while he crossed since the producers put a microphone on him. He was praying and praising Jesus the entire way across, always giving thanks to God.

Dear friends, thank God that Jesus already crossed over, through the cross and the tomb, from death to life. Thank God that he's taken away every sin and every time you've fallen off the tightrope. Now, be filled with the Spirit. Put your trust in him. Lean your full weight on him as your only way to heaven. And walk carefully every day of your life, making the most of every opportunity to thank him for what he's done for you, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I’ve Had Enough! (A sermon based on 1 Kings 19:3-8)

Ever get depressed and worn out? Ever ready to just call it quits? Then be fed and nourished by God's Word again today! When you've had enough of life, God gives you enough to eat. He encourages us by his grace in his Word and in his Sacraments. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on 1 Kings 19:3-8 and be fed by God's Word. And there find the strength to keep going and to do the work God has given you to do...

I've Had Enough!

A sermon based on 1 Kings 19:3-8

Sunday, August 19, 2012 – Pentecost 12B


Have you ever had just one of those days? You know the kind, where nothing goes right. The test you thought you aced, comes back with an F. The car you just bought left you stranded. The promotion at work was given to the boss's inept son instead of to you. You burned dinner to a crisp, the kids won't go to bed, and your stocks plummeted.

We all have days when we're down in the dumps. We get depressed. We don't always like the way things are going. Life is not always a load of fun and sometimes we've just had enough. And so, I think we can all understand how Elijah felt in this morning's sermon text.

This somewhat unfamiliar account is sandwiched between two famous Elijah stories. It precedes the account of God coming to Elijah in the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and finally a gentle whisper. And it follows right on the heels of the famous Mt. Carmel Challenge, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest to prove who was the real God. Elijah won decisively when God sent a fire to consume not only Elijah's sacrifice, but the trench full of water that he had poured over it as well.

But soon after this event, Elijah burned out. He was disappointed, discouraged, and depressed. He was ready to give up—ready to die. He'd had enough of life.

Sometimes, we feel like Elijah—like we've just had enough—maybe even enough of life? But God keeps us around for a reason, just as he kept Elijah around: He has work for us to do. And when we do feel like we've had enough of life, God gives us the strength we need. He gives us enough to eat to do the work he's given us to do. Listen now to Elijah's despair and God's comfort in 1 Kings 19:3-8…


3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.


I.              …Enough of Life!


Do you wonder how Elijah could possibly be feeling down after such a great victory on Carmel? But put yourself in Elijah's shoes. What would you expect the outcome of that decisive victory to be?

Picture it. While Elijah taunted them, "Maybe Baal's asleep! Maybe he's on vacation! Maybe he's losing his hearing! Shout louder!" the prophets of Baal and Asherah slashed their arms, bleeding all over, to get their god's attention. But nothing happened. Then it was Elijah's turn. He prayed to the true God and immediately God sent a fire from heaven to consume the soaking wet sacrifice on the altar as well as the moat around it! Elijah won hands down! And at first, the results seemed favorable! All the people shouted, "The Lord is God!" and at Elijah's command they killed all 850 false prophets on the mountain!

Elijah must have been elated! Finally, after a long struggle, his time under the cross was at an end! With such a decisive victory for Elijah, surely all of Israel would return to the worship of the true God and would trust in Elijah as his representative. He'd be a hero. Now was the time for glory!

But that's not at all what happened. Instead, Queen Jezebel, undeterred by Mt. Carmel, threatened to make Elijah as dead as those 850 prophets of hers while her husband, King Ahab, did nothing to stop her. And Elijah's dreams collapsed. The man of courage found himself terrified. Thinking his cause to be a lost one, he ran for his life.

After running from Jezreel to Beersheba, a trek of 100 miles, he went a day further into the middle of the desert and finally collapsed under a lone broom tree and poured out his heart to God. "[He] prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

Why did Elijah run from Jezebel trying to save his life only to pray that God end his life now? What prompted such a change? Perhaps it was disappointment in the results of his labor. Perhaps disappointment with God for not blessing his efforts more. Perhaps he was ashamed of his cowardice. Perhaps he knew he had failed to oppose such godlessness. Perhaps an overwhelming sense of his own sin and inadequacy. So he rightly admitted, "I am no better than my ancestors."

In a weakness of faith, Elijah despaired and asked God to take his life. He who just told a widow woman ready to eat her last meal with her son and die, "Don't be afraid," now ran in terror. He who had just boldly confronted 850 false prophets now ran from one woman. He who usually put his trust in God to care for him, forgot that God could protect him from Jezebel, wondering to himself, "Why would God let this happen?"

But Elijah wasn't the last to be persecuted for listening to God. All but one of the apostles were killed for following God, and many in horrible, painful ways. Luther was excommunicated from the church and threatened with execution by the emperor for standing up to the false prophets of his day. And we too face threats for speaking the truth…

When tasked to write an essay on witnessing, I once sent out a survey asking, "What are your greatest fears and concerns about sharing your faith?" And the answers I received sounded a lot like Elijah. And I suspect they sound like you and lime me at times. "I might face persecution and lose a friend," one person wrote. "No one ever listens anyway," said another. "I'd share my faith more if someone came to church with me just once when I did!" added a third. "We plan these big events and then no one comes! What's the use?" said another.

We too grow discouraged and burnt out. Peer pressure works on the young and old alike. The pressure at work, or the fear of being without work, the mockery, the condescension, the accusations of narrow-mindedness all take their toll. We become disappointed with our audience for their lack of response and disappointed with God for letting it be this way.

 And we too are tempted to throw in the towel when we've had enough of life. And then, we too may be pressed with guilt for feeling this way and feel ashamed and depressed for our cowardice in the face of opposition, discouraged by our own failures, feeling an overwhelming sense of our own sin and inadequacy. And we too confess our sin before God acknowledging that we are no better than our ancestors.

But like Elijah, the reality of our sin and human weakness is no reason to give up! God still has work for us to do! In fact, it's precisely when we realize that we are failures and inadequate that we can receive God's power and strength. Then he gives us enough to eat…


II.            …Enough to Eat!


After Elijah prayed for God to end his life, he fell asleep under that broom tree. And there God sent an angel to assure him that neither his failures, nor fears, nor any of his sins had put him outside the sphere of God's love. Nor had it nullified his call as a prophet. God still had work for him to do. So God filled him up and refreshed him…

All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

Nourished by this miraculous bread and water brought by an angel of God, Elijah traveled for 40 days and nights—continuously—without needing to eat again! He went another 200 miles through that mostly inhospitable desert where previously God had miraculously sustained his people with manna and quail for 40 years. What comfort for Elijah—to know that God still had a use for him! That God was with him miraculously preserving him! What strength God gave his prophet!

And there on Mt. Horeb (another name for Mt. Sinai) God gave Elijah work to do again: to anoint two kings and Elisha, his own successor. And by God's grace, feeding him with bread and water from heaven, and with the Word of that gentle whisper, Elijah's defeatist attitude was gone and he was ready to go to work again.

And dear friends, God graciously sustains us as well. When we are frustrated and depressed, reminded of our failures and our sins, God reminds us that we aren't disqualified from service to him. We're not outside of his grace. And when we don't look to ourselves when we're feeling low, but to him, he gives us the same strength he gave Elijah.

Though at times our help may not be as spectacular as it was in the case of Elijah, with miraculous food from an angel, that help is real nonetheless. God still gives us shelter. He still grants us sleep. He still gives us food. And often much more than shelter under a bush, sleep on the ground, and bread and water. He sustains our lives every day giving us strength.

But much more than the physical strength he gives, he provides for us in more spectacular ways than Elijah. The bread he gives us keeps us alive for more than forty days. The bread he gives us is himself. Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." When, by the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, we believe in Jesus and in his death on the cross in our place, our every sin is forgiven! We are sinless saints who will not die forever in hell, but will live forever with Jesus! What amazing bread we have!

And what's more he gives us better bread and water than Elijah ever had—bread and water that continue to nourish and sustain us spiritually, especially when we feel down because of our guilt, our failures, and our sins. He gives us the bread of his very body which we're about to eat in the Lord's Supper—bread which is given "for you" for the very personal assurance of the forgiveness of your sins. He gives you water too—not water to drink, but the water of Baptism, that cleanses you of every sin! Water that assures you that you are indeed dearly loved children of God!

What comfort for us—to know that in spite of our sin, our weakness, our inadequacies, God still has a use for us! That God is with us constantly preserving us! What strength God still gives his people!

And just as Elijah's heavenly food invigorated him to be rid of his defeatist attitude and to get to work for the Lord, so too our heavenly food fills us with gratitude to our Savior who "gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." It rejuvenates us so we're recharged and ready to continue the work God's given us to do.

Now, refreshed by the Bread of Life, you can continue the work God's called you to do—not just resting in God's Grace, but boldly reaching out to others with the Gospel, regardless of how they respond! We can eagerly support the work of the church and do the work of the church. We can all put our past failures, our disappointments and our fears aside and confidently share our faith, making the most of every opportunity. We can all imitate God and tirelessly serve each other in love.

It's been said that "When God lets you stumble, he does so that you might fall into his arms." So the next time you're feeling depressed, discouraged, and overwhelmed, the next time you feel like throwing in the towel because you've had enough of life, turn to God. Confess your inadequacies, your failures, and your sins to him. And be filled up again with the nourishment he has to give and have enough to eat. For the Bread of Life has taken away your every failure, your every sin. And he gives you the energy you need to get to work for him again! Amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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