Thursday, January 30, 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Are You Worthy of Eternal Life?
A sermon based on Acts 13:38-49
Sunday, January 19, 2014 – Epiphany 2A
What are you worth? How do you answer that question? Do you look at your assets minus debts to figure your net worth in dollars? Do you look to your accomplishments, achievements, and successes to determine your self-worth? Do you look at the impact you make on the lives of others and try to determine how much you'd be missed to determine how much you're worth to others?
A few years ago U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils tried to determine the worth of a human. So they calculated the amounts of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and all the materials that make up the human body, and found that the going rate for all of these elements was about $1. Yup, that's it. You're worth about as much as a single app downloaded to your phone. You're worth less than a single burger on the value menu. You're worth less than a cup of coffee at the gas station.
What are you worth? Thank God that he views things differently than the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. He thinks you're worth a whole lot more than $1. He thinks you're worth his own Son.
But what do you think? If you think you're worthy of God's love on your own, you're sadly mistaken. Reject Jesus' work for you and you're not worthy of eternal life. But trust in Jesus' work for you and you are worthy of eternal life.
The church in Antioch was struggling with that question of, "What am I worth?" Some thinking they were worth a lot, weren't worthy of eternal life. But those who recognized their worth before God on their own, humbled themselves before God and received the Gospel with joy. And were made worthy of eternal life. Listen now to Acts 13:38-49 as you consider, "Are you worthy of eternal life?"
38 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
"'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
I. Not Worth Much
Tom had a beautiful house. It was a mansion really. It was full of the nicest furniture, decorated with expensive paintings, and he kept remodeling it again and again to keep up with the latest fads. But had to keep up appearances. He loved entertaining and had the rich and the famous over often.
Only one problem. Tom didn't have any money. This is a true story, by the way. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, lived large. But he no money. He was in deep debt. And at his death his estate and all his possessions were auctioned off to repay his debtors, leaving his surviving daughter to rely on the charity of others to find her next meal.
Things aren't always what they seem. Someone might seem worth a lot, but really be worth very little. And someone might seem worth a little and be worth a whole lot. That role reversal took place in Antioch when Paul and Barnabas came to town.
Ironically, the Jews of Antioch thought they were worthy of eternal life on their own. They had a bad estimate of their own worth. They thought they didn't need Jesus. They were good enough on their own. But now, this Gentile rabble was changing things. And no one likes change. For starters, there was no room in church anymore! The synagogue was full! Their favorite seats were taken! Next thing you know, they'd want to change the liturgy! Or even get a new hymnal! And… they smelled like bacon! (And to a Jew that wasn't a good thing.) They were ruining everything!
These Gentiles simply were not worthy of the promises of Jehovah! But they were! (Or so they thought.) They were good Jews who followed the rules! Now these Gentiles were being offered the salvation promised to Israel! No way! And to keep their comfortable little world the same as it always has been, they rejected Jesus. Literally what they NIV translates as "talked abusively" is "speaking blasphemy." They blasphemed God by rejecting the Christ.
But they had a problem. They couldn't be justified by the Law of Moses because they couldn't keep it perfectly. Sin once and you break the bubble of perfection. And they, like everyone, had surely sinned more than just once. But it was too big a blow to their ego to admit they were horrible sinners. It was just too much to take to admit they were as bad as these Gentiles. And they wouldn't confess. But God says in 1 John 1:8, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
They thought they were worthy. But they had a bad estimate of their own worth. They were not worthy of eternal life.
So, what are you worth? $1? "Of course, not!" you say! "I'm worth so much more than that!" And we look at ourselves and estimate our value and think we're very worthy. I'm a good person! I'm not that bad. I'm worth a lot to my family and friends. And I'm worth a lot to God. He's lucky to have me on his team!
Or we're scared because we're not really worth that much and we don't want anyone to find out. Like Thomas Jefferson trying hard to hide his debt under a veneer of extravigance, we do all we can to hide our failures, cover them up, pretend their not there. But God knows the truth. And so do you.
You both know you're true worth. $1? No. You and I are worth far less than that on our own. You are sinful. You cannot be justified by the law of Moses. And when you look down on others as not worthy, you're not worthy of God. You're not worthy of eternal life. The only thing you and I are worthy of is hell. We put the wrong value on others. We put the wrong value on ourselves. But true repentance recognizes that and it confesses before God.
And we can confess openly and honestly. We can stand naked before God, stripped of all we try to hide behind. We can be exposed without fear because we know the blessed results if we do: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9)
II. Worth the Son of God
What are you worth? The U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils says $1. But that's just for the elements that make you up. But the arrangement of those elements in the right order is worth a lot more! I recently read that a single gram of bone marrow is worth $23,000. If you've got the right DNA, it could have a market value of 9.7 million dollars. A lung is worth $116,400, a kidney $91,400, and a heart $57,000. When all is said and done, your living body—should you choose to donate the whole thing—is worth about forty-five million dollars!
And believe it or not, you're worth even more to God. You're worth more to him than his own Son. He gave his Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to be killed on a cross. He gave the sacrificial lamb who suffered hell in our place. For everyone! For Jew and Gentile!
For it's, "too small a thing… to restore [just] the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel…" God would "also make [Jesus] a light for the Gentiles, that [he might] bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6) And that's pretty much us in Alaska isn't it? At least from the perspective of an ancient Israelite we are the ends of the earth! That means it's for us too!
"Therefore, [brothers and sisters], I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses." And you are appointed to eternal life. You are worthy of eternal life—through Jesus.
You've heard it all before, but imagine that you were hearing it for the first time! A lifetime of guilt and regret forgiven! With no strings attached! How wonderful! These Gentiles in Antioch were hearing it for the first time. They were worth a whole lot to God! They were worth his own Son to him! Now they were forgiven by God! Their sin was erased! They were worthy of God through faith in Jesus! They were worthy of eternal life! "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord... [and] the word of the Lord spread through the whole region."
We too are glad! We're worth a lot! We're worthy of God! We're worthy of eternal life! We too honor the Word! We love it and we love to hear and learn it more! And we too spread the word throughout the whole region just like the Antioch Christians, just like Paul and Barnabas. And sure, people may talk abusively against you. They may speak blasphemy against Jesus. So what? You don't derive your worth from what they think of you, but from what Jesus thinks of you. And who knows, maybe some will invite you to speak further about these things. Maybe some will come back next week to hear more. Maybe the whole city will gather together to hear the good news. So in thanks to Jesus for making you worth so much, share what he has done.
For you know what you're worth without Jesus. And you know what you're worth with him! So even if you don't have much in the bank, in the market, or in home equity, even if you're debts outweigh your assets, even if your accomplishments seem rather paltry, and even if no one were to miss you when you leave this earth, you know that these things don't determine your worth. Jesus does. And through him you are worthy of eternal life. In his name, dear friends, amen!
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
You're All God's Favorite
A sermon based on Acts 10:34-38
Sunday, January 12, 2014 – Epiphany 2A
What a wonderful day it must have been for Peter! While praying one day he fell into a trance and saw a vision from God. In that vision, a sheet came from heaven full of all kinds of animals and God told him to get up, kill, and eat whatever he wanted. And for the first time Peter was allowed to eat crab legs, shrimp cocktail, and… mmmmmm… bacon. What a wonderful day it must have been for Peter!
Of course, God wasn't really concerned about just bacon when he gave Peter that vision. (That was just a side benefit.) It was really about people that God was so concerned. God was teaching Peter that he would no longer make a distinction between "clean" and "unclean" neither in animals, nor in people. His plan of salvation wasn't just for the Jews. It was for the Gentiles (that is, non-Jews) too. It was for Gentiles like Cornelius a man God would send Peter to visit to share the Gospel with that Peter might learn that God shows no favoritism.
After Peter saw his vision from God he did go to visit Cornelius. And when he arrived the next day he preached to him:
34 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Some families just put the "fun" in dysfunctional. The Biblical Patriarchs did just that, usually by showing favoritism. After Abraham had his favorite son, Isaac, then Ishmael, "the son of the slave woman," and his mother were sent off into the wilderness to live in the desert. (Genesis 21:9ff) Abraham's favorite son, Isaac, in turn played favorites with his sons, loving manly man Esau more than Jacob who preferred to stay at home with mom than to go hunting with dad. Rebecca didn't help the situation by openly loving Jacob more than Esau. Jacob in turn played favorites with his sons, making it painfully obvious to ten of his sons that Jacob and Benjamin, the sons of Rachel were loved by him far more than the children of Leah or of the slaves, arousing such jealousy that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers after narrowly escaping murder. When the Patriarchs played favorites, it never ended well. Favoritism never does.
That was a lesson Peter was just starting to get. He was still growing in his faith and in his understanding. He now knew what the Old Testament prophecies meant, that they were pointing to Jesus all along. He knew that Jesus wasn't a Savior from the Romans or from poverty, sickness, or unhappiness, but a Savior from sin. But he had another lesson to learn on the roof of a house in Joppa. He would not learn that Jesus was the Savior from sin not just for a few, but for all.
Cornelius wasn't a Jew. He was a Roman. He wasn't one of God's chosen people. Jesus was for the Jews! Salvation wasn't for Romans! But now God was choosing Cornelius, a Gentile (a non-Jew), a Roman! And to drive the point home, he gave Peter this vision of a bacon filled bed sheet. And Peter was getting it.
"Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
Do you realize that too? That God does not show favoritism? Of course, you do, right? You know that God's grace is for everyone! And you never show favoritism either, do you? Do you?
The truth is, it's easy for us to feel like Peter did when he first visited Cornelius. It's easy for us to look at others and think they're just not the kind of people who belong in our church. Maybe they're a different race. Or maybe they've committed some terrible sin and their bad reputation doesn't belong in our church. Maybe they didn't grow up in the Wisconsin Synod and just don't understand our culture. It's easy to look down on others and think that we're better.
Of course, we'd never say that. We know that God loves all people. But does your human life ever give a different answer than your godly mouth? Do you ever play favorites? If we're honest we do. Maybe not with blatant racism, but if we really believed that, "Jesus Christ… is Lord of all," wouldn't we go after the unchurched and the dechurched, whether rich or poor, young or old, black or white, horrible sinner or apparent saint, no matter who they are, we'd go after them with all of our might, doing whatever it took to get the message of Jesus to them. If really loved God half as much as we profess, we'd love the people that he loves—everyone!—and we'd act like it. But we don't.
And for not doing all we can to share the Gospel with everyone, for having so much potential to do so many great things for the kingdom, but saying, "Nah, I'm not interested. I'm too busy working toward my goals to worry about God's goals," we deserve to be God's least favorite. For thinking and acting as if some people were unworthy of God's love while we deserve it, we become just as unworthy as they are.
The earliest Roman coins depicted Roman goddess, Justicia, with a sword in one hand (ready to punish the guilty) and balance scales in the other hand (to weigh the evidence to determine who was innocent and guilty). But since the 16th century Justicia has had a makeover. First she got a new name. She's known as Lady Justice today. But she also got a new accessory: a blindfold. This, of course, signifies that Justice is blind (or, at least, it should be). Justice ought to be impartial to one's race or class, how much money or power one has. Justice ought to be based on just guilt or innocence.
But if God were to treat us as like Lady Justice—completely impartial—how would we fare? God is impartial. He shows no favoritism. That means that your heritage and ancestry, your synodical affiliation, your money or position have nothing to do with how he judges you. And God isn't blindfolded. He sees right through you. One sin damns to hell and he sees them all. You and I are guilty. And there is no appeals process. There is no early release. There is no mistrial. His judgments are always right. And this is true for adult and child for male and female, for rich and poor, for powerful and powerless. For "God does not show favoritism…"
And if that were the end of God's Word to us, how terrible it would be. But "You know…" Peter told Cornelius. "You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
And you know too. You know who Jesus is. When God anointed him with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, he was revealed as the Son of God. He was revealed as the sinless Son of God whom God loved, who pleased God in every way by his perfect obedience.
And you know what he's done. Peter went on in verses 39 and 40: "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen."
And you know why he did it! Peter said in verse 43: "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
And you know who he did it for: God… accepts men from every nation… Jesus Christ… is Lord of all. [And] everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Even though Jesus pleased God in every way and had every right to be God's favorite, he gave up that status for you and me. He became the black sheep by taking our sin on himself that we might be forgiven. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
It's not just in his justice, but in his grace that, "God does not show favoritism…" Literally the Greek says, "God does not receive a face." We might say, "God doesn't judge a book by its cover." He doesn't judge by outward appearance, but by the heart, that is, by faith.
And by your Baptism, God has connected you to his Son and all he's done for you. He's given you faith in him. Now you are God's favorite. And so are you. And you and you. We are all God's favorites through faith in Jesus. No matter what we look like, how we act, who we are, what we've done.
And now that we fear God (that is, we have faith), we do what's right (that is, we produce fruits of that faith). We live to thank God! And we thank him by showing no favoritism. We give up racism, but even more we don't judge a book by its cover. The kid who's always getting into trouble? Don't write him off as lost. The girl who hasn't exactly remained pure? Don't treat her with contempt. The man who's rejected your every attempt to talk about Jesus? He's not in hell yet! Keep trying! They are all sinners in need of a Savior. Just like you. God shows no favorites and neither do we.
And moved by his grace we move out of our comfort zone to talk about Jesus with everyone. Share your faith at work, invite a friend over to your house, serve more at church, give more of your money.
Your efforts here at Grace and your offerings given here help spread the gospel around the world. Did you know that our webcast has been viewed in all 50 states and in 8 or 9 different countries? Did you know that a percentage of your offerings go to our synod at large to support the work of missionaries around the world. We literally total the offerings each month and send a straight percentage of what's received. This is how you help share the Gospel with all.
In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy once demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn't. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
God's will is that we be organized like that, that we stop playing favorites with each other and with those who need to hear about Jesus. And when we come together like this and work together as a single unit in the Church that God has brought us together in, we form a weapon of truth and power that is terrible for the devil to behold. We become a force of power that can't be stopped as we show Jesus' love to all people, as we powerfully advance with the Gospel of Jesus, the "Lord of all," so that, "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." In his name, dear friends, amen.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Christians Glow in the Dark
A sermon based on Isaiah 60:1-6
Sunday, January 5, 2014
I don't know if you've been to the new Jumpin' Junction yet, but the mini-golf is pretty cool. I took the boys and a friend to golf on Thursday and the boys wore their shirts with neon colors because they knew about the black lights. They thought it was pretty cool how they glowed in the dark. (Okay, so did I.) In fact, a while ago I bought a black light for a couple of bucks at eBay and some glow in the dark stars and some sticky tack at Walmart for a few dollars more. I stuck them to the ceiling in the boys' room, turned the lights off and the black light on. I know I'm supposed to be all grown up, but I don't care: glow in the dark is still cool. Even if you're not a kid, the glow sticks, the glow-in-the-dark stars, the lightning bugs we used to catch in jars, the fireworks I know some of you set off on New Year's Eve—there's still something neat about the sharp contrast: the brilliant light shining in the darkness.
And we're not alone. God thinks it's pretty cool too. Let's face it, darkness surrounds us. And not just the darkness of no light, the darkness of waning morals, of increased wickedness, of people lost in the darkness of depression and despair, mourning in the darkness of death. But… a light has dawned! A beautiful, brilliant light! Jesus shines in this dark world. And we bask in that light soaking in the peace that comes through him. But like the moon reflects the sun, we too reflect the light that the Son of God radiates. We shine in the dark. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the brighter we shine in this dark world. And God thinks it's pretty cool. After all he made us Christians to glow in the dark.
Listen now to Isaiah's prophecy of the Light shining in a dark place and the radiant people he makes, recorded for us in Isaiah 60:1-6…
"Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
I. We Soak Up the Son
The good news is that the days are getting longer. The bad news is that we're still in for some darkness. What a fitting time to talk about darkness and light. And of course, you know that darkness has been a picture for sin, danger, death, and ignorance for a long, long time. All of us were born in such darkness that the Bible describes us as being born blind. Now that's dark. Darkened to any thoughts of serving God, we lived to serve ourselves. Just as the color black absorbs all the colors of the rainbow reflecting nothing back, we were entirely self-absorbed, giving only to those who might do something for us in return or at least make us feel good about ourselves, which, let's face it, is still selfish. As such selfish sinners, who gave no thought to pleasing God, we were doomed to spend an eternity in the darkness of hell. And we were in such darkness we couldn't find a way out, in fact we were so blind, we were ignorant to our own problem.
But that's how we were…
Now, the light has dawned!
Your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
More than just a lighthouse, a beacon of hope in the dark night, the Lord has become more of a search light. When you were lost in the darkness of sin, doomed to the darkness of a grave, damned to eternal darkness in hell, he sought you out. Like the search and rescue team, he spotted you in the dark, shone his light on you and rescued you.
Christ is that brilliant light that Isaiah describes as "the glory of the Lord." He shined in this dark world as a sinless person—talking about brilliant student! He never got an answer wrong on God's test of morals! He shined to the Gentiles (that is, non Jews) as the Savior of all mankind, not just a few in one chosen race. He shined to the ends of the earth. That's what we celebrate on Epiphany: That Jesus is not just Savior of the Jews, but our Savior, just as we was to the Greeks in Paul's day or to the foreign Magi "from afar" of his infant days. Through your baptism, through the Word, Christ has done for you what said in 2 Corinthians 4:6: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
You are forgiven by his sinless death in your place. You are prefect by his perfect life—his perfect score credited to you. You are saved by the Light of the World and by the Holy Spirit enlightening you to these truths.
So rejoice in the glory of the Lord! Be at peace! You're not in the dark anymore. There's nothing like a bright sunny day to drive away the darkness of depression. But bet your hearts be in awe of what God has done for you! You're safe in the Light. You're safe eternally. And bask in that Light every chance you get. Soak up the Son as you read more about him in the Word. And let his peace drive away the darkness of sin, of despair, of living to serve yourself.
And just as you spend more time outdoors in the sun and your skin starts to tan and you look different, so too, the more time you spend basking in the glory of the Son of God, the more you'll look different. You'll look more and more like him. Christians don't just soak up the Son, they reflect the Light. Christians glow in the dark…
II. We Reflect the Son
"Rise and shine" wasn't my favorite phrase growing up. It still isn't. I'm a night owl and would love nothing more than to just pull the covers up over my head and go back to bed some mornings. But this morning, God calls to all of us, "Rise and shine!" Well, okay, technically it's, "Arise, shine!" but it means the same thing. He says that after your light (Jesus) and the glory of the Lord shine on you, then in turn, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you… Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy…" In other words, he calls us to "Rise and shine" and reflect the light we've absorbed in Jesus.
Just as the moon has no light of its own, but reflects the son, so too we simply reflect the glory of Jesus. Just as a glow-in-the-dark star captures the light of the lamp or the black light and reflects it, we reflect the love of Jesus. We rise and shine with the radiance he gives. We don't have to snap back with an ever better insult after we receive one. We see Jesus' patience even in the face of insults. And we reflect it. We don't have to spend our dollars just on ourselves, but see Jesus' generosity to us. And we reflect it. We don't have to strive for power, control, or fame. We see Jesus' humble service to others caring about the opinion of one person—God the Father. And we reflect it.
And even though I didn't like to hear my mom say, "Rise and shine!" and I still don't like to hear my wife say, "Rise and shine!" as Christians we all love to hear God say, "Rise and shine!" We love to serve our God in thanks. The moon can't help it. It reflect the sun. It doesn't have a choice. The glow-in-the-dark stars can't help it. They give off the light they've received. They don't have a choice. And we can't help it. We reflect the glory of Jesus and mirror him in how we live, in how we love, and in how we behave toward others.
Not feeling that way? Feeling like you can help it? Then spend more time in the Light. The more light a glow-in-the-dark star gets, the brighter it shines in the dark. But it doesn't glow very bright if it hasn't been in the light in a while. So bask in the light of the Son again. Absorb his mercy, his grace, his peace. And then you will reflect it. You will, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) You will, "become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." (Philippians 2:15)
Then, when you've basked in the Son, you will forgive just as you've been forgiven. You will give generously just as he has given so generously to you. You will love just as you've been loved. You will serve others just as you have been served.
Yes, it's still a dark world. Not just because we have so little light. But because of so much sin, hatred, violence, and ignorance. And that darkness isn't going away until the end of the world. But we have the Light that makes us no longer afraid of the dark. We have Jesus. Our sins are forgiven and we're at peace. And now, we have opportunity to share that Light with others. Reflect the light of the son. And we will. Christians, glow in the dark, in Jesus' name, amen.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
In the Presence of God
A sermon based on Exodus 33:12-23
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 — New Year's Eve
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true." There's a lot of truth in that expression. I wish I could lose a few pounds. And maybe God will grant that at the expense of hard work on my part. Or maybe an extended hospital stay will help me lose weight. I wish I had a few more dollars. And that may come by me spending less and saving more. Or a life insurance policy of one I love might give me the cash I wanted.
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true."
That's sound advice you or I might have given to Moses. Moses was frustrated with the job God had given to him. He was frustrated with the rebellious people who made an idol of a golden calf while he was up the mountain. He was frustrated that God had told him, "Forget it. I'm not going with you anymore. I'll send an angel, but my presence will not go with you." And Moses prayed a bold prayer to God, "Go with us or I won't go."
But then Moses took it a whole step further. It almost seemed like he was pushing his luck. When God graciously granted his request, he said, "Now show me your glory." And we may want to cry out, "No! Moses! Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true."
And it did! Moses got to see what few others have ever seen: He saw God. Well, sort of. He saw his back. But he saw God and lived! What grace God showed to Moses to grant his requests!
And what grace he's given us! As we look back over 2013, we see clearly how God has gone with us, his presence with us every step of the way. We have seen his glory! And as we look forward to 2014, we know that his presence will go with us. He will continue to give us rest.
Our text for this evening is from Exodus 33:12-23…
12 Moses said to the Lord, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
14 The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest"
15 Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
17 And the Lord said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."
18 Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
19 And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."
21 Then the Lord said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."
I. A Look Back
I don't think I would have done it. I wouldn't have asked—no, demanded—of God, "Now show me your glory." Why not? Because I've seen Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I've seen the Hollywood special effects of what happens when a sinner is in the presence of God and think that they weren't that far off. Indy even alluded to Exodus 33 when he gave the warning not to look when they opened the ark, because no one can look on the face of God and live.
You see, the problem with looking on the face of God is that God looks back. Would you want to look eye to eye at God with God peering into your soul? The Israelites had just been worshipping a golden calf, but Moses wasn't without sin himself. And when God told Moses to move the tent of meeting away from the Israelites so he wouldn't have to be so close to those rebellious sinners, Moses surely knew that he was a rebellious sinner himself.
Sometimes I think we want God to stay up there where he is and we'll stay down here where we are because we've spent plenty of time trying to avoid God and not get too close. "You go over there, God, while I do some more sinning." And if God should get to close we often cry out like Peter did: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8) We know that we have sinned against God. And we know that all who have sinned fall short of the Glory of God. (Romans 6:23) So demand that God show you his glory?! Well… "Be careful what you wish for…"
And yet, Moses did get to see God's glory! And his face didn't melt away like the Nazis chasing Indiana Jones! He saw God and lived! How? Because he found favor with God. But how could that be? How could a sinner find favor with God? Remember when we encountered that phrase last week? The angel told Mary that she had found favor with God. Remember what the Greek word really meant? Charis means grace. Mary found grace with God. Likewise, here in Exodus 33 it literally says that Moses found hesed with God. Hesed is the Hebrew word for… you guessed it: grace. Moses found favor with God not because of anything he did, but because of God's grace. And so, when he looked back he saw God's back and lived.
And you and I aren't that different from Mary and Moses. Sure you may not have been visited by an angel or seen God's back. But you too have found favor with God. He knows you by name. And he's shown you his glory! Look back over 2013. You've seen the way that God has cared for you, not just in giving you food and clothing, shelter and safety, health and friends. But so much greater than the physical blessings, you've seen God's glory! Not in a cleft in a rock, but in the Word. What John wrote in John 1:14 is true of us: "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." We have seen God's glory in his Son, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. We have seen God's glory in the empty tomb and the promise of sins forgiven. We have seen God's glory, not on a mountain top, but here, at the communion rail where we are in God's presence again tonight. And so we have found favor with God as the angels announced to the shepherds: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)
And so you may have still struggled financially in 2013, you may still have problems in your marriage or with the kids. And you maybe still haven't lost the pounds you resolved to lose a year ago or gotten more organized. But… you still have God's grace, his forgiveness, his rest. A look back leads us to rejoice! We've seen God's glory and we live! Give thanks to him! And in thanks to him, look forward with new resolve to make 2014 a year of spiritual growth.
II. A Look Ahead
The little boy was struggling to tie his shoes. He was growing in his independence and assured dad that he could do it by "hisself." But his little fingers couldn't get the laces to move where he wanted them to and in frustration he finally admitted, "I can't do it by myself. I need help, daddy!"
Well, Moses was smart enough to not even try to do it by "hisself." He knew the Canaanites were too powerful, his resources were too limited, the Israelites were too whiny. "I can't do it by myself," he told God, "I need help, daddy!"
"If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
In other words, "Just an angel won't do. We need you, God. And if you won't go with us, we won't go." And God granted it! "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest… I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."
What will 2014 bring? We tend to think "more of the same." Until something happens. A loved one dies. A job is lost. A diagnosis is made. And some of that or all of that may happen in 2014. I don't know. But I do know this: We can't do it by ourselves. We need help, daddy! And he gives it. We don't go into the unknown future alone. God's presence will go with us. Because he is pleased with us (through Christ) and he knows us by name, because he knows the very number of hairs on our heads, because he loves us enough to live and die for us, God's presence brings us comfort, not fear. He is still Immanuel, God with us, and will be in the New Year.
And God gives us rest—not just Promised Land comfort or mere physical blessings, but true Sabbath rest, rest from sin, from guilt, from fear. So rest in the knowledge that your sins are forgiven. When you're scared to look God in the eye, he reaches out and lifts up your chin. He looks you in the face and says, "It's okay. We're okay. We're more than okay." And in that rest, get excited for 2014 and a new year of God's grace, in God's presence with the certainty that he will go with us!
And resolve to make 2014 a year of spiritual growth.
You know, Moses saw God in a burning bush. Moses did miracles by God's power. He witnessed the ten plagues. He crossed the Red Sea. And still he asks "Show me your glory, God!" Really?! What more could you ask for? But he did ask for more. Because he wasn't satisfied with what he'd seen. He always wanted more, more of God, more of his glory, more of his promises. That's a godly dissatisfaction.
And I hope and pray that God give that dissatisfaction to each of us that we're not content with what we've seen, but want more! Pray as Moses did: "God I want to see more of your glory." And know that he offers it to you in the Word! Grow in your faith in 2014! Resolve to be in worship or Bible class more! Resolve to read the Bible on your own, to work through a book or two! Resolve to improve your devotional life. Resolve to see more of God's glory!
"Be careful what you wish for. It just might come true." But don't be careful about wishing… make that praying… for God to be with you, to see more of his glory. And know that by his grace it will come true. He promises it: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) "God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6) And as you continue to look back and see how God has revealed his glory to you, you can also look forward in the New Year confident that his presence will go with you. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.