April 19, 2021
Focus: God rescues us from the endless cycle of death.
Function: That the hearers serve God wherever they go.
Find Satisfaction in Your Toil
When I was about your age, a Sophomore in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I dreamt of playing in the NHL. I thought of going into computer programming, making video games, or perhaps being an accountant of some kind. And then my older sister invited me on a retreat for high schoolers. It was called TEC, Teens Encounter Christ. It took up a whole three-day weekend, starting with Die Day as we talked about Christ’s death on the cross, then Rise Day, looking at the gift of Easter and the resurrection, and then Go Day, as we were sent back into our families and schools to serve the Lord.
That retreat forever changed my life. I was a Christian. I was the quiet kid who followed directions and always got the work done. But my faith at that point was pretty similar. I went to church because my parents taught me this is what we do. I worked hard in confirmation classes and did all that memory work because I was a good student. But it wasn’t really my life. Jesus didn’t really seem to matter in the day-to-day grind. At least, He hadn’t.
TEC #88, as it was called, because it was the 88th time they’d done it, hit me. The Gospel hit me. I came out of that weekend seeing more clearly than ever just what it was that God had done for me: everything! He created me, cares for me, loves me. So much that He sent His own Son to die for me. I’d heard all of that before, but hearing it all again and again transformed me. I came out of that weekend thinking if God has done all of this for me, I should spend the rest of my life serving Him. And at the time, I thought there was only one way to do that, because no one had ever told me any different. So I went to the senior pastor of my church, Rev. Dennis Kastens, and I told him I wanted to become a pastor. It definitely made his day, as my home congregation hadn’t produced a pastor for the church in a long time. So he guided me, told me Concordia, NE was the place to go. So I went, I studied, and then I went and I studied again at seminary. I’ve learned a lot about Jesus and my faith has grown a lot along the way.
And I want to share with you today one of the simplest, but profoundly life impacting things that I’ve learned. God has put each and every one of us here for the same two purposes. Do any of you know what they are? Pause.
Here’s the answer from Jesus Himself, Matthew 22:37-39:
37 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God and love your neighbor. That’s what we’re here to do. It’s really simple, but it shapes our lives in every way. As a youth, I thought I had to be a pastor to serve God. And while it’s true that we need pastors to continue serving the Church, providing Word and Sacrament, you don’t have to be a pastor to serve God. You can serve God in just about any job out there.
My wife, Hannah, is a stay-at-home mom. That’s a job that the American culture hates. I’ve heard many times that women who want to stay home and raise their kids are a giant step backwards for feminism and an insult to all the women who’ve fought so long and so hard to change a society.
Hannah studied. She went to college. She graduated with a degree in Elementary Education, an emphasis in art, and her Lutheran Teaching Diploma, meaning she was able to be called to serve in Lutheran grade schools around the country. And, for a couple of years, she did. But when she held our oldest daughter Talia in her arms, everything changed. She knew that that task, that work of raising a child was important, and that she could serve God doing that. And she’s been doing it ever since. She’s even now taken that skill set she learned in college and is applying it in our home as she homeschools our oldest.
Her job has no pay. No income. Mine does. But that doesn’t make either job better or worse than the other. I get to share the gospel in my job everyday as I serve God and His people in the Church. But guess what? So does she. We have four daughters, and each of one of them is a creature that God has created and loved, whom Jesus died for. And she gets to share the gospel with them everyday. I serve God and my neighbor in my job. She serves God and her neighbor in her job.
Reese mentioned to me that you all recently had the chance to think about your dream job. What were some? Pause, and with each answer, show how they can serve God and their neighbor in those places.
This is what we see in the epistle text from the Apostle Paul: “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving Christ.”
We work, not for ourselves, not so we can buy bigger homes, flashlier cars, nice clothes, or a new PS5. We work each and every day for Jesus, for the Lord. When you get up in the morning, and get ready to come here for school, you are serving the Lord. When you pay attention to your teacher in class, you’re serving the Lord. When you do your assignments, you’re serving the Lord. The things that you’re learning here and now, are tools that help you serve others. And you’re finding out which of those tools you’re good at using.
Some of you love math and working with numbers. Some day, you’ll serve the Lord by helping your neighbors, maybe with their taxes, or keeping a balanced budget so your boss’s company can continue providing a product or service to the whole community, and incomes to their other employees that help them serve and provide for their families.
Others of you enjoy music, and will be able to provide comfort to those who are lonely or despairing. Some like science, some history. Some of you enjoy the work you get to do with your hands, whether it’s art or wood. You get to take these interests and skills and build upon them each day. You’re serving the Lord now, right here, right where you are. To the rest of the world, it’s a grind. Get up, get ready, work hard, stay awake, do the homework, and crash at the end of the day. Wake up and do it all over again. And the question comes up almost every day: “what’s the point?!”
We are called to be holy as the Church, as Christians. That word means “set apart.” Your life is not like that of the world around you. You serve a King, the King. And He has given your life purpose. You are His hands and His feet, loving and caring for His creation. And that includes the people around you, but also the whole of creation as we consider the animals, the plants, everything. God made Adam and Eve to care for it all. And as their descendants, that task is ours, too.
And we hear from Jesus in that gospel text we had from Matthew 6:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The aim of American life is happiness whatever the cost. The daily grind goes on so you can buy bigger and better stuff. It doesn’t change from being a teenager to being an adult. The daily grind is much the same. And the toys just have higher price tags as we seek to entertain ourselves to death. But that’s just it: none of these things last. The PS5, the car, the house, the boat, the retirement package, it all withers and fades with time.
We are called specifically not to work for these things. Do not treasure the things of this world. Treasure the gifts of Christ. He has forgiven all of your sins. He has defeated death for you. So even when this life ends, when this world ends, and is passed through fire and all our earthly goods are burned up and consumed, we live on. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
That Easter greeting is our hope. That’s our treasure. That we live because He lives. You have the greatest gift ever. You get to live forever! And so we look at the world and our lives differently. We don’t have to worry about squeezing as much pleasure out of this life as we can before we die, because we have a treasure in Paradise that never ends. So our focus instead is on sharing that gift with others. Taking that hope and that promise of the resurrection and sharing it with our neighbor, that they too, may receive the gift of life that never ends. And there will be no lack of joy and happiness in the new creation. You can share that good news with your neighbors next door, with your friends, with your family, with your coworkers. It’s not a future thing. You don’t have to wait for life to begin; you have it now. Serve God today. Share Christ’s love today. And every day, for as many days as the Lord gives you in this place. And know that through Christ, you get to inherit His kingdom without end.