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Enduring the Race August 15, 2010

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Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3

Proper 15

August 15, 2010

 

Goal: That the hearers more faithfully endure the race of life through their Savior Jesus Christ.

 

You probably noticed a common thread in our Epistle today.  The Hebrews passage gave us a number of examples of faith in the Old Testament.  These stories told more than just faith, however.  They connected faith to life.  These men and women turned to God in times of need.  The author of Hebrews tells us to do the same.  But what does this look like?  How does fixing your eyes on Jesus affect your daily life?

God promised Abraham that through his son Isaac he would father many nations.  Abraham believed that promise.  How then could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, the very son of the promise?  Whatever Abraham might have wrestled with in his mind, he decided to obey God.  He decided to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham and Isaac gathered the things needed for the sacrifice and set out for the place where it would take place.  Isaac noticed that they didn’t have a lamb to sacrifice.  He asked his father where the lamb was, and Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

And Moses, Moses lived in all the glory ofEgypt.  Pharaoh’s daughter took him in as a baby and raised him as her own son.  He had everything you could desire.  All the pleasures of the world were at his fingertips.  But, he saw how God’s people, his people, suffered in their bondage as slaves.  And he realized that his place was at their side.

The Israelites suffered for generations as slaves ofEgypt.  God used Moses to lead His people out ofEgypt, out of slavery.  Pharaoh’s army pursued the Israelites and trapped them against theRed Sea.  God parted that sea for His people to cross on dry land.  With walls of water barreling down on each side, would the Israelites have the courage to cross?

Now, how did each of these examples of faith turn out?  Abraham trusted God; he endured the trial and God provided a ram in Isaac’s place.  Abraham became a father of many nations.  Moses endured the hardships that came from rejecting Pharaoh.  He trusted in God alone and God used him to deliverIsraelfrom their bondage.  The Israelites, too, trusted God and crossed through the sea.  They endured their days of slavery to enter the promised land.

But, we don’t need examples of suffering. We know perfectly well what suffering is all about, a few of us are Rams’ fans after all.  You know life is tough.  You know because you face it everyday.  Those daily challenges probably aren’t as major and life-changing as the Hebrews’ examples, but they are still temptations.  How do we endure the race of life?

For example, what about when your boss dumps a stack of paperwork on your desk and expects you to have it ready within the hour?  Or when you come home from a hard day only to find that dinner isn’t ready, the kids are fighting, and the garbage truck ran right over your flowerbed again?  Anger, rather than faith, can quickly erupt.

Sin clings to us.  Temptations blindside us.  You don’t see it coming and then suddenly there it is.  The attractive person sitting nearby or the perfect opportunity to say something bad about someone to make yourself look good.  Sin cripples faith.

Not long ago I took my truck in to the local Dodge dealer to have a valve replaced.  When I went to pick it up the cashier asked for my name.  I told her, but she must have misunderstood.  She handed me the bill and the keys to an 07 Ram.  That truck was fully loaded and it was my favorite color: blue.  There was a temptation to just be quiet and take those keys.  Oh, and the warranty covered Mr. Anderson’s repair bill.  Warranties didn’t cover my bill.

Temptation is a part of life.  We can’t hide from it or hope to run away from it.  How then does God expect us to endure the pressures of life?

Hebrews gave us examples of men and women who faced this challenge before us.  And, it tells us how they endured.  They laid aside their sin, their fear, and their doubts.  And they turned to God.  We do the same. We now set aside those sins that cling to us and we endure the many pressures and the daily grind of life by turning to God.

In each of those Old Testament stories, endurance came from faith, faith in the promise.  For each of them, it was a promise of deliverance, of rest, of life.  How much more do we have in Christ?  Christ is the fulfiller of the promises they looked forward to.  By looking to Jesus, they had the strength to make it through anything Satan and the world could throw at them.  So do we.  We endure by faith in Jesus.

For the last decade we have heard the phrase WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do?”  We’ve seen it on wristbands and heard it as a catchy slogan.  Many people criticized it as being too Law-focused.  But the idea behind it is simple.  When temptation comes up, what do you do?  Where do you turn?  The WWJD approach says to look to Christ.  Jesus was perfect in every way.  If we look to Him and think of what He would have done, we may likely figure out how we should act.  And while that may be a good thing, it doesn’t quite cover everything.

My dad had his own phrase.  Whenever someone would mention WWJD, he would ask WHJD, “What Has Jesus Done”?  That’s a good Lutheran response isn’t it?  We turn to the cross.  Jesus experienced similar temptations to what our Old Testament brethren faced.  He went through many of the temptations that we have today.

Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness for forty days.  He wanted Jesus to prove that He was God.  “Command that these stones become bread.”  “Throw Yourself down.”  Satan didn’t need proof.  He wanted to trap Jesus and cause Him to sin.  Satan even went as far as to offer Him the whole world.

He could have had it all, become the king with all authority in this age.  Instead, He gave it all up for you.  He endured every single temptation which He faced.  He suffered a miserable death, sacrificing Himself to give you life.  He endured the shame of the cross in your place.  Jesus finished the race.

But He didn’t stop after He crossed the finish line.  He kept going and conquered death and the grave as well.  He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand.  He has all authority on both Heaven and Earth.

He is the author and perfector of our faith.  He has set us free from sin and death, and will deliver us through all suffering and persecution into everlasting life.  That life which we now look forward to with Him in paradise is magnificent.

But what about now?  What about this life?

Here we fix our eyes on Christ as many before us have done.  By focusing on His death and resurrection, we find strength to endure the race.  Life will wear you down, but when it does, when sin tries to cling to you, you cling to Christ.  Through Him we endure the burdens of this present age.  In Christ we will find rest.

The recent Ice Age movies give us a character who is the image of endurance.  Even if you haven’t seen any of the movies, Scrat the Squirrel is all they used for advertising.  A trailer for the movie would just follow Scrat as he tried to get his acorn.  That must have been the last acorn, for he was willing to suffer anything to get it.  Battling piranhas, fighting through a blizzard, falling off a cliff, getting squeezed between icebergs.  Scrat endures.

In the preview for the final movie, Scrat is searching for the acorn only to have it snatched up by a female squirrel.  Scrat then fights through his desire for the acorn and his attraction to the girl.  He doesn’t want to let the acorn go, and in their tussle, he throws her over the cliff.  Guilt grips and he decides to be a hero.  He plunges over the edge and uses the acorn to speed up his fall.  He catches up to her, and the two cling to the acorn together.

For a romantic moment, they stare into each other’s eyes.  But with an evil smirk, she pulls the acorn away from Scrat and we all learn that she’s a flying squirrel.  She spreads her “wings” and glides away.  Scrat plummets to earth, alone.  Scrat doesn’t lose hope, however.  He bounces right back in pursuit of that girl and his acorn.

We all have things in common with that little squirrel.  Life is full of bumps and bruises, massive cliffs and gut-wrenching temptations.  He never lost sight of that acorn.  He never lost sight of the goal. We live life today, we endure life today, through faith in Jesus and the promise of life to come.  He is the goal that we must never lose sight of.

When we face the hurdles that life puts in our way, we live out our faith in Jesus.  Instead of grumbling at the boss or gossiping behind her back, faith gets the work done.  Rather than bursting out in anger when we come home, faith goes to work.  We help make dinner, negotiate between the kids, and eventually replant the flowers.  By faith, we turn away from the chance to lust at that attractive person and turn down the chance to speak poorly of our neighbor.  We endure by faith in Jesus.

Here is where WWJD may come in handy in your enduring the race.  It may help you to wear the wristband, or even just to remember the phrase.  It points you to Christ when you may have forgotten otherwise.  And whenever something points you to Christ, it ultimately points you to the cross and the empty tomb.  It points you to life.  So, the next time you think of WWJD, don’t forget WHJD.

 

Steve Andrews

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Worry, or Trust? August 10, 2010

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Luke 12:22-34

Proper 14

August 8, 2010

Goal:  That the hearers more faithfully trust in God for all their needs.

 

Life is busy.  There are countless things going on in our lives everyday.  Some are good, some bad, but it’s constant.  It feels as though our brain is never at rest.  Do we have enough money to pay all the bills this month?  What happens if I get laid off at work?  Is this just another fight, or are mom and dad really mad at each other this time?  Life is changing so fast, can I keep up with it all?  How am I going to get everything done on time?! Endless worries quickly come to mind.  “Where do I turn?”

Jesus had an idea:  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on…Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”  That sounds nice, but the world we live in tells us that just isn’t the answer.

As adults, we know we have to work if we want to keep our homes and feed our families.  The head of the family knows that he has to “bring home the bacon” and support the kids.  That’s getting tougher in this economy.  It seems impossible to wake up in the morning and be assured that you will still have your job.  Bosses often put you through job evaluations and review your performance.  Family, friends, and coworkers will all tell you that instead of worrying you should just crank it up a notch, work a little harder.  Do some extra tasks without asking for anything in return.  Your boss’ll notice, and you’ll keep your job.  You have to take charge of your worry.

Health is another area that the world claims to know everything.  They know how to fix all your ills.  The last time you were sick with a cold, what did you do?  Perhaps you went straight to the medicine cabinet, or maybe a loved one had to make you take something.  You took the pills regardless.  That’s all you need; now you’re all better.

We’re constantly bombarded with ads related to health and fitness.  New drugs that will treat your sleeplessness better than the one you’re taking now.  A new vitamin that will help get your body back on track.  Oh, and endless dieting plans and workouts.  Rather than worrying about your health, trust in science and knowledge and you can get yourself back to health.

Then there’s relationships.  If you’re dating, and something goes wrong, the common response from a parent is usually “don’t worry, there’s plenty of fish in the sea, honey.”  And today, the idea isn’t too far off in marriage.  Always fighting?  Got issues?  Get a divorce.  Everyone else is and they seem alright.  Think about yourself and find someone who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

We live in a society that stresses independence.  We take care of ourselves.  And, if you can’t figure something out, there are millions of how-to books and hotlines.  And then there’s the internet.  We have endless resources at our fingertips to figure it out on our own.  We don’t need help.  That’s how the world responds to worrying.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard, take your medicine and go to the doctor.  Nor am I saying you shouldn’t exercise and eat healthy.  Those are all good things.  Divorce is a different story, it is a bad thing.  But in all of these cases, the world tells you to fend for yourself.

But what about when these things don’t work?  Surely you’ve noticed.  Working harder doesn’t always save your job.  Illnesses don’t always go away; in fact, death taunts us all.  And bouncing from one relationship to the next just leaves people hurting.  Most of our worries just lead to more stress, and more worries.

People just don’t have a good answer.  Did you notice in those examples what was missing?  God.  There was no trust or even prayer.  The world leaves God out of the picture and focuses us on ourselves.  Jesus calls us out of it.  He tells us, commands us, not to be anxious.  But He doesn’t just give us a command; He also gives us the answer.  He brings us back to the One whom we can trust to take care of us; He brings us back to the Father.

God created us.  He created the entire universe with all its wonder.  Plants and animals, stars and light, He created it all.  Jesus pointed to His Father’s great care in providing for all that He made.  How He feeds the ravens, and nourishes the grass and makes it beautiful.

We’re nearing the end of summer and many of us look forward to the beauty of fall.  Picture it in your mind.  The sun is shining, the grass still green, the rustle of the leaves in the breeze.  The leaves on the trees put on a magnificent display of colors, red, yellow, orange, brown, and green; you could just sit there and stare all day.  Just as God created you, He also made this beautiful picture.  And He uses the colder months of the year to let the earth be restored and nourished, so when spring comes, all the plants can come back to life again.

This is where Jesus points to Solomon, to us.  Solomon was one of the richest and most righteous of all God’s people in the Old Testament.  He inherited the throne from his father David.  When God offered Solomon anything he desired, Solomon asked for the wisdom to rule God’s people.  God was pleased with that answer and gave him all the wisdom of man.  But, He also said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.”  This is why Jesus mentions that Solomon, in all his glory, was not able to clothe himself like the lilies.  God did it, not Solomon.

When we see God as the Creator, and look at how He has provided for His creation, we can replace our worrying with trusting in Him.  We can trust in Him to care for us as He cares for His creation.

Noah is a perfect example.  He had his own worries.  The people around him, all over the earth, had given up on God.  They didn’t think they needed Him.  Noah could have joined them, but he didn’t; he kept his faith and found favor in God’s eyes.  And then God told him something crazy.  “I have determined to make an end of all flesh…Make yourself an ark of gopher wood…For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

Would you have listened?  This is crazy talk, God wanting to wipe out all the people of the earth.  That’s not going to happen!  But, Noah listened.  He trusted God and did as God told him to do.  Sure enough, the flood came after Noah had built that ark, and he and his family lived.  God provided a way out for the faithful.

So we too replace worry with trust when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  What is it that you’re praying for?  Have you ever stopped to think about each petition?  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  We pray that God would provide for us, as He has promised to do.  In the Small Catechism, Luther explains ‘daily bread’ as “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”  That is a long way of saying: everything.  God takes care of the needs of His creation.  He provides for you.

But God didn’t stop there.  He doesn’t limit His provisions for you to this body and life.  God has also provided for you spiritually.  He knew of your sins and the death that follows them.  He knew that despite His created gifts of hard work, medicine, exercise, and nutrition, we would still end up in the grave.  He knew that without intervention, you would perish and suffer forever.  He intervened.

God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world as a provision for His creation.  Jesus knew the Father’s will.  That didn’t make the trials ahead any easier for Him.  He knew that persecution, torture, and the cross were in His future.  At theGardenofGethsemane, Jesus prayed to His Father.  Rather than praying for something else to happen, for Him to be spared, or whatever He may have wanted, Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”  Jesus trusted that the Father’s will was right, and that He knew what He was doing.

On account of Jesus’ death, your sins are forgiven.  And by His resurrection, so too you will rise again.  God the Father is not some distant and unloving god.  He is your Father and He loves you deeply.  He knows your every need, be it of body or soul, and He provides.  When you pray to Him, He will hear you, and He will answer you.  When you trust in Him and seek Him and His kingdom, He will provide for all your needs.

So, does this mean that we aren’t responsible, or that we don’t have to do anything?  God just puts everything into our laps, right?  Not exactly.  God created us and we are His creatures, His children.  He gave us eyes to see, ears to hear, legs to walk, and hands to touch.  God has enabled us.  He uses us as a means of providing for each other’s worries, just as He provides for us forgiveness through the absolution you heard this morning from Pastor and through the Lord’s Supper which you will eat shortly.

We are a community of believers and Jesus has instructed us to love one another.  When the congregation makes a donation to the seminary’s Food Bank, that is the community caring for each other.  When people give of their own time to talk to one another and encourage each other, that is God caring for His people through the community.  That’s why we’re a family.  When we see someone in need, we help them; better yet, God helps them through us.

Instead of worrying and being concerned all of the time, we are to trust in God.  And part of trusting God is doing what He has given us to do.  God has given us each roles, and we all have more than one.  Dads, take care of your children.  Love them, and give them the encouragement they need to become mature Christians.  If you’re a sister, love your siblings.  In the workplace, do the work that you have to do.  If you’re a waiter, serve your customers to the best of your ability.  If you teach, teach will all your being.  These may seem like simple tasks, menial even.  But, these are ways which God provides for His people, for us.  When we serve one another and fulfill the duties God has given us, we are His provision for His people in dealing with the worries of life.

Not only when life gets rough, but everyday, we trust in God for all that we need.  He created us, and He keeps us going.  As Luther said, “He daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”  Not only this life, but also everlasting life on account of the forgiveness we have in Christ.  You are taken care of.  Just trust in God and His promises and provisions, for you have nothing left to worry about.

Steve Andrews