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Giving Up Enemies March 21, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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For those of you who have read all the way through, this sermon will be familiar.  It’s a revision of a sermon I used at fieldwork, but was able to reuse on vicarage.  I shortened it to accurately fit the text for the night.  Sermon went well.  It’s good to know that a sermon once used (if it’s a good one) is worth holding on to!

Matthew 5:43-48

 Lent Midweek 5

March 21, 2012

Focus: God, who is perfect and holy, loves all of mankind.

Function: That the hearers live a life of Christian discipleship, loving their enemies as Christ loves them.

Giving Up Enemies

            In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.  He created the world and all its wonders. And at the peak of this world, He created man.  Adam and Eve, people whom God wanted to develop a relationship with.  But we know what happened next.

Adam and Eve sinned.  They disobeyed God and chose to go about their lives as they wanted.  They put themselves first, and God last.  They made themselves enemies of God.

God later established a covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  Yahweh would be their God and they would be His people.  We know of them asIsrael, God’s chosen nation.  And to this chosen people, Yahweh also promised them a land of their own, a land flowing with milk and honey.  All they had to do was be His people and not turn aside to idols.

Yet again, we know what came next.  They chose to worship idols rather than Yahweh, and that led them into slavery inEgypt.  They made themselves enemies of God.

But God brought His people out of slavery and gave them the Promised Land anyway.  He stuck to His side of the covenant with Abraham, that He would be their God.  And this time, He chose to give them a law, the Ten Commandments, as well as many other regulations that can be found in the Old Testament.  All they had to do was obey God, or simply put, be His people.

But again, we know what happened next.  The golden calf.  Or generations later, their desire to have a king as their leader rather than Yahweh Himself.  All of those rowdy and faithless kings ofIsraelandJudah.  Men like Ahaz, and women like Jezebel.  We know what happened.  Assyria andBabylonled them into exile.  They had made themselves enemies of God.

The cycle continues.  We ourselves are no better.  God formed each and every one of us inside of our mother’s womb.  We were uniquely and wonderfully made.  He gave us the gift of life, sent us His Son, granted us His Spirit and the right to be called His children.  Again, all we had to do was obey God and be His people.

But yet again, we know what happened next.  We were frail.  We conceded to the devil and his wicked temptations.  Whether it was that small lie to your spouse to avoid getting into a fight or that small lie to your teacher to get out of a late assignment.  Or perhaps you can recall insulting someone or not keeping your promise or gossiping about a relative behind their back.  Oh there are bigger problems too like murder, adultery and theft, but we don’t even have to go there!

One sin.  One.  That’s it.  That’s all it takes and we’ve done like the billions who have lived before us.  We’ve made ourselves enemies of God.  That’s what happens when God is holy and perfect.  He can’t stand sin.  He can’t tolerate it.  He wants no part in it.  And that’s part of the reason why He gave us the law: so we would know exactly what it is that we have to do to be His people.  But we made ourselves enemies of God.  And now we’re lost without Him.

For whatever reason, though, God always chose to start the cycle anew…so stick with me…

It’s to some of these various laws that Jesus speaks about in our gospel from Matthew.  We see Him continuing on with the Sermon on the Mount.  His audience is still His disciples.  They would have known clear well what the Old Testament laws stated.  And they would have been trying very hard to keep them.

And so He quotes one for them.  He goes back to Leviticus.  Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  Wait just a second.  For those of you sharp with your Bible knowledge: you don’t remember the second half about our enemies being in Leviticus?  Well, you’d be right.  In fact it isn’t in the Bible at all.  The teachers of the law had added to God’s law something sensible. It’s good to seek revenge, so let’s do that with our enemy.  They are our enemy, so we should hate them.  It just makes sense.  But then Jesus turns it.  Don’t even the tax collectors and Gentiles love those who love them?  The answer’s yes.  But it also hints to the disciples that more is expected of them.  And Jesus fills that hole.  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.  But that’s hard isn’t it?

Imagine the childhood bully.  That’s an image we can all think of.  The bully isn’t our friend.  He’s mean, beats us up, shoves us into lockers or trash cans, and then on top of that takes our lunch money so we have to starve.  He gets bigger, and we get weaker.  Or maybe the bully is a bit less than that, and just picks on you, with name-calling and such.  But does any wimpy kid like a bully?  We know how to hate our enemy.

This brings us back to the idea that we, as all those before us, made ourselves enemies of God.  Thankfully, He doesn’t treat His enemies like we do.  God kept on loving us.  After Adam and Eve sinned, He clothed them and spared their lives.  After slavery in Egypt, God brought His people out and gave them the land He had promised them.  And those who were exiled?  He destroyed Assyria in one night and crippledBabylonas well.  He restored His people and brought them back from their exile.

So God keeps the cycle alive.  Despite our failure, our sin, and our despising of God, He still loves us.  This love appears clearly in what He did for us.  He loved His enemies so much that He continues to provide.  He does all of this through His Son Jesus Christ.  We all know what Jesus did for us.  We know that He went to the cross and died in our place.  He went the extra mile and did away with our sins.  We were enemies of God, but because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can again live as children of God.

And that’s where Christ’s message in the gospel is going.  The entire Sermon on the Mount is about how the disciples are to act, how they are to live their lives.  And that itself is summed up in the final verse: “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  We know that God is perfect, and He truly expects nothing less of His children.  That’s what the Christian life is to look like.  But we still live in that cycle.  When we sin, God forgives us.  He chooses to keep us as His children rather than treat us as His enemies.

But just because we know that God will forgive us, that doesn’t mean we should go on sinning.  Instead, we are to strive to live the life God has given for us.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “[f]or we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We are God’s creatures and part of being His creatures is to do what He created us to do.

So, we should not only listen to the things Jesus has to say, but also do them.  In today’s lesson, we learn that we shouldn’t just love those who already love us, but also to love our enemies.  Essentially, to love everyone as God loves everyone.  Instead of cursing or insulting people who persecute us and treat us poorly, we should pray for them, praying for their wellbeing, and ultimately that they may be led to know Christ as we do.

Why should we love our enemies?  What’s the point?

There was a little girl who had a very large collection of dolls heaped on her bed. A guest in her room one day asked her “Do you love dolls?” Then, with tender, loving care, she spread out the whole collection for the guest to inspect and admire. The guest asked her, “Which doll do you love the most?”
She hesitated, then said, “Promise not to laugh if I tell you.” He promised. She picked a ragged doll with a broken nose whose hair had mostly come off, and one arm and leg were missing. “This one.”

“Why?” the visitor asked.
“Because if I didn’t love this one, nobody else would.”

That’s the love God has for us, for all of mankind.  And that’s also where we are, showing God’s love to our enemy.  By loving our enemy we are witnessing Christ to them.  Think about it.  Remember, or imagine, your greatest rival or a bitter enemy, and suddenly picture them acting nice to you and being helpful to you in the midst of the competition.  Why would they do such a thing?

Maybe you’ve heard the song “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  The title is the very point.  By seeing the way we act, they see the life of a Christian, something different than their own.  It forces them to ask the question; it forces them to wonder why.  And that opens the door for Christ.  They have the chance to no longer be enemies of God, but children, our own brothers and sisters in Christ.  That’s why God wants us to give up our enemies, so that as God loves us, we also love others.


Giving Up Superiority March 14, 2012

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John 4:5-42

Lent Midweek 4

March 14, 2012

Focus: God is the superior author of all things.

Function: That the hearers live humble lives of service.

Structure: Story/reflect


Giving Up Superiority


As I was preparing this week, I came across a story that I just have to share with you.  It’s about a man named Bill.  He has wild hair, likes to wear a T-shirt, jeans with holes in them and walk around barefoot. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.  He’s intelligent, a little shy, but very, very bright.

He became a Christian while attending college and across the street from the campus was a well-dressed, very conservative church. They’d been wanting to develop a ministry to the students, but just weren’t sure how to go about it.

So one day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find anywhere to sit. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.  Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right there on the carpet.  While that may be perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, it had never happened in this church before!

The people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.  About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon’s in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time before the deacon reaches the young man. The church is utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t feel alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister regains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you’ll never remember. What you’ve just seen, you’ll never forget.”

The congregation’s desire to minister to college students was a good, godly thing.  But their attitude toward college students was a road block.  As Bill walked up the aisle of the church, anyone could have scrunched a little tighter in their pew and given him a spot to sit down.  Instead, they were so concerned about the petty things, like clothing and appearance, and their own comfort, that they were afraid to reach out to Bill.

Oh, and did they ever expect the deacon to lay down the law, to put Bill in his place!  But instead, he removed the road block.  He paved the path for ministry.  He went out of his way, and certainly out of his comfort zone, to make Bill feel welcome at church.  He reached out, he started a relationship.

Did you get the same sense from our gospel lesson?  Did you notice what John’s concerns were in recounting the event?  Did you notice the things he thought his audience would be thinking about?  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior and Lord, went to Samaria.  And as He waited by the well for His disciples to return from the market, a woman approached to draw some water.

Your typical Jew would have done one of a couple things.  They might have hid their face avoiding any contact or conversation with the woman.  Or, they probably would have just walked off, not wanting to be around her.  But they wouldn’t have done what Jesus did.  In retelling her response, John identifies two problems.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  We see the first issue again, as the disciples returned and marveled that Jesus was speaking with a woman.  But John also pointed out that Jews want nothing to do with Samaritans.

Have you ever wondered why that is?  What is it about Samaritans that Jews don’t like?  Well, it stems from Old Testament history.  Samaritans are people from Samaria, which we see here on Jesus’ journey.  But Samaria was the capital city of Israel.  Now I don’t mean Israel as in God’s chosen people, but instead the split between Israel and Judah, when God’s people became two separate nations.  Samaria was Israel’s capital, and Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.  Israel was the first to fall, conquered by Assyria.  And though they were carted off into captivity, the Bible recalls that they never returned.  They never repented of their sinful ways.

Judah, however, is carried off a couple hundred years later by Babylon.  During their time in captivity, the Jews, the people of Judah, repent of their wickedness and God sends Cyrus, King of Persia to free them from their bondage.  The Jews returned home to their lands.

There are a couple pieces to this.  First, Jews and Samaritans were at war with each other almost constantly through the books of Kings.  But when you combine that with the fact that Judah returned and Israel didn’t, the Jews turned their bitter feelings toward Samaritans into superiority.  They felt they alone were God’s people.   And they lorded it over the Samaritans.  Not much different from how the Pharisees treated other Jews, especially the “known sinners.”

But like the deacon, Jesus didn’t let the culture around Him detract from His ministry.  He wasn’t about to let the opinions of men harm the soul of people.  Jesus reached out to a woman who was hurting.  He reached out to a sinner to offer her the gospel, the message of salvation that she, and her people, needed to hear.

This isn’t the only time Jesus ever broke society’s norms for the sake of the gospel.  Dining with tax collectors and prostitutes didn’t sit well with the Pharisees.  But He didn’t care.  He was building relationships as a means to share with them the message of salvation.  He didn’t let the Pharisees and the teachers of the law lord their superiority over Him.

God’s Word, and His message of salvation, are far more important and superior than any lines we draw in the sand, any distinctions we make among us.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve likely noticed that our Catholic brothers and sisters are being attacked a lot lately.  Not only because of the recent health care law, but they had another chance before them this week to uphold the superiority of God’s Word.

One of their parishioners, an elderly lady, died last week.  Maybe it was through knowing this woman, or through funeral planning, but one way or the other, the priest found out that her daughter was a lesbian.  When the day of the funeral came and communion began, the daughter approached the rail.  On Scriptural principles, believing her to be unrepentant of sin in her life, the priest denied her communion at her mother’s funeral.

Since word got out, the homosexual community and the media have combined to create a riot.  If it were some other sin that she was stuck in, the story probably wouldn’t have even hit the local papers, let alone gone national.  The Catholic church has since suspended the priest in question, citing other problems in his ministry as the cause of suspension.  But because of the timing of it, the family and homosexual community, however, see it as a victory.

The reason I bring this news to the table isn’t to single out one particular sin.  Rather, it’s an example of how even as Christians, we sometimes allow our own interests or values to replace Scripture.  Abortion and the new healthcare law is being twisted into a woman’s rights issue.  We blur the lines on how many drinks count as too many.  Or how many donuts for that matter.  We concede that it’s alright to miss church a couple times a month, to sleep in or run an errand.  We claim that we have more important things to do than spending time with God in prayer and in studying His Word.  And we allow the opinions of others, and our own feelings of being better than them, to stand in the way of befriending them and telling them about the Savior who died for them.

We should be thankful that Christ didn’t allow superiority to block His ministry, because He’s God.  He’s infinitely better than we are as lowly sinners.  But He came to us anyway.  He gave us the message of forgiveness, love and salvation.  And He nailed it up on the cross.  He gave up His superiority to give us life.

The Word of God is superior.  His law, His love, His gospel are the only real truth in our lives.  As we continue through Lent, as we continue preparing for the cross, we need to give up on our own superiority and instead focus on the relationships.  If we give up the importance of our own schedule, we’ll find the time to be in a real relationship with God in Word and prayer.  And if we humble ourselves, we’ll find that there are indeed a number of relationships available with people of all shapes, sizes, social standing and ethnicities.   Relationships like Bill and the deacon, like Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman, or like Jesus reaching out and saving us.

The Foolishness of God March 11, 2012

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1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Third Sunday in Lent

March 10-11, 2012

Focus: God saves those who believe.

Function: That the hearers boast in the Lord.

Structure: Walking through the text.


The Foolishness of God

            I know we’ve talked about this before, but I just can’t help but notice how common it is for us to divide our Scripture readings like this.  It’s that Greek word, “gar,” (gar), you know the one that sounds like a pirate grunting.  It means “for,” like in the famous verse John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  It’s that little conjunction that signals the purpose or the reason.  It tells you that it’s explaining whatever came before it.

And that’s where we’re at again this morning.  Our Epistle starts with a “gar,” with a “for.”  It’s important for us to think about things like this, because the Bible wasn’t meant to be read in little snippets.  Letters and books were to be read as a whole.  Without knowing who the author was writing to and why they were writing it, their purpose, and even their overall theme or message, without knowing these things, it’s easy to get the wrong idea or just not understand what we read.

When Mark wrote his gospel, it was meant to be read in one sitting.  If you read it aloud today, you can do so in about an hour.  That’s how it was intended.  In the same way, when Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in the church of Corinth, he expected them to hear the whole letter all at once.  The messenger who carried it to the church would read it to the people, because he would’ve known how to inflect his voice, to include anger or joy, sorrow or thanksgiving whatever Paul wanted to express.

So let’s frame what we know about the church in Corinth, about Paul writing to them.  Most of 1 Corinthians deals with the problems in Corinth.  Paul writes to them against their divisions.  He’s angry with them for the way they treat each other, for some of the specific sins he calls them out on, and for taking the Lord’s Supper in vain.  The letter as a whole has a lot of correction in it.  Paul encourages them to be united as one body of believers, just as Christ is only one body.  He encourages them to live lives that glorify God and points them to the resurrection and to life.

But he does all of this in a framework.  See Paul starts the letter by reminding them of his qualifications.  They can’t just throw the letter out saying he has no authority to correct them.  He’s called by God as an apostle of Christ.  He’s speaking to a church, called as saints, sanctified in Christ, to people who call on the name of Jesus as their Lord.  And then he gives thanks for all of them.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


So Paul starts out by affirming his relationship with them and their relationship with God.  And then he admonishes them that they would all agree, being of the same mind and judgment, with no divisions among them.  He had heard that they were divided.  Some following Paul, others Apollos, some Cephas, and others Christ.  He reminded them that they were in fact all baptized into Christ.  They are all followers of Christ and no one else.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

And now we’ve reached our text for today.  The word of the cross, the message of the cross, is folly, foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who don’t believe.  It just doesn’t make sense.  What good is the death of a man?  How can the execution of a man be good?  And if He really was God, how could He die?

The wise of this world, the intelligent, the scholars, the debaters, all of this world’s finest, are made nothing before God.  All of our best is nothing but foolishness.  Paul noted how the Jews were demanding signs, and the Greeks were seeking wisdom or searching philosophy for the answers.   We still see it today, as people try to use their reasoning skills and logic to figure out everything about life and this world.

Many of the intellectual elite rule out God’s existence altogether simply because it doesn’t make sense to them.  And for many more science has become a religion.  Theories of Darwinism and evolution are declared “fact,” despite the real fact that science, given enough time, typically moves forward by disproving itself.  The world isn’t flat, it isn’t the center of the universe.  And from those discoveries we’ve learned more about our solar system.  We’re still learning.  But we’ll never be able to understand God by our own power.

Which is why Paul said “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  There’s the message that God actually has for His people.  The message of the cross.  That in our sin, we failed God, we fell short of perfection.  We deserve nothing more than His wrath and the fiery gates of hell.  But that’s not God’s will.  To save us from ourselves, God sent His Son Jesus Christ down into the very midst of our imperfection.  And it’s through His death on the cross that our sins are forgiven.  Christ is the atoning sacrifice.  A neat way to remember what that word means is to break it up.  To atone is to make “at one” with something.  To restore a relationship. By Christ’s sacrifice, He made us “at one” with God.  Our relationship is restored.  We are His children, forgiven and saved.

As Christians, those blessed with faith by the Holy Spirit, the message of the cross is the power of God.  The cross is His work, not ours.  It’s His sacrifice that brings us back, that restores us to Him, not something we do.  It’s the power of God because it relies entirely on Him.

But it’s a message that doesn’t make sense.  The cross of Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  Christ, the Messiah, is a stumbling block to Jews, because He’s not the messiah they expected.  They wanted a military man who could conquer the world for them.  Instead they got the cross.  It just doesn’t make sense in the way mankind thinks and operates.

That’s why Paul says what he does.  “For,” gar, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  See, often when we hear that phrase, we get stuck trying to figure out how God can be foolish and weak.  He’s perfect, He’s holy, how can it be?  Is it hypothetical?  Is it, if God were foolish, He’d still be wiser than us?  Not at all.  The foolishness and weakness of God is the cross.  It’s the stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  That the Son of God could and would die on the cross for our sins.

But Paul wasn’t done setting the framework of this letter.  He tells them to consider where they come from.  God didn’t pick the rich, the wise, or the noblemen of the world.  There was a point to make, an example to set.  It’s like when Jesus ate with the sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors.  He ate would those who would believe.  He knew the Pharisees were too arrogant, too hard of heart, to listen to His words.  The wise and powerful of this world feel above God.  They think they don’t need God at all.

Instead, it’s all the power of God.  Everything that was, and is, and is to come, everything is from God.  He created the world, the universe, night and day, moon and stars, plants and animals, and mankind.  He breathed life into us.  But with the fall, man separated themselves from God, they chose to no longer be in a relationship with Him.  So we have no reason to prideful or to boast of our own doing.  We bring nothing but sin into our relationship with God.  Rather, we receive all that is good, we receive all of our blessings from Him.

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  The cross is the power of God given for us.

We won’t go into much more detail, but just to conclude our understanding of how Paul frames this letter, he admits that in his time among them he shared the message that needed to be heard, “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  And he told them that that is the secret and hidden wisdom of God, the things that God has revealed to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the faith He created in us.  Now that we are children of God, “we might understand the things freely given us by God.”  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Giving Up Expectations March 7, 2012

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Genesis 12:1-4a

Lent Midweek 3

March 7, 2012

Focus: God always takes care of His people.

Function: That the hearers stop expecting their lives to go as they planned.

Structure: Problem…solution.

Giving Up Expectations

            Christian author Max Lucado once noted that “we all have a way of completing this sentence: ‘If God is God, then….’  ‘There will be no financial collapse in my family.  My children will never be buried before me.  People will treat me fairly.  This church will never divide.  My prayers will be answered.’ And when these expectations go unmet doubt sets in.  We tell God show me and I’ll believe, He says believe and I’ll show you.”

Expectations are a major part of this world.  There isn’t a time that goes by when things aren’t expected of you.  Before you’re even born, there’s the expectation that you’ll be a boy, or a girl, that you’ll be healthy, that there won’t be any problems.  You’re expected to crawl, walk, and be potty-trained by a certain age.  And once school starts, then there’s expectations.  You’re expected to excel, to get good grades, to outdo your classmates.  You’re expected to finish school, go to college, and get a job.

Parents expect their children to follow the rules, to be responsible, and to take care of them later in life.  And what about those expectations that young couples have as they’re dating or engaged.  When they fall in love, they “know” how marriage will be.  How many couples sit through pre-marital counseling, or skip it altogether, thinking everything is going to be wonderful, because they’re madly in love.  For those in here who are married, what happens after the honeymoon?  What happens when you start to learn that the spouse you love is actually a sinner?  How’d those expectations turn out?

These are all worldly things.  Things that come and go.  But what about our expectations for ourselves?  As Max Lucado penned, we set ourselves up expecting the best of this world.  Did you know that high school and college students still expect on average to have a job when they graduate, one that will pay them a six figure salary?  They expect to step into the comfortable life that they’ve been living recently with mom and dad, forgetting that mom and dad had to work a long time to achieve that standard.

We have expectations of everything.  I expect you to pay attention to my sermon.  You expect me to deliver God’s Word and Gospel in a way that makes sense and is beneficial for you.  I pray that God works through me to meet that expectation.

And then there’s our expectations of God.  When things don’t go as planned, how often do we get angry with God?  Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, or you got fired at work, or you totaled your car; whatever it may be, why do we expect God to make our lives perfect?  Sometimes we need to remember that Jesus told His disciples they would be persecuted and suffer greatly for following Him.  So why do so many Christians now believe that God wants them to be rich in this world?

As we turn to our text from today, what expectations do you think Abraham had for his life?  I know it’s hard to do, but put yourself in his shoes.  You’re a young man; most of life is still ahead of you.  And then one day, God comes down and tells you that He has a plan for you.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abraham, leave behind everything you have, everything you’ve ever known, and follow Me.  That’s the essence of what God said to Abraham that day.  And it’s similar to how Christ called His disciples.  Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.

Abraham responded the way God knew He would.  “So Abram went, as Yahweh had told him, and Lot went with him.”  Similarly, the disciples left their nets, their boats, their families, and followed Jesus when He called.  A casual reader of the Old Testament knows how Abraham’s life turned out.  He became rich in terms of those days.  His offspring filled the earth, and he can count Jesus Himself among his descendants.  He also lived a long life, dying at the ripe old age of 175.

But the casual reader of the New Testament knows the disciples did not meet the same end.  As Jesus told them, they paid the price for following Him.  They were persecuted, beaten, imprisoned.  They suffered much in their lives.  All but one was killed for being a disciple of Christ.

And what about what the Jews expected of their Messiah?  They expected a king, one who would overthrow Rome.  They expected Him to set up His kingdom in their midst, and that they would then live these perfect lives, filled with peace, prosperity, all you could dream of.

But how did the Messiah come?  When He rode into Jerusalem, did He have an army with Him?  No.  He rode in on a colt, nothing more than a young donkey.  And when He was before Pontius Pilate, did He strike Him down to claim His victory?  No.  Instead, He allowed Himself to be struck.

And as Jesus told Nicodemus in our gospel today, just “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  Back in Moses’ day, when the people sinned wildly in the wilderness, a plague of serpents befell them.  And as the people were bitten, fell sick, and started dying, Moses went before God on their behalf.  God instructed him to take a snake and to mount it on a standard, or a wood pole like armies used to carry around bearing their flag.  So Moses did, and when the people looked upon the serpent, they were healed, they lived.

So it is with Christ.  He didn’t come to meet our expectations of Him.  Rather, He came to do what needed to be done by Him.  As the people in the wilderness sinned, so did all mankind, you and I included.  And as God once offered a temporary solution in the serpent on the standard, He offered a permanent solution when Christ was hung upon the cross.

Therefore, when we look upon the Son of God, when we believe in Him through the faith that God has given to us in our baptisms, when we partake of His body and His blood at the Lord’s Supper, we are healed; we are forgiven; we live.

More often than not, when we set our expectations, we set them too high.  Sometimes we don’t even set them with the right priorities or beliefs.  As we go about this Lenten season, give up your expectations.  Now that could include expectations of your lifestyle or worldly things, but I’m primarily talking about your expectation of what life and God have in store for you.

Don’t try to figure out God’s master plan.  Don’t aim to know what God has in store for you.  As humans, we’re simply limited in our understanding.  The more we concern ourselves with things we can’t understand or things that leave us worrying about the future, the less we actually are able to live as God’s children.

When you fail to trust in God to take care of you, when you take your eyes off the present, you miss the opportunity to live.  You miss the chance to serve God by helping others.  You miss opportunities to share the message of salvation which Jesus gave for all people.  But you also miss the opportunity to truly see all that God has blessed you with.  You miss out on the gift of forgiveness, that your sins are no more.  You miss out on the loving brothers and sisters God has surrounded you with.  And you miss out on seeing His love for you, a love so great “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Cast aside your expectations, and instead trust in God and count the blessings He’s already given you.