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The Righteous and the Wicked July 28, 2013

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Genesis 18:20-33

 Proper 12

July 27-28, 2013

Focus: God is concerned about His creation.

Function: That the hearers live more fully as the disciples of the Lord.

Structure: Controlling metaphor.

 

JJ

The Righteous and the Wicked

“Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked,” (Gen. 18:25a)

            I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling. As each day passes, it gets harder and harder, I feel further and further removed.  And I’m not alone.  The NHL Lockout draws on.  It’s the third work stoppage in the last twenty years.  It doesn’t matter to us fans which side is right.  We just want hockey…I mean, the Blues were supposed to be good this year!

But as each day passes, more and more fans are disappearing.  They’ve stopped caring.  We’ve already been through this…last year it was the NFL and the NBA.  This year, it was the replacement refs.  These things are becoming too normal…will we ever see hockey again?  Will there be a sport left at all?  It’s beginning to feel like a lost cause.  We need a negotiator, now!!!

Alright, so what’s hockey got to do with Abraham?  You see, the situation was a lost cause.  Sodom and Gomorrah…who cares?  The people who lived there were nothing short of wicked and wretched.  Their sins were too numerous to count.  You can probably recall what the men tried to do to the angels who stayed with Lot that night.  Wicked people.

The oddest part is they didn’t even know it.  They had no clue what Yahweh was about to do to them.  They were blind to their sins, apathetic to their need for a savior.  Why would you need a savior if everything seemed status quo?  They had no idea what Yahweh was about to rain down on them.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah needed a negotiator more than they could ever know.  And one came.  Abraham stood on their behalf.  He stood up to God, trying to save those cities despite their wickedness.  “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing!”

And he pleads God down all the way to just ten righteous people to save both those treacherous cities.  He doesn’t ask Yahweh to spare only the righteous.  He doesn’t ask God to remove the righteous from the judgment.    He tries to work out a deal for everyone.

That’s what negotiators do.  Generally speaking, they are neutral parties who try to find a middle ground.  They try to intercede and come up with a solution that works for everyone involved.

Genesis has other examples of negotiators, of people who are willing to intercede.  When Joseph’s brothers were seeking to kill him, how did he survive?  Was it his own doing?  No, but rather his brother Reuben stepped in on his behalf.  Granted, Reuben had some selfish motivations.  And what about when the brothers visit Joseph in Egypt to acquire food to survive the famine?  Judah finds himself negotiating between Joseph and his father Jacob.

Think back to the last time you went on a vacation.  We all need those times away to recuperate, rest, and reenergize.  Vacations are supposed to be fun!  But the planning isn’t always enjoyable.  I have searched around for plane tickets, hotel rooms, you name it.  When you start adding up all the costs of that relaxing trip, the dollar figures can easily become astronomical!  It begins to feel like a lost cause.

And then, in steps William Shatner???  The “Negotiator?”  In he steps to save you money.  He negotiates the rates for you, lowering the price you pay and helping hotels and airlines fill rooms and seats that may have been empty otherwise.  The deal is a win for both sides.

Unfortunately, Abraham didn’t save anyone money.  He didn’t save anyone.  His attempts to negotiate failed to save Sodom and Gomorrah.  Yahweh came to the table, He had the discussion, but in the end, there was nothing there to be saved.  Just that small little remnant.  Just Lot, his wife, and two daughters.  Abraham had negotiated God all the way down to ten righteous people needed to save both of the cities.  But only four survive.  Only a select few were seen as righteous.  Sodom and Gomorrah were a lost cause.

God’s judgment of the wicked often escapes our minds.  We don’t bother thinking about it.  For many of us, we have become comfortable in the lives we are living.  We have found normal and we like it.

Life has its rough sides.  Busyness seems inevitable.  We develop routines and strategies to live our lives.  We schedule ourselves so tight there’s hardly room to breathe.  Slowly, but surely, we become blind and apathetic.  We lose sight of who God calls us to be.  Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the idea of being God’s people, living a life pleasing to Him, isn’t even on the radar six days a week.

Whether it’s Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham that we’d be His people or the covenant with Moses, complete with the Ten Commandments, we come up short.  We’re a lost cause.  We enjoy the sexual promiscuity and greed of our culture.  We are quick to gossip, lie and cheat.  And we’re even quicker to put things like work, food, and entertainment in front of God.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are wicked.

There are certainly times when you and I are wicked, when we fall short.  There are days when we give in to temptation and get trapped in our sins.  There are moments where we get so caught up in it all, that we stop caring.  We become apathetic, blinded to the law and the things God uses to protect us.  Like Sodom and Gomorrah, we fail to even realize that we need a negotiator!

But, just as Abraham negotiated on behalf of a people who didn’t even know what was coming, we also have a negotiator.  Paul tells as much in his first letter to Timothy: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”  Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, stepped in on our behalf.

Jesus, the Righteous One, went to the cross.  There was no wickedness in Him.  And certainly no apathy.  He cared for us so much that He went to the table.  In His bleeding, suffering, and dying on the cross, He struck a deal between God and us.  He died for you, so that you would be restored, that you would be made righteous before the eyes of God.  So that you would live.

And even more, through His resurrection, our negotiator lives!  The author of the letter to the Hebrews proclaims: “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant.”  His work as our negotiator is ongoing.  Right up through the Last Day, that point of final judgment, Jesus Christ will be acting on our behalf, continuing to restore and redeem the relationship we have with Yahweh.

Our negotiator gave up everything for us.  But in doing so, He also left us with a short list of things to do.  First, love the Lord your God.  In other words, stay in the relationship that Jesus just restored.  And second, love your neighbor as yourself.  We are asked to share God’s love, to share this spectacular deal with everyone around us.  Because, like Abraham, Jesus didn’t just negotiate for the righteous, but for everyone.  A deal has been struck.  You are saved.  Now share the good news!

SDG

The Kingdom of God has Come Near July 7, 2013

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Luke 10:1-20

Proper 9

July 7th, 2013

Focus: God has brought about His kingdom among us.

Function: That the hearers rejoice that their names are written in heaven.

Structure: .

 

For weeks now, you’ve been waiting.  Ever since Call Day on May 1st, when you found out that St. John’s would get another pastor, there’s been a sense of excitement around the congregation.  There’s a hope that he would bring something new, new ideas, new insights, new talents, and that through him the ministry of this congregation would spread even further, reaching out all the more into the community of Stewartville.  And for the past two months, Pastor Fritsch has been preparing you for the ordination and installation of this new pastor.

That time has come.  The services of ordination and installation proved to be an exciting day, one that was a blessing to Hannah and me and we pray to all of you as well.  And we thank you for everything you have done for us already, for the choir that sang and for the meal, for the moving help and for the cards and gifts, and just for such a warm welcome into your community.  The time has come; we’re here!

Throughout history, God’s people have been waiting with excitement for something, too.  From as early on as Genesis 3, right at the time of the fall itself, we see references to a coming a Messiah, a Savior who would restore the kingdom of God.  Looking through the Old Testament, you can see the ebb and flow of excitement.  Israel certainly had her ups and downs when it came to being faithful.  There were times when the people trusted and followed Yahweh their God; but there were also times when they forgot who He was altogether.

A look through the prophets will reveal dozens if not hundreds of prophecies regarding Christ the Messiah.  Our Old Testament reading today from the prophet Isaiah is just one example.  “For you will nurse and be satisfied…you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance…I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream…the hand of Yahweh will be made known to His servants, but His fury will be shown to His foes.”

Promises…promises of wealth and abundance, comfort and rejoicing.  God Himself promising to comfort His people and make them flourish like grass.  With all the rain the past few months, we’ve seen grass flourish.  To a poor people enslaved and in exile, these promises were a lifeboat of excitement and hope.  The Messiah couldn’t come soon enough.

When we look at it from that viewpoint, it’s a little easier to understand why the people misunderstood what their Savior would do when He came.  In a world of kings and conquering armies, they expected the same.  They were excited and sought liberation from persecution.  For this reason, there are some Jews today who are still waiting and other Jews who have lost hope.

But the long anticipated Messiah did come.  Jesus Christ, Son of God, took on flesh and became man.  The Savior came to set His people free, free from sin and death, free from the powers of Satan and his demons who constantly torture and tempt us in our flesh.  He came working miracles among the towns, miracles of healing, exorcising demons, and even raising the dead.

To us, everything is clear in hindsight, right?  We know that Jesus is our Savior.  We read the Old Testament prophecies and we know what they mean.  We know that He came not bearing the sword, but instead in humility and mercy.  He came to heal the sick, not overthrow governments.  He came to forgive sins, not conquer armies.

Jesus came bearing a message.  The kingdom of God has come near.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

 

The kingdom of God has come near.  This is the message that John the Baptist used to prepare the way for Jesus.  It’s the message Jesus sent the disciples out to share with everyone around them.  It’s the message that Christ Himself came to deliver and came to die for.

But what does this message mean?  Some say it means Jesus came to earth and took on flesh.  But, there’s more to it than that.  Other smart and faithful Christians say it’s that Jesus came, took on flesh, died and rose again to forgive us our sins.  And, while that’s certainly true, it too comes up short.  The kingdom of God is near means that Christ came, and not only died for our sins, but He came to restore all of God’s creation back to God’s rule and authority.

We see the reign of God restored in so much of what Jesus and even His disciples do.  Jesus rebukes the storm, and it obeys Him.  Jesus casts out a legion of demons, and they flee before Him.  The demons even obey the disciples at Jesus’ command.  The kingdom of God is just that: His reign over His creation, which most definitely includes what Jesus did for us 2000 years ago at Calvary.

But, we might want to argue, 2000 years have passed since Jesus died proclaiming this message.  And here we are still fighting against the flesh, still struggling against Satan, still toiling with temptation.  What gives?!  It’s a matter of now and not yet.

That’s a phrase you’ll probably hear me say a lot, if Pastor Fritsch doesn’t already.  It simply applies so deeply to our theology.  You’re living through a now and not yet with me right now.  All of the excitement and build up to my arrival has led us to this point.  It’s happened, we’re here now!  But is this really it?  I would show you a picture of what the inside of our new home here in Stewartville looks like, but I don’t think Hannah would appreciate me showing everyone our clutter and mess.  I’ve met most of you, but it will take me some time to learn your names and eventually develop relationships with you that go beyond just these walls on Sunday morning.  I have ideas for things that we can do as a church, ways to build upon the ministry that God is already doing in this place through you, His people.  You see, it’s a work in progress, a now and not yet.

Now and not yet’s run throughout the Bible.  When the prophets prophesied, they often had a present meaning and a future meaning.  A prophecy could be fulfilled in its time but also in the future.  In a similar way, the kingdom of God among us is a now and not yet.  The kingdom of God is here among us, and yet we await its glorious, ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns on the Last Day.

Luther’s famous idiom, simultaneously saint and sinner, is a now and not yet and also a look into what the kingdom of God really is.  Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our sins are forgiven.  Through His resurrection, we too are being raised to a new life.  We are justified, we are sanctified.  We are set free.  It’s a present reality.  And yet, it has a true fulfillment that still lies ahead of us on the Last Day when our bodies are raised to be with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forevermore.  No more sorrow, no more sin, no more death.

This can be a problem for us.  Maybe in the time of waiting for your new pastor, you experienced this.  The longer you have to wait for something, the more likely it is that the excitement can start to fade away.  In time, it can wither away completely.  Waiting can also bring a sense of disappoint.  Maybe I won’t live up to your expectations.  Hopefully part of Pastor Fritsch’s preparation included forgiving me when I make mistakes.  I’m a saint and sinner, after all.

Maybe you forget altogether like the Jews.  In these generations that have passed since Christ lived among us, how many have strayed from the faith because they grew tired of waiting?  And when the excitement wears out, how many of us lose the will to fight?  How often do we do the little things that go along with being a part of the kingdom of God?  Do we carry each other’s burdens?  Do we forgive people when they sin against us or do we hold a grudge for days, weeks, or even years?

What is it then that we are to do as we await the not yet part of the kingdom, of our sanctification, of what God has done for us?  That’s the final message we get from Jesus in our gospel today.  When the disciples come excited at the fact that demons obey them, Jesus doesn’t congratulate them or even encourage them.  Instead, He gently corrects them, as their Messiah, bringing them back to the one thing that matters for them.  Jesus tells them to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There are many ways to rejoice in our salvation.  We rejoice by joining together here in God’s house as we pray, praise and give thanks to Him for the gifts that He blesses us with.  We rejoice by living out our lives as part of the kingdom of God.  The Apostle Paul shows us what this looks like: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  We rejoice by living in the excitement of the now and not yet as we await the day when Christ returns.  We rejoice in our homes and with our families by praying, praising, and thanking God for making us a part of His kingdom.