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The Eternal Gospel October 27, 2013

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Romans 3:19-28

Reformation Sunday

October 27th, 2013

Focus: God gave His Son so that we might be saved by faith not works.

Function: That the hearers share the treasure that is the eternal gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Structure: Plowing through the text.

The Eternal Gospel

We begin today on a journey, a journey that takes us back a long time ago in a place far, far away.  A journey across the ocean to 16th century Germany, some 500 years ago.

We must strip away the world we currently live in.  Strip away the electronics and lights, replacing them with torches, candles, and oil lanterns.  Strip away the paved roads and dry-walled interiors, replacing them with cobblestone, dirt, bricks and mortar.  Strip away the skyscrapers, cubicles, and John Deere equipment, replacing them with farmland, plowhorses, and wells of water.  My O my, how times have changed!

We find ourselves now in a monastery, the home of monks.  This particular monastery is known to the people as the Black Cloister in Wittenberg, Vittenbaerg, home of the Augustinian monks.  These men spent their days isolated, alone in their thoughts and prayer.  When they weren’t busy with prayer or fasting, they often found themselves doing labor, upkeep on the monastery, like scrubbing floors, patching mortar or the roof. Whatever was needed.

There was only one church at the time, the Catholic church led by the Pope.  The teaching of Christianity was that you had to achieve perfection.  We are unrighteous sinners trying to reach a righteous God, a righteous God who punishes and condemns unrighteous sinners.  Following God’s law to the letter was how you became righteous or holy.  Perfect keeping of the law equals salvation.  This is why monasteries were often full, as these men fled the normal life and spent their days striving for perfection.

Our journey leads us to one monk in particular.  Despite living in the Black Cloister, this man also served as a priest and professor of theology at the local University of Wittenberg.  But his life was a struggle.  We have found a man who loved and hated God at the same time.  He loved God for the gift of creation and life, and yet hated Him because He was a righteous God who condemned sinners.

That daily struggle to achieve perfection and righteousness led him into despair.  He knew he wasn’t perfect despite all his efforts.  He still fell short of what God demands of us.  In his mind, he would be struck down by the righteousness of God.  Whenever he saw the words “righteousness of God” in Scripture, he said that it “struck my conscience like lightning,” that it “was like a thunderbolt in my heart.”  He was terrified of the righteousness of God.

Then one day, he was sitting in his study in the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg Germany.  He was reading the Bible as the sun rose and the morning light began to fill his room.  He was reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Our monk had read this verse many times.  But the phrase “righteousness of God” had always filled his heart with so much terror, it clouded his mind, and he could only think about the righteous God who punishes sinners.  But not this day.  Thanks be to the Holy Spirit!  This day, he read it in a new light.  He focused on the words, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  After meditating on these words day and night, he had what he would later describe as a conversion experience.

The righteousness of God was not talking about the demands of perfection, but the righteousness of God was talking about what God gives to us freely through faith in Jesus Christ.  In seminaries today, this is still taught.  There are two kinds of righteousness.  There is an active righteousness, or a horizontal righteousness that describes what we do, how we live, the way we treat others.  In a sense, this is the perfection, the law demanded of us.  That we love our neighbor as ourselves.

But that’s first set up by passive righteousness, or vertical righteousness, that is, the relationship between God and man.  Passive means we do nothing.  We’re righteous because God made us righteous.  It’s His gift, He does the work.  We don’t earn it.  That’s the gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

With this being Reformation Sunday, I hope you have figured out where that little journey just took us.  The Reformation that began in 1517, didn’t start with a Papal decree, or the preaching of indulgences by priests like Johann Tetzel.  It didn’t even truly begin with the 95 Theses being nailed to the doors of the Castle Church of Wittenberg.  The Reformation began with one man sitting alone in his study, reading the word of God at dawn.  We could probably all learn from that example!  The Reformation began when Martin Luther rediscovered the eternal gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a gospel which the church had lost long ago.

In talking about this conversion experience in that tower, of the gift of righteousness in Christ, Luther said that he “was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates…that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.”  While he once questioned his ability to GET saved, he was now certain that because of Christ, he would BE saved.

Don’t underestimate that difference.  The matter of who does the work is extremely important.  If salvation depends on us, we’d join Martin in despair and agony as we strived to reach perfection, only to find ourselves in Paul’s words “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that “the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.”

But if righteousness and salvation are God’s work, His doing, then we “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”  Propitiation is a strange looking word, but a beautiful word.  It means to make someone favorably inclined, to appease someone, or to reconcile.  Jesus’ work propitiates, atones, reconciles us to God.  That is, it makes us favorable to God.  We were once “very good” before sin entered the world.  Now, through the blood of Christ, we are again “very good” in the eyes of God.  But it’s a gift, not something we earn.  That’s why Paul says that we “hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

This concept, that God does the work, is why we look at sacraments the way we do.  If we had to the work, we wouldn’t baptize infants.  But God does the work, He creates faith, and in the waters of baptism, He claims that child as His own.  That’s why we do it.  And if the Lord’s Supper depended on us, we might take it just once a year.  We might think that we don’t need it.  We certainly wouldn’t connect it to forgiveness because we’d be too busy trying to reach perfection.  But it’s a gift of God.  He does the work.  He forgives our sins and brings us closer to Him.  That’s why we can celebrate as often as possible.  That’s why we could have it every day if we wanted, because God is doing the work, He’s forgiving us.

This isn’t the first time in church history that the gospel has been lost, that the Word of God has been lost.  There are plenty of cultures around us today that have lost the gospel, and ours is headed that way.  The people of Judah in the Old Testament had forgotten so completely, that we get the account of King Josiah.  One day the priest Hilkiah was collecting money at the temple and stumbled upon the Book of Moses, what we know as the first five books of the Bible.  God’s Word had been lost and forgotten.  But after reading it, Josiah helped his people return to God.

But that’s the thing.  The Word of God may be lost sometimes, as it’s been before.  But it’ll never be completely lost.  God’s message of salvation can’t be lost forever.  This is the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.  This is the gospel that sent Luther head first into a reformation.  This is the gospel, the good news of salvation for all who hear it.  This is the gospel that the apostle John was talking about in his vision, the eternal gospel that is to be shared.

God chose to work through His creation to share the gospel.  He uses angels, He uses us, at one point, Jesus even says that God could raise up children for Abraham out of the stones of the earth to proclaim the good news if the people wouldn’t.  This is the message of God for salvation, the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

As we celebrate today the 496th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate the rediscovery of the eternal gospel, that God didn’t let it disappear forever.  But we also celebrate that the gospel is still among us, with us.   We celebrate that by sharing the gospel, the message of good news, the power of God for salvation.  If we don’t, God may well rise up some rocks, because His gospel will never die.  It is the eternal gospel that we are “to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

Family Ministry Sunday October 7, 2013

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Joshua 24:13-18

Family Ministry Sunday

September 22, 2013

Focus: God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Function: That the hearers actively engage in faith talk in their homes.

Structure: This is the problem…here is the response of God’s Word.

 

Family Ministry Sunday

            It was just a few weeks ago here at St. John’s on a Thursday night.  We had a visiting family, sitting in the back right over there.  When I saw their three little kids, I knew it meant we would do the children’s sermon that night.  Maybe you remember that one…when Jesus was talking about the narrow door.  So I asked the kids, what was that narrow door?  The oldest, a kindergartener, responded that Jesus was talking about the way we get to heaven.  Blew my mind.  She was right.  What was that family doing at home?  What can we learn from them?

With school starting up again, Christian education is our theme for this month.  And what was going on with that young family fits that theme.  We’re talking about Christian education.  We’re talking about family ministry.  That’s part of my call here at St. John’s.  That’s part of what you’ve called me here to do.  And it most definitely involves each of you.

As I prepared to graduate, I was interviewed by several churches.  Hannah and I are thrilled and thankful to be here with you all in Stewartville.  But of the eight churches, family ministry was the hot topic.  By and large, it’s why they were looking for someone.  The strangest part about it though, is most of them had no clue what it meant.  So that makes it fitting in our education month, to lay the foundation for family ministry here at St. John’s.

And let me start that with a disclaimer.  If you’re single, widowed, empty-nesters, retired, or anything other than the typical American family, don’t tune me out.  Since when does America get to define the church’s words?  Family isn’t limited to a mom, dad and two and half kids.  One pastor I know gave up fighting over words and calls his ministry now “faith at home.”  But we don’t need to do that.  We’ve got it right here at St. John’s.  You know what family really means.  Just look at your worship folder, at our mission statement: Serving as God’s family: Sharing His Love, Telling His Story.  God’s family….that includes each and every one of us.  So don’t think I’m not called here to serve you, because I’m still your pastor, no matter which group you fit into!

Family ministry is a really new category in the past two decades.  But where did it come from?  Why are we talking about it at all?  What’s happening in the church, what problems are we facing that we’ve added a new category to ministry?  You don’t have to look too far.

To our older generation, what do you think of today’s families?  What do you think of what you see in America now?  It’s deteriorating fast isn’t it?  Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.  Children are being raised in broken homes, missing one if not both parents.  Add to that the new laws in our country about marriage, and we’re a mess.  But, we’re not that far removed from the days when people didn’t think like this.

Churches are seeking young pastors, hoping their youth is the answer to putting other young people back in the pews.  They’re trying whatever they can to stop kids from viewing confirmation as graduation from church, and never coming back.  Dave is trying to work with our high schoolers and college students so that they don’t walk away from their faith because the world tells them it’s all a sham, nothing but lies to get them to behave.  The average age of an LCMS Lutheran today is 61 years old.  And our church membership as a Synod has fallen by over half a million in the past ten years.

These are some of the problems that the church is looking to family ministers to solve.  And they have identified the root problem!  We now know what’s causing these problems for the church.  It’s called sin.  Simply put, sin is a separation from God.  But sin is also rebellion, a rebellion against the way God has designed us to be.  Whether you’re doing things you shouldn’t be, or not doing the things you should be, we’re rebelling against God’s design.

That’s something the world today can’t stand to think about.  They can’t stand the idea that there’s a Creator, someone who not only made them, but also made them to be a certain way.  They can’t stand the thought He has a design and a plan for not only how the world works, but for us as well.  And they certainly don’t want anyone holding them accountable to such a design.

But for those people, they have no idea what they’re missing out on.  Paul says it well in his first letter to Timothy, “for God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  And from the very beginning, God already knew how He’d make that happen.  He already had a plan, a design for how He would save His people.

From as early as Genesis 3, we learn about the Christ, the Messiah who would come to save us from our sin.  We learn about Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross restored our relationship with God.  By His blood, our sins are washed clean.  By His resurrection, Christ prepared the way for us to everlasting life.  And through His rising from the dead, we too will rise again to be with Him.

This is God’s plan, how He’s designed it to work.  That despite our sin, He would restore us and bring us back to Him.  And He left out no detail.  In our Scriptures today, God tells us how to carry out His design.  Genesis 18, Joshua 24, and Ephesian 6, among many other places, tell us how God designed mankind so that the faith would be passed on.  So that from generation to generation, the name of God would be praised, and the faith in Christ would be shared.

Parents pass on the faith to their children.  Faith is taught and nurtured in the context of families, households.  I mentioned earlier that family ministers had found the root of the problem, that it’s sin, the rebellion against God’s design.  Well, they’ve done their research.  They’ve found that only 10% of Christian homes talk about God.  One out of ten homes actually talks about their faith with one another.  That’s rebellion against God’s design.

We see it in our church today.  The home is no longer the place where faith is passed on.  It’s been given to the church to do.  Back in the day when public schools weren’t common in America, kids worked all week long, only getting Sunday off.  So the church came up with a great a community outreach program. The church brought the kids into the congregation by teaching them the basics of education, reading, writing, math, so they could function in the world.  They called it Sunday School.  Look at how that has shifted.  Now, not only is it just religious instruction, but it’s often the only God talk these kids get all week.

The same goes for confirmation.  Martin Luther’s Small Catechism wasn’t for 7th and 8th graders to learn at church.  It says specifically, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”  It was a tool designed to help parents teach their children the faith, to pass it on from one generation to the next.

Now singles and empty nesters and everyone else, I told you not to tune out.  The Bible is very clear: Christ is to be the center of every home.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have kids.  Or a spouse.  If it’s just you or a few, Christ is to be there.  What are you doing in your home?  Is it set up so that you can deepen your relationship with God, strengthening your faith through Word and prayer?  Or is it merely another outlet for personal entertainment?

This is what family ministry is trying to tackle.  This is the move they’re calling for: to put Christ back into the center of every home.  As a church then, it asks us to look at everything we do a certain way.  Like a business does with their mission statement, we are to look at everything we do and see if actually helps put Christ back into the home.  If it doesn’t, how can we tweak it?  We’re not calling for blowing up Sunday School or eradicating confirmation, even if that would make my class happy.

Instead, we want to begin to ask the questions: “How does this program equip parents to teach the faith to their children?”  “How does the way we are scheduling things here at church impact our homes?”  “Can we take what we are already doing and make it more family-oriented?” or “How does our worship style encourage people to live out their faith at home?”

St. John’s is off to a good start in some areas, compared to our sister churches.  I’ll tell you, it’s fantastic that we don’t have a worship service at the same time as Bible class and Sunday School.  What would that teach?  It would only show that getting to know God’s Word isn’t important.  And I also applaud you for not having a nursery.  Children learn by imitating, and they develop the most from birth to age six.  To have them here in worship during that time is paramount.  They learn by watching.  They learn how to behave, how to use the hymnal, how to pray, how to give an offering.  They see the value of the Lord’s Supper, and of going to worship as a family.  So if a visitor walks in the door and asks you where the nursery is, simply tell them that we don’t have one because we want their kid in the pew.  Offer to sit with them if they seem like they’ll need help with some crazy kids.  But what a blessing we have to share.

Now there are other areas we can work on.  That’s why I’m here, to bring new ideas.  It’s also part of being a community, that we’re constantly growing together.  We welcome your thoughts and ideas for what you’d like to see as we move forward together.  If you’re single, could we do a Bible study sometime on the blessings of singleness?  Paul talks that way!  For our older generations, you have so much wisdom and a colorful account of your faith that you could share with the younger generation.  How can we find opportunities for you to share?

You’ll be hearing more about my ideas, things like milestone ministries, intergenerational events, family newsletters, devotion ideas, and much more.  But it’ll come with time.  We’re a family and we’ll do this together.  Hopefully you’re starting to get some ideas.  Brainstorm.  If you want to be more hands-on with some of this, come talk to me.

Above all, never lose sight of what the goal actually is.  The goal of family ministry is to equip you, people of all walks of life, to live out the lives that God has given you, to be actively growing in your relationship with Him and living out each of your vocations at home, work, and play.  The goal is to put faith back in your homes, to put Christ back in the center of your life.

That’s the goal, because that’s God’s design.  That’s God’s plan for you and your life.  That you would be His child, whom He loves, whom He forgives, and whom He saves.  Never forget God or what He’s done for you.  Never forget that He’s bigger than your biggest problems.  Never forget that’s He’s always with you.  Just like Israel before you, you have a decision to make:

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Why is There Evil Among Us? October 6, 2013

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You’ll actually find two sermons here.  They are variants of the same.  The first was preached at our local nursing home, the latter at our church on the day we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our preschool.  God bless you!

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 1st and 6th, 2013

Focus: God has put a plan in motion, a plan to save us, and He will carry it through to the end.

Function: That the hearers trust in God to get them through life’s struggle unto life everlasting.

Structure: This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Why Is There Evil Among Us?

 

Have you ever wondered why?  Have you ever stopped and asked, why?  Why, dear God, does evil exist?  Why, O Lord, do we suffer?  And perhaps more than that, why does it seem like evil is winning?  Where is God in the midst of all of this?  Why do the wicked surround the righteous?

You know that feeling…that feeling of loneliness as you sit in your room by yourself for hours on end.  You know what it feels like when suffering, sickness, and pain are getting the better of you.  You know the feeling…the feeling that death is winning.

One glance at the news, and you will see evil at work.  One read through of the newspaper, and you will see war and hardship.  You don’t have to look far to see the wicked surrounding the righteous, to see destruction and violence, strife and contention.  But are we really any different today than in the past?

The prophet Habakkuk would tell us, “No.”  Habakkuk was God’s prophet in the seventh century BC.  God’s nation, His holy people, had already divided themselves into two kingdoms long before: Israel and Judah.  The Assyrian army had already conquered Israel and carried them into exile.  And Judah, the smaller nation, was left reeling.

Judah’s king, Manasseh, didn’t help the situation.  He built altars to false gods like Baal and Asherah.  He worshipped the stars and he replaced the holy things of God’s temple, God’s house, with idols.  He dabbled in the dark arts, with fortune-tellers and necromancers.  He even burned his son as an offering to one of his new false gods.  The people of Judah followed him.

This is where we find the prophet Habakkuk.  Why, dear God, does evil exist?  Why, O Lord, do we suffer?  And perhaps more than that, why does it seem like evil is winning?  Where is God in the midst of all of this?  Why do the wicked surround the righteous?

Habakkuk has seen it all.  He’s seen the people turn away from God and he’s seen destruction and violence first hand.  And in the midst of it all, he cries out to God.  He cries out, “how long?”  Habakkuk has seen enough suffering, enough injustice.  Why God won’t you just fix this?

How does God respond?  What does God do?  Does He give Habakkuk the answer to his prayers?  Well, not quite in the way Habakkuk was hoping for.  “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

What vision is God talking about?  He’s talking about what Habakkuk feared most…the Babylonians.  You see, God already had a plan in place.  He already knew what He was going to do.  God was about to work through the evil of this world to bring about His plan.  God would work through the wicked Babylonians to punish Judah for their idolatry.

At first glance, that seems odd doesn’t it?  Why would God want to bring punishment upon His people?  What good could come from this?  Why should He let the wicked prosper in it all?  That’s not justice!  It just doesn’t seem fair!

Fairness and justice…two things we think we know, but we really don’t.  God had a plan in place already.  He knew that His people of Judah would be unfaithful, that they would abandon Him for someone else.  But God works through the Babylonians to bring about good.  Because through slavery in Babylon, God’s people remember, and they start to return to Him, to return to the true faith.  And the whole time, God never leaves them.

Babylon, the wicked captors, don’t get off clean.  God would later destroy their nation and set His people free.  The Judahites return to the Promised Land, they rebuild their homes and God’s home, His holy temple in their midst.  They rebuild their community and their lives.  But most importantly, the discipline has brought them back to faith in God.  God never left them, never forsook them.  He had a plan, and He carried it through to the end.

So how does this history apply to us?  What do Habakkuk and Babylon have to do with any of us today?  Do you remember those feelings?  Feelings of suffering, sickness, and pain, of loneliness and death.  Without a doubt, there is evil among us.  That’s why we pray it in the Lord’s Prayer, that God would protect us from that evil.  It’s out there.  Is God protecting us?

Like we see in history, so we see today.  God never leaves us, He never forsakes us.  He is somehow working through the evil we see around us.  There’s another way we can hear the prophet’s words: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”  We can hear this about Christ.  He will surely come, He will not delay.

That’s God’s ultimate plan of salvation for His people, for you and me.  That’s how God had already decided to make things work in this world.  That despite our sin, and our evil, He would send His Son Jesus Christ to us.  You can’t get any more “with us” than that.  God became a man and walked among us.  It is only through His Son, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, that evil could be defeated.  In Jesus’ blood, we are rescued from loneliness, sickness, pain, suffering, and death.  Through Jesus’ sacrifice, sin and evil are done away with.  Defeated.

So why do we still have evil among us?  We’re still waiting.  We’re still waiting for Jesus to fulfill His promise that He would return to us.  When He comes back, evil we stamped out for good.  And if Christ comes back before we die here on earth, we will never taste death.  Because at that time, there will be no more death, no more sickness.  We will be with God, forever.  If it seems slow, wait for it.

As we wait for that glorious day, we get to share these gifts, these blessings.  There are people here at the Care Center that don’t know about Jesus or what He did for us.  We get to share the good news while we wait.  We also remember that we are God’s people, made righteous and clean not by what we do, but by what God has done for us.  He makes us righteous by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  We remember that He is always with us and that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  So we spend our days waiting, waiting together as God’s people.

Why Is There Evil Among Us?

 

Last week, Hannah and I attended a new worker conference sponsored by the Minnesota South District.  For two days, we gathered together with other new pastors, teachers, and DCE’s in the southern portion of our state.  In the midst of the various topics we talked about, we were invited to play a game with our new community.  If you’re new in town, stop in for gas at a local gas station.  Head inside, and simply ask the attendant the following two questions:  Hi, I’m new in town and I’m looking for St. John’s Lutheran Church.  Can you tell me how to get there?  Do you know anything about the church?

The point of this little experiment is simple.  It gives us a read of where we are in the community, at how we’re doing reaching out to our community. Admittedly, I haven’t tried it yet, but from my initial impression of this church and community here, I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be: St. John’s, that’s the church with the Wee Care preschool, right?

Today we are celebrating our Wee Care preschool.  We are celebrating three decades of Christian education, thirty years of ministry to the Stewartville community.  Thirty years of ministry right here at St. John’s.  Let’s do a little experiment to see just how much of an impact Wee Care has even among us.

If you’ve attended Wee Care, thirty years ago or yesterday, please stand up.  Remain

If you sent your children to Wee Care, please stand up.

If you sent your grandchildren to Wee Care, please stand up.

If you’ve ever taught, subbed, or volunteered at Wee Care, please stand up.

If you’ve ever volunteered for one of Wee Care’s events, the carnival yesterday, the open houses, the picnics, the graduations, snack time, you name, please stand up.

If you played a role of any kind in building the education wing, including voting for it, which has now housed Wee Care for the last fifteen years, please stand up.

If you’ve ever donated a memorial to the tuition assistance fund, please stand up.

If you’ve ever shopped at our One Stop Christmas Shop, please stand up.

If you’ve ever placed an offering in the plate at any point in the last three decades here at St. John’s, please stand up.

 

Look around you.  Do you see everyone that’s standing up?!  That’s Wee Care’s impact on our church alone.  You are the men and women who have helped support Wee Care these past thirty years.  You are also the men and women that Wee Care has ministered to these last thirty years.  We’re not two separate ministries, but one.  St. Johns’ Lutheran Church and Wee Care Learning Center.  The two are intertwined.  And it goes beyond just these walls, the ministry of Wee Care has reached the community of Stewartville.  Over those thirty years, Wee Care has been home to over 2500 kids…think about that.  Stewartville just topped the 6,000 mark for population, and we’ve had 2500 kids from over 1000 families! We’re reaching this community for Christ!  You can sit down.

But we can’t say that Wee Care hasn’t faced its share of challenges.  Like any other school, there were a number of struggles when the doors first opened, even struggles to get those doors open.  There have been space issues, and we’re having them again.  We’ve had our share of drama.  We’ve seen enrollment numbers rise and fall.  Now, we’re being challenged for kids by the combination of Tiger Time and the Stewartville Early Childhood Center.

And the world these kids live in isn’t the same.  We’ve seen a shift in our culture the last thirty years.  The homes of that first Wee Care class looked nothing like the homes of our current class.  Families are struggling like never before.  The broken homes, the advertising, the gadgets, the bombardment of “stuff.”  Kids today are different, no doubt, and that’s a challenge that we must face as our Wee Care continues to try to teach these kids about Jesus.

Really, it’s an age old problem.  We’re trying to do a good thing here.  We’re trying to share the good news, to teach little children about the God who loves them so dearly.  So if our hearts and minds are in the right place, why do we have these struggles?  You can connect this to your own lives, too.  If we’re on the right side, God’s side, why do we struggle?

Have you ever wondered why?  Have you ever stopped and asked, why?  Why, dear God, does evil exist?  Why, O Lord, do we suffer?  And more than that, why does it seem like evil is winning?  Where is God in all of this?  Why do the wicked surround the righteous?

One glance at the news, and you will see evil at work.  One read through of the newspaper, and you will see war and hardship.  You don’t have to look far to see the wicked surrounding the righteous, to see destruction and violence, strife and contention.  You know the feeling…the feeling that evil is winning.  But are we any different today than in the past?

The prophet Habakkuk would tell us, “No.”  Habakkuk was God’s prophet in the seventh century BC.  God’s nation, His holy people, had already divided themselves into two kingdoms long before: Israel and Judah.  The Assyrian army had already conquered Israel and carried them into exile.  And Judah, the smaller nation, was left reeling, struggling to survive.

Judah’s king, Manasseh, didn’t help the situation.  He built altars to false gods like Baal and Asherah.  He worshipped the stars and he replaced the holy things of God’s temple, God’s house, with idols.  He dabbled in the dark arts, consulting with fortune-tellers and necromancers.  He even burned his son as an offering to one of his new false gods.  And because he was their leader, the people of Judah followed him.

This is where we find the prophet Habakkuk.  Why, dear God, does evil exist?  Why, O Lord, do we suffer?  And more than that, why does it seem like evil is winning?  Where is God in all of this?  Why do the wicked surround the righteous?

Habakkuk has seen it all.  He’s seen the people turn away from God and he’s seen destruction and violence first hand.  And in the midst of it all, he cries out to God.  He cries out, “how long?”  Habakkuk has seen enough suffering, enough injustice.  Why God won’t you just fix this?  Why God won’t you just fix our broken homes…fix our anti-Christian culture!

How does God respond?  What does God do?  Does He give Habakkuk the answer to his prayers?  Well, not quite in the way Habakkuk was hoping for.  “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

What vision is God talking about?  He’s talking about what Habakkuk feared most…the Babylonians.  You see, God already had a plan in place.  He already knew what He was going to do.  God was about to work through the evil of this world to bring about His plan.  God would work through the wicked Babylonians to punish Judah for their idolatry.

At first glance, that seems odd doesn’t it?  Why would God want to bring punishment upon His people?  What good could come from this?  Why should He let the wicked prosper at all?  That’s not justice!  It just doesn’t seem fair!

Fairness and justice…two things we think we know, but we really don’t.  God had a plan in place already.  He knew that His people of Judah would be unfaithful, that they would abandon Him for someone else.  But God works through the Babylonians to bring about good.  Because through slavery in Babylon, God’s people remember, and they start to return to Him, to return to the true faith.  And the whole time, God never leaves them.

And Babylon, the wicked captors, don’t get off clean, either.  God would later destroy their nation and set His people free.  The Judahites return to the Promised Land, they rebuild their homes and God’s home, His holy temple in their midst.  They rebuild their community and their lives.  But most importantly, the discipline has brought them back to faith in God.  God never left them, never forsook them.  He had a plan, and He carried it through to the end.

So how does this history apply to us?  What do Habakkuk and Babylon have to do with any of us today?  We’re supposed to be celebrating, right?  There are certainly things here that give us reason to celebrate.

Like we see in history, so we see today.  God never leaves us, He never forsakes us.  And we saw in Babylon how God could work through evil to bring about good.  It’s an extreme case: if He can do that, what can’t He do?  And let me make myself clear here, I’m not saying our Wee Care staff is evil like Babylon.  But, He works through all kinds of things in our life, good and bad, to bring about His purpose for us.  No matter what struggles we’re facing, we can trust that God’s plan comes through.  And as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, He protects us from evil.  Whether Wee Care struggles or flourishes, God’s will will be done.

But, there’s another way I want you to hear the prophet’s words: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”  We can hear this about Christ.  He will surely come, He will not delay.

That’s God’s ultimate plan of salvation for His people, for you and me.  That’s how God had already decided to make things work in this world.  That despite our sin, and our evil, He would send His Son Jesus Christ to us.  You can’t get any more “with us” than that.  God became a man and walked among us.  He chose to work through the evils of this world to bring about His plan.  There’s nothing good about death.  There’s nothing good about being hung on a cross.  But, it’s only through His Son, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, that evil could be defeated.  In Jesus’ blood, we are rescued from all our struggles, from war, destruction, government shutdown, and death.  Through Jesus’ sacrifice, sin and evil are done away with.  Defeated.  God worked through the wickedness of this world to bring about His plan, His plan of salvation in Christ Jesus.

So why do we still have evil among us?  We’re still waiting.  We’re still waiting for Jesus to fulfill His promise that He would return to us.  When He comes back, evil we stamped out for good.  There will be no more death, no more struggle.  We will be with God, forever.  If it seems slow, wait for it.

As we wait for Christ’s return, we celebrate. We celebrate because we get to share this gift, this blessing. There are people here in Stewartville that don’t know Jesus or what He did for us. Wee Care gets to be the little gospel light in our community, the righteous are in the midst of the wicked. God works through us to reach out into Stewartville.  We thank God for that!

We celebrate while we wait by remembering that we are God’s people, made righteous and clean not by what we do, but by what God has done for us.  He makes us righteous by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  We celebrate by remembering that He is always with us and that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  So we spend our days waiting, waiting together as God’s people, waiting together as St. John’s Lutheran Church & Wee Care Learning Center here in Stewartville.