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Seeing is Believing? April 27, 2014

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This is an updated sermon that you can find earlier on this blog.  Some changes were made, but the gist is the same.

 

John 20:19-31

Second Sunday after Easter

April 14-15, 2012

 

First Sunday after Easter

April 27, 2014

 

Focus: God raised His Son from the dead.

Function: That the hearers hope is firmly rooted in the gospel.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view, but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Seeing is Believing?

 

Christ is risen!  (wait)

Our gospel lesson today has left one of the disciples branded.  Face it, when you think about the disciple Thomas, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Doubting.  Doubting Thomas.  It’s just the way it is.  But is it fair?  Should we really pin it all on him?

Often times we think it was just Thomas, but was it really?  On Easter morning, what did the women do?  Did they go to the tomb looking for a resurrected Lord?  Quite the opposite: they went to take care of the body.  And what about the rest of the disciples when the women came and told them?  Did the disciples rejoice?  No!  Peter and John went to try to figure out who had stolen the body as Pastor Fritsch mentioned last week.  And then they locked themselves up in a home and hid from the Jews.

We blame Thomas for doubting because he needed to see it to believe.  But look back at the text.  As the Greek says it, “The disciples were overjoyed having seen the Lord.”  They, like Thomas, needed to see it to believe it.  Until the resurrected Christ showed up in their midst and spoke with them, they doubted.  We’ll just have to face the facts: all of the disciples were doubters.  They all struggled to understand the message even when Jesus was with them.

But, was it really so bad that they wanted proof?  For those of you who don’t know my background, I was born and raised in Missouri, a state whose official nickname is the Show Me State.  There are a couple different origin stories for the nickname, but the most likely deals with Missouri’s first congressman, William Vandiver.  While serving on the House Committee on Naval Affairs, and perhaps fed up with political bickering, Mr. Vandiver questioned the accuracy of an earlier speaker’s comments.  “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.  I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Missourians aren’t alone in wanting proof of a matter.  We all do it, all the time.  Think of our justice system and how it revolves around the ability to produce evidence and witnesses.  If you go to the store to return an item, you have to provide proof of purchase, a receipt.  And at this point, unless you’re a real pessimist, if someone told you it was going to snow again today, you’d probably have to see it to believe it.

The disciples weren’t really any different.  Even though Jesus had already told them, they still didn’t quite get this concept of rising from the dead.  Seeing Lazarus raised didn’t help much, either.  And telling them that He would rise on the third day didn’t stop the women from going to the tomb that morning.

Let’s not mistake this for disciple-bashing.  It wasn’t some horrendous thing that the disciples needed to see it.  Notice, Christ didn’t scold them or yell at them.  Bear in mind what Christ said, “Peace be with you!”  And then He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit.

Believe it or not, the real purpose of this text isn’t about the disciples, or Thomas, needing to see anything.  Instead it’s in what Christ instructed them to do.  “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.”  Get out from behind these locked doors and go share the good news.  Let the world know that I have been raised from the dead.

And then there’s what He said to Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Christ’s concern in this passage is getting the message of His resurrection to as many people as possible.  His concern is for both Jew and Gentile.  His concern is for both you and me.

The problem in the text is that the disciples were hiding.  Their disbelief in Jesus’ resurrection caused them to fear the Jews and hide.  It prevented them from sharing the message of a Messiah.  And even after appearing to them once, they were still locked inside a week later.

In 1 Timothy, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”    That is also the clear mission that Jesus gave them in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ own disciples, the men and women who had lived with Him during His ministry needed proof.  They had to see it to believe it.  But what’s that mean for everyone else?  The disciples would soon find out.  After Jesus left them, they eventually did unlock the doors and start preaching the Word.  They taught that Christ had indeed been raised from the dead.  Paul would tell the Corinthians that if they doubted the resurrection, they could go to any of the five hundred brothers who had seen the resurrected Christ and ask about it.  They baptized, they instructed, they made disciples.

Over the next couple of months we’ll be reading from the book of Acts, which recounts how Christ’s bride the church grew during that early period.  But there’s a lot of history between Acts and our present day, too much for me to handle in a sermon unless y’all like the dark ages.

But think about the world around us today.  We already talked about how people still want proof of things.  And it’s no different when they look at God.  How many Christians do you know that want proof of God?  Maybe you’re one of them right now.  Just a couple of weeks ago, as a congregation, we went and saw a movie together, God’s Not Dead.  It’s easy to see in that movie, and in the world around us, how people are trying to either prove, or disprove, the Bible.  Prove or disprove the existence of God.  Non-Christians want proof, or they say we should give up our faith.  We all want to be shown.  Missouri just admits it.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  We fit that verse.  And we are indeed blessed.  We are blessed in that God would call us His children.  We are blessed in His love for us and the forgiveness that He has given to us through Christ.  We are blessed by the gift of everlasting life that God grants to His children.

Christ’s admonition to His disciples, to share the gospel with others, is still for us today.  We may not be able to show others a resurrected body of Christ; but, there is much we do have.

It is now precisely as John said, that “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  We have the Word of God, the Bible, printed in mass quantities that we can share.  And as the disciples did, we can talk about the message of salvation, forgiveness, and love that God offers.  In baptism, God still pours out His Spirit.  In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ still bring forgiveness.  When your Pastor tells you that in the name of Christ, your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.

The desire for proof plagues all men, those who believe and those who don’t.  But as we learn from one of our brothers, whoever wrote Hebrews, faith isn’t about proof.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Assurance and conviction.  Although we haven’t seen it, we’re sure of it.  Our hope isn’t wishy-washy, our hope is certain.  Our faith is in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It’s in the relationship that He established with us as His people and as His children.  It’s in the forgiveness He died to give us.  It’s in the life He promised to us.  Indeed, we can be certain.  Christ is risen! wait

 

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Fear Not, for Christ is Risen! April 20, 2014

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Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

 

Focus: God’s glorious earthquake has destroyed death.

Function: That the hearers do not fear the Lord’s appearance.

Structure: Controlling Metaphor.

 

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen!

 

Two years ago, I made a mistake, and I learned my lesson.  Two years ago on Easter morning, I was responsible for helping with Easter breakfast.  As the vicar, the intern of Immanuel Lutheran Church, I had volunteered our young adults to step up and fill a void.  Somebody had to cook Easter breakfast, and I figured it was a good way to get these people involved and connected with the rest of the congregation.

And then the night before, the men’s group showed us the pancake griddle in the basement kitchen.  Maybe you’ve seen one or used one like it yourself.  This thing stood a foot tall, about four feet wide and a couple feet deep.  Made of steel.  I mean, you can make a lot of pancakes on a griddle this size!  And then they brought over the propane tank, two of them, and hooked them up for us.  One large gas griddle with four burners underneath.

Easter morning came, and the young adults looked at that thing that was easily older than any of us and said in unison, “I’m not lighting that.”  So I stepped up and did what had to be done.  I turned on the burners and then started the propane.  And BOOOOOM!  I stood there a little dazed for a moment and when I finally collected myself again, I remember being thankful that I had short hair.  Having lit it incorrectly, I had created my own small explosion that singed off most of my hair.

As I wandered around greeting church members that morning, complete of course with my new hair color, more than one asked me what that loud noise had been.  One poor lady even asked me if I had felt the earthquake, too. Lesson learned: don’t do anything dangerous when you’re the guy preaching the Easter morning.

Have you ever felt an earthquake?  I asked our Wee Care kids that this week, and they all looked at me like I was making it up.  “What’s an earthquake?” they asked.  That’s understandable, as Minnesotans just aren’t used to the earth rumbling beneath their feet.  The most recent was a minor 2.9 magnitude quake in 2013, which doesn’t feel much different than if a semi-truck drove past your home.  And we’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to find an earthquake that actually caused any damage at all.

But that’s not the case worldwide.  In 2010, an earthquake ravaged Haiti, killing 316,000 people.  In 1964, a 9.2 magnitude quake hit Alaska and caused a tsunami in its aftermath.  It claimed the lives of 131 people and destroyed $2.3 billion worth of property.  Earthquakes are violent and they bring destruction.  It’s no surprise that people fear them.

We like our science today.  We like to explain away all the things that nature does.  Earthquakes?  Sure, no problem.  Earthquakes are nothing more than a couple of tectonic plates shifting under the earth’s surface and causing some friction. We like to take God out of it whenever we can.  But that’s not the way of the Scriptures.

In the Scriptures, earthquakes mean something.  Often times, they were a sign that the Lord Yahweh Himself was speaking.  We see this with Moses on Mount Sinai, with a rebellious Israelite named Korah, with David in the Psalms, with the prophet Haggai, and with the Apostle John and the sixth and seventh seals in the book of Revelation.  And earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells us that earthquakes are also one of many signs of the end times, of His return.

Sure, earthquakes can simply be our broken world showing its brokenness.  But often, they can also be God working among us.  This is certainly true of the two earthquakes in Holy Week, as God reveals to us His power and His authority over all of creation.

You see, Holy Week gives us another way to look at earthquakes: do not be afraid.  Those are the words that ring out in our text this morning.  In the wake of an earthquake, in the midst of the appearance of an angel, we hear those words: “Do not be afraid.”

Matthew reports for us two different earthquakes during Holy Week.  The first he reported happened on Good Friday, just as Jesus breathed His last on the cross.  He tells us:

 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with fear and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

 

Just imagine the scene.  Darkness covered the land for hours.  The earth shook, rocks splitting, the dead rising to life.  These men would have known fear, they were terrified.  And who can blame them? They just realized that the Man they helped kill was the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

And then Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a tomb.  A large stone is then rolled into the opening, and together with a little wax and Pilate’s own insignia from his ring they sealed the tomb.  And when some reported to him that Jesus had once said that He would rise again on the third day, Pilate ordered soldiers to be placed at the tomb, to make sure no one stole the body and claimed that Jesus had come back from the dead.

And now, here we are on the third day.  The Sabbath is over and the time has come.  And again, Matthew reports an earthquake:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

 

Just imagine the scene.  It’s early in the morning, the sun has not yet broken the horizon.  You’re standing there with the other guards watching over the tomb.  Today’s the day, you say to yourselves, today’s the day when His disciples will make their move.  Today, they will try to steal the body.

And then suddenly the earth beneath your feet begins to shake violently, causing you to lose your balance and fall to the ground.  And then you see something descending from the sky.  At first, it looks like a lightning bolt coming directly at you, for a moment you fear a painful death.  But quickly you watch as this lightning moves the stone from the opening of the tomb, and then sits on top of it.  You had no idea lightning could do that.  And how on earth are we ever going to explain this to Pilate?!  Fear, those guards were filled with fear.  And who could blame them?  Who could blame them for passing out?

And yet, it’s in the midst of these two quakes that we hear God say: “Do not be afraid!”  A holy angel that looks like lightning, a resurrected Christ?  For those who hate Him, yes, there is reason to fear.  Fear of what a holy God might do to them in revenge.  But for those who believe in Him, there’s nothing to fear.

For the earthquake that is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a glorious one.  It’s a glorious earthquake that has been felt around the world for centuries.  The aftershocks have been changing lives, altering the course of human history for the better.  The earthquake that is Christ’s resurrection has caused destruction…it’s destroyed death.

Do not be afraid.  Those are the words spoken on Easter morning.  Those are the words that Mary and Mary heard that day.  That’s where the resurrection of Christ begins, but it hasn’t stopped.  It’s spread, the quake has spread.  From the women at the tomb, it hit the disciples, it impacted Samaria and Galilee, and then shook the Mediterranean and the world beyond.

Even today, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection still rumbles on.  Have you felt it in your life?  Have you felt it shake the foundations of your life, changing your values and the things that mean something to you?  Because, as Paul loves to tell us, in Christ we are a new creation.  When the Holy Spirit creates faith in you, your life is changed, changed for the better.

The people around us look to us with fear.  Fear of sickness and pain, fear of misery and suffering, fear of death and the grave.  And often, Satan tricks us into falling into that fear, too.  He makes us like the guards at the tomb, “like dead men,” paralyzed with fear in our lives.  Fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of illness, fear of failure, and the fear of death.  Because to the world around us, death is the end.  Death is nothing but grief without hope.  But for us, because of the earthquake, we know that’s not true.

We have certainly felt the quake here at St. John’s in the last month.  Like the earthquake at the crucifixion, the same quake that opened the tombs and brought the dead back to life, so is the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection.  Death cannot defeat us.  The grave cannot hold us.  That’s why we turn funerals into celebrations, because we know that they will rise again.  We know that in the Last Day, Christ will open their tombs and raise them to new life once again.

Through faith, through your Christian life, through your baptism that has united you with Christ in His death and in His resurrection, and through the life of the church here and around the world, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection rumbles on.  It continues to spread.

And this is where we join with the angel and with Christ in saying, “Do not be afraid.”  The earthquake will not harm you nor destroy you.  It’s target is death, and it has destroyed it.  That’s the Easter message.  That’s the power of Christ’s resurrection.  Death and the grave have been defeated.  And the earthquake will rumble on, the message of hope and life through the resurrection of Christ will spread, until the trumpet sounds and Christ returns.  But until then, we heed the angel’s words, “do not be afraid.”  CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed, halleluia!

Blood of the New Covenant April 17, 2014

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Matthew 26:20-30

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Focus: God has made with us a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers confess their need for a Savior.

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

 

Blood of the New Covenant

 

As you well know, seeing as you’re here, today’s Maundy Thursday.  Today marks an important day in the middle of Holy Week, as Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a few days and the moment at the cross draws near.  But just what exactly is Maundy Thursday?  Outside of Holy Week, you never hear that word.

I could quiz my confirmation class right now, make Karl and Adam come up here and answer that for you, but that would be mean.  So I guess I’ll just tell you.  Maundy is from Latin, from the words mandatum novum, or in English, a new commandment.  It refers to the moments after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  It’s supposed to remind us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But this year, this Maundy Thursday, we won’t focus on that aspect of the day.  Instead, we’re focusing on another new commandment that Christ gave that day.  We’re focusing on the Last Supper.  And in order to truly understand the Last Supper we need to see it for what it really is: a bridge, a link, a transition from one thing to another.

See the Last Supper isn’t just any meal.  It’s the celebration of the Passover.  It’s the celebration of what God has done for His people.  You know the connections, you know the accounts that I’m talking about.  In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, that He would their God and that they would be His people.

But covenants are tricky things.  It’s not like a promise.  If you break a promise, not much happens.  Okay, maybe a little trust is lost, but that’s about it.  But not with covenants.  If you break a covenant, you die.  Bloodshed is required.  And that’s where all of the animal sacrifices came into play.  God allowed for their blood to cover our sins.

But eventually all of that sin led God’s people into slavery in Egypt.  And it wasn’t pretty.  You can’t make the pyramids without tortured slaves, harsh labor, and death.  God saw the pain of His people and He heard their cries.  And He acted.

Nine plagues later, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let God’s people go.  So God rolled out one last plague, the killing of the firstborn.  And He told Moses what to do.  Have them make a meal and eat it in great haste, for after this plague, they will be driven out of Egypt.  Put no leaven in the bread, as it won’t have time to rise.  Instruct the people to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes, he will not touch their home.  They will live.

That’s where the name Passover comes from.  The angel literally passed over their homes and spared them.  And that night, the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh, drove the Israelites out of town.  They were free.  God had heard them and He had saved them.

For nearly 1500 years after that night, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The meal that reminded them of God’s redemption, of God’s deliverance.  That may seem hard to believe, but we’ve been celebrating Christmas and Easter for nearly 2000 years now.  So did they, year after year, they remembered.

And that brings us to the Last Supper.  Christ’s disciples certainly didn’t know it.  They assumed it was another Passover just like any other.  They assumed they were celebrating their salvation from Egypt.  And they looked forward to sharing it with Jesus, just as they had done the past three years.

They didn’t know that this night would be different.  They didn’t know that Jesus was about to change everything.  They didn’t know that that night would change their lives, and ours, forever.

But it did.  That night Jesus reinterpreted the Passover meal.  The Last Supper became a bridge from something old to something new.  A bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  A bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant.  A bridge between the Passover and the cross.

That night, Jesus reinterpreted the meal and all of its parts in light of Himself.  That night, the Messiah taught the disciples how all things pointed to Him.  The Passover deliverance, the meal, the prophets, the blood, everything was meant to point us to Christ.

The Passover meal begins with a blessing and the first cup of wine, and then a preliminary dish, an appetizer, of mostly herbs.  After that, the host, in this case Jesus, retold the Passover story, retold Israel’s history.  Then they drank the second cup of wine.

The host would then speak a blessing over the unleavened bread.  At that point, they would eat the main course, consisting of the lamb, bread, herbs and finally a word of blessing over the third cup of wine.  The meal would then conclude with some singing of a few psalms of praise, followed by the fourth, and final, cup of wine.

The Passover meal is highly scripted.  If a Jewish family were to invite you to their Seder dinner multiple years in a row, you would begin to notice and catch on.  So imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus broke from the norm and started teaching about Himself.

Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the bread and said, “this is my body.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the cup and said, “this is my blood.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces as Christ took the Passover meal and made it His, as He proclaimed Himself to be the Passover lamb for all people.

That’s the connection, that’s the bridge the Last Supper is building.  Passover, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper.  Christ calls it the “new covenant in My blood.”  As the lambs were sacrificed to save the Israelites, the final lamb, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to save us.

We are sinners.  We, every one of us, have broken the covenant.  There is no hope of salvation for us now without the shedding of blood.  Without the sacrifice that passes over our sins.  It matters not if it’s lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy or pride.  We need a Savior.

This Maundy Thursday, we wanted to highlight and focus on the Lord’s Supper, on the new covenant, on the forgiveness of sins.  To help us do just that, I baked the bread.  And yes, it’s unleavened.  But today you will see your Pastor break the bread and give it to you, as Christ broke the bread and gave it to His disciples.

Today, you will partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Today you will come into His presence trusting in the words and promises He made in the Last Supper, that this is no mere bread, but His very body.  And this is no mere cup of wine, but His very blood.  Today, you come to His table, trusting in His promise, trusting His words, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Maundy Thursday is not yet over.  Know that the events that are about to happen are part of God’s plan.  Because we have sinned blood must be shed.  But take comfort, for Christ is our Passover lamb!  He is our Savior!  Come, remember, celebrate, and be forgiven!

Giving Up Your Life April 6, 2014

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Mark 8:31-38

Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 6, 2014

 

Focus: God saves us that we may be part of His kingdom, of doing His will.

Function: That the hearers live their lives in ways that transform the world to be more Christ-like.

Structure: Repetition.

 

Giving Up Your Life

 

Remember Lot’s wife….those are the words that Jesus thought His disciples needed to hear.  Those are the words that He chose to say to make His point.  Remember Lot’s wife.  And you know there must be something important about her since she appeared in both our Old Testament and New Testament readings today.

Sodom and Gomorrah had gone down the wicked road to the point of no return.  There was so much immorality and sinfulness there that no hope remained.  It had gotten so bad that when a couple of angels went in to the city, the men gathered against them in an attempt to rape them.  There was no hope.

Abraham had pleaded for his nephew Lot to be saved from the coming destruction, so those same angels rounded up Lot and his family.  The angels literally had to hold Lot’s hand and drag him out of the city.  “Escape for your life.  Do not look back or stop.”  But we know she did.  We know Lot’s wife stopped and looked back.  And she turned into a pillar of salt.

This wasn’t the same as when Jonah went to Nineveh. He sat up on a hill outside the city with his bowl of popcorn just waiting to watch the show.  She was different.  As they fled the city, running away as fast they could through the fields, they could hear the destruction behind them.  They could feel the ground shaking from being struck with the fire and brimstone.  She didn’t look back to watch like Jonah.  She longed for the life she left behind in Sodom.  She longed for the life she loved.  And she joined them in their fate.  Remember Lot’s wife, said Jesus.

And then, there’s Peter.  Good ol’ Peter, the chief of the disciples.  There he is one moment, making one of the greatest confessions in church history.  And the next moment, Jesus is calling him Satan.  Oh, Peter, what happened?

Just before this text in Mark, Jesus and the disciples head towards Caesarea Philippi.  And it’s there that Jesus asks them the question, “who do people say that I am?”  After noting that others said John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, Jesus asked them again, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter makes the marvelous confession: “You are the Christ.”

Then Mark begins our gospel reading with the words, “And He began to teach them…”  No time has passed.  Same conversation.  Jesus begins to teach them what is about to happen to Him.  He’s predicting His death.  He’s telling them what it’ll be like.

But Peter, just moments later, can’t take it.  He can’t accept it.  “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.”  Peter, the same one who just acknowledged this Jesus is the Christ, that is the Messiah, the One who would save God’s people, this same Peter is now rebuking the Christ and telling Him He’s wrong.

Oh, Peter, what happened?  What makes him go from such a great confession one minute, to being compared to Satan the next?  Jesus answers this for us.  “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Peter had become comfortable with life just the way it was.  It was a tremendous blessing, no doubt, to walk with Christ, to see His miracles and to cherish every moment of it.

But at this point, Peter becomes just like the five thousand who wanted to make Jesus a bread king.  He becomes just like Lot’s wife, not looking to and delighting in the salvation of God, but rather in the world of men.  He wanted life to be the way he wanted it to be, not the way God wanted it to be.

God has richly blessed us.  We are baptized, which means we are His children, we are loved.  We believe in Christ as our Savior which means we are indeed saved.  So what’s the problem?  Remember Lot’s wife.  Remember Peter.  Because too often, we’re just like them.  Too often, we love life just the way it is.

For the majority of us, this is the old American dream.  What used to talk about a house with white picket fence, chasing the American dream now amounts to making as much as we can and accumulating as much stuff as we can.  The house we have isn’t big enough, even though a family in Africa sleeps ten in a twenty by twenty shack.  We have a cabin by the lake, with a boat, jet skis, and snowmobiles.  A lot of big toys to enjoy.  And we wonder why our kids are always asking for more toys….

We love being busy.  We might say we don’t, but if that were true, we wouldn’t be busy.  We enjoy having thirty things on our daily to-do list.  We love having our children involved in every possible sport, hobby, and band that we possibly can.  Maybe we’re trying to relive our childhood through them.  But we must love it, because we just keep doing it.

We love our life so much the way it is, that we don’t want to risk losing it.  We’re often afraid to speak of Christ to someone because it threatens our lifestyle.  Telling someone they’re a sinner in need of a Savior might cost us a friendship.  Speaking of God’s love at work could cost us our job and thus our toys.  We’re comfortable just where we are.

A day is coming.  The kingdom of God is coming.  And when Christ returns from heaven to deliver us from our present Sodom and Gomorrah, remember Lot’s wife.  Don’t look back.  “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away.”  Don’t look back to the life you have now.  Be saved, join with Christ, and leave the world behind.

But I tell you now, today, right here in your midst: don’t wait until the last moment!  That moment can come in two ways.  We know one of them all too well: death.  There’s no doubt, our community is grieving right now.  Death strikes suddenly and unexpectedly.  George Reinhart, Pearl Lovstad, Peg Sanderson, and Bob Oehlke.  And that’s just the last month.  There’s no way to know when death will strike.  The other way comes when the trumpet sounds and the Messiah returns for His people.

Don’t wait until the trumpet sounds and you see Christ appearing before you.  Don’t wait until that final day to put the things of God before the things of men.  Because Christ tells us it will come in a flash.  Like the flood upon the men of Noah’s day.  Like the brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah.  You’ll be living your life, living normal, whatever that is, and then it’ll happen.  Out of nowhere, Christ will come back.  Don’t wait until the last moment.  Give up your life now!

In a flash, in the blink of an eye, at a moment we don’t expect, Christ will return.  You may not look back, but will your neighbor?  Giving up your life means putting the things of God first.  Not the things of men.  It means being an agent of His kingdom.  It means putting others first.

What does that look like?  I won’t go crazy on you and say that to be a good Christian means to take a vow of poverty.  That’s not what Scripture teaches.  There is an element of enjoyment in life.  There is a level at which God does want you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  But it’s not the American dream level.  Instead, use some of your money to help your neighbor.  Use it to share the good news of Jesus.  Use it to share His love.

It means not being busy all the time.  If you’re constantly running, you never have time to stop and tell His story.  Rearrange your schedule.  Prioritize.  Learn to say no.  And cut out things that don’t matter.  Find time to be with people, to build relationships that will help you tell God’s story.

And don’t be afraid.  Don’t look back.  Many of you have mastered, or are at least starting to master, the art of talking about God in the workplace.  Many jobs censor it.  They don’t want Him there.  But there are loopholes.  Typically, if someone else brings it up first, you are free to share the good news with them.  Or if someone’s struggling, you can let them know you’ll be praying for them.  There are ways.  You just have to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

When you put the kingdom of God first rather than yourself, you start to see with His eyes.  You start to see the needs around you, the needs of your neighbor.  And you begin to realize that what Jesus says is true.

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

 

Because it is just like Christ told His disciples.  Jesus did suffer many things.  He was rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes.  And they did kill Him.  But, on the third day, He rose again.  Just like He said would.

George, Pearl, Peg and Bob didn’t look back.  And right now, they’re looking face to face at their beloved Savior.  What a tremendous gift that is!  So, too, we don’t look back.  We live as Christ calls us to live, not for ourselves, but for one another.  We are called to live in the world but not of the world.  We are called not to live chasing the American dream, but instead, we are called to transform it.