Saturday, February 12, 2022

2 Promises from Jesus

[This is the message as prepared for sharing at the funeral of Erma, a ninety-eight-year-old who joined our congregation, Living Water Lutheran Church of Centerville, Ohio, a few years ago.]

I didn’t have the chance to know Erma well. But there are a few things I did get to know about her. For example, she was devoted to her family and willingly talked about them at length anytime I asked. She was an incredibly hard worker, a characteristic fostered in her while growing up on a farm. She seems to have been able to tackle and conquer almost anything she put her mind or her hands to do: sewing, rug-braiding, cooking, lawn work, gardening, painting, decorating. She also had a forceful and memorable personality, even in her waning days: She was neither short on opinions nor a sense of humor. She was also a realist: She understood that life around here doesn’t last forever; so, she had already given away many of the things she wanted to go to others long before she passed.

While her family can gratefully say Erma lived a good, long life, the loss of a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, inevitably leaves a hole in your life. So today, I want to share two promises from Jesus that can encourage you now and in the future.

The promises of Jesus, God the Son, can be trusted. Jesus bore the punishment of death for sin that we deserve. Then, He rose from the dead to open up eternity with God to all who repent and believe in Him. So Jesus and His promises really can be trusted. I love the way Saint Paul’s words in Romans 3:4 are rendered in The Message: “Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth.” You can bet your life and eternity on the promises of Jesus.

So, two promises from Jesus then. The first is recorded in the passage from Romans we listened to a few moments ago, Romans 8:31-39. There, Paul, no stranger to adversity or suffering, said to all who put their trust in Jesus as God and Savior, “...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Because Jesus has risen, He can be with us no matter what circumstances confront us in this life. A friend of mine was dying, cancer cutting her down at what seemed too young an age. “Are you ever mad at God?” I asked her. “I was at first,” she said. “But then I remember He’s right here.” The book of Hebrews in the New Testament refers to Jesus as “our great high priest,” and says that in Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted [or tested] in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) And it’s this sinless Savior Who sympathizes and stands with all who turn to Him right now, today. That’s Jesus’ first promise to you today.

The second promise from Jesus I want to share with you is found in our reading from the Gospel of John. There, Jesus has gone to the village of Bethany after the death of His friend Lazarus. His sisters Martha and Mary are disappointed with Jesus. They’re convinced that if Jesus had arrived sooner, Jesus could have prevented their brother’s death. Shortly after this, of course, Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead, a sign pointing to Jesus’ power to overcome the deaths of every sinful human being who believes in Him. But before Jesus ever performed a miraculous sign, He spoke a Word to create faith in Him in the ones asking for help. Faith in Christ doesn’t depend on miracles, although Christ sometimes works miracles; faith in Christ depends on God’s Word and on what God did for us on the cross. Jesus tells Mary: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” And then Jesus asks her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) At this word of promise, even in her grief, Mary replies, “Yes, Lord,...I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:28) Because Jesus rose from the dead, you can know that the promise of everlasting life with God through faith in Jesus alone is true. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” Jesus famously promises. (John 3:16)

And so, today and in the days ahead, you can live your lives in the light of these two sure promises from Jesus. First, He can be with you always. For those who believe, Jesus is never further than a prayer, a Bible reading, a worship service, or a sacrament away. Second, He can give you the peace and hope of knowing that all who believe in Him will live with God always. Not just in the imperfect confines of this fallen universe, but one day in the perfect peace of eternal life in the direct presence of Jesus Himself. Today and always, turn to Jesus; that’s where hope, peace, and life are found. Amen

Sunday, February 06, 2022

The Word from God

[Here's a video of today's 11:00 AM worship service from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below, you'll find the text of today's message.]

Luke 5:1-11
Our Gospel lesson for today begins: “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.” (Luke 5:1) A Lutheran Bible commentator of the last century insisted, rightly I think, that the preposition in the last phrase of that verse shouldn’t be translated as “word of God,” but “word from God.” In today’s lesson Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, speaks the Word from God to a crowd of people who, for reasons they may have been unable to articulate, are hungry to hear from God.

Are you hungry to hear the Word from God? Not just on Sunday but every day? 

Or are you so sated and enticed by the junk food of this world–its temporary rewards, entertainments, and distractions–that you don’t have time to listen to the Word that the God we know in Jesus wants to give to you?

Human deafness to God is the greatest pandemic in our world today. I find myself afflicted by this deafness to God more often than I care to admit. And it’s a pandemic of resistance to God’s Word that is far more deadly, eternally so, than we may imagine. We prefer to hear almost anything to hearing the Word from God. This past week on social media, Lutheran theologian Chad Bird shared an observation by a contemporary Roman Catholic cardinal: “The world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing.”

But what the Word that God has for us, for the whole world collectively and for each of us individually, is far from nothing

In his prayer to the Father on the night of His arrest, Jesus says, “Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17) 

In Old Testament times, the psalmist tells God, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105) 

And during Jesus’ ministry, Simon Peter, whose call as an apostle we consider today, tells Jesus: “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) 

Truth, guidance, eternal life: These are just a few of the blessings God gives us in His Word. Jesus Christ came into our universe to give us this definitive Word from God. And today, we see that that Word from God brings three major effects to us.

Now, you’re familiar with this incident. Jesus is teaching by the Sea of Galilee, here called the Lake of Gennesaret. It's daylight hours and, because the professional fishermen of Galilee only fish from dusk to dawn, there are two boats on the shore. Jesus climbs into one owned by Simon Peter to continue His teaching. You see, there are a series of craggy inlets around the Sea of Galilee, each forming perfect amphitheaters. This is what allows the large crowd listening to Jesus to hear Him now even though He’s likely speaking in a normal voice. Teaching done, Jesus, tells the professional fisherman Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Peter knows from years of experience that there will be no catch of fish in the middle of the day. Despite his doubts, Peter paid heed to Jesus’ word because, as Scripture tells us elsewhere, Jesus “taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” (Matthew 7:29) 

You know what happens next. It’s a miracle at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with Peter that will later be matched near the end of the resurrected Jesus’ ministry with the apostle (John 21:6): a haul of fish so great that Peter had to call for the boat of James and John to help bring it all in.

It’s here that we see the first effect of the Word from God. The first thing that happens to us when we encounter the Word from God is this: We see God’s sinlessness and we see our sin

Peter knows that in Jesus, He is seeing God face to face. Peter tells Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) 

The Word from God shows all of us how far from God we are, how filled with sin, how unworthy to be in God’s presence, how unloving we are compared to God, how ungracious toward the sins and faults of others. 

I have an idea that’s exactly why so many people avoid listening to God’s Word and try instead to drown it out with the dead and dying things of this world.

But God doesn’t readily give up on us. That’s why Jesus says what He does now to Peter, the very words God has always spoken to those who come into His presence and are both intimidated by His power and overwhelmed by His holy perfection. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus tells Simon. (Luke 5:10) 

This is the second Word from God we receive from Jesus, "Don't be afraid." 

Jesus is saying: “Yes, Simon; yes, human race; yes, Church, you are sinners and you deserve death and condemnation. There’s a chasm you cannot forge that lies between us. But I am the bridge between God and you. You need not be afraid that your sins will pull you away from My love. You need not fear condemnation.” 

There are many things in this world we might rightly fear: putting God to the test, suffering, causing suffering to others. But we need not be in terror of God

God’s Word tells us that, “...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1) 

Your sins may convict you, but Jesus, the one to whom you turn in daily repentance and trust, has set you free from sin and death. 

This requires no work or effort on your part. 

You needn’t fear that you’ve failed to take the right steps. (You haven’t and can’t, by the way.) 

You needn’t fear that you’ve not believed enough or done enough. (Again, you haven’t and can’t.) 

On His cross, Jesus has justified, qualified, and sanctified you for life with God, now and always. There, Jesus did all the good, followed all the right steps, taken the perfect path of obedience so that He, though sinless, could absorb all the sin and death of the human race so that we can be set free. 

That’s why Jesus tells Peter, and us, “Don’t be afraid!”

We see a third thing that Jesus’ powerful Word from God does to those who listen to it. Jesus tells Simon Peter, “from now on you will fish for people…” (Luke 5:10) 

After saving us from sin and death in Holy Baptism, creating faith in Christ within us through His Word, and sustaining us on His body and blood in Holy Communion, the third thing the Word from God from Jesus gives us is a whole new life

No longer afraid of condemnation, Jesus’ Word gives us a new life, a new reason for living. 

Our mission in life becomes, no less than it became the mission of Simon Peter, to follow Jesus and to fish for people, that is, to share the Word from God so that others can, like us, repent, believe, and have everlasting life with God. Jesus enlists us to share His Word everywhere.

There’s a small group composed of several men from Living Water and another man who’s part of another area congregation. They began meeting together over God’s Word several years ago, at the time we began our discipleship initiative. Even in the pandemic, they found ways to remain connected to God and each other. 

In the past year or so, a friend of two of the men, an unchurched man with no apparent connection to Christ and His Church, learned he had cancer. As the disease grew worse, the two small group members visited their friend, both at the hospital and later, at a hospice care facility. 

At one point, they shared a Christian book, Jesus Calling, with him. Later, during one of their visits, they shared another book, John Eldredge’s All Things New

On a subsequent visit, one of the group members asked their friend, “Did you read that book?” 

“Yes,” he said, “I’m counting on it.” 

The group member asked his friend if that meant he was receiving the Word from God that Jesus is Lord and Savior, the One Whose death and resurrection brings the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life with God? “Yes,” their friend said. 

Then they prayed together to declare their Word-given faith in Jesus. Their friend’s mother was there at the time and as the men prayed, she wept tears of joy. 

Three days later, that man died and, I am sure, because of His faith in Jesus and His Word, entered into the everlasting arms of God. 

Friends, Jesus’ Word sets us free to be His agents of grace in the world, to be fishers of people.

The Word from God that comes to us in Jesus is powerful! 

This Word shows us our distance from God and convicts us of our sin and shows us our powerlessness before life and death. 

This word also convinces us that in Jesus Christ, we need not fear condemnation because all who trust in Him have everlasting life with God. 

And this Word gives us an entirely new life, one in which our whole mission, our whole reason for living is changed by our gracious God. We’re empowered to live for the only mission worth living–or dying–for: to be fishers of people, makers of disciples, messengers of God and His love for everyone we meet. 

There is no better way to use the earthly lives God gives to us than that, to be fishers of people! 

May Jesus and His life-giving Word do God’s work in and through us. Amen