Under the Protection of the Shepherd

Christ is risen, Alleluia. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name. Amen. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Those are familiar words. I bet if Family Feud asked 100 people to quote something from the Bible, those words, the opening to Psalm 23 would definitely be on the list somewhere. Maybe even the number one answer. Because it seems like everyone, Christian or not, knows the biblical imagery of Jesus as our shepherd. And the image usually goes something like this. A warm, lazy summer afternoon. The sun is shining. Maybe you can hear a brook trickling in the background somewhere. The bees buzzing around the flowers while the birds are chirping in the distance. And then there’s Jesus, always just standing there. Maybe holding a little lamb in his arms. Probably smiling. Maybe even laughing, just enjoying the moment. Kind of makes shepherding look like the job to have. Makes the life of a shepherd look pretty plush. The Lord is my shepherd, and he’s sitting back, soaking in the rays, just loving every minute of it. Leading me beside the still waters. Making me to lie down in green pastures, restoring my soul. It’s enough to make anyone want to be a shepherd. The problem is, it’s not reality. It’s not what being a shepherd is actually like or was actually like in the days of Jesus. When our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd, the imagery he’s trying to call to mind is something quite different. You see, shepherding in those days was not as easy as pastoral art would lead us to believe. Definitely wasn’t just sitting around in the sun while your sheep safely graze. The life of a shepherd was actually quite dangerous. It is not for the faint of heart. One of the main responsibilities of the shepherd is to protect the sheep. Protect them from predators like wild dogs, lions coming down out of the mountains. And so, the shepherd carried a staff, not as a walking stick, not as something to lean against in the heat of the day. No, it was a weapon. A weapon to fight off those who would try to eat his sheep. So, the shepherd was a warrior of sorts. Just think of David. David, a young shepherd boy able to stand up against the Philistine Goliath. Much like bull’s eyeing womp rats on Tatooine prepared Luke Skywalker to take out Death Star, David’s training with a slingshot, his experience as a shepherd, prepared him for battle against a skilled warrior. He was able to slay the giant with the stone because David was a sniper with a slingshot, an accuracy he had developed with that weapon as a shepherd. He had to be accurate when protecting his sheep because if he missed, one of his sheep died. And if his sheep died, the shepherd gets in trouble. So, because he was a shepherd, David was also a warrior. He was not sitting there taking naps, soaking in the rays while his sheep basically took care of themselves. Being a shepherd is hard work. The hired shepherd, the hired hand is surely skilled and capable. But he’s not like David. Because David was protecting his father’s sheep, David was protecting his own sheep. He was sure to do everything possible, everything necessary to keep them safe. For the hired hand, however, when things get tough, he runs away. The hired hand has no real interest in the sheep. If a lion picks off one of the flock, that’s no skin off his back. They’re not his sheep. It’s not his family at risk, it’s not his children or his children’s children who will be affected. If the hired hand loses too many sheep to the lions, to the wolves, he’ll just get a different job. The hired hand has no real reason to protect the sheep. His desire in shepherding is simply to make his job as easy as possible. And fighting a lion, well, that’s not easy. So, the hired hand epitomizes the cliché, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, in the opposite direction. When the lion attacks, the hired shepherd becomes a lion himself. Cowardly Lion, one who flees the scene like in The Wizard of Oz, diving head first out the window, just trying to save his own skin. That is the hired shepherd. He too flees like a coward when the sheep are in true danger. The sad thing is, we sinful people often prefer the hired hand over the true shepherd. We sinful people prefer to entrust ourselves to the hireling, someone who has no vested interest in our well-being, rather than entrusting ourselves to the actual shepherd. We prefer the hireling because we want control of our own lives. We can manipulate the hireling, for we pay his salary. We’re tempted to find someone for ourselves. Someone who will tell us the things we longed to hear, rather than someone who will actually guide us, actually protect us by speaking the truth of God’s word. And so, we find someone else. Maybe it’s an author whose books you found in the spirituality section on Amazon. Maybe it’s a daytime TV talk show host who likes to pontificate on spiritual matters. Maybe it’s a smooth talker in a nice suit who uses Christian language but says very unchristian things. We find ourselves a Facebook group or a podcast or a politician, someone, anyone, to make us feel good about our sin, rather than calling us to repentance. We prefer someone who lets us follow down our own chosen path rather than calling us back to the true path, even if we’re on our way to destruction. We just don’t like to be corrected. We’re like a spoiled child. He always demands his own way. Not listening to good advice. Only listening to the words he wants to hear. He only eats candy and Doritos because he doesn’t like vegetables. But he ends up with a stomach ache. He won’t play outside because watching TV and playing Xbox is more fun. But he grows up terribly out of shape. And we sit back from a distance and observe and ask ourselves, is a parent who raises their child by letting them simply make all their own important decisions for themselves, truly parenting, truly protecting. And yet, so often, that’s how we act in our spiritual lives. We act like spiritual, spoiled brats, listening only to those voices who tell us the things we already wanted to hear, who scratch our selfish itch, but these things always come back to bite us. Because the ultimate problem is sin, and you can’t fix sin by ignoring it, or by making excuses for it, by simply explaining it away as if it wasn’t sin. No, there is only one who can protect us from the threat we actually face. That protection comes from the only true shepherd. Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, he sees the wolf coming and leaves. He leaves the sheep and he flees. He flees because he’s a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. But the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd protects his sheep. The Good Shepherd wages war for his sheep against the evils of sin and death. The Good Shepherd uses his skills of engagement, his warrior like capabilities to fight our battle against sin, death and the Devil. Jesus, like David, comes as a shepherd into battle. And Jesus, our greater David, slays the Goliath of death with the stone of his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. A stone flung from the sling shot of his perfect obedience, his complete fulfillment of God’s law on our behalf. He bears our punishment. He pays our debt. He jumps in front of the bullet for us. He lays down his life to protect you. Because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He offers the only true protection there is. In his life, death, and resurrection, he has defeated our enemies for us. And now our Good Shepherd brings us into his flock, where he continues to protect us, continues to defend us, continues to guide us. His protection wasn’t a one-time deal. It’s not like it somehow ended when he has ascended to the right hand of the Father. No he continues to guard you. He continues to watch over you. He continues to be your shepherd. Even though it’s sometimes difficult to see, his protection is there. It protects us from the predators that would devour our hope, be it death, or grief, or despair, or persecution or shame, or any other attacker. Anything that would steal us from our Lord’s flock, he guards and defends us. He protects us from the dangerous path of false teaching, from the sinful and misguided outlooks that we are so immersed in. We live in an unbelieving world that has a philosophy all its own, and it’s always beckoning us, always inviting us to come be part of the deception. But we have a Good Shepherd who guides us down the safe path. A Good Shepherd who protects his sheep. Just like David used the tools of his trade to protect his flock, Jesus uses his tools too: the rod of his word, the voice of his pastor speaking words of Christ’s forgiveness to fend off would- be attackers, the words of his scriptures studied and prayed in your devotional lives, the light to your feet to keep you safe on his path. Instead of stones, the sling of Our Lord is loaded with bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin, for your forgiveness, life and salvation. And because we are his flock, because we are his children, the sheep of his pasture, he uses these stones to fend off the attacks of the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. Jesus remains our Good Shepherd, and still protects us to this day. So yes, the Lord is your shepherd. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. And we live under his care. May our Lord continue to shepherd us, to guide us, to protect us with his precious Word, throughout all days of our earthly life, and bring us safely into the pastures of our heavenly rest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Background Message

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives in Jesus’ name, Amen. Back when I lived in Detroit, there was a local legend whose name was James Van Horn. Now, most people in the city didn’t know his name. They knew who he was. He was the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. He would sit outside Comerica Park for every home baseball game with a big foam finger on one hand, and a souvenir cup in the other, collecting change from anybody who happened to drop some in the cup. And he would chant nonstop for hours before and after every game as people entered or left the ballpark. “Eat em up, Tigers. Eat em up.” He was the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. I don’t know how much money he ever accumulated on a game day. I do know he was homeless. I know he was one of the more recognizable figures in the entire city, even if very few people knew his name. I know that he was struck down and killed by a hit and run driver near the end of July 2013. At that time, pitcher Max Scherzer was on the Tigers and one of the reporters asked him about the death of James Van Horne. Scherzer had no idea who he was. Another reporter said it’s the “Eat em up Tigers” guy. And immediately Scherzer expressed how much his family appreciated him, how much they loved the way he added to the game day experience. That it would be sad that he wouldn’t be sitting outside the ballpark anymore. There was a general feeling of sadness across the city of Detroit and in the suburbs that summer. Van Horn was buried wearing a Tiger’s hat. And at his viewing and at his funeral, were probably more people than have ever attended the funeral of a homeless man in the history of Detroit, because people knew him. Maybe they didn’t know his name. Maybe they never sat down and shared a meal with him. They knew who he was. Because he was part of their ballpark experience. There was a similar guy in Houston. I don’t know his name. I know he panhandled at the intersection right by our school and so every morning staff and students would drive past him every day. He was an older guy, dirty white beard, but that’s not what people remember. People remember the trick he used to do with his hat. With the baseball cap in his hand, he’d flip it up in the air and it rotate a few times, and he’d catch it on his head, finish with a little “Ta-da” , and he knock on your window and ask for some money. So, for thousands of people every morning who got on or off the freeway at Dixie Farm, he was part of their daily life and probably still is. I haven’t been around Albuquerque long enough to know if there’s local legends who might fit that same description for you. People whose names you don’t know, but you see them on your way to or from work every day. I have begun to recognize some of the faces that I see as I get off the freeway at Eubank or Tramway. People asking for money. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or heard of anyone who rises to the level of the “Eat em Up Tigers” guy. What I do know is that Acts chapter 3, which we heard part of a few moments ago, has a story about someone, strikingly similar. Someone nameless that people recognize. You see, Peter and John were in the temple. They went for the afternoon sacrifice, which was a very popular event. The temple would have been full bustling with people. Locals, travelers wanting to be part of the ceremony. And in the temple, there was a man laying there who had been lame from birth. Much like the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the roof and placed him at the feet of Jesus, this man was also being carried around by friends, family, someone else. He couldn’t walk. They were taking him to the place called the Beautiful Gate in the temple, as was apparently their daily custom, so that this man could ask for alms from the worshippers, coming in and going out. Apparently, he was a very recognizable figure at that gate. Apparently, he was there pretty much every day. Apparently, he was part of the temple experience for a lot of people. And when Peter and John saw him there, he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive a coin or two. But instead, Peter said “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And the man got up. His feet and his ankles, which had failed him from birth, were suddenly strong. And the man began to walk. And then skip. And then leap back and forth throughout the temple courts, causing quite a commotion, and when the people looked to see what was happening, they recognized the man. The same man who’d been laying in the temple gate for years, lame from birth, one they had passed by countless times, maybe even given some alms to, one who was part of their temple experience. Now healed. And they were filled with wonder. They were filled with amazement at what they saw, what had happened to this man? That’s where today’s reading picks up. While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people crowded in around them, astonished. And when Peter saw it, he addressed the people saying, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this or why do you stare at us as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus,” he healed this man. “And his name–by faith in his name– has made this man strong…and the faith that through Jesus has given this man’s perfect health in the presence of you all.” That in that, we see the first reality that is always present whenever there’s a healing miracle in the scriptures. Whether it came from the hand of Jesus himself, whether it was performed by the prophets or apostles, the healing is never an end unto itself. It’s always in some way an authentication of a message that’s being spoken. You see, Jesus didn’t just heal. The paralyzed man lowered to his feet. He did it so that the Pharisees would know he had the authority to forgive sins. And Peter and John weren’t just walking around Jerusalem randomly healing people. They did so when the Holy Spirit guided them to the opportunity. And it was always joined together with a proclamation of who Jesus is and what Jesus does. And there’s comfort in us, there’s comfort in that for us. Because we don’t always see the healings that we would like to see in this life. Whether it’s a stranger on the news. Whether it’s a family member or a friend. Maybe it’s even your own need. I can’t walk up to you today and heal you in the name of Jesus. I can’t miraculously fix the crippled feet and the ankles of a beggar laying outside the church doors. The church doesn’t walk up and down the hallways of the hospitals, healing the lame and giving sight to the blind. And sometimes we’re tempted to think that the absence of such miraculous healing is maybe an indication that we’ve somehow lost God’s favor. Maybe God has forgotten me. Maybe God doesn’t see me. When he healed the people in the past, he healed people in the Bible. Why won’t he heal me? But that’s not really the case. You see the miraculous healings and scriptures serve to grab the attention of the witnesses of that healing so that the message they proclaim might be heard. And while we might not have the miraculous healings, we have the message. The Holy and righteous one was crucified, while the murderer went free. The author of life was crucified in our place, and God raised him from the dead. Our sins have been blotted out and the times of refreshing are here. And that’s the second reality that’s always in the background of a story like this one. Yes, the lame man was healed. Where is he today? Can you go visit him in Jerusalem? Could we fly him to Albuquerque to give us a Ted Talk on what it feels like to run and leap after a lifetime of lying there begging? Of course not. For that man has long since died. So has every other person healed in the scriptures, everyone who received a miraculous healing from our Lord, or from one of his prophets or one of his apostles. Even Lazarus and the widow’s son who were called back out of death, had to walk through those doors again. For although the miraculous healing of the human body is by no means a small incident, it is not the ultimate gift that our Lord came to bring. That gift is resurrection. And that resurrection is our hope because of the work of Jesus in our place. Yes, our Lord may still choose to heal our diseases or our ailments this side of heaven, and if He does, we will rejoice in that. Or he may not. He may leave us our own thorn in the flesh to remind us that His grace is sufficient, that His power is made perfect in weakness. We can never say for certain. But what we can say for certain is that all who are baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Already today, we have our sins blotted out. We have been brought into the time of refreshment. And yes, we are still waiting for that appointed day when Christ returns to restore all things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets. And until that day our Lord sustains us through the preaching of his word, the bread of immortality given out from this very altar. See what kind of love the Father has given to us. Not that he healed our ankles or cured our cancers or other bodily ailments. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God.” That’s exactly what we are. Adopted into his family because Jesus became our brother. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the healings you hope for in this life. Don’t think that the absence of such healing means that Jesus loves you less than the man born lame in today’s reading. No, beloved, we are already God’s children, even now. What we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him. Resurrected into glorious bodies. Living the eternal life, in the new creation. We will receive the gift of healing for our bodies and souls. And we will run and skip and jump throughout the new creation, seeing fully then the realization that is already ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. Trust in his promise. He will not fail. In the name of Jesus’ name, Amen.

God is Light

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. So how many of you have some kind of night lights set up in your home, even if not in your bedroom, maybe in the hallway? In our house we have some Christmas garland that we hung down the stairway for Christmas time, and actually it’s been up ever since because I realized that having just that little bit of extra light was very helpful in the middle of the night, when it’s time to take the dog downstairs and let her out. Our house in Houston was right across the street from one of those big street lamps, and so the light from the street lamp would always come through the window, right above the front door, made it fairly easy to navigate the stairs at night there. However, our place here is dark even when the sun is out, and so in the middle of the night it’s pitch black. I almost fell down the stairs last fall, and so we decided once the Christmas lights were up it might be a good idea to leave them. But the thing about night lights is that they’re really only good at night. You can see we often forget to turn our Christmas lights off in the morning because as soon as we turn on the hallway light, you can barely even tell that they’re on anymore. What appears light and bright in the darkness of the night, is actually completely absorbed in the presence of something brighter. Just think about the daytime running lamps that are on your car. At night, your headlights illumine the road in front of you, but when those same lights are on during the day, you can’t tell. You see them on other cars, but they don’t make the road in front of you any brighter. No their light pales in comparison to the light of the sun. Lutheran theologian, Johann Gerhard, once wrote in his Sacred Meditations that a lamp that gleams in the darkness is obscured in the light of the sun. This point is actually quite simple. The brightness of a light depends on the relative brightness or darkness of where that light is trying to shine. In a pitch-dark room, even the dimmest of lights can be helpful and illuminating. But in the blinding sunlight of an Albuquerque afternoon, even the brightest of lamps often appears dim. So here again this morning’s epistle from I John. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Did John put before us the truth that God is light? Pure light. Total light. The true light. The light that obscures any other light that would try to shine in his presence. The light of God reveals the truth for what it is. There are no shadows to hide in when God’s light is shining upon you. There are no dim spots or dark areas in which you can hide. It is total and true and complete light. Totally and completely true. Total reality that shows us who we truly are. And see, what John is talking about here is the way we tend to evaluate ourselves as Christians. We like to deny reality for what it truly is. We like to look at our lives and compare them to the sinfulness of the world around us. We ask the question, am I righteous? Let me try to answer it by comparing ourselves to the worst of the world. Well, I’ve never murdered, we say. I’ve never built an idol. I’ve never robbed a bank. I’ve never raped and pillaged and plundered. Doesn’t that make me righteous? I come to church. I try to do the right thing. I don’t cheat on my taxes. Doesn’t that make me righteous? Are my actions righteous? Well, maybe, compared to the darkness of a sinful world. But when the light of God’s truth shines in, It exposes me for the night light that I truly am. My dim righteousness pales in comparison to the true light, the true righteousness. The light of my deeds pales in comparison to true light. In the words of John, if I make my works and my righteousness out to be brighter than they actually are, I’m doing nothing other than making God into a liar. When I’m evaluating my own righteousness, I must not compare myself with the sinful world, but with the righteousness of my Lord. Yes, I may be a Christian, and I may not have worshipped or had any statues or had any idols set up in my basement, but have I actually kept the first commandment? Do I only ever look to God for all love and for all good and for all joy, or do I ever make decisions simply based on what pleases me? What I feel like doing. I may not swear and take the Lord’s name in vain, but have I kept the second commandment? Do I use God’s name always as he intends it to be used? Do I always call upon him in every trouble and pray and praise and give thanks? What about the third commandment? Am I ever bored or lazy with my Lord’s word? Do I ever neglect his scriptures, the gifts of his house? Do I always pray for the leaders that God has put over me? Do I mostly grumble about them, the policies that I disagree with? You can go through all the 10 commandments. Or maybe supposedly doing better than the people in the big bad world around us. The truth is that our so-called righteousness, compared to God’s righteousness, we are really nothing at all. So, what if our light shines in comparison to a dark world? A lamp that gleams in the darkness is lost in the light of the sun. But if we walk in his light, then the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our unrighteousness. Because that’s the thing about God’s light. Yes, it exposes us for who we truly are. It exposes our sin and wretchedness and leaves us nowhere to hide. Leaves us no room to fool ourselves. It shows our sin so clearly that if we say we have no sin, we’re simply deceiving ourselves. That’s not all it does. It also shows us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”. The light of God not only shows us who we are, it shows us who He is. It reveals the depth of his love for us, that he took on human flesh, that he lived in our place, suffered in our place, died in our place, that he rose again. But he really won for us forgiveness, life and salvation, and has promised us a share in his resurrection too. All of this is just as real as our sin is. If we insist on hiding in the shadows of self-delusion, if we don’t acknowledge sin for what it is, we’re ultimately just rejecting God’s forgiveness for what it truly is, and thus rejecting God for who he truly is. If we insist on hiding in the shadows, comparing our light to the darkness of the world around us, we’re deceiving ourselves. If we say we have not sinned, if we treat our sin lightly, we make God into a liar. The light of God exposes this to us. But remember that John says not only is God the light, but he himself is in the light. And so, when we walk in the light, we walk with our Lord. The light is where he is found. Not only does the light expose us for who we truly are as sinners, it exposes God for who he truly is as a God of mercy. And so, the highest worship we could ever hope to give our Lord, is simply to receive the gift of forgiveness from Him. That’s why he took on human flesh in the first place. As one pastor put it, the forgiveness of sins must never become the great, of course, in the Christian life. Well, of course my sins are forgiven, now let’s get on to something more important. No, the forgiveness of sins is what God is all about. It’s the reason for his incarnation. It was the motivation for his death. And it’s the hope of his resurrection. And when we walk in his light, this truth becomes abundantly clear to us. The light exposes things for what they are. The Light of God exposes us for the sinners we are. It exposes Him for the Savior he is. And when we walk in that light rather than trying to slither into the shadows, we have fellowship, John says, with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. This may be the last point for this morning. It’s no accident that living in the light, leads us to live together, not only in fellowship with God, but also in fellowship with each other. After all, when we see God for who he truly is in his light, we see the people around us for who they truly are. In the darkness of self-delusion, we might expect perfection from other people, especially from those who are of the household of faith. But when we see, when we recognize that those around us are by nature sinful and unclean, we kneel together and confess our sins. We don’t grow indignant when someone lets us down. Even more than that, we forgive them for the times that they may have wronged us, and we ask forgiveness for the times we have wronged them, because in God’s light we understand the depths of forgiveness that each one of us has been shown. And so, we show it to each other. In the light of God, we see the depths of forgiveness that he has shown the people around us, and armed with that knowledge, we treat that person, every person, as someone who is precious enough that Jesus would die for them. Because that’s exactly what he did. In the light of God, we see our brothers and sisters in Christ as fellow members of the one body, and so we defend them. We speak well of them. We explain everything in the kindest way. We help and support them in every physical need. We help them to improve and protect their possessions and income. In short, we live in fellowship with each other as the true body of Christ on earth, and by living in this fellowship, by living in the light, our joy is truly complete. Joined together as the body of Christ and the fellowship of this altar, we walked together toward the new creation where we will need no light or lamp or sun. We will simply live together in the light of God’s presence. And until that day. We live together here in the light of Christ, confessing our sin, forgiving each other, rejoicing in the fellowship that we share as the people of God. May God got grant it to us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The Lord’s Feast

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus, Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. When you’re in charge of the menu, what do you choose? Is it chicken or fish? Do  you prefer steak, or just a nice salad? Is there any particular type of cuisine that you prefer? Do you like Asian, or Mexican, or Italian? I remember there were times when I was a kid that my parents would take us out to eat as a family, and we would go to the food court in the mall; that way everyone could get what they wanted. Mom could get a Philly cheese steak, I could get a slice from Sbarro, and my sister could get tacos. While malls have largely become a thing of the past, food courts are alive and well. Albuquerque has Tin Can Alley, Sawmill Market. Houston had a few of their own in the downtown area, because the convenience of having multiple options to satisfy the various appetites and cravings of a large group, well that’s enough to keep food courts in business. But sometimes the food court is not the best choice. Sometimes you want a special menu for a special meal like a wedding, or retirement celebration, maybe a plated dinner at a fundraiser, or a business dinner, where you’re trying to impress a potential client. So in the moments when the food court and variety isn’t the answer, if you are put in charge of the menu, what do you choose? The Old Testament reading you heard from Isaiah a few moments ago speaks of a feast, a special menu. This is the Lord’s feast. He is the host. On his mountain we hear the Lord of hosts will make a feast for all peoples, a feast of rich food, the best food. A feast of well-aged wine, the best wine, rich food full of marrow, full of flavor, will be on every plate, the best wine in every glass. In fact, feasting with God on his mountain comes up a few different times in the scriptures. It comes up at Mount Sinai immediately after delivering the Israelites out of Egypt; immediately after claiming them as his own, the Lord hosted a feast on the mountain for Moses and for the elders of Israel. After Moses offered burnt offerings to the Lord and read the book of the covenant to the people, then Moses and the elders ascended the mountain and had a meal with God. So also, in the Book of Revelation, we hear of another feast on the Lord’s mountain. This one is described as a wedding banquet. The voice of the great multitude cries out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exalt and give him the glory, for the marriage of the lamb has come.” And the Angel said to John, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And so in Exodus, and again in Revelation, our Lord hosts a feast to celebrate and to memorialize the ways that he claims people as his own. He claimed the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and he feasted with Moses and the elders. There’s a vision of the Saints in heaven and there’s a wedding banquet, but notice that in neither case do we hear what’s on the menu. Wonder what God chooses to serve at his banquets. That’s where Isaiah is helpful, because if we look again at today’s reading from Isaiah, you might notice something interesting. There’s a menu. For all the peoples, there’s food rich, full of marrow and the best wine. And that is not particularly surprising. But notice what’s on God’s plate. Notice what God consumes at this feast. He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all the peoples, the veil that is spread over the nations, he will swallow up death forever. In many ancient near Eastern cultures, like that in the days of Isaiah, the Pagan God Mot was considered the embodiment of death, kind of like our Grim Reaper today, and he was often pictured as having an insatiable appetite. Death swallowed up everything eventually, crops, buildings, people. Like a fire that consumes everything in its path, death was pictured as the great consumer, coming for us all. But Isaiah proclaims that on the mountain of the Lord, death will not consume anyone. In fact, death itself will be consumed. While the Lord feeds the people with the best wine and the best food, he himself devours death. He will swallow up death forever. Today we’re here to celebrate just that. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Our Lord was swallowed up in the darkness of death. He was placed into a tomb, swallowed by the earth. The entrance was sealed shut, but the grave could not hold him, he burst forth with the rising of the sun, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by immortality. When the Sabbath was passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go and anoint him. They went to go cover the stink of death, but when they arrived at the tomb, death is not what they found. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe. Of course they were alarmed, so he said to them, “Do noy be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here.” Death tried to swallow up our Lord, but it could not hold him and now our Lord has swallowed up death forever, and he invites us to the banquet of life. We have a preview of that feast here in the Supper of our Lord’s body and blood. While our Lord consumes death, he feeds us the bread of life, the food of immortality. In this meal he gives us a foretaste of the feast to come, as we await the day of resurrection, the day when we will be gathered together with all the faithful at the marriage feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom which has no end. We say already today what will be said at that feast. “Behold this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. And save us, he has, for Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, raised from the dead. He will never die again. Death has no more dominion over him. So let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. Dying, Christ, died to sin once for all. Living, he lives to God. Therefore, count yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in Christ Jesus our Lord. I don’t know what will be on the menu at the heavenly banquet. I don’t know what exactly the best food and the best wine are on the mountain of the Lord. What I do know is that the Lord himself has swallowed up death. He has promised us that his resurrection is but the first fruits, and that we and all who have gone before us in faith, we are the full harvest. And so, when we do finally arrive at our Lord’s feast, it will be a joyful reunion with those we love who have gone before us in the faith. We will be seated around the table of our Lord, where God himself will wipe away every tear from every face, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, or crying, or pain anymore. The former things have passed away, and even now, we already enjoy a glimpse of that future reality each time we gather at this rail, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven. For here our Lord comforts us. Here he wipes away all our tears. Here the Lord delivers to us the gift of life. So, when it comes our time, and the grave tries to swallow us, it will be left hungry for more. The grave cannot hold you. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Christ is risen. Hallelujah! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

The Messiah Has Come for You

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold you king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” With these words, the prophet Zechariah foreshadowed the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It was a day of celebration, a victory parade of sorts. Picture the many images you have seen; the crowds lining the street of some city to celebrate maybe a championship, or the crowds lining the streets of New York on Thanksgiving, Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. Such a crowd was gathered in Jerusalem to welcome their Messiah, rejoice at his arrival, to anticipate the deliverance that he would bring. Now there was no ticker tape, but there were palm branches waving to and fro with celebration on the occasion. There was no red carpet, but there were cloaks to honor his arrival, and there were voices crying out almost certainly in song, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord the King of Israel.” But let us not get swept away in the celebration. We must remember the word of the Lord has spoken through his prophet Zechariah. Maybe even look at those words before you today as we consider the significance of what they say. “Behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on the donkey.” See these words reveal just how great a gift the Messiah truly is. Messiah is our king and he is coming to us. It’s not a statement referring just to the direction of his travel, it’s not, “Hey you, look the Messiah is coming down the road” and he happens to be coming toward you. No, this is the statement of advantage. Behold the Messiah is coming to you means the Messiah is coming for you, he’s coming for your good. It’s like when a child gets stuck on top of the monkey bars and a classmate goes to get the teacher. When the teacher is on the way, the classmates try to calm the frightened child by telling them “Don’t worry she’s coming to you.” The prophet Zechariah says the same thing don’t worry. Rejoice your king comes to you righteous and having salvation is he. He has your salvation, and God’s been planning this. He’s been building towards this; he’s been working throughout history to bring about the salvation of the world on the day when he sends his Messiah. That’s what Psalm 118 says. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone and this is the Lord’s doing. It’s marvelous in our eyes. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Like a child makes a spaceship by carefully piercing together blocks of Legos, our Lord has made the day of your salvation. The day of salvation is the day which the Lord has made. This is the Lord’s doing. It’s marvelous indeed. Your king comes to save you, something only he can do because only he is righteous, only he can fulfill the law properly, for only he is without sin, only he can be the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. Any righteousness we have is derived from him. His righteousness is his own. We are like the entourage who live in luxury, only because we happen to be friends with someone famous. We are like the people huddled around a fire trying to get warm, with the heat that the flame produces. He is the fire. He is the heat. He is the warmth. He is the true righteousness. He shares that righteousness with us. He not only lets us warm our bones beside the fire. He sets up camp right in our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit that is ours through the preaching of his Word. He not only lets us live in the lap of his luxury but he actually seeks out the lost and says to us, “Come follow me.” He selflessly gives us all his riches; he takes all our poverty for himself. That’s what the Messiah does.  He’s humble, riding on a donkey. As we saw last week, Jesus is nothing if not humble. His birth was humble. Not in the palace of the king, but in the barn of a full hotel. His childhood was humble, not surrounded by cameras and bodyguards and all the other trimmings that typically surround celebrity children, but the simple son of a carpenter and his wife, who lived in a small town in northern Israel. In the famous words of the prophet Isaiah, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”.  Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “who though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Messiah is humble, not only in appearance, but also in mission. He does not come as a despot to subdue the empires of the world; he speaks peace to the nations. That in itself should give us a moment’s pause. The righteous one, the Messiah, comes and speaks peace. We have his words today. Do we use them to speak peace, or do we prefer judgment and condemnation? Which file verses are the quickest to pop into our minds, the ones that condemn the sins of others or the ones that speak of the tender compassion of our God. Is the word of God a two-edged sword to be used against Satan, or do we prefer to cut down the people around us with it, leaving ourselves the last one standing? For all the abuse that sinful people have done to and with the precious word of God, that word remains first and foremost a word of peace, because the Messiah speaks peace. He speaks peace to the warring nations and the books of Zechariah. He speaks peace to calm the storm in the gospels, he speaks peace into your life. Cast all your anxiety on him. Live in peace, for he cares for you. He doesn’t promise that your life will be free from problems or free from pain, only that in him you will have a perspective that rises above the chaos of this life, and he can promise that, because only he can deliver. He is, after all, the only true king, “righteous and having salvation is he” “his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. He will rule in peace. That’s why through the Messiah we are prisoners of hope. In the words of the prophet Zechariah, because of the blood of God’s covenant with us he will set us free. For the Israelites of old, that referred to the blood of cows and birds that Abraham cut in half, by the shedding of that blood, God irrevocably bound himself to the Israelites, promising Abraham a son, a promise fulfilled in Isaac, promising to give Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars, a promise fulfilled in the people of Israel, and even more so in the church today, promising to establish the Israelites in the land of Canaan, the promise fulfilled in the days of Joshua, and promising to send the Messiah, the one through whom all nations will be blessed, the promise whose fulfillment we will celebrate over the span of the next week. Because God had made a promise and sealed it in blood the Israelites could confidently wait for his deliverance. We have covenant with God too, a blood covenant, not one sealed with the blood of goats or bulls, but with the blood of Christ himself, the blood of the new covenant given and shed for us and for our salvation. And that blood, the very blood waiting for you at the communion rail this day, established the promise between you and God, the promise that he will never leave you or forsake you, the promise that you belong to him, and that he lives in you. And because Christ lives in you, in the words of Paul, we are now bond servants of Christ, slaves of Christ, we remain prisoners, but no longer prisoners to sin. Because we are in Christ, we are in the words of Zechariah, prisoners of hope. We are enslaved to hope. Hope now permeates everything that we do. Hope tints the way that we look at the world around us. As we look past the struggles of this life, to thank our Lord for his blessings, hope seasons our speech, for we are the salt of the earth. So, we speak, not only of the concerns and the brokenness of this world, but for the hope of the life to come. And hope defines our relationships as we live in forgiveness and reconciliation, rejoicing in the unity that we possess in Christ. And that is the stronghold to which we return. The stronghold of Christ himself, through the gift of baptism you are in Christ, you are in the kingdom of God. Nothing can harm you in this stronghold. If God is for us, who can stand against us? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” And he shall speak peace, not only to the nations, but peace to you. “His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” And as for you, because of God’s blood covenant with you, he will set you free from the waterless pit, to return to your stronghold, prisoners of hope. The Lord has promised that he will restore to you double. He is faithful. He will see it done. In Jesus name, Amen.

Simple and Humble

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives in Jesus’ name, Amen. Persuasive writers are familiar with something called the rule of three. Maybe you’ve heard of this before. Basically, what it means is that a group of three things is more memorable than a group of two, or even just a single example. So, fire safety is taught to kids with three words “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Or Julius Caesar’s famous quote that we remember because there’s three words to it. “Veni, vidi, vici.  I came, I saw, I conquered.” Or even the United States Declaration of Independence memorably proclaims that all people are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights-life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And even the three examples of the rule of three helps us to remember how the rule of three works. Mark uses the rule of three, sort of. There are three times in the gospel of Mark where Jesus predicts his impending passion. Three times in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus tells his disciples what’s going to happen when they get to Jerusalem. Three times that he plainly and rather bluntly prophesizes that on the third day he will rise after being killed and crucified by the scribes and the chief priests. Once in chapter 8 once in Chapter 9 and once in chapter 10 which was this morning’s reading. But Mark also connects something else to each one of these passion predictions. So, see if you can figure out what it is. First, Jesus and his disciples were walking through the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days he would rise again. And Peter rebuked him for talking in such a way. Surely the Messiah would never suffer at the hands of the priests and the scribes. Surely the Messiah would never die. So Jesus called the crowd to him with his disciples and said “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.”  And then a week or so later Jesus and his disciples were once again journeying through Galilee and he taught his disciples saying, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” And his disciples were confused they were talking among themselves on the journey trying to understand. And somehow the conversation moved from what does it mean that the Messiah will die, to who among us is the greatest? So, Jesus sat down and called the 12 to himself and said “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And then taking a small child in his arms, Jesus saidWhoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” And then a few short days later, Jesus and his disciples were on the road again, going up to Jerusalem. That’s where today’s reading picks up. Jesus was walking ahead of the group, and the group behind him was amazed and afraid. Amazed, no doubt, of all that Jesus had done and said and taught up to that point, but afraid because he was intent on going to Jerusalem the stronghold of his opposition. Jesus was marching into the viper’s nest. And taking the 12 again, Jesus began to tell them exactly what was going to happen when he got there. The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinful men. The chief priests and the scribes would condemn him to death, and they would deliver him over to the Gentiles. The Gentiles would mock him, spit on him, flog him, kill him, but after three days he would rise. And for a third time the disciples missed the message. This time James and John, the Sons of Thunder asked Jesus for positions of prominence in the Kingdom of Glory, and for the third time in three chapters of Mark’s gospel, Jesus follows up a prediction of his passion, with teaching about humility and service. “You know, he says, “that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Three times, in three chapters, Jesus predicts his death, and all three times his prediction is paired with teaching about humility.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”  So, our Lord lays before us the simple truth today. We should expect humility from our Savior. It’s all over the New Testament. His birth was humble; shepherds’ cattle and hay instead of princes and palaces. His life was humble; even foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man had no place to lay his head. His death was humble; crucified outside the Holy City, as if he was nothing more than a common criminal. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.” You see it ultimately doesn’t matter that the work of our Lord was not met with the world’s resounding applause or approval. Jesus did not come to impress the dying world. He came to save it. So also, today he continues to work in our lives through humble means. The simplicity of his Word spoken and sung in this room, the simplicity of bread and wine, the simplicity of water, the simplicity of getting out of bed on a Sunday morning and making it here by 9:00. Now don’t misunderstand. I know that with kids it’s not easy to get out the door in the morning. I know that when you work all week it’s hard to get up on a Sunday. I know that when it’s a little cold and even a little damp like it is outside today, the thought of snuggling up under a blanket with a cup of coffee is actually quite appealing. I mean it would be different if every time we showed up here the heavens opened, right? If there was thunder and lightning, maybe if the altar glowed or levitated or floated or if the dead were raised among us, or something incredible happened every Sunday morning that left us amazed and breathless and speechless. But instead, all we do is sing, pray, and confess our sins, hear our Lord’s words of forgiveness, receive that forgiveness through Word and sacrament. Don’t be discouraged by the simplicity of it. Don’t be discouraged that the church doesn’t meet the world’s standard of greatness. It’s not the world’s church. It belongs to our Lord. He is our head; we are his body. Although these gifts appear simple to our earthly eyes, the eyes of faith see the hand of God at work among us, forgiving us, strengthening us, uniting himself to us to walk with us every step of our journey. Our Lord lived a humble life. Our Lord died a humble death. He delivers his gifts to us today through humble means and then he calls us to lives of humble service in the vocations where he’s placed us. So, we’re free to rejoice in the simple acts of service that fill each day. The daily grind of getting the kids out of the house, getting everyone to school on time, or whether or not you have kids, the daily grind of keeping up with your own laundry, making dinner day after day, cleaning the same kitchen over and over and over again, in these simple acts of service our Lord is at work through you, making you a blessing to the other people in your family and he’s at work for you through the other people in your family. And then when you get to your job, in response to that same e-mail, answering the same question for the 5th time, when you patiently help the new colleague who needs to be read into a project that you’ve been working on for years, when you faithfully do the best you can each and every day, completing whatever task is in front of you, you are the Lord’s blessing to the people you work with. At home, at work, in all of our vocations, we simply live the lives that we are called to live. We don’t need to keep score, we don’t need to wonder if we’re doing enough to make God happy with us, we don’t need to measure the magnitude of the impact to see if we’re changing the world for Jesus and leaving our mark. Even if we’re not changing the world, we’re changing someone’s world, leaving a mark on someone’s life and the lives of the people closest to us, the lives of the people that God himself put there. It may sound simple and it may be humble, but simple and humble, those are words that are near and dear to the heart of our Lord. His life was simple and humble, so he’s placed us into the same. The eyes of faith see through the humble means to the reality behind them. The Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of all things, he loves you, he unites himself to you through Word and sacrament, he empowers you to live each and every day of your life united to him, he walks with you every step of the way. And it makes no difference whether or not the world is impressed, all that matters is Christ for you, and that is exactly what you have. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Short-Sightedness

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. A father and his teenage son went out to spend a Saturday together during the son’s sophomore year of high school. They went to breakfast. The father paid for his son’s meal and his own. Dad got the western omelet with a side of hash browns and his son had cinnamon swirl French toast with a side of sausage patties. Then after breakfast, they caught their morning tee time. When they got to the golf course, the father paid for his green fees and his sons, and for a cart. He also bought them a hot dog and chips and Gatorade at the turn. When the beverage cart came around on hole number six, the dad bought his son a Milky Way and a bottle of water. And when the cart came around again on the back nine, the father once again paid for his son to have yet another Gatorade. After they finished the round of golf, they went out to eat again. This time the son got a burger, and fries, and a Pepsi, the father got a turkey club wrap, lemonade, and of course the bill. And then after lunch they got into the car and drove downtown to go to a baseball game. Dad had bought box seats for himself for his son. After the dad paid for parking, he and his son walked to the stadium. The son saw a T-shirt vendor on the street who was selling a particularly catchy shirt, so the father bought it for him, and once inside the ballpark they made their way to their seats, stopping so the dad could buy them a tray of nachos and a couple of sodas, and throughout the rest of the game, the son got a box of Cracker Jacks, and some lemon ice, which of course the dad bought for him. And then after the game, the father drove home while the son paged through the program that his dad had bought him. The stopped for a milkshake and for gas, which of course the father paid for. And then they got to go home, got to finally go to sleep in the beds bought by the father, in a house paid for by the father, wearing pajamas bought on dad’s dime. But all in all it, was a good day. The next day the father and the son went to church with the rest of the family, as they did every Sunday, again stopped for breakfast on the way home. Later that afternoon, dad was sitting in his chair reading when his son came in and asked him for a new phone. When he asked his father for the money to buy the new phone his dad said no. The son looked at his father complaining, “You are the worst dad ever. You never buy me anything.” before stomping off to his room, slamming the door. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself having a similar conversation, ever found yourself so distracted by the mindset of “what have you done for me lately?” Never mind that the father probably had to take out a second mortgage to pay for the outing the day before. All the son could think about was the next thing he wanted his dad to buy. Short sightedness. It’s not only a problem for teenagers, it’s the temptation that we all face, and indeed it was the temptation that the children of Israel fell victim to time and time again. That’s what’s going on in this morning’s Old Testament reading in the book of Numbers. Numbers chapter 21. We’re told that the Israelites set out from Mount Horeb by way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And on the way the people became impatient, grumbled and spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness for there is no food and there is no water and we hate this miserable food. Let’s take just a step back and look at their complaint. First don’t miss the detail that this complaint is recorded for us in the book of Numbers. I’ve probably told you before but I think the title Numbers is one of the most misleading titles for any book in the entire Bible, especially in the Pentateuch, the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. The name of each book tells you what the book is about. Take for example Genesis, which is the original Hebrew word, bereshit, which means in the beginning, it tells you about the origin of things. The book tells us the origin of the world, the origin of sin, the origin of Israel, as God’s people. Exodus tells us about God bringing his people out of Egypt, the exit. Leviticus outlines all the Levitical codes used in the Tabernacle and the temple, and the word Deuteronomy literally means second law, because it tells Moses giving the law to the Israelites a second time before they finally go into the Promised Land. But the title Numbers is this taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew title is b’mithvar, which literally means in the wilderness. It’s the book that tells you what happened to the Israelites after they left Mount Sinai, but didn’t get into the Promised Land. They sent out the spies, but the spies were too afraid and so Israel did not take possession of the land, as the Lord had promised, they were instead, sentenced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died off, and the next generation was grown. The context is important. It’s an important part of today’s reading. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” they asked. You might want to respond “Really, don’t you know your own history, don’t you remember slavery in Egypt, don’t you remember bricks with no straw, the miraculous plagues that led to your deliverance?” The text even tells us that they’re traveling right by the Red Sea when they begin grumbling. You can almost picture Moses upon hearing their complaints, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die?” and you see Moses pointing at the Red Sea saying, “Really, the Red Sea is right there. Don’t you remember walking through on dry ground? Don’t you remember the pillar of cloud and fire that protected you, that blocked Pharaoh and his army from chasing you? Don’t you remember the pillar moving out of the way so the army would chase you before they finally were drowned, as the walls of water came crashing down around them? How can you possibly doubt God’s intent for you? How can you possibly accuse God of bringing you out in the wilderness only to kill you? Haven’t you been paying any attention at all?” Then it gets worse before it gets better. “We hate this miserable food,” they say. What miserable food do they hate? It’s the mana, the bread from heaven, that miraculous food that is supplied for them each and every morning without them having to lift a finger to plant or harvest wheat. They don’t have to grind it into flour, they don’t have to bake anything. No, it’s just food, there for the taking, plopped into their laps every morning. Manna and quail sent by God from heaven. How quickly the Israelites forget all that God has done for them and all that God is still doing for them. Their complaints have blinded them to the many ways that our Lord revealed his love to them, and yet the same is true for us, isn’t it? That danger is there for us too. Before we’re too hard on the Israelites for being a bunch of malcontents, shouldn’t we take a good hard look at our own outlook and our own attitudes? Do we live, grateful for all that our Lord does for us and all that our Lord gives to us, or are we complainers like the Israelites before us? What’s going on with those snakes? Why does God send snakes into Israel? I think actually, it’s fairly simple. The snakes are simply sent by God to change their perspective, to give them a different way to look at it. To put it bluntly, who cares about food when you’re dead? The snakes, they burst onto the scene they show the people just how out of order their priorities truly are. Instead of a heart of thankfulness that the Lord had continued to provide for them, the people grumbled and complained, and so the Lord sent snakes into their midst to startle them awake, to shake them out of their comfort, open their eyes to their sin. That’s what our Lord’s Word of law does for us. It comes into our lives to change our perspective, to show us our sin, to leave us dead in our trespasses, without hope for deliverance. The law condemns us and leaves us without excuse. Like the Israelites before us, we are tempted to complain about the injustices we see in our lives, the promotion we didn’t get, the nicer house or car that our neighbor has, the battles that we struggle with in our families. And it’s true that our Lord invites us to take all of our complaints and our concerns to him in prayer. That’s not what the Israelites were doing. They were just grumbling. They weren’t looking for a solution, they were just complaining, and so our Lord puts some snakes among them as a way to say “Snap out of it.” And this law does the same for us. Does the same in our lives. it’s as if he’s saying “Stop complaining about your job or your house or your car.,” your true problem is your sin, your true problem is that you were separated from me. Getting a new job, getting a new house, getting a new car, that’s not going to fix your sin. You need something different. You need something more. You need a Savior and for the Israelites that was a snake on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake, when that person looked to the bronze serpent, that person was healed. Jesus tells us that’s how he works too. This is a picture of our salvation and him. The bronze serpent had the form of the snakes. The snakes that were Israel’s problem and so Jesus takes on the form of our sinful flesh. He becomes an icon of our true problem. Unlike the real serpents, the bronze serpent had no poison. So also, Jesus had no sin of his own. And as the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole, in the midst of Israel, so Jesus is lifted up on the cross. Just as any Israelite who was stricken with the snake’s venom would be delivered by looking in faith to the bronze serpent, so also our salvation from the poison of sin comes by looking to our Savior’s cross. It’s all right there before us. Sin is our true problem; Jesus is our true solution. The temptation will always be there for us to forget the deliverance our Lord has given us, to sit in front of the baptismal font of our own Red Sea and still look at our Lord and say “What have you done for me lately?” We’ll be tempted to be so focused on our present struggles, that we ignore God’s great acts of deliverance that got us here in the first place. We will be tempted to complain, like the Israelites. But thanks be to God for the work of his Law that puts some such complaining to death in us, that puts our sin to death in us. Thanks be to God for the deliverance that he gives us through our Lord Jesus Christ. He will continue to provide for us throughout the days of our pilgrimage, until he finally leads us across the Jordan River of our own life into the Promised Land of the new creation. May God grant us faithfulness until that day, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

We Preach Christ Crucified

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. What do you think is the most foolish thing you’ve ever seen? If I asked you that question 20 years ago, your answer would be limited by your life’s experience, but today with the internet, with phones, and little videos at our fingertips, you’ve probably seen some pretty silly things. You’ve seen people make some pretty foolish choices. Maybe doing something while driving, maybe someone trying to do a backflip who has no business trying to do a backflip, maybe someone getting a running start and trying to jump over a puddle and the falling well short, maybe even going face first. You get the idea. Stuff never ends well. You always hoped no one was injured, but I still catch myself laughing out loud. The viewers all over the world everywhere get a good laugh at someone else’s misery. What is the most foolish thing that you think you’ve ever seen? The truth that Paul puts before us today is that there are many people all over the world who would consider every single one of us in this room today to be foolish, on a whole different level. There are many who consider it quite silly to be a religious person. One doesn’t need to look very hard to find objections to Christianity. Some criticize religious people on the basis of science, as if scientific discovery has somehow made religion irrational. Some criticized on the basis of pain, suffering, and hardship in the world, asking why you would ever believe in an all-powerful God who doesn’t put those things to an end, who allows such things to continue. To be honest I don’t really want to engage those objections this morning. We’ve touched those waters in Bible class and we can continue to do that when and where time allows. Today I simply want to step back and focus on what’s wrapped up in Paul’s message to the Corinthians. It’s a message that is simple to them, and simple for us. Jews demand signs, Greeks seek wisdom, we preach Christ, and not only that, we preach Christ crucified. You see the earliest Christians faced opposition from these two places, both of which are still at play in the church today. The first Christians faced opposition from the self-proclaimed intellectuals of the day. The Greek criticism against Christianity is that its teachings were foolish, they were silly. It’s no secret how much the Greeks loved wisdom, it’s where we get the word philosophy from the combination of Greek words that says I love wisdom. Even if you’ve never studied philosophy for a day in your life, you could still probably name some of the great Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. And that love continued from the Greek empire into the Roman, Cicero and Seneca. And in the eyes of the philosophers, the message of Christianity was silly, the idea of the cross foolish. Gods shouldn’t be weak. Gods shouldn’t die. If they do, they certainly shouldn’t die in humiliation. In fact Cicero once said, “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” The cross was an embarrassment, the cross was a scandal. The idea that your God would voluntarily put himself up on a cross for the salvation of his people, that was just downright silly. But there was also opposition to the gospel from those seeking something more, something with a flair for the dramatic. That was the Jewish criticism. Christianity wasn’t just foolish, it was weak. Jews were always looking for signs to verify the prophets’ words, but they fell in love with the signs, started to value of the signs over the message. They grew to expect great acts of deliverance, great acts of power from their Messiah. If you come to Easter vigil, you’ll hear the history of our Lord’s mighty acts of deliverance, you’ll hear of the Red Sea, you’ll hear of the flood, you’ll hear of the fiery furnace, you’ll hear great and mighty acts, and in the eyes of the Jews, the Greek philosophers were right, and the Christians were wrong. They said Gods shouldn’t be weak, God’s shouldn’t die. They certainly shouldn’t die in humiliation. So, Paul takes a step back and presents us with a stark but simple truth. No matter how you dress up the cross, the world will always find it offensive. We’ll always find it distasteful, because the world prefers what appears attractive, what appears successful. The world will always consider the gospel foolish. The world will always think Christians are wasting their time, but here’s the beauty of what Paul says. He’s not worried about meeting the world on its own terms. You want to call the cross foolish, Paul says that’s fine. Paul embraces the scandal of the cross, he celebrates the weakness, he finds comfort in God’s promise in the words of the prophet, Isaiah, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Rather than Paul trying to somehow soften the scandal of the cross, he just leans right into it, puts the cross squarely in the spotlight. “You want wisdom,” Paul says. Where is the wise man of this age, where is the philosopher, where is the lawyer, where is the politician, where is the scientist, where is the atheist, where is the scribe? Paul asks. Where is the religious elite, where is the spiritual expert, where is the biblical scholar, where is the debater of this age, where is the one who stands against the true knowledge of God, because for all of their so-called knowledge, and for all of their so-called wisdom, and for all of their influence, they remain ignorant of the things of God. For God saw to it that the world would not know him through its own wisdom, in order that we preach what we preach might be saved through the folly of what we preach. I’m going to say that again because I really butchered it. God saw to it that the world would not know him through its own wisdom in order that we might be saved through the foolishness of what we preach. Paul embraces the foolishness, because Paul knows that it is for you, and it is for your salvation. We don’t have to explain away the cross. It is foolish by the world standard. That God would continue to act and love towards those who continue to push him away, that’s silly. That God that faithfully redeemed the people who brought sin and corruption into his once perfect creation. There’s no explaining that away. That God would willingly hand himself over into the hands of sinful men to be beaten, to be ridiculed, to be mocked and executed. The cross is foolish. That’s OK because the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We’re never going to reach God by our own wisdom. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, but remember what Isaiah says next, not only does the Lord say my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts, but he says For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,  giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Yes, the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men, but God has not left his ways hidden. He used the foolish weak things of this world to outsmart the wisdom of this world, and then he told us about it. Revealed it to us in his word, and he’s pointed us to the weak and foolish things where our hope and our salvation is found. To a splash of water connected to the power of his Word, to a simple meal of bread and wine, the spoken word of forgiveness, the proclamation of his gospel, the fruits of the cross for you. So let the world have its criticisms. Let the world have its objections. We’ll meet them in time. We can engage in the debate when and where we will. Let the world have its wisdom and its strength. We rest in the foolishness of God. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world so that none of us could ever boast in his presence. The world around us seeks wisdom and majesty. We have Christ. Christ crucified and Christ risen for you. A stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles, but to us he is the power of God and the wisdom of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Things of Man, The Things of God

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. We’ve had a full 2 weeks to digest the Super Bowl, all of the controversies that surround it, especially in this age of social media and online interaction. There’s no shortage of controversies, controversies within the game itself. Maybe there was missed calls you thought should have gone one way or the other, dropped passes or blown assignments that could have changed the outcome of the game if they had just gone a little bit differently. The big one this year-overtime strategy. What should you do if you win the coin toss in overtime of the Super bowl? Maybe you don’t care about the game. Maybe it was the controversies for the things surrounding the game that caught your eye, the halftime show perhaps. What songs were played, what songs should have been played, costumes that were worn and apparently there was something with the roller skates that I missed, or Taylor Swift, too much coverage of Taylor Swift, not enough coverage of Taylor Swift. But there was the criticism of the criticism. Why are we even care about Taylor Swift and whether she’s at a football game? Maybe she’s a deep state plant to get people to vote for Joe Biden, or maybe it’s the controversy over the commercials. That surfaces every year. Which ones are the best, which ones are the worst. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Tom Brady dancing around in jogging suits for Dunkin’ Donuts, Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to pronounce neighbor for State Farm, or the always endearing awkwardness of Michael Cera selling Cere Ve lotion skin cream, or maybe it was none of those. If you looked at my timeline on my social media accounts, they were flooded with a different controversy. “He gets us” commercials. Maybe you heard about those maybe you didn’t. There’s a commercial that showed Christians washing the feet of various people, washing the feet of a young woman at an abortion clinic, washing the feet of a Muslim family, washing the feet of various homosexual or transgender people. You get the idea. The tagline at the end of the commercial said this. “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.” He gets us, all of us. And not surprisingly the controversy came from all sides. It was criticism from those who thought the ad itself was a waste of money, that violated the very spirit of what it was trying to proclaim? Why would you spend $100 million plus on commercials about helping people when you could just use the money to help people. Then there was the criticism from those who said that the ads just simply condoned sin, condoned heresy, by showing Christians washing the feet of people living in open and unrepentant sin, and then, as with the Taylor Swift, there was just the criticism of the criticism, people saying that when it comes to getting a Christian message out there before an unbelieving world, something, anything is better than nothing. So what are we to make of this? What are we to make of that “He gets us” campaign and the commercials and the controversy surrounding them? Well, I think the first thing we have to do is acknowledge the goal and the motivation of the ads themselves. The second is to ask whether or not they accurately portray the Biblical Jesus. So, first things first. Why do these ads even exist. Why did somebody put them on air during the Super bowl? What can we take from them? For Christians, I think it’s a way to challenge ourselves, it’s an opportunity for us to ask ourselves if we have grown comfortable and complacent in our Christianity. Think about it like this. We aren’t even scandalized by the story of the Good Samaritan. There might be some merit in asking ourselves who the Samaritans of our own day are. Who are the people that we are uncomfortable around, that Jesus would still reach out to and love? Who are the people that we are comfortable judging, and looking down on the high horse of moral superiority? Who are the Samaritans of our day? There’s a reason that Jesus was not welcome among the religious leaders of his time, and to ignore those realities is to simply ignore parts of the Biblical Jesus that make us uncomfortable. For those outside the church, these ads are an invitation to step beyond the caricature of the church being a place filled with hate, the place of nothing more than self-righteous people gathering together just to judge others. The truth is the majority of our world sees the message of the church as a message of hate, and in that regard these ads present us with some helpful questions. Does my language in my conversation obscure the gospel or invite people to it? Are the things I put on my social media loving and charitable? Do my attitudes actually mirror those of my Savior? Do I love even the least of these with the love that I myself have received? And while those maybe helpful diagnostic questions to a point, they ultimately leave us short. They miss the mark because they lead us down a path at which the true Jesus is not found at the end of it. There are questions born of the Law and the Law will always leave us in our sin, this side of heaven. We could never present God’s Law in such a way that it would make sinners comfortable. That would just leave us in our sin. To those who want to remain in sin, the message of scripture will always be a message of so-called hate. So, while it’s true that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and that he ate with tax collectors and sinners, if that’s all that we think he is, we kind of missed the whole point. Just consider today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and his disciples traveling through Caesarea Philippi, Jesus turns to them and says “Who do people say that I am?” “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah”. But then Jesus asks them “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” Jesus says “Yes” and then charged them strictly to tell no one that he was the Christ. Now why would you do that? Well because the 1st century expectations for what the Christ was going to be and what the Christ was going to do was expectations that were wrong. They were looking for a military Messiah. Someone to raise an army and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem, someone to reclaim the Promised Land and usher in an age of economic prosperity, raising Israel back to the golden status it had in the days of David and Solomon. But as the reading continues, Jesus immediately begins to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many things. That he is going to be rejected by the religious establishment, that he’s going to be killed, and after three days, rise again. He tells them this openly, he tells them this plainly; there’s no misunderstanding what he’s trying to say. So, Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him. That’s no way for the Christ to talk, Jesus. That’s not a future fit for the Messiah and there we have the overlay, the similarity between the controversy over a few Super Bowl commercials and the text of today’s Gospel. Who exactly is this Jesus and what did he come to earth to do? Did he come to reach out to tax collectors and sinners? Did he come just to leave us an example that we should do the same? Do these commercials accurately portray a biblical Jesus? Well kind of. But thinking that Jesus simply came to demonstrate the kind of love he expects from us, that’s missing the point. Such thinking leaves our minds on the things of men not on the things of God. It leaves us focused on our own attitudes, on our own words, on our own actions, and even worse, it keeps Jesus off the cross. Peter tells Jesus it’s not fitting for the Messiah to be rejected or to suffer or to die. Peter believes that Jesus must take his place on the throne of Israel to usher in the golden age of Jerusalem. What are we tempted to? Are we not often tempted to join the voice of our culture telling Jesus that it’s not fitting for the Messiah to be rejected, or to suffer, or to die; instead he should preach a message of tolerance and peace without expecting repentance, reaching out to all people and accepting them no matter what their creed, or orientation, or life, without any expectation of change. Do we think that Jesus should just end world hunger, or global warming, or the border crisis without any sacrifice from his church for those among us with means? Do we think that Jesus should just affirm the outcast in our midst for such affirmation must be the only true form of love, right? And Jesus’ response to us is the same as it was to Peter. Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking about the things of God, you are focused on the things of men. Why are you trying to keep the Messiah off the cross? Why do you stand in the way of what the Messiah came to accomplish? Do you want to love like Jesus? Let any who would come after me deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. Yes, it’s true. The message of Jesus is for all people. All gender identities, all sexual orientations, all races, all religions. The message of Jesus is for all people, but not because it’s a message of tolerance and acceptance, but because of the message of repentance, of turning our back on a former way of living, putting to death the old Adam and being brought forth in the new life of faith. And there’s not a single person on earth who doesn’t need that message. Not a single person in this room who doesn’t need that message. The joy of the Gospel is that there’s not a single person in this room who doesn’t have that hope. There’s not a single person on earth for whom Jesus didn’t go to the cross. For when Jesus went to the cross, he died for the sin of the whole world, all creation, and he reconciled God and man, putting back together what had been broken by sin. The call to repentance is an invitation to those broken by sin. Come to me all who labor, come to me all who are burdened, I will give you rest. Learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and in me you will find rest for your souls. Controversy over commercials over Super Bowl ads is nothing more than the latest incarnation of the age-old debate over who Jesus is and what Jesus does, over who we are as his church, what we are called to do. So perhaps the solution is just to go back to the basics. Is Jesus for all people? Of course. So, trying to get the message of Jesus out to the over 120 million people who watched the Super bowl, well that’s a noble aim. Are there a lot of people in our world who feel like the church is simply a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, who sit around and cast stones at others? Of course. So, a message trying to breakdown those walls and reach the disenfranchised, it’s also kind of a noble aim. But is Jesus simply one who come to us in our sin to give us a hug, and tell us it’s all going to be OK. No. No Jesus is much more than that. He comes to show us that the path of sin ends in death, he comes to reveal our sin, to show it to us, and to call sinners to repentance. He comes to turn us around from continuing down that path of sin, and he invites us and gives us a new life in him. This world will never understand Jesus. Sadly, many in the church will miss the point too. Let us simply take Jesus at his word. He is the Christ who came to suffer many things in order to win our freedom, true freedom, not simply the ability to do or live as we choose. The freedom to live as he intended. To live as he designed us. Our righteousness, our identity is found in being united to him, and because we are alive in him, we have peace that the world cannot give us. So yes, let’s be willing to wash the feet of those in the world around us, but more than that, be ready to show them the Savior who does so much more. He doesn’t just get us. He dies for us. He died in our place. He changes us. He lives in us. He works through us. He has made us his own. He will never let us go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Mountain of the Lord’s Choosing

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. There are certain places in history, certain locations that have been witness to multiple significant events. Take, for example, the dueling grounds in Weehawken, NJ. Now it’s long been well known that founding father Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr and it’s more widely known recently due to the success of a Broadway musical, Hamilton, that Hamilton’s own son, was also killed in a pistol duel. But what might not be well known is that the location for both of those duels was the same, the dueling grounds near Weehawken, NJ. Maybe it’s because in those days there weren’t a lot of dueling grounds to choose from. Maybe it’s because Alexander decided that if he was going to die in a duel, it was going to happen at the same place that his son experienced the same fate. Whatever the case, by chance or by design, the dueling grounds in Weehawken, NJ were home to the death of two Hamilton men, a mere 3 years apart. There might be room for discussion about the motivation behind two Hamiltons dying in the same spot, but there is no room for doubt when it comes to the train car where WWI officially came to an end. Maybe you’ve heard this story before. On November 11th, 1918 allied forces met with Germany in a train car to sign the Armistice that ended WWI, but about 20 years later, when Nazi forces captured France on their conquest for Europe, during WWII, Hitler made the French representatives sign their surrender in the exact same train car, and that was no accident. That was not coincidence. That was revenge for what had happened there in the past. Significant events happening at the same spot. There’s also a spot significant location mentioned in today’s Old Testament reading, one where multiple important events happen throughout the scriptures, one where multiple deaths occur, one chosen on the purpose of the future events, based on what happened there in the past, and that location is Mount Moriah. Genesis 22 opens with God’s words to Abraham. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Now certainly there’s much that could be said about this whole story. Much in this narrative foreshadows the work of Jesus. There’s the fact that God calls Isaac, Abraham’s beloved son. Words which are echoed by the Father himself in the baptism of Jesus, there’s the way that Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice much like Jesus carries the wood of his own cross up his hill of execution, but today I want to focus on something else. I want to notice something else. I want to spend a few minutes considering the place where this happens, the place where God sends Abraham. See God didn’t tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in the backyard, didn’t tell him to go to the beach, or choose any old place that was convenient for Abraham, someplace that was on the way. No, he sent the patriarch to a specific place, the mountain which the Lord chose and that mountain eventually gets the name, “the Lord will provide”. Location is important to our Lord. In the book of Deuteronomy, he tells the Israelites that they shouldn’t just offer sacrifices wherever they feel like it, but only in the place where he causes his name to be remembered. Jesus himself says in the gospel of Luke that a prophet should not die apart from or away from Jerusalem, speaking of course, of himself. Now perhaps in our day we’ve lost sight of this a little bit. I mean we can stream TV shows or movies or podcasts from wherever we want, anywhere that we have signal. We can call anyone from almost anywhere with our cell phones. We can work remotely. I had a friend in Houston whose dad lived in Austin, and working for CPA firm in Baltimore. We can join meetings virtually. They even hold certain courtroom proceedings or other legal proceedings on zoom these days, and so in our daily experience, one place is oftentimes no more significant than the next, and yet we still seek out those places where something significant happened. We still take trips to our nation’s capital, we still want to go visit the historic battlegrounds, we still take friends and family up to Los Alamos to see where the Manhattan Project happened, and so in some way, yes, location is still very much important to us, still matters, definitely matters to our Lord. God sent Abraham to a specific mountain. He did it for a reason, and when Abraham got there, when Isaac got there, God provided for them on that mountain. That’s what I want you to notice about the story today. That’s the language that Moses uses as he writes the story in the book of Genesis. It might not be the only thing we’re supposed to get from the story, but it is certainly one of the main things. And yes, the book of Hebrews holds up Abraham as an example of great faith, as one who trusts in God’s promise, the promise that through Isaac all nations will be blessed. That’s certainly true. But that’s why Abraham’s name comes up in the book of Hebrews. There’s something else going on, or being emphasized here in Genesis. In the New Testament in Hebrews, those words are written to early Christians who were beginning to wonder whether or not Jesus would ever return, wonder whether or not they should go back to the sacrifices in the temple, and to those people in that context, the author offers a word of perseverance, of endurance, of faith, setting up people like Abraham as examples. But in Genesis, Moses is doing something a little different. The main point is this: God himself provided and he did so when and where he said he would. That’s why Moses tells us the name of the mountain was called, “the Lord will provide”, and Moses even adds in the comment for his readers that it was still in that day called, “the Lord will provide”.  “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” This text continuously points us back to the Lord providing. The Lord provided for Abraham and for Isaac on that mountain. After the Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham’s hand, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket and Abraham took the ram and offered it in place of Isaac. God sent Abraham to the place where he, God, would provide a substitute. God provided on that mountain, provided something else to die so that Isaac could live. But that wasn’t the only time God provided the substitute on that mountain. 1000 years later, King David found himself once again on Mount Moriah. You can read the story in 1 Chronicles 21. Israel was being punished for David’s hubris. He had taken a census, against the Lord’s command, and so the Lord sent a pestilence into Israel, and David watched as the population of his mighty Kingdom began to decline rapidly. The Lord sent a prophet to David and told him to build an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, which just so happened to be on Mount Moriah. So, David bought Ornan’s threshing floor and his oxen for 600 shekels of gold, and presented the Lord burnt offerings and peace offerings on Mount Moriah. The Lord relented of the disaster set to befall Israel. The Lord once again provided a substitute on Mount Moriah, this time not a ram for Isaac, but this time oxen for all of Israel. The Lord was not done with Mount Moriah. The mountain comes up again in 2 Chronicles, chapter 3, and actually has a role in the history of the world to this day. We get to see one generation later, David’s son Solomon set out to build the temple of Israel. What better place than Mount Moriah, the place where the Lord had appeared to his father David, the place that David had appointed on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. So once again the Lord provided a substitute on Mount Moriah, this time by way of the whole sacrificial system, through which God forgave the sins of Israel, and sanctified them to be his own. God would continue to provide for his people on Mount Moriah, even after Solomon’s temple was destroyed. The exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, rebuilt the Lord’s temple on Mount Moriah, reinstituted the practice of sacrifice there, on the mountain of the Lord choosing, the mountain where the Lord said he would provide for his people. All of this happened on Mount  Moriah, the place where God provided for Abraham. All of this recalls the way the Lord provided on that mountain in the past, but more  importantly all of that foreshadowed what would happen on that mountain when the son of God himself visited Mount  Moriah in the flesh. Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, gave his life as a sacrifice on Mount Mariah, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, not too far from the altar in the temple, not too far from the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, not too far from the place where the ram, caught in the thicket, was sacrificed for Isaac. The Lord did indeed provide on Mount  Moriah, provided the sacrifice that makes us whole. The Father’s beloved son sacrificed for the sin of the world. On the mountain of the Lord, it was provided. That’s what continues even to this day. Maybe not on the literal Mount Moriah, but through the means our Lord has used there, in the past. The temple once built on Mount Moriah as a place where God would provide for his people. The temple is no longer a building of stone and mortar, it is made of living stones, the people of God, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. It’s here. It’s here in our Lord’s church that he continues to provide for our deliverance. He ensures the proclamation of his word, law and gospel, law to condemn us in our sin, gospel to heal us with the promise of forgiveness. He provides for us gifts from this very altar, the fruit of his cross, the life-giving tree for all who believe, the body and blood of Jesus himself to forgive our sins, to enliven us in faith toward him and fervent love toward one another. Here in his church is where the Lord is found today, wherever the word of God is taught in his truth and purity, wherever his sacraments are given out according to his institution. Here is where the Lord provides for us today. It’s the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is the season of repentance. To repent is to return to the Lord, to turn around from walking in our sin and to face the other direction. So, in repentance we return to the Lord, but we do so thankful that he has not left us to search blindly for him. Location matters to our Lord, and so we seek him where he may be found, where he’s told us that he is. Here in his church, on this holy mountain of our Lord, we received the gifts he wants to give us. The proclamation of his forgiveness, the body and blood of his son. Here is the mountain of the Lord’s choosing. So here we are gathered in the name, and the remembrance of Jesus, where he continues to provide for us, because ultimately, that’s who he is. He is the God who provides. Provides for Abraham, for Isaac, for Israel through David and Solomon and the temple, provides for us today. Thanks be to God for that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.