Fifth Sunday in Lent (Genesis 22:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday in Lent + April 7, 2019

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

Genesis 22:2: “[God] said, ‘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.’”

We should be horrified at this

1) Because of what is being asked, and

2) Who is asking.

This is disgusting! An outrage!  And for God to ask for it?!  But over against the wrenching feelings in his gut that told him this was wrong, Abraham obeyed because of Who was asking.

  1. We also are told to believe God and trust what He says because of Who is speaking, even if it seems outrageous to our ears.
  2. In the world, when we are told that immoral things are acceptable and even good.
  3. We are flooded with examples of same-sex relationships that are supposed to validate them from Doc McStuffins[1] (a show for preschoolers which featured a “two mom” family in 2017) to Star Trek Discovery, which glorifies an intimate relationship between two men.
  4. Lawmakers harden their hearts against God and lead astray the ignorant by legalizing and encouraging murder under the guise of healthcare and destruction of gender distinctions and family structure under the banner of civil rights.
  5. We are told to believe and embrace some disgusting things, things contrary to nature, which even a healthy conscience says are wrong.  But who is telling us this?  Should we obey people, or God?
  6. Lest we become proud of how we haven’t been fooled by the world, we in our lives have made excuses for why it’s not so bad when we sin.
    1. The Lord condemns gossip, but we think He doesn’t mind our gossip, like when we get together and badmouth people who aren’t there to speak for themselves.  After all, we have their best interests at heart because we’re “good Christian” people.  But no matter how good our intentions are, we are going about it a sinful way, and we need to repent.
    1. There’s a lot in this world to be angry about—about what we hear on the news, corruption, the way people treat each other, and how people have treated us.  But the Lord says in Psalm 4:4, “Be angry and do not sin.”  When we feel anger over these things, we may be getting angry over genuinely bad things, but in our sin we go beyond our place.  We plot ways to make them see their error, ways that we can get an advantage over them.  But really what we need to do is get down on our knees and confess our pride and let God be right.  God will have His righteous anger, and act in the way that He knows is best.
  • But most of all in believing God over our understanding, we are to believe the Word of God that’s spoke in Confession and Absolution
    • Matthew 18:18-20: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.””  – The Lord says an incredible thing here.  The keys are given to the Church, to be shared between each other.  And when we share that forgiveness, it isn’t just a human act—“whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”—that forgiveness is valid before God.
    • John 20:22-23: “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – The keys of the Kingdom are exercised publicly.
    • Reason would say, “Why should I believe that this word of forgiveness has any power beyond the person speaking it?”  “Who is the pastor to forgive sins?” But faith answers, Amen even when our reason says we don’t deserve it, or others don’t deserve it.  We believe this because of Who has spoken this Word.
  1. A faith that lives by God’s Word is called complete.
    1. James later says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Abraham’s faith was completed by this work, as a matter of proof that his faith was living and active.
    1. Abraham’s faith was completed by his works.  How is our faith completed?  What sort of works does the absolution result in?  If we are absolved and immediately go out and condemn another, how have we taken grace to heart?  If we are absolved of our wretched thoughts, words, and deeds, and go out and freely do it again, are we actually letting the Holy Spirit sanctify us?  If our Christianity is only good on Sunday morning, but doesn’t change the rest of how we raise our families or live as citizens, are we really being salt and light as the Lord calls us?
    1. Abraham is an example for us, the man of faith.  The point is that faith in God and His Word changes who we are—how we think, how we speak, how we act.
      1. Biblical examples of this: Abraham went from being a pagan to a forefather of faith.  Peter started as a timid fisherman but God made him into a bold apostle.  Paul went from being a zealous enemy to a humble and powerful witness.
      1. God works these changes in your life as well, according to His own plan.  These are the fruits of faith. It isn’t going to be the same for everyone, because God has specific callings and situations for each of us.

[1] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/doc-mcstuffins-two-mom-family_n_59888da3e4b0ca8b1d49d483

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday in Lent + April 2, 2017

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:17-27

You’ve heard it said, “Seeing is believing.”  This works most of the time.  You wouldn’t buy a car if the dealer refused to show you the one you were buying.  You wouldn’t work long for an employer who promised you a paycheck but never actually came up with the money.

 

However, sometimes our faith—what we believe—is opposed to what we see.  Think of what we confessed in the Creed—we see God’s visible creation, but not His Son and what He did for us, and while we’ve seen a portion of the holy Christian and apostolic Church, we haven’t seen the Spirit or the rest of it.  Nevertheless, we believe in these things because God’s Holy Spirit is at work in us—His Word tell us this is all true.

 

Think about the valley of dry bones:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. (Ezek. 37:1-2)

Sight sees dry, dead bones.

 

Then the Lord asks a question: And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’”  That’s faith’s answer, because what our eye sees and what our mind knows would say flat-out “No.”  But what the rest of the vision shows is that God is able by His Word to do what we may not see or yet see.  Even death itself is not too great an obstacle to God.

 

This is the same thing we see in the raising of Lazarus.  21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”  It’s faith over sight.  Sight sees a lifeless body, a closed tomb.  Faith sees that God is able to do all things good—even if it should be to raise the dead.

 

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

 

There again the Lord asks a question.  It can only be answered with faith, by the Holy Spirit at work in a person’s heart.  Do you believe that God is Almighty, that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He speaks?

 

Faith answers affirmatively.  Yes, I believe because the Holy Spirit tells me God does not lie.  He is not limited in what He can do.  Everything which we confess in the Creed is true, even though we’ve seen very little of it.  All of the Bible is true, even though we may not fully understand some things, and haven’t seen others.  We believe that God has given us nothing but truth to cling to.

 

Doubt and unbelief will put limits on what God can do—sometimes thinking He can only do as little as our own imaginations.  “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’”[1]  All looks lost, and judging by man alone, it may well be.

 

God’s people Israel today say can’t bring the people of this generation to faith.  We need to spice things up to “get the young people.”  They’ll only come if you throw out the liturgy and model yourself after a rock concert.  We believe in market analysis and hearsay from false prophets and hypocrites who claim to know the Scriptures but deny the power of God.

 

God’s people look to themselves and say, “I’m tired and worn out from all that I’ve been through.”  I believe in the doctors who tell me all that’s wrong with my health, and the gurus which tell me I need to take some “me time” and focus on myself for a while.  I believe in my calendar which is packed with far too many “important” things to fit in serving my neighbor or taking up a job at church.

 

Yet faith comes first, then sight.  Look and believe what God did to dry, dead bones.  Look at what He did to a man dead in the tomb for four days!  Why do we doubt that He can sustain His Israel, the Church?  Why would we believe He’s more at work where we see impressive things happening, and not at work everywhere His Word is preached—including Bethlehem?

 

We are people who have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who joy in the forgiveness of sins, who are members of the holy Christian and apostolic Church.  We are God’s people, and our hope is in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Death is an easy thing for God to overcome by His Word.  So, can He not also dispel our sloth and hopelessness?

 

Even though we do not see the dead raised, we believe that His Word goes out and accomplishes His purpose.[2]  He calls the weary to rest, He convicts the indifferent, He raises those in spiritual death.

 

Now, come you weary people of God, to the feast which your Lord has prepared for you at His table.  This is the Body and Blood of your Risen Lord, and by it He will strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  And faith says: Amen.

[1] Ezekiel 37:11

[2] Isaiah 55:9-11