Monday, June 28, 2010

Sermon - 1 Kings 19:9b-21 - Pentecost 5

1 Kings 19:9b-21
June 27th, 2010
“Not a God of Appearances”

It was looking pretty bleak for Elijah. The wicked queen Jezebel had a price on his head. She, and many in Israel, liked their Baal worship. They didn’t take it well when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in their contest on Mt. Carmel. They liked it even less when he had the false prophets put to death. This was not some polite discussion amongst people who happened to disagree on religion. This was life or death stuff.

Would Israel worship the true and only God, who had brought them out of Egypt, given them a promised land, and still promised them a savior? Or would Israel worship Baal and the other false gods.

Even after God demonstrated his power with spectacular miracles, it appeared to Elijah that the false gods were winning. His own life was in danger. He was all alone. Or so he thought. So in a fit of self-pity, Elijah the prophet goes to Mt. Siani, finds a cave, and sits and stews. When God asks, “what are you doing here, Elijah?” we hear the prophet complain to God that he is all alone and all is lost. He did his best, but now it was hopeless. They were even out to kill him too.

God has an answer for Elijah. But it’s not what you might expect. He tells him to go stand by the mountain and wait. The show was about to begin.

First a great and mighty wind. Splitting the rocks. Lots of power. Big show. But God was not in the wind.

Then a mighty earthquake. Another powerful sign? No. God wasn’t in the earthquake.

How bout a nice blazing fire? Something to get your attention. Nope. God’s not there. Where is he?

He’s in the whisper.

He is, after all, not a God of appearances. He’s not interested in fireworks and glitz. He works in mysteriously quiet ways for an all-powerful being.

We’re not too different from Elijah. We have our good days and our bad days. When times are good, we don’t expect much from God, if we think of him at all. But when the going gets tough, we start to worry, to complain, to doubt God’s goodness.

When it appears one way, with God, it’s often just the opposite.

Elijah thought he was alone. God assured him he was not. A remnant of 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah thought it was all in vain. God told him it was not. When Elijah was done, others would take up the fight, carry his mantle, and continue fighting for God’s kingdom. Elijah thought he would die in lonely shame – but scripture tells us he was carried to heaven on a glorious fiery chariot.

But Elijah isn’t the only one to see God acting in mysterious ways, that are not what they appear. Think of Jesus.

Here is a man who appeared humble and poor and nothing much special. Born in a backwater town to an unwed mother, laid in a manger. But appearances deceive, and this little child was not only our champion in the battle with Satan, he was God of Gods made flesh.

Here is a man who did miracles! Great crowds followed him. But when his teachings were hard to accept, many deserted him. Not the appearance of a savior worth his salt.

And when the final confrontation with the establishment powers came, it appeared they had the upper hand. They arrested Jesus and his disciples scattered. He was beaten and shamed and crucified with the criminals. It appeared all hope was lost – for him, and for all who followed him. But he is not a God of appearances. However, he is a God of his word.

He kept his word, and rose from the dead. Thomas wanted to see an appearance, but Jesus said more blessed are those who don’t see and yet believe.

And this ragtag band of fearful fisherman and friends – they didn’t look like much, but they would take his Gospel to the ends of the earth.

What does all this show us? That when it comes to our God, we should not judge by appearances. When it comes to his word, seeing doesn’t have much to do with believing.

When you feel your sin the most – when it appears God is far off – then is his grace all the more real. When life’s worries peck and poke at you, then is his word your sure defense.

And even when death comes, and it appears your last hour is at hand, it is merely the gate to eternal life and paradise with your Lord.

I’ve always found it strange, but fitting, that in the last few moments of our funeral rite, as the pastor stands over the casket and at the grave, he reads the words of St. Paul, “Where oh, death is your victory? Where is your sting?” Where is death? It’s right before you… didn’t you notice the body? But appearances deceive. For though the Christian rests in the grave, death has no victory. To the contrary. In Jesus Christ our hope is sure, of comfort does not fail. For we will rise again, and in our flesh, see God face to face.

Now, we see dimly. Much is clouded. But then we will see clearly. When he appears. When he returns to judge the living and the dead, and to take us home forever.

Until then we walk by faith, and not by sight. We don’t put our trust in appearances, but in the steady and sure word of God. In the promises of the Lord, who loves us, died for us, and lives for us. Things are not always what they seem to us, but things are always as he promises they will be. In Jesus Christ, Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sermon - Luke 7:36-8:3 - Pentecost 3

3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 7:36-8:3
June 13, 2010
“Big Sinner”

Do you know someone who's a really big sinner? Someone who really sins a lot – and in big ways. Someone who's a bad example to those around them. Someone who's always doing and saying the wrong things, for petty, selfish reasons? Someone who could really use some guidance, or maybe a good kick in the pants? Someone who should really get their act together. Who is that really bad sinner that you know? Is it you?

Today we read about Jesus visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee. And like most of us, Simon was a whole lot better at seeing other people's sins than his own. When the sinful woman comes in and makes a big fuss over Jesus, Simon is appalled! “How could Jesus welcome such a big sinner like her? Doesn't he know what kind of woman she is? He should be hanging around with respectable people like me – not women of ill repute. After all, I'm a pretty good guy – a pharisee – my credentials are impeccable. I deserve Jesus' approval – but her? This Jesus must not really be a prophet after all. For everyone can see that SHE is a sinner.”

Simon thinks it, and Jesus knows just what he's thinking. He probably didn't even need any miraculous insight to know Simon's thoughts. It must have been obvious. He probably wore a look of disgust on his face. How did this woman get into my house, anyway?

But Jesus has a lesson for Simon, and for us. Two debtors owe a man money. 50 or 500 denarii – both are forgiven. Now who loves the moneylender more? Of course the one with the larger debt. And even Simon the Pharisee can understand that.

What he couldn't see was that he had a debt at all. The woman's sins were out there. They were for all to see. And they were serious sins. Sexual sins, certainly, we might call them “lifestyle choices” today. But they never really let her have peace. Even as she sinned, she knew – it nagged at her. She must have become a prisoner of her own guilt and shame.

But Simon – he lived under an illusion. Like a person in denial that his monthly mortgage is too much to pay – or that a bill would be coming at all. He didn't think he even had a debt, much less a big one. His sins didn't really bother him – if he even admitted to having any. But the most dangerous sins are not the most spectacular. The most troublesome sins are not the ones most people see. They are the ones that are not admitted. They are the sins of the heart that we hide in the shadows of our denial. Pride. Lust. Selfishness. Sins of omission – failing to do what we ought. Lovelessness when it comes to our neighbor. Thoughtlessness when it comes to our God.

But like Simon the Pharisee how many of us stumble through life without much thought to sin until some “ big sinner” crosses our path and inconveniences us. How dare they? Who do they think they are?

The dirty little secret is that our sins are big too. That you and I are the big sinner too. We should be weeping at Jesus' feet along with the woman. Weeping in sorrow over our sin. And weeping in joy at our forgiveness.

Yes, your sins are a big deal. Admit it. Let's not rationalize our sins away. Let's not live in denial and only admit it when someone points it out – but then only in a really general way, “Oh, we're all sinners”. Let your sins be what they are – ugly, wicked, troublesome bringers of pain and misery and death. Instead of making a big deal about someone else's sins... a little honesty about our own is in order.

And then notice what Jesus does with such a sinner. He doesn't say the sins don't matter. In fact he admits that the woman had sinned much. But when she comes weeping, he doesn't beat her down even more. A bruised reed he does not break. He speaks kindly to her. He assures her. Most of all, he forgives her. Just like he forgives so many other sinners who know their sin. Like he does for all who are weary and heaven lady – he gives rest. Like he heals the sick, not the healthy who need no doctor. Jesus sinners will receive, always, always with his forgiveness.

The woman who washed Jesus' feet knew the forgiveness that washed away her sins. Not an expensive perfume, but the precious blood of Christ. She shed her tears on his feet, but he wept drops of blood, and suffered the wrath of God. She anointed him in humble thanks, whose body would be anointed for a hasty burial. But death had no hold on him. Now alive forever, he is the victor over sin. And our life and victory are sure – in him.

Jesus says one other thing here we might notice. “...her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

Jesus is not saying that our love for God or neighbor is the basis for our forgiveness. She was not forgiven because she loved much. Rather, love flows from forgiveness. Love for God and love for neighbor increases in proportion to our appreciation of forgiveness.

The more you know your sin, how big it is, how many your sins are... the more you'll know your need for Jesus and his forgiveness. And the more you know his forgiveness, the more the Spirit works to show his love in your life. You will love God. You will love your neighbor. Because you know his love for you in Christ. Big sinner. Bigger Savior. Much love, in Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.