Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to provide an overview of the Afterlife as Christians understand it. In this overview, I wish to focus on the four H’s (Heaven, Hell, Hades, and Hallmark) and how these four H’s tie together. I also wish to look at our common misunderstandings about each of these four H’s.
Let us begin by considering Heaven. A few years ago, a widely popular book called Heaven is For Real was published. Heaven is for Real tells the story of a 4 year old, Nebraska boy named Colton Burpo who on account of a ruptured appendix nearly dies. But where the story takes a really interesting turn is a few months after being released from the hospital, Colton began describing to his parents a visit he made to Heaven while in surgery even though he never actually died.
Colton described hovering outside his own body in the hospital watching his Mom talk on the phone, while witnessing his Dad praying and yelling at God for the turmoil he was going through. Colton described meeting his sister in heaven (whom he had never heard about it, having died in his mother’s womb). Colton then describes meeting his great-grandpa who has insights into his father that he couldn’t have possibly known before.
Colton claimed to have met biblical characters like Jesus’ cousin (John the Baptist) and the Archangel Gabriel who sat at the left hand of God the Father. Colton described meeting Jesus who still had the marks of crucifixion on his hands and feet. Colton described seeing all sorts of animals in heaven. Colton said that in Heaven that no one was old nor wore glasses.
A lot of the book consists of Colton’s Dad, a Wesleyan Minister, trying to reconcile Colton’s experiences of Heaven with what is taught in the scriptures. The Rev. Todd Burpo concludes that it all matches up in a way that no four year old child could have ever figured out on his own. A book like this that makes so many claims about the afterlife is worthy of reflection. What should be pointed out whenever someone claims to have gone to Heaven is that this is not exactly a new phenomenon.
In the 18th Century there was a man named Emanuel Swedenborg who claimed to have been given permission to freely travel back and forth to Heaven over 28 years. When Swedenborg returned from his journeys, much of what he claimed to have learned stood in direct contrast to Christianity. It would be easy to dismiss Swedenborg as a nut. Yet is should be noted that Swedenborg’s teaching about the afterlife influenced was well-received by some of the most influential people of his days such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.
Within recent years, the International Association of Near Death Studies has documented over 900 incidents of similar experiences as portrayed in the book Heaven is For Real. These experiences have existed across a wide variety of faith traditions (Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, and Hindu). But what’s most interesting about all these near death experiences is they seem to correlate directly with one’s own faith tradition.
For example, Muslims describe being greeted by 70 Virgins, Hindus describe themselves as meeting Vishnu, Mormons get to meet Joseph Smith, Catholics get to meet the Virgin Mother, and when Colton Burpo returns from heaven, he describes Heaven as constantly placing an emphasis on the need to Ask Jesus into a Person’s Heart. Faith Language that never appears in the Bible yet is very prominent within his own family’s religious tradition.
Another thing worth noting is Heaven is For Real isn’t the first book within this genre. In 2004, A Baptist Minister named Don Piper, who unlike Colton Burpo was clinically dead for a period of time as a result of an auto accident, wrote a book entitled 90 Minutes In Heaven where he describes his own personal encounter in Heaven.
Yet when Don Piper describes his visit to Heaven it contradicts Colton Burpo in that he describes everyone in Heaven not being young, but rather looking the same way as when they died. When you have two contradictory visions of heaven between two people who I have no doubt are sincere in their faith it seems something else is probably at work here. Mainly the power of the Human Mind and the influence of American Folklore are at work in providing these understandings of Heaven.
The problem with these I’ve been to Heaven and back stories is they portray an incomplete understanding of the afterlife. Heaven isn’t really what most of us think that it is, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Now let’s look at the second H in Hell. The greatest misconception about Hell is when people think of Satan as the ruler of Hell. This idea isn’t Biblical rather it comes from the rich imagery of 17th Century author John Milton in his book Paradise Lost. For the book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels being cast into Hell and then being thrown into chains. The Book of Revelation describes Satan’s Final Destination as being cast into the Lake of Fire after Christ’s Second Coming.
Now let’s move to the Third H. The less known H of Hades. Hades is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Word “Sheol”. Sheol was known as the Grave, The Pit, or the Abode of the Dead throughout the Old Testament. Sheol was the place of darkness where all the dead go whether Faithful or Unfaithful. Sheol or Hades was known as being the personification of death along with the grave evil that death represents. Death and Hades are considered the same throughout the Book of Revelation.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us today from Luke the 16th Chapter. In today’s parable, Jesus is seeking to confront the beliefs of the religious leaders of his day, mainly their love of money. To describe the error of the religious leader’s ways, Jesus speaks of two characters. The first character is a Rich Man, the type of man who the religious leaders would have idealized on account of the great blessings that God had given him.
The second man was Lazarus a poor beggar that would have been seen as a result of his poverty someone who didn’t possess God’s favor. This parable describes both the Rich Man and Lazarus being taken away after death. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both brought to Hades. Within Hades or the Abode of the Dead or Sheol, the Rich Man is unable to escape suffering and torment. Where as Lazarus is brought into a separate location within Hades called Abraham’s Bosom where he is described as being comforted within death.
What makes Jesus description of Hades so odd is the Rich Man is described as being able to communicate with Lazarus within Hades. The Rich Man requests to Abraham that Lazarus communicate with his brothers so that they don’t end up like he has.
The last few weeks we have been studying the Parables of Jesus. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we’ve touched on the Parable of the Prodigal Son that surrounds this lesson. Jesus’ parables always use earthly metaphors within earthly contexts to convey spiritual meanings. Jesus parables use real places (vineyards) and real titles (Father, Son, Older Brother) to convey these spiritual messages.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t a Parable because: A. It would be the only Parable that uses a real person’s name in Lazarus. B. Jesus is not conveying a new belief or symbolic belief about the afterlife only reinforcing a belief from the Old Testament that upon death that everyone went to Sheol or Hades.
Our lesson for today brings up something interesting about Christians and the Afterlife. The scriptures portray two realities of what happens to the believer after their death. These realities are often ignored by the majority of 21st century Christians who just tend to think of the soul being immortal. We must distinguish for today the afterlife as two separate realities. Both of which are often called “Heaven”.
The first state of the afterlife is “The immediate state of existence upon death” which is the place where our loved ones may currently reside, the place that is referred to as bliss, or paradise within the New Testament. The first reality of the afterlife is what too many people refer to as “heaven”. If Colton Burpo did die in Heaven is For Real it would have been what he experienced.
When Jesus encounters a Thief on the Cross as he prepared for his own crucifixion the famous words were spoken “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise”- Luke 23:43”. Jesus was promising a similar existence to the Thief on the Cross as was given unto Lazarus in today’s lesson, a place of blessing to await the final resurrection. Yet where Lazarus resides in Abraham’s Bosom does not paint a complete picture of the afterlife.
The 2nd and final reality of the afterlife, the New Heaven and the New Earth has a higher degree of scriptural emphasis placed upon it then any sort of intermediate state between death and resurrection. The New Earth has not yet been built, when people describe going to heaven in books and seeing streets paved with Gold and pearly gates. They are describing a place that according to the scriptures is not in existence.
One place where Jesus speaks of the preparation of heaven being made between the time of one’s death and the second coming occurs in John the 14th Chapter. Famous for being read at many funerals, the passage states “In My Father’s House are many rooms”. Consider the words from this passage that are often ignored verse 2 which states “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I WILL COME BACK for you to be with me that you also may be where I Am.”
When the Apostle Paul seeks to comfort the mourning Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians the 4th Chapter, he doesn’t describe the recently deceased as currently with Christ. Paul rather describes them as the ones who will be raised first at the second coming. Yet the Apostle Paul proclaims to the Church in Galatia that it is better to depart and be with Christ, for to die is to gain. What happens between Death and Resurrection is a question that can’t be answered.
Yet I do believe that like Lazarus in today’s text that believers are in some known state of comfort. As we look at our text for today, I should say a few words about Purgatory and our Catholic friend’s belief in it. Purgatory is known as being the place of purification. The place of getting one ready to enter into a State of Grace by purifying one of the sins committed in this life. The time frames vary on purgatory on account of the nature of one’s sins. Prayers and Masses are held to lessen one’s time in Purgatory.
The issue that Lutherans have with purgatory isn’t that it’s not possible for their to be an intermediate state of existence between Death and Resurrection such as Hades, Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise, or Bliss. The real issue with Purgatory is how it relates to the Biblical witness. The Thief that Jesus told on the Cross would be with him on the next day in Paradise lived the type of life that if purgatory was a reality would deem that he spend time there. The problem with Purgatory is that it places additional debt unto God’s people, apart from the death of God’s own sin. The real issue with Purgatory is that minimizes the complete and total forgiveness won for us on the Cross at the expense of one’s ritual purification.
This brings us to the last of the Four H’s for today, the H of Hallmark. Hallmark is adopting beliefs about the afterlife because they sound nice. Hallmark is the place of Happy Endings where good people find true love, and bad people get what they deserve. Hallmark thoughts are attractive because Hallmark always gives the nicest sayings with the nicest stories. I wonder if we often don’t sell the afterlife short as strange as it might seem. We do this when we think of only the soul living on for eternity apart from the body. I think our initial thoughts about the afterlife or heaven is that such a place seems nice, to think in terms of someone playing Racquetball on a big court in the sky, an idealized version of this world with Silver Bay Falls, and Las Vegas Winters. Yet the problem with the soul living on apart from the body is that it leads one to believe that the afterlife is a lesser existence in any way, shape, or form.
When in reality the afterlife is beyond what we can imagine. The afterlife is beyond what can be expressed in a movie or on a greeting card, since we have never lived in an existence without sin, without pain, without death. We have never lived in an existence where at the very center of our being is the one gave us life, and eventually redeemed it on a cross. The afterlife is Jesus Christ is coming back, not so we can levitate outside our bodies, Christ is coming back to save the whole world, all of God’s creation. So, that it may finally be declared to be “good again” Amen
 Patton, Michael. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”. Parchment and Pen Blog. Credo House Ministries. 6.Feb.2011. Web. Sept.23.2013
 Patton. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 Revelation 1:18, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 20:13-14
 Luke 16:22-23
 Luke 16:27
 Luke 16:27-28
 Revelation 21:1
 John 14:2
 John 14:3
 Philippians 1:21
 Luke 23:43
 Genesis 1:31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was nineteen, I worked for a summer as a Bible Camp Counselor. This job represented a transition in life for me. For the first time, I wasn’t being the one disciplined; rather I had to be the one doing the disciplining kids not much younger than myself. So, I sought out to think of ways to make the punishments creative and memorable. The perfect solution existed outside the cabin; there was a wood pile for campfires. This wood pile led me to a solution. One time a kid named Jared who was around 15 refused to go along with directions. So, I figured this wood pile would serve as a perfect opportunity to teach a lesson. I took Jared outside and told him that I didn’t like where the wood pile was currently. I instructed Jared to move this whole pile of wood, five feet to the right. Jared moved this wood in about 10-15 minutes. As soon as Jared thought he was done, I told Jared that I didn’t like the way the wood pile looked where he had moved it. I then asked Jared if he could move this pile of wood, five feet to the left. As soon as I made this request, a huge smile came upon Jared’s face. He understood that I didn’t care one iota about where this wood sat. I was instead seeking to convey to Jared the message that you don’t know, how the world works like you think you do. This is the most valuable of lessons for us as Christians.
Last week, I went to visit a friend of mine named Josh. Josh works as a Middle School Teacher. Josh is involved in a very interesting marriage. Josh is married to a girl named Katie. Katie grew up Wisconsin Synod. Katie’s Dad is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Brother is a Wisconsin Synod Minister. Katie’s Sister is married to a Wisconsin Synod Minister. When Josh asked Katie’s Dad for her hand in Marriage, Katie’s Dad said he needed to think about it. He only relented with several conditions placed upon his blessing, most of all an insistence that any kids be baptized as Infants. Josh didn’t see this as much of a problem because he didn’t see the Baptism as nothing more than the act of getting the baby wet. Josh tends to be skeptical of traditional religion. Josh is a strong Christian, yet he views traditional forms of religion as being dead religion. Josh sees too many people going through the motions on Sunday morning and in their everyday lives. Josh believes that Christians need to be expecting dramatic miracles and healings around every corner. Josh believes that if someone really has faith than any sort of life outcome is possible. Josh thinks Christianity is marked by progress of the human potential to become like Christ. So, this is why the notion of Infant Baptism seems so foreign to Josh. What evidence is there that God is really working in the life of a smelly, crying, wailing infant?
Today’s Gospel comes to us from Luke 14. It’s a passage that speaks some very harsh truths about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus associates discipleship with hating one’s mother, father, brother, sister, wife, and children. Jesus speaks of discipleship involving the cost of hating life itself. Jesus defines Discipleship through the act of carrying one’s own cross. What should we make of Jesus words for us, this morning? Jesus language giving about hating one’s family is given for a dramatic effect. It’s a speech that’s given to a large crowd of followers. It’s a speech given to group that Jesus knows will see many people struggle in their faith during the times ahead. To assure people that following Jesus will not be easy. Jesus spoke his words today because too many people were misunderstanding his message. They assumed that following him was going to instantly lead to all sorts of good stuff in return. Where as when Jesus speaks the language of “carrying one’s cross”, he is seeking to remind his followers of the reality of a Christian’s life in the starkest and most honest of terms.
How can we make sense of today’s lesson? I wish to tell you a story about the meaning of discipleship. At the end of the 2011 NFL Season, the Vikings Adrian Peterson suffered a tear of his MCL and ACL ligaments in his knee. There were pundits proclaiming that Peterson will never be the same again. One’s ability to make cuts on these ligaments is essential to being a good NFL Running Back. No one thought that Peterson would be the same type of player in 2012. Only then something remarkable happened. Adrian Peterson was the best player in Football. This leads into an interesting cause and effect.
Week 4 the Vikings are playing in Detroit when a player asks Peterson “Adrian, what are you taking? What juice you using? I gotta get me some of that.” Peterson’s response to the question was “I’m juicing on the blood of Jesus. Faith is what got me to this point.” 
Now to my good friend Josh this statement might serve as evidence that God is really working in Adrian Peterson’s life. God performed a miracle in his recovery because Adrian had faith.
The way that Adrian Peterson portrays his faith is problematic; Peterson goes way beyond acknowledging God for being one of the rare people on the planet with his talent. Where Peterson is wrong is his implication that it’s because of Jesus Juice that he achieved what he achieved. Adrian Peterson is presenting a flawed understanding of how God works in people’s lives. You go over to William Kelley High School and you have nice kids and kids with devout faith. Kids that could pray to get Jesus Juice like Adrian Peterson every single night. Yet these kids will never become Adrian Peterson.
As pointed out by Religion Blogger Matt Patrick, Adrian Peterson’s success is noteworthy because it’s so rare. Number 28’s success is so rare that it doesn’t provide an accurate representation of a normal Christian’s life. A Christian’s life is not marked by MVP awards. A Christian’s life is more likely to be marked with failure, disappointment, and struggle.
The average Christian’s life is marked by wishing that things could be different by the time they get up the next morning. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Adrian Peterson’s faith. The problem with Peterson’s message is that if one places their faith on the basis of their everyday experiences. One’s faith will soon experience crushing blows for which there are no good words to say. The question that needs to be asked today is “Where do we encounter God?” Does God encounter us in victory or failure? Does God encounter us in our MVP awards or does God encounter us in Baptism? These are the big questions.
To answer this question I wish to tell another Football related story. Tony Dungy was a former QB for the Gophers and a former Defensive Coordinator for the Vikings. In 1996, Tony Dungy was hired to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before Dungy’s arrival, the Buccaneers weren’t very good. They hadn’t made the playoffs in 14 seasons and were considered the laughing stock of the league. In 1997, Tampa stunned the league as it won its first five games. The season though quickly began to unravel. The Buccaneers had a kicker named Michael Husted who started missing kicks. Husted was not only missing field goals, he was struggling to make extra points. Husted quickly became public enemy number 1 in Tampa. The media and fans shouted how Husted needed to go before it was too late. Any coach other than Tony Dungy would have brought in another kicker.
Tony Dungy had set out that if he ever coached a NFL Team that he was going to model his leadership on the principals of his faith. Dungy was going to seek to encourage rather than threaten. Dungy wished to go against the grain in how he sought to achieve victory and success. Dungy had waited years for his big break. He knew that teams weren’t going to hire him because of his worldview in relating to people. Tony Dungy was going to run his team in his own image, no one else’s.
Tony Dungy knew something much deeper was at work in Michael Husted’s life then just missing kicks. Michael Husted’s Mom was dying of Cancer up in Virginia. Husted thought he could be a professional, yet this burden began to overwhelm him. Husted’s burden carried over to the Football field. After the Buccaneers lost their third straight game due to Husted’s troubles, Husted thought it was all over for him.
The next morning, Dungy called and Husted was sure he was being let go. Dungy’s words were different. Dungy just told Husted “You’re a Buccaneer, you’re part of our family, and you’re our kicker.
The next week, the Buccaneers go up to Indy where Husted makes the game winning kick. Dungy went forward not by ignoring the situation with Husted’s mother. Rather Dungy saw to it that she came to games that season and sat in the box with his wife. Husted’s season turned around as a burden was lifted from him.
Dungy’s story stands out because it is such sharp contrast to how the world normally works. This is the message of the cross. This is the message of our gospel. God reaches us in failure. God reaches not at the moments when we achieve our potential, but rather God reaches us at the moments we understand the limits to our power. When we say the cross is at the center of everything we believe. We are not issuing a statement of belief but rather a statement about life.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is presenting us both with a challenge and an assurance. The challenge is what lies ahead isn’t MVP Awards. What more likely lies ahead are wounds scars, as we journey towards our own inevitable deaths. Yet Jesus offers words of assurances as he promises that your victory has already been won through his death and resurrection. The crosses you carry today are not worthless ventures like moving the wood pile. Your crosses point towards that what you experience today will one day be put to death at the moment of your resurrection.
Luther summed this up beautifully when he proclaimed “God receives none, but those who are forsaken, restores health to none, but those who are sick, gives sight to none, but the blind, and life to none, but the dead… He has mercy on none, but the wretched and gives grace to none, but those who are in disgrace.”
In just a few moments we’ll sing our Hymn of the Day “Onward Christian Soldiers”. This is a hymn that has fallen out of favor in many churches. It’s a hymn that’s seen as glorifying violence. Yet this hymn has nothing to do with earthly warfare. This hymn has rather to do with the spiritual conflict that engages us everyday. It’s a hymn that deals with the reality of sin and evil in our world. It’s a hymn that doesn’t seek to present life in sanitary terms. When people ask how we’re doing too many of us wish to say “fine” or “ok” even as we’re being eaten up inside. “Onward Christian Soldiers” is a hymn that portrays as we go forward from this place today, we do not march alone. We rather march forth led by the Cross of Christ which promises us that God can and will bring victory out of defeat. Amen
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:26
 Luke 14:27
 King, Peter. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’ ” CNNSI. 21 Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 King. “10 Things I Think I Think: Every Record Means Something’
 Patrick, Matt. Adrian Peterson’s Theology of Glory (and Why It’s Unhelpful) “ Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 28.Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Yasinskas, Pat. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”. ESPN NFC South blog. ESPN. 12. Jan.2009. Web. Sept.3.2013
 Habib, Hal “On his terms: Colts Dungy stays true to principals”. Palm Beach Post. 23. Jan.2007. Web. Retrieved September 5, 2013 from Wikipedia- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Dungy#cite_note-28
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yasinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Yaskinskas. “A Dungy story you may not have heard”.
 Luther, Martin. Weimar Ausgabe 1, p. 183f. Retrieved on September 4, 2013 from http://www.mbird.com/glossary/theology-of-the-cross/
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
A few years ago, a movie came out called Yes Man. Yes Man tells the story of a loan officer named Carl Allen played by Jim Carrey who in the wake of a divorce becomes embittered at the world. Carl’s attitude leads to him becoming isolated from everyone he knew. One day after Carl misses one of his best friend’s engagement parties, Carl is told that unless he changes his ways, he will remain completely alone in life. Such a warning eventually leads to Carl attending a self-help seminar whose keynote presenter challenged the audience to never say “no” to any potential request that came their way. The challenge was given to Carl to say “yes” to every opportunity that came before him.
Get together with his friends? Carl says “yes”. Help plan a Bridal Shower? Carl says “yes”. Learn Korean? “yes”. Take Flying Lessons? “yes”. Start approving any sort of loan no matter how crazy at the bank? “yes”. No matter how uncomfortable the request, no matter what Carl’s first instinct? He was going to say “yes”.
Saying “yes” so many times led Carl to end up in some very uncomfortable situations which made up a lot of the humor in the film. Eventually Carl answers “yes” to an ad for a lead singer for a band, where he ends up meeting a girl who became the love of his life.
Yes Man hits an important point on the meaning of the word “yes”. Yes is the riskiest word in the English Language with all sorts of uncomfortable possibilities and uncertain outcomes that can be issued as soon as you say it.
I was recently talking to a woman who I’ll call Katie. Katie had recently met a guy that I’ll call Matt at work. Katie thought Matt was a nice guy with a good personality so she became interested in a possible future with Matt. Yet Katie quickly became skeptical. Katie started to think back to her past relationships. Katie thought of how she had her heart broken when guys had cheated on her. Katie then began to see flaws in Matt. Matt had been divorced a couple of times already and this raised red flags for Katie. Katie then began to think of her own flaws: her own lack of trust, and a general lack of confidence that Matt could be interested in her. Katie was already saying “no” to herself. Katie’s attitude had produced the worst thing in life an inability to consider the possibility of a “yes”.
This brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke the 15th Chapter. Today’s Gospel is ultimately parables of the meaning of “yes”. Today’s Gospel contains two short parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. These parables set up the better known parable in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
When considering the meaning of Jesus’ parables one must remember that these parables were not spoken with the intent of inducing smiles or snickers. These parables were told with the idea to shake up all previous ideas regarding how God actually works.
The novelist Flannery O Connery said it best “When you assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
Jesus parables were all given in a context intended to shock. The parables for today were told to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had all sorts of good, religious qualities. The Pharisees were at the Temple every Friday night. The Pharisees avoided all the bad foods that Jews of their day were supposed to avoid like Pork Chops and Cheeseburgers. The Pharisees were often the biggest and most generous of givers.
Yet the Pharisees didn’t fully recognize the nature of their existence. The thing about Jesus’ parables is they aren’t concerned with ethics. The parables of Jesus are concerned primarily with death and resurrection.
For the whole point of Jesus parable to the Pharisees is at the time of their funeral, they could have a beautiful and true eulogy given on their behalf yet this doesn’t change the fact that they’re dead. This doesn’t change the fact that on the very same day as the Pharisees funeral on the other side of town is the funeral of tax collectors and sinners. Now these Tax Collectors and Sinners will have people struggling to say something nice about them at their funeral, yet just like the Pharisees they will also be dead.
The Pharisees body might be prettier. The Pharisees’ death might be mourned to a greater degree. Yet Pharisee, Tax Collector, and Sinner alike will all be brought to the Foot of the Cross. Jesus in these parables isn’t intending to call the actions of the Pharisees bad nor is he intending to support the actions of the tax collectors and sinners as good. Rather Christ Jesus in our parables for today is illustrating much like Carl Allen in Yes Man the reckless, irresponsible nature of whom exactly God will say “yes”.
Our parables for today both involve individuals displaying very strange behavior to pursue lost items.
The first parable is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. In this parable, a Shepherd with 100 other sheep abandons 99 other sheep to the wilderness. The Parable of the Lost Sheep stands out because the Pharisees would have understood that most shepherds would have just dismissed that one lost sheep as a lost cause. The lost sheep would have been unruly and more trouble then it would be worth. The Parable of the Lost Sheep stands out because the Shepherd didn’t think a rate of loss being 1 in 100 was acceptable. The Shepherd had a personnel devotion to this lost sheep and didn’t dismiss the missing sheep as the cost of doing business.
The other parable, The Parable of the Lost Coin tells the story of a woman who stays awake all night to find one missing coin. Not only did this woman spend more time trying to find the coin then it was worth. The woman then throws a celebration for all her friends and neighbors over the coin being found, thereby certainty blowing the value of the coin.
What these parables do is the highlight the nature of grace. These parables highlight the nature of God’s Mercy. These parables highlight the nature of the Gospel. These parables paint a picture of a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness- Exodus 34:6. These parables draw a sharp contrast between our yes and God’s yes.
For example, a few years ago, I interviewed with a church out in a beautiful part of Washington State. As I prepared for the interview, I gradually picked up on background for the congregation. Their previous pastor had been a young man who was a rather successful youth worker that journeyed out there to be a pastor. This congregation set out for this new pastor’s ministry with the highest of hopes. Yet the whole thing quickly began to unravel, this young man was lonely, and this young pastor eventually had a nervous breakdown within several months then was forced to leave the ministry. This brought much pain to the congregation as their best of intentions resulted in nothing more than hurt feelings.
So, as I sit down for this interview, they didn’t proceed to ask traditional interview questions. Every other question was “whether I had a girlfriend?” “Whether I wanted to get married?” “How do I think I’d meet women in a small town in the middle of Washington?”
This congregation had been so badly burned in the past. I left that interview knowing regardless of how good or bad I did, I would never see those people again. I had the least experience, the most unstable home situation, and the most potential to fail. This congregation fully realized the implications of the word “yes”.
The reason that saying “yes” is the riskiest word in life is because “yes” involves potential consequences. When you say “yes” to a new employee, you see the cost right away, but the benefit requires imagination.
When you say “yes” to a spouse, you run the risk of having your heart broken, you run the risk of having your life turned upside down, you run the risk of being dragged kicking and screaming to some undesirable corner of the earth.
Yes is dangerous because yes introduces the possibility of failure and disappointment. Families feud for years because someone fails to meet the inherent demands of some other family member, so our everyday experiences make it real easy to say “no” to other people. 
Where as we run from the word “yes”, the Grace of God is different, where as our “yes” is given with conditions, “the yes” given to us on the Cross is given unconditionally.
William Barclay told the story of a backpacking doctor who had been traveling across Europe for several weeks. Due to the nature of backpacking; this man hadn’t shaved, cut his hair and his clothes had become dirty. People automatically assumed as soon as they saw this man that he was a bum. The young man during his backpacking contracts an illness then eventually passed out along the road. This led to two strangers bringing him to a hospital. Into this man’s hospital room walked two attending physicians. They saw this man’s outwardly disgusting appearance and figured his role in society to be nothing more than a drag upon it. One of the doctors said to other “We’d do this man a favor to let him die”. These two doctors had no idea that this young man was listening to their every word. When this dying young man summed up the Gospel by saying “Never call a man worthless for whom Christ died”. Never put a man beyond the possibility of God saying yes.
Consider the meaning of the word “yes”. Yes is the most hopeful word in the world. Hearing “yes’ is a putting to death all the reasons you tell yourself “no”, all the reasons those around you might tell you “no”, and all the reasons that you think your God might tell you “no”.
Today, we hear two parables about what the word “yes” means. Yes means you will not be abandoned in the fields to fend for yourself. Yes means you will be searched for all throughout the night of our lives. Yes is the answer to God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Amen
 Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works: Wise Blood / A Good Man is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear it Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays and Letters.
 Patrick, Matt .“The Johnny Football Saga Continues” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4.Sept.2013. Web. Sept.12.2013
 Taken from http://www.lectionary.org/Sermons/McLarty/Luke/Luke%2015.1-17,%20LostSheep.htm
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to begin by telling the story of a young women in the 19th Century named Rachel Oakes Preston who set the foundation for a new church body to come together. Oakes Preston one day was studying the scriptures. When she came to a conclusion that the entire Christian Church had been disobeying the Third Commandment “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”
Oakes Preston came to the realization that when Moses was given the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath was Saturday not Sunday.
This is why if one were to go to a Jewish Synagogue they have Friday night services. The reason for this is Jews consider the day of rest to be from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday or the 7th day of the week.
Rachel Oakes Preston soon found a group of followers who agreed with her conclusion and soon the Seventh Day Adventists were born. The defining mark of Seventh Day Adventists is how rigidly they hold to Saturday as the holy day of the week.
For example, about twenty-five years ago, The New York Times told the story of a high school football player named Mo Edwards. What made Edwards different from his teammates is that he would practice with them all week, but never play in the games. The issue was not that Edwards wasn’t a good player. Edwards was such a good athlete he would eventually receive a Division One Track and Field Scholarship. Edwards would have been one of the team’s star players had he suited up. Only Edwards refused to play because his Adventist faith considered playing in Football games on Saturday a form of idolatry.
For not only will Seventh Day Adventists not play football on Saturday, they won’t shop, work secular jobs, or participate in various forms of entertainment. The Seventh Day Adventists take the Sabbath so seriously it’s not uncommon for them to spend the Sabbath in services for up to twelve hours.
So, the beliefs of the Seventh Day Adventists challenge us to explore what we believe and practice about the Sabbath. Are we disobeying the Sabbath by using it as an excuse to shop, attend movies, or play golf? Was my Dad right when I was in Middle School and High School when he said “If I was not going to be in Church then I would not be allowed to watch the Vikings play”? Is it wrong to have Church on a Sunday as opposed to Saturday? Are we disobeying the Third Commandment here this morning?
The answer to this question boils down to what we understand the purpose of the Ten Commandments to be.
If we understand the Ten Commandments to be a test of our salvation as many do, then we are failing in these regards.
This brings us to today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 13 in which Jesus challenges many of assumptions about the purpose of the Sabbath.
The Gospel lesson begins with Jesus teaching in a synagogue, when a woman approached him with a hunchback and she had this affliction for eighteen years. As soon as Jesus sees this woman’s pain and suffering, he called her over to him. Jesus placed his hands on her and freed her from her disability. This woman then went on her way, glorifying and praising God.
This healing by Jesus though was not an event that was to be universally praised. This encounter greatly troubled the rulers of the synagogue, where he was teaching. These men clamored “How dare Jesus break the Third Commandment by healing this woman on the Sabbath”. They figured he could have just as easily healed her any other day of the week.
As soon as Jesus heard this belly aching, he sought to use it as a teaching opportunity. Jesus sought to illustrate the true purpose of the Sabbath. Jesus reminded that in attendance how “no one is able to keep to Sabbath either literally or perfectly.
As an example to illustrate his point, Jesus asked those in attendance “Do you not untie your ox or donkey from the manager and lead it to water on the Sabbath?” Jesus expresses how one could argue that any form of exertion on the Sabbath violates the principle of the Sabbath being a day of rest. Jesus’ point being simply, that it’s impossible to keep the Sabbath as some understand it.
What Jesus was seeking to point out that in his encounter with the hunchback woman a greater good was being served then the Third Commandment, the good of one’s neighbor who had been suffering for eighteen long years.
Jesus whole point to those in attendance was to illustrate the reason that the Ten Commandments were given. How the Ten Commandments were not given as a set of demands for worship, rather the Ten Commandments were given for the sake of ourselves and the world around us. So, therefore we should worry more about the spirit of the law (protecting humanity) rather than the letter of the law (our ability to keep them).
Let me give another example how these principles apply by talking about the Fifth Commandment, “Thou Shall Not Kill”. A while back I was visiting someone in their home. When I go see people whatever topic that is on their mind that day tends to come up whether it is Baseball, Cooking, Weather, or Politics. This gentleman started talking about the Iraq War to voice his opposition when he mouthed the words, “What part of Thou Shall Not Kill do people not understand?” This raises the question of are we as Lutherans hypocrites for believing that Military service can be a proper expression of vocation in God’s kingdom? Did not Jesus say “Whoever lives by the sword dies by the sword” ?
I think as we look at the issue of serving in the Military we need to recognize an inherent tension. The tension between placing ourselves as a judge, jury, and executioner before our neighbors against the tension of being confronted by forces that seeks to take innocent life. We fight the tension between life being regarded as casual against life being regarded as sacred.
For example, in the 3rd chapter of Luke, a Roman solider or Centurion approaches John the Baptist and asks “What must I do to inherit Eternal Life?” John the Baptist’s answer was not to tell this young man to give up his profession of soldiering rather John’s answer was “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your wages.”
In the 13th Chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul describes governments as having the right to use force as a way to preserve and protect from all evil.
For Paul and John the Baptist knew that our ethical choices are often much more complex than whether an action is good or bad. No one who has ever served in the Military would describe having to take another life as the type of thing that should be celebrated. Pulling a trigger is a sad reality of conflict brought forth over human sin. We must never be numb to the costs of war, yet we must acknowledge that sometimes the cost of action is less than the cost of inaction.
A final example to look would be the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery”.
A few years ago, I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who is a pastor down in Iowa. He had been studying the scriptures about divorce and marriage which led him to a couple different conclusions. The first conclusion was that divorce should only be allowed in cases of adultery. The second conclusion was that remarriage should only be allowed after one’s spouse has died. He stated that if we believed anything else then we violated the Sixth Commandment.
These beliefs this pastor held are nothing new. Plenty of churches hold similar positions about divorce. When I came across this e-mail, I had to point out how I did not agree with his conclusions. My point was that he had a fundamental misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments.
1. Do we understand the Ten Commandments as our response to God or do we understand the Ten Commandment’s as God’s response to protect us from human sin?
2. The reason, Jesus speaks of divorce being allowed in Mark 10 is simple, “Because people’s hearts were hard”. Jesus point is broken relationships are a byproduct of human sin.
For no one would ever celebrate a divorce or claim for the circumstances behind it to be anything, but painful for one’s self and one’s children. No would ever say that one should not strive to go to the very ends of the Earth to see to it that a marriage works.
So, when we answer the question of whether to allow divorce it’s more complicated then whether divorce is good or bad? The divorce question boils down to the same principles affecting Jesus as he healed the crippled woman on the Sabbath. The principle of what is best for my neighbor and the world around me.
For often times through reasons of physical or verbal abuse, adultery, or general human conflict, the answers to divorce are going to be highly complex. Just as the question of whether to use military force are more complex, then whether killing is bad or good.
These questions all boil down to how we understand the Ten Commandments. Do we understand them as God’s test for us to take? Or do we view the Ten Commandments as a way to protect ourselves from the worst of our instincts? Are we ruled by Law? Or are we ruled by Grace? Do the Ten Commandments forbid us from understanding a variety of ethical situations in a broader sense then simple black and white terms? The answer for today’s Gospel text from Luke 13 seems to be no.
Why do we as Christian people worship on Sunday as opposed to Saturday? The answer is because while Jesus rested on Saturday, it was on Sunday that he did his greatest deed in overcoming the power of sin by his resurrection.
We meet on the first day of the week as opposed to the last, so worship may serve as an opportunity for rebirth. We gather as an opportunity to begin your week by hearing about the forgiveness of sins in a world that is continually unforgiving. We worship on Sunday as a weekly anniversary that our victory has already been won, so we may now be set free be his in not only this life, but the next. Amen
 Exodus 20:8
 Cavanaugh, Jack. “Athlete Picks Worship over Glory.” New York Times 5 Jul. 1987: Online
 Luke 13:11
 Luke 13:12
 Luke 13:13
 Luke 13:14
 Luke 13:15
 Luke 13:16
 Exodus 20:13
 Matthew 26:52
 Luke 3:14
 Romans 13:1-7
 Exodus 20:14
 Mark 10:5
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Hosea had wife trouble. Hosea didn’t just have wife trouble though; Hosea quite possibly had the very “Worst Wife in the World”. If the Prodigal Son is the New Testament’s most famous story of Family dysfunction due to odd dealings between Father and Son. Hosea’s story is the Old Testament’s most famous tale of Family dysfunction highlighting the odd dealings with Husband and Wife.
Hosea had a wife named Gomer. Gomer worked as a prostitute. Hosea had married Gomer for no good reason other than God had ordered him.
God had a very odd reason for wanting Hosea to marry Gomer. Hosea was known as a "complainer" or a "belly acher". The type of person that once he started ranting people would just say “there goes Hosea again.”
What Hosea was always ranting about was the harm that had fallen unto the nation of Israel because of their failure to abide by any sort of sexual boundaries. Within Hosea’s life prostitution was running rampant. Finding prostitutes in Israel was about as difficult as finding casinos in Las Vegas. In fact prostitutes would even line themselves up outside the Holy Grounds of the Temple.
God was going to use Hosea, famous for his ranting, to make a dramatic point regarding the relationship between God and the people of Israel. God knew that as soon as Hosea would be ordered to marry Gomer that Hosea would be the definition of loving in return. Hosea would be the perfect Husband; he would be the guy with the flowers, the guy with patience, kindness, and understanding. Hosea would set out on a course to do anything to make Gomer happy.
God knew that Hosea’s friends were probably going to tell him “to run away from Gomer, that she was nothing but trouble”. People were going to snicker behind Hosea’s back about how foolish he was being.
God knew that Gomer was going to be loved by other men and turn her back on Hosea through adultery. Only, Hosea was just going to keep on loving Gomer, the Prostitute, no matter what he grief he had experienced at Gomer’s hands.
What can we say about Hosea and Gomer’s marriage? They had three children together although only one for certain was known to be Hosea’s.
No matter how loving Hosea was to Gomer, Gomer just couldn’t stop herself. Gomer kept cheating on Hosea, then she cheated on him again. Gomer’s life continued into a deeper and deeper downward spiral until the point that Gomer eventually abandoned her dysfunctional family, only for Gomer to end up so low that she ended up on the brink of being sold into slavery.
The reason that God wanted Hosea to marry Gomer was because he wanted their marriage to serve as an illustration of the relationship of God to the people of Israel.
How the people of Israel had been unfaithful. How even with the depths of God’s steadfast love, Israel had gone out to pursue what they considered to be more attractive gods.
The story of Hosea illustrates how “God is going to be faithful even as the people of Israel continue to be unfaithful.”
Think of how many people out there would stay in a relationship like Hosea’s? How absolutely no one would ever seek out to marry someone who they knew was going to be unfaithful to them continually.
The point of Hosea’s story is one we often miss. People often view relationships in terms of potential. Girls figure if they can just tame a guy’s wildness they’ll make really great husbands. Guys figure that if they can get a girl to lose that final 10 LBS that she’ll then be the girl of their dreams.
Girls figure that they can get a guy’s work ethic to turn around, get him to dress better, get him more clean shaven, get him to get nicer haircuts, give up the extra beers on Saturday night then they’ll have the ideal husband.
Too often people view potential mates in terms of what they will eventually become. The way we understand our normal relationship working is we see devotion being returned with devotion, “If you love me you will do this.”
This is what made Hosea’s marriage so dysfunctional; Hosea received no devotion in return.
Hosea only received grief in marriage. Hosea’s marriage was the one that everyone around him felt sorry him. Hosea had to put up with Gomer.
Yet word finally got back to Hosea after Gomer had abandoned him that she was about to be sold into slavery. Hosea finally had the opportunity to be done with the “Worst Wife in the World” once and for all. Many guys would have shouted out “Hallelujah” at that moment they could have been done with Gomer.
Only, Hosea refused to give up on Gomer. Hosea sought Gomer out once again. Hosea was going to stop at nothing to buy Gomer back again and bring her back home. Hosea was going to buy Gomer back, no matter the cost.
Once Hosea had finally purchased Gomer back from the dead for Fifteen Shekels of Silver and a Lechel of Barley, Hosea spoke to Gomer how their relationship would be defined from that day forward,
“You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”-Hosea 3:3
Hosea was not going to look upon Gomer with a grudge, or never ending one-upsmanship. Gomer was going to remain Hosea’s wife from that day forward, whether even Gomer herself believed it or not.
The story of Hosea and Gomer is a tale of redemption. A tale of being brought back from the dead. A tale that speaks how far Grace can reach.
Hosea’s story is ultimately a parable of the Church. How those who that gather here today have made their share of bad decisions, how the Church is full of people who have experienced the consequences of their actions, how the Church is full of people who are sick in need of healing. Yet Christ chooses us still. Christ chooses us a bride, he didn’t overlook our flaws, our warts, our stains, our sins, he took them unto himself.
The point of the story of Hosea and Gomer is how God operates within our own lives. God bought us just like Hosea bought Gomer. Because of the Cross of Christ we are assured that God’s love for us, is just as unconditional as was Hosea’s love was for Gomer.
How in the words of the Apostle Paul that “there is truly nothing that can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus”- Romans 8:39.
How the love that has been given to us is not a love given with limits, but rather a love given without limits of forgiveness, time, and faithfulness. That love can reach the most unlikely of sources. That no matter how messed up and broken Gomer seemed to be. How even Gomer was not outside the possibility of God’s reach.
Why does the story of Hosea and Gomer matter to us today?
What can we say about Hosea and Gomer’s dysfunctional marriage before we go home today?
Let me read a reflection given about Gomer and Hosea if it were to take place in 2013 in Silver Bay written by Fredrick Buchner
Gomer was always good company-a little heavy with the lipstick maybe, a little less than choosy about men and booze, a little loud, but great on a party and always good for a laugh. Then the prophet Hosea came along wearing a sandwich board that read "The End is at Hand" on one side and "Watch Out" on the other.
The first time he asked her to marry him, she thought he was kidding. The second time she knew he was serious but thought he was crazy. The third time she said yes. He wasn't exactly a swinger, but he had a kind face, and he was generous, and he wasn't all that crazier than everybody else. Besides, any fool could see he loved her.
Give or take a little, she even loved him back for a while, and they had three children whom Hosea named with strange names like Not-pitied-for-God-will-no-Longer-pity-Israel-now-that-it's-gone-to-the-dogs so that every time the roll was called at school, Hosea would be scoring a prophetic bulls-eye in absentia. But everybody could see the marriage wasn't going to last, and it didn't.
While Hosea was off hitting the sawdust trail, Gomer took to hitting as many night spots as she could squeeze into a night, and any resemblance between her next batch of children and Hosea was purely coincidental. It almost killed him, of course. Every time he raised a hand to her, he burst into tears. Every time she raised one to him, he was the one who ended up apologizing.
He tried locking her out of the house a few times when she wasn't in by five in the morning, but he always opened the door when she finally showed up and helped get her to bed if she couldn't see straight enough to get there herself. Then one day she didn't show up at all.
He swore that this time he was through with her for keeps, but of course he wasn't. When he finally found her, she was lying passed out in a highly specialized establishment located above an adult bookstore, and he had to pay the management plenty to let her out of her contract. She'd lost her front teeth and picked up some scars you had to see to believe, but Hosea had her back again and that seemed to be all that mattered.
Hosea changed his sandwich board to read "God is love" on one side and "There's no end to it" on the other, and when he stood on the street corner belting out. Nobody can say how many converts he made, but one thing that’s for sure is that as Hosea held up his sign is that, there was a seldom a dry eye as he held that sign even Gomer (The Worst Wife in the World)
  http://frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-hosea-and-gomer
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you this morning about a former college professor of mine at Concordia named Larry. Larry grew up in Michigan in a good Christian Reformed home. Larry went into religious work with the intention of helping people, but eventually Larry got very jaded about the Christian faith. I once had a fellow professor describe Larry in this way, “He got his joy in life from questioning the faith of North Dakota farm kids”.
As I said Larry’s had cynical views towards religion. One time Larry was in a hospital working as a Pastor visiting a family whose Father/Grandfather was awaiting some medical test results. The Doctor walked in the room and gave the diagnosis, it was terminal. All the family members were devastated (Grandma, Grandpa, Kids, Grandkids).
They couldn’t believe that Grandpa had less than six months to live. An idea came into someone’s head (prayer). In Sunday school they had heard of Jesus healing people. They have heard other people express their belief in the possibility of miracle, the thought enters the head “maybe in Grandpa’s case- God will perform a miracle as long as we pray”. They turned to Pastor Larry to ask if he could lead them in a word of prayer. To which Larry responded “The Doctor made it pretty clear what was going to happen - there’s not much more than we can do.”
This story might seem shocking. Larry though was only expressing a common attitude that people have towards prayer. God has let them down before. They might have lost a loved one far too young. They might not have gotten the job they wanted. They might have had their heart broken, in spite of their faith at the time.
How do you answer a little girl who prays with her whole heart every night for Mom to get better- only for a few weeks later be crying over her casket?
How do you answer a parent who prays every night for their child’s health and safety only to have a trooper show up at the front door and say there was an accident?
How do we respond when someone starts praying as the only source of hope, only to see such hope crumble before their very eyes?
How do you answer disappointment, betrayal, confusion, heartbreak and weeping?
These situations naturally get people angry at God. When prayers go unanswered, it has the potential to destroy people’s faith.
Do stories like these make prayer a worthless activity? A lot of churches and preachers answer these questions in the simplest of terms? They say those whose prayers God didn’t answer, must not believe rightly.
Let’s look at the life of one of the 20th Century’s Most Famous Evangelists or Television Preachers after Billy Graham. A gentleman named Oral Roberts.
Perhaps the best known Oral Roberts story was in 1986- He sent a Letter to his followers stating if he didn’t raise eight million dollars within the next two Months, the Lord was going to take his life. “Time Magazine” wrote an article about this scam, but Oral Roberts had enough followers convinced that their giving would help God answer Oral Roberts’ prayer. This plan worked as Oral Roberts raised 9.1 million dollars.
Until the age of 29, Oral Roberts was a struggling part-time preacher in rural Oklahoma. Oral Roberts decided to open up his Bible and seek guidance for his lack of success in life. He opened it up to the Book of 3 John verse 2 which says “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
Oral Roberts felt it was in these words that- God was directly speaking to him and saying “I want you to be rich and healthy”. The next day- Oral Roberts went out, still in debt, and purchased a brand new Buick. And as soon as the car keys got in Oral Roberts’ hands, he claimed to be given another direct message from God Instructing him “go out and heal the sick.”
Oral Roberts then formed a traveling healing ministry. Thousands of people would come to Oral Roberts’ Crusades with the belief that if Oral Roberts put his hands on them and prayed for them “they would return to health.” The only condition was that they needed to have enough faith for God to restore them to perfect health, because only if they had enough faith would God listen to their prayers. Oral Roberts even claimed to have resurrected dozens upon dozens of people from death all because people had faith.
What’s the problem with this belief that if you have enough faith- God will heal you? It only stands in direct contrast to the man who wrote more Books of the Bible than any other, the most influential leader in the Early Church- the Apostle Paul.
In the 12th Chapter of 2 Corinthian, the Apostle Paul speaks of having a medical ailment. Paul recalls praying on three separate occasions for the Lord to take this pain away. Yet nothing happened. Paul’s pain remained- even after he prayed for healing. Why was this? Paul had so much faith- he was willing to have his head cut off for preaching the Christian Gospel.
Is it possible that God might have had a reason for not healing the Apostle Paul? Paul seemed to think so when he said:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s whole point being “Why God allows bad things to happen to us as Christian people”.
If we were all Millionaires- who never had any problems in life (Always got along well with our family, loved every minute of our work day) we’d be prideful and reject God and his grace. We would have no need for the promises of eternal life. Life would be pretty swell as we’d be living in a world without any sin or any problems.
We must reject the idea on both counts that unanswered prayers serve as either a failing on God’s part or our own.
Why should we pray then, if it doesn’t guarantee us miraculous healings, or lives without problems?
I think one thing that should always be noted is “How prayers are answered is not always going to be clear”. We’re often not going to have dramatic proofs like an ailing Grandma getting up from her wheelchair and doing a jig across the stage.
Yet we know that God encourages us to pray and God promises to hear our prayer
“Call upon me and I will deliver you in the Day of Trouble”- Psalm 50:15.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”- Matthew 7:7
How then shall we pray?
I’ll come across people that when they’re asked to pray out loud in front of others, they get nervous and scared and don’t want to do it. The reason is simple- they’re worried that their prayer might not be good enough. They’re worried people will look down on their faith.
Today’s Gospel lesson provides Jesus giving us an example of ‘How to Pray.” It is a prayer we say every Sunday- the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us words to say that are simple and easy to remember. It’s a prayer that you can pray together with Christians from all over the world. I wish to reflect briefly as to what exactly is Jesus teaching in this prayer.
In looking at the Lord’s Prayer, the first thing that stands out is the simplicity. For a lot of people think that God doesn’t answer their prayers since they didn’t pray long enough or maybe not enough people were praying. Or maybe people weren’t praying the right way- if only they had kneeled then God would listen to the prayer more.
In the Lord’s Prayer- the focus is always on God’s action, not our own. The focus of the Lord’s Prayer is shaping a kingdom in God’s image, not our own.
We must always remember when considering whether God wants someone healed is that true healing does not take place in this world. Sure- Jesus raised a few people from the dead in the scriptures- Jairus’ Daughter, the Widow’s Son, and Lazarus, but such healings were only temporary acts of God’s Grace.
These miracles served the purpose of pointing to the power of the grace of God in sustaining life when it was impossible; thereby pointing to the day that God shall restore our body, mind, and soul to a state of complete health through his resurrection. All these people raised by Jesus eventually succumbed to death in this world, only to be raised up to something much greater.
For if the ultimate sign of faith was our own physical health this would be terrifying, since even the great Oral Roberts died in 2009. So have all the greatest teachers of the Church. Instead we trust in the words of Our Lord and Savior- “that a day shall come when we shall be with him in Paradise.”
In fact- if one is looking at the Lord’s Prayer- the Hardest Words to pray in there are the words “your will be done”
Let me tell you something this morning, that some of you might consider surprising and I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I’m about to say .
I’ll often encounter people in hospital rooms that want prayers said for healing. Such requests make me really nervous. In fact, I won’t pray for individual healing. The reason being such action might not be God’s will.
The last thing I want to promote is the belief that if Prayers go unanswered God isn’t good or loving. We can make sense of God’s will. Every event that causes us to question or wonder in this life “must be interpreted by the Cross of Christ”.
There will be a time in each of our lives that we’re no longer healed physically. Hopefully I don’t shock anyone in this room as I proclaim “We will all die”.
A day will come whether this week or 75 Years from now that we will breathe our last breath. Granted it’s a lot easier to make sense of this being God’s will in the case of a blind, deaf, sickly 110 Year Old man than in the case of the young child.
Consider God works in this world in ways that might not make sense even to us. The Lord might be calling the young child home to a place far better than anything this world can offer. The Lord might also be working in such situations to bring people to repentance as they come to terms with the weakness of human existence.
For example, people are way more likely to listen to the impact of the Gospel at a funeral than a wedding, since it’s a those moments that issues of faith are hitting the closest to home.
God’s reasoning isn’t always going to be clear, yet proof of God’s love has been clearly made known through Jesus death and resurrection.
And this is how we know that God answers our prayers.
Not by always giving us what we want, but in giving us something much better.
This might not always be easy to understand in this life, for it is in the Cross that we have a promise that God will lose his own life to save ours. It is because of the Cross that we should have no doubts that God will always do what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.