First Lesson: Amos 8: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 52
Second Lesson: Colossians 1: 15-28
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 38-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“I woke up this morning looking for someone to blame. Someone to hate. Someone who I could make the single target of my fear about the officers killed in Dallas and the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was such a desperate feeling to want to discharge the uncertainty and scarcity. Then it dawned on me that this is the exact drive that fueled what’s happening right now.
Instead of feeling hurt we act out our hurt. Rather than acknowledging our pain, we inflict it on others. Neither hate nor blame will lead to the justice and peace that we all want- it will only move us further apart. But we can’t forget that hate and blame are seductive. Anger is easier than grief. Blame is easier than real accountability. When we choose instant relief in the form of rage, we’re in many ways choosing permanent grief for the world.” -Brene Brown.
“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”-Amos 5:24.
This morning, I want to tell you the story of a prophet who lived in uncertain times such as these. I want to tell you the story of the prophet Amos. Amos’ story begins with an unlikely path to the ministry. Amos began his life working as a migrant farm worker. Amos’ job was to puncture sycamore trees. Sycamore trees would require someone to puncture their fruit to make them edible. Sycamore trees produced the fruit of the poor. Amos hardly made any money in that job, so Amos then worked the second job of herding sheep. Amos had no formal religious education. Amos’ ministry was during the time of Israel’s division into two kingdoms of north and south. Amos was from the south, but he preached in the enemy territory of the north.
Telling people uncomfortable truths would mark Amos’ ministry. Much of Amos’ ministry would seek to address the exploitation of the poor by the rich. Amos’ greatest moment in courage was when he went to Bethel at a time when people were gathering to worship the Golden Calf rather than the God of Israel. Amos’ then made a prediction that such worship would soon bring about Israel’s collapse as a nation.
Amos ‘prediction would come true within a couple generations. The reaction to Amos’ words was such that he ends up being deported and seeing his career as Israel’s preacher come to an end.
Amos’ lived in a time where the standard of living for the people of Israel was like none they had ever known, yet society still kept decaying. People liked when Amos would preach against Israel’s enemies, but they would resist Amos when he would speak the truth about their people.
The central theme of Amos’ ministry was the shape of Justice in the world. Amos’ most famous words about “Justice rolling down like mighty waters” would be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech over 2500 years later.
As we consider the course of the life of Amos and the calls for Justice in the world, let us consider three points in regards to Justice.
Point One: Justice is never easy.
Let me tell a story, Last season- My Dad and I were at a Vikings game against the Seahawks. One of the drawbacks of being at TCF Stadium is we were sitting on metal bleachers. When the weather is seven degrees below zero, and everyone has several layers, the row is a tight squeeze. So on the left side of me were a couple of Seahawks fans, both much bigger than me. The man probably weighed twice what I weighed. He would stand up every time the Seahawks made a play and made noise. The reaction to these Seahawk fans cheering from our section of Vikings fans was predictable. On this day, being the smallest one in the row, the Seahawks fans kept squeezing me “tighter” and “tighter” until my Dad whispers into my ear. “Stand your ground!”
How does standing your ground in the world look? Standing my ground “physically” would only end up with me getting hurt trying to confront someone much bigger than me. Perhaps standing your ground means something different than we often think it to be.
The events of the past weeks brought me back to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. King had all sorts of things going against him from the history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to resentment to people throughout the land. When people were protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, they knew that anger would merely produce a backlash. People would speak their voice through the power of silent action dressed in their Sunday best clothes. When people marched, they were subject to all sorts of nasty names and threats, yet they did not lose resolve. The Civil Rights Movement sought out with a seemingly impossible dream of bringing people who saw the world in entirely different ways to be able to achieve common ground. For when “police officers” or minority groups are automatically assumed to be “guilty,” we can never reach common ground. Finding common ground is never going to be easy because it causes us to admit that our way of viewing the world might have blind spots. Confessing the imperfection or our knowledge or sin is “never easy.” Justice not being easy, leads us into point two.
Point Two: Justice can’t be about settling scores.
My Grandma has a brother named Frank. Frank has lived in Kansas City ever since he graduated from college in the late 1950’s. Frank got into the banking business down there. Frank played a role working with the Truman Sports Complex where both the Royals and Chiefs play. Frank eventually becomes the President of a bank and does quite well for himself. Now when you do well, people tend to ask you for money. The thing about Grandma is she’s not afraid to ask anyone for anything. So Grandma asks Frank for $20,000. In fairness, Grandma has asked nearly everyone she knows for $20,000 at some point in time. Grandma doesn’t think “small.” Frank’s patience with the constant requests for money on this day ran out.
Frank tells Grandma “no,” Grandma tells Frank a not so nice place where he can go. Grandma and Frank haven’t talked to each other in the five years because of both their stubbornness. Making amends is often thought to be an act of weakness. So people like Grandma and Frank go through life never wanting to be left holding onto the somewhat shorter ends of the stick.
Here’s why this is a problem. At the end of World War I, emotion was running high. These feelings led to one of the most unjust events in all of human history in the German Holocaust. After the Germans lose World War I, the sides begin to try to chart out a way forward. For Britain, France, and Russia the way out was easy blame Germany for everything. Put together the Treaty of Versailles with Germany not in the room. Make Germany admit they’re the only ones responsible for the war. Make Germany pay all the costs in reparations. Annex German land into neighboring countries, turning the citizenry into captives.
President Woodrow Wilson feared this would be a terrible idea for a lasting peace. The results were horrifying. Germany goes into financial ruin because of war-related inflation. In the Mid 1920’s a war hero named Adolf Hitler begins his rise to power as an outspoken critic of the Treaty of Versailles. For as awful as Hitler was, he never rises to power if not for the terms of Versailles. There shall be no Justice in this world if people maintain the belief that Justice must come according to your exact terms. There is potentially another way forward.
Point number three: Justice must be about hope.
A quote from Martin Luther: “The sin underneath all our sin is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.
One thing that I often notice about Christian people is that they fail to differentiate judgment from Justice.
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”-Matthew 7:1
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”- John 7:24.
Judgment unto itself is a not a bad thing. Judgment is what acknowledges the condition of the world in its brokenness. Judgment is a conduit for the proclamation of grace. Judgment without hope is what is a bad thing.
My sister Anne as many of you know just graduated law school. Anne worked during law school in the public defender’s office. I will talk to Anne about the legal system as it relates to its problems for today: one theme keeps coming up again and again is the problem of armchair lawyers. Armchair lawyers who claim to know all about a case from what they can pick up via media narrative. The problem with these armchair lawyers is they are quick to come to judgment and to condemn. Armchair lawyers often fail to view “justice” in relation to hope.
Armchair lawyering is part of a bigger problem in how we view crime as a nation. People keep demanding harsher and harsher sentences all the time. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen a fourfold increase in the number of Americans residing in prison. America has the highest rate of criminal incarceration rate in the world, yet this hasn’t brought about any more peace.
Let me propose something this morning as it relates justice to hope. What if there was another way forward. As Lutherans our entire faith is centered on the twin concepts of Law and Gospel. The Law tells us all the ways that the world ain’t quite right, whereas the Gospel tells us that there is indeed hope out there in the person of Jesus Christ.
In the words of Criminal Justice advocate Bryan Stevenson: “I’ve come to understand and believe that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if someone tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them; they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.”
Stevenson’s words hit upon the reason that we must center all talk about Justice upon hope. I came across a story of a prison in Norway. The prison’s philosophy is a bit different than we're used to. The prison does not run by revenge for crimes, but rather the hope of redemption. This Norwegian prison has inmates upon release re-offend at a rate unheard of within American prisons. What if we don’t change by people by the power and misery but rather grace and mercy?
While the harshest of criminals might only respond to the judgment, grace will ultimately be the means to bring about “true hope.”
“Jesus dropped the charges against us.” Jesus dropped them on the cross. Our God brings about Justice that Amos longed for by way of mercy. God brings about Justice by way of forgiveness. All we can merely do in this broken world is listen and hope to piece it all together once again. For today, might not be the day of justice. Tomorrow might not be the day of justice. But one day, people from all of God’s Kingdom shall gather together at the River to celebrate hope becoming real in the person of Jesus Christ.
 The following quote came from Brown’s Facebook and Instagram page on July 8, 2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Doyle-Nelson, Theresa. “A Dresser of Sycamore Trees.” Bible Saints.Blogspot. 28.Oct.2011. Web. July.11.2016.
 Amos 7:14.
 Amos 5:5-7
 August 28,1963 at the March on Washington.
 This story is told in John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut’s Compelling People on pages 50-51.
 This quote was found on the Gnesio Facebook page on July 11th, 2016.
 Stevenson, Bryan. “We need to talk about an injustice.” Ted Talks (www.ted.com). 2012. Mar. Web. July.8.2016.
 Heijmen, R.J. “ You Don’t Change People by Power: Grace in a Norwegian Prison”. MBIRD (Mockingbird). 26. Feb.2013. Web. July.11.2016.
 This comes from a comment made by Bryan J. in the “You Don’t Change People by Power” article.
First Lesson: 2 Kings 5: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 30
Second Lesson: Galatians 6: (1-6), 7-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Back when I was in college, I worked summers selling flooring at Menard’s in Maplewood. I remember a hot day at the end of July. It was one of those days around 100 degrees with high humidity that we dread during Minnesota summers. On this day, word had come over the radio that one of the Minnesota Vikings best players Korey Stringer collapsed after practice due to heat stroke and had to go to the hospital. I went to bed figuring it to be nothing, as guys like Korey Stringer weren’t supposed to die. Stringer had just been in the Pro-Bowl; he was truly in the prime of life. The next morning, I turn on the radio as soon as I get up to hear Denny Green, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss just sobbing, Korey Stringer had died! It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Great warriors like Stringer just don’t die to a nasty roll of dice. Stringer’s tale brings us to a story of another great warrior named Namaan.
Namaan was the greatest soldier of his day conquering the people of Israel. Namaan seemingly had it all. The scriptures describe Namaan as a “great man” with “power and authority”. Namaan was best friends with the King of Aram. One day though Naaman's life takes an unexpected turn. His skin began to swell. The swelling became a rash. The outbreak became discolored. The discoloring develops into scales. Naaman started going to the finest physicians searching for answers and received no useful answers. Namaan kept developing more and more scales. Naaman was a leper!
Now to understand this story, you need to understand the meaning of Leprosy within Namaan’s day. Leprosy in Jewish culture was considered to be a cause of someone’s failure or sin. Such questioning can be found in John 9 when the Disciples ask Jesus “Who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind!” Lepers weren’t outcasts because they were contagious. Lepers were rather outcasts because their scaley skin seemed to point to some source of shame existing in their life.
Your family was hoping that other people wouldn’t notice. Lepers were the type of company that good people didn’t keep especially religious people. So Naaman was going to seek out any solution he could find. I imagine that if Naaman lived in 2016 that he would be googling “leprosy cure” like mad. Naaman finally hears of a cure from his wife’s slave girl.
How the slave girl fits into Naaman's story is interesting?
In Naaman's day, when soldiers would win a battle they would claim all the valuables that they could from the land, even people. So the slave girl who is not named was a daughter of Israel now working as Namaan’s slave in the land of Aram. Now to picture the slave girl, I want you to contrast her with Namaan. I picture Namaan as one of the biggest, strongest guys around looking like a football player, whereas the slave girl was probably tiny and timid. Namaan had bullied the slave girl in her capture; now Namaan is so desperate that he turns to the bullied for advice. The slave girl tells Naaman about a prophet named Elisha from her land of Israel.
Elisha is another unlikely character in Naaman's story. Elisha was known for his bald head. Schoolchildren made fun of Elisha when they saw him. In fact, people throughout the nation of Israel saw Elisha as a joke. Elisha was the voice of God of a country that Namaan’s army crushed in battle. When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house, he appeared to be a recluse and a quack. Elisha wouldn’t even come out to face Namaan; he sent a messenger out instead. Naaman didn’t like his advice with Elisha telling him to ‘Go wash in the Jordan River.’
As you picture the Jordan River this morning, I want you to think of the bluest lakes that you’ve ever seen, for a lot of us in might be Lake Superior which signifies that we’re home in Silver Bay. Now what I want to you to picture is a swamp, a mud hole. When you think of the mud hole now imagine the Jordan River. The Jordan River was nothing special; it was merely the boundary between Namaan’s people and the land of Israel.
Namaan surely thought that if he was going to wash that a more picturesque river would do. Elisha's advice was the water didn’t matter, it didn’t matter the amount of water, or how far Namaan dunked himself into the water. What mattered was Elisha offering God’s promise with the water.
Naaman finally decided to give into Elisha’s request. Namaan was the guy that had purchased everything he saw on a Late Night TV infomercial no matter how dubious it appeared. Any possible solution to the Leprosy problem he would try. Namaan figured it certainly couldn’t hurt anything if he dipped himself into the Jordan River. Naaman finally did what Elisha told him to do, not expecting that water could change anything. Water would soon change everything!
Naaman's skin quickly became like it was born-again. Naaman's skin looked like that not of a hardened warrior with leprosy, but rather like a young boy. Elisha’s promise had come true! Namaan was now a believer in the God of his slave girl!
You see the story of Naaman and Elisha isn't’ a story about Baptism, but it's rather a story that points to Baptism.
Baptism for many is thought to be something to be embraced (once we’re ready for it).
The thing about Baptism though is you are never really ready. Namaan would have never entered the Jordan River if everything had to be right within his life for him to receive it. Instead, Baptism serves as the great equalizer of the Christian faith. Baptism brings one back to the place of their birth, the place of their beginning. The Gospel breaks down walls of success and failure, beauty and age, money and poverty. What the Gospel says is that the very youngest baby is equal to the most powerful military commander in the eyes of God. There is no purer expression of our Gospel than Baptism.
Let me tell you a story this morning based on a true story about two girls that we’ll call Miranda and Heather. Heather picked on Miranda all throughout elementary school and high school. Miranda had no idea what she had done to make Heather so mad, but she began hating Heather right back. Heather was vicious calling Miranda every nasty name, pulling every sort of nasty joke, turning everyone that she could against Miranda. Miranda was grateful to graduate high school and hopefully never see Heather again.
About a year after high school, Heather tries contacting Miranda on Facebook. Miranda is immediately suspicious of Heather’s motives. Miranda decides to respond and they quickly discover they have a lot in common. After a couple of months, Miranda and Heather meet for lunch. Miranda figures that if Heather was Heather that she could tell her off and leave. Heather begins to apologize for all the misery that she had put Miranda through over the years. Heather didn’t know why she acted so harsh towards Miranda. Heather started to cry and beg for forgiveness, even though Heather knew she didn’t deserve it. Miranda did forgive Heather and they became the best of friends afterward.
For those that might seem different from you on this day: those who are always demeaning others like Heather are probably coming from a place of pain and isolation. People are more broken on the inside then they care to admit regardless of the masks they give to the world around them. When you get down to it perhaps Namaan, his slave girl, and Elisha weren’t that different after all and the washing in the Jordan River was what brought them together.
Namaan was changed in the Jordan River on this day. Namaan transformed from spiritual despair to a place of peace. Namaan was permanently changed in these might river waters. Namaan was in the prime of life, struck down, and born again. The reason, Baptism is so important for us as Christian people because in the end “everybody dies”, all accomplishments go with us to the grave.
Final story for today, a former professor of mine described going to a string of funerals and always went home disappointed. Every different preacher would go on and on with all the reasons that the deceased person should have hope beyond the grave. Every person that died the pastor would describe as a mighty hero like Namaan. The problem with Namaan though is the prime of life is fading. Even heroes die. The prime of life always fading is why our hope as Christian people must come from something that we can grasp onto whatever stage of life we’re currently in. The professor then attends a funeral in Western North Dakota. The preacher on this day was a guy named Joe Burgess.
Someone, I know described going to Joe Burgess's house this way: “You open the oven all that’s in there are books,” “You open up the fridge all that’s in there are books.” Joe was part of the International Lutheran-Catholic dialogues and perhaps the brightest person that I’ve ever come across. Joe gets up for this funeral sermon, the professor wonders what Joe might say with his encyclopedia of knowledge. Joe proceeds to read the following scripture passage from Romans 6:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Joe then proceeds to sit down. These three verses from Romans was all Joe needed to say. The professor starts shaking his hand in the air as it was the best funeral sermon that he had heard in years.
Elisha said to Naaman: ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be made clean.’ It seemed too simple; Naaman couldn’t believe this was true. Naaman couldn’t figure out the catch. Baptism there has to be a catch. Namaan would soon find out though there is no catch to God’s promises, God’s promises will indeed soon come true! Amen
 2 Kings 5:1
 John 9:2.
 2 Kings 5:2.
 2 Kings 2:23-24.
 2 Kings 5:10-11.
 2 Kings 5:12
 A really good sermon that I came across this week on Text Week was Christy Lohr Sapp’s “Dip Into Faith” preached at Duke Divinity Chapel on July 7th, 2013. Lohr Sapp does an excellent job of making the connection between Namaan’s healing in the Jordan River and Baptism.
 The story is based on a Reddit comment by a deleted poster from a post entitled “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry? Would you like to apologize to your victims?” Ask Reddit (sub-reddit). 20 May 2014. Web. Jun.28.2016.
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Deleted Poster. “Former bullies of Reddit, are you sorry?”
 Romans 6:3-5
 2 Kings 5:10
First Lesson: 1 Kings 18: 20-21, (22-29), 30-39
Responsive Reading: Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Galatians 1: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“It takes nothing to join the crowd. It takes everything to stand alone.”- Hans F Hansen
Let me begin by telling the story of Albert Einstein before E=MC squared. When Albert Einstein was growing up, his parents feared that he had a learning disability.
Einstein didn’t speak until he was three years old. He didn’t speak fluently for more than several years after this. Einstein couldn’t read until the age of 7. Einstein had teachers describe him as “slow”. Einstein in school was considered to be nothing but a foolish day dreamer. I’m sure other kids called Einstein “stupid” and probably bullied him. Einstein was socially awkward. He would go out of his way to avoid other children. Einstein dreaded human touch. Einstein today would probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. When Albert Einstein took a test to get into secondary school, he failed. When Einstein applied to a Ph.D. program at Bern, he got an answer of “no”. Albert Einstein never got to completely determine the circumstances of his life, yet this would not deter him.
Albert Einstein was the definition of different and yet it made all the difference in his life. No one ever changes the world by trying to be average or ordinary in as many areas as possible. No one ever changes the world trying to copycat everyone else.
In 1841 Scottish journalist Charles Mackay published “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” One of the examples that Mackay cites about the madness of crowds has to do with European Witch Trials in the 16th and 17th century. What would happen is that something bad would happen to someone, and their enemies would then be declared to be a “witch.” To be declared a witch in these days would be the equivalent of being declared a “bigot” or “racist” in our day. So as soon as someone would hurl the witch accusation, people would stay silent fearing to be associated with witches.
The only problem with all this was is that no one was proven to be a witch, yet thousands of people would die because of the mere accusation. Peer pressure is a powerful force whether you’re a four year old or one-hundred and four years old.
There are potential dangers in standing alone. Such risks bring us to the story of Elijah for today. Elijah stood alone. Elijah was the guy walking into Lambeau field dressed from head to toe in Vikings gear.
Elijah’s story takes place during the reign of a wicked king named Ahab. The Scriptures describe Ahab as doing more to provoke the Lord’s anger than all other kings before him. Ahab was married to a woman named Jezebel who was pulling the strings. Jezebel came from the land of Phoenicia and with Jezebel’s reign came the worship of Phoenician gods like Baal. Wanting to play it safe by following Israel’s king and queen, the people soon began to worship Baal rather than God.
Baal was a half-man plus half-bull deity. Baal worship included orgies and child sacrifices. Worshiping Baal was thought to bring rain to the Earth. People loved worshipping Baal because Baal promised sex and money. Baal worship revolved around the cycles of nature necessary for prosperity and survival. People followed Baal to receive lots of grain along with lots of children. So Jezebel and Ahab built a temple so that the people may worship Baal.
Since people hadn’t heard from the God of Israel for a while, they assumed that he was staying silent. Baal worship though quickly began to disappoint. Three years pass, no food, or no rain. Great suffering had come upon the land of Israel.
So God tells Elijah to approach Ahab with an offer to intervene. Ahab gets mad at Elijah’s presence. How dare Elijah stand apart the crowd? Troublemakers stand apart from the crowd.
Ahab’s anger would not deter Elijah. Elijah wants to get Ahab to see he’s wrong. Elijah doesn’t care if he’s the only person who thinks this way. So Elijah gives Ahab a very simple proposition. “Why don’t you invite 450 priests of Baal along with 400 priests of Baal’s female counterpart Asherah” to Mount Carmel. 850 to 1. .
The people of Israel were wavering at this time between who to follow between the prosperity-promising Baal or the seemingly silent God of Israel.
So Elijah sets forth a challenge in the simplest of terms for Ahab’s Kingdom “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him”- 1 Kings 18:21.
The challenge at Mount Carmel was going to settle not which God was better, but rather which God was true.
To resolve this issue, Elijah proposes a test. Elijah and the Prophets of Baal would set up their altars with bull sacrifices to burn. But they would set fire to neither offering. Instead, Elijah and the 850 prophets would try to invoke their Gods to act. Whoever set fire to the offerings first was going to win the duel. Everyone agreed, and the test began.
So Elijah told the Prophets of Baal to first. Baal’s prophets start to dance and jumping around the altar trying to compel Baal to act. Morning passes, afternoon passes, Elijah tells them to yell louder, and louder. Baal’s prophets yell louder then begin cutting themselves with knives and swords until blood gushes out. Evening comes with no response.
So now it’s Elijah’s turn. Elijah sets up his Altar. Elijah does something different, though; Elijah dumps water over the wood upon it. Elijah dumped three gallons of water making the wood soaked. Elijah wanted to prove to everyone that if the fire came down, it would be no accident. Elijah was going to bring fire down from heaven.
When the spotlight shines on Elijah, he prays a very simple prayer.
“ O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”-1 Kings 18:36-37.
As soon as Elijah’s prayer is over, fire came down from heaven! Those watching this act, fell upon their knees begging for God’s mercy and grace.
What can we make of Elijah’s story on this day? Elijah stood alone against all the prevailing wisdom in Israel. It was easy for people to believe in the lure of Baal worship as they felt that God wasn’t coming through for them in the years beforehand.
All Elijah had to go on as he went to the top of Mount Carmel was faith. Elijah’s situation was no different than his ancestor Abraham who went up on a mountain carrying his only son “Isaac” guided by the belief that “Lord shall provide”. If God hadn’t acted in Elijah’s case, religious faith might have become extinct within the nation of Israel. Elijah would have been executed like so many prophets that went before him. The Lord did provide as in the case of Elijah.
When Elijah attempted to summon fire from heaven, the crowds thought such a thing was impossible. Who was Elijah they say?
The whole situation between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal highlights a problem with how people often look at the world. People in Elijah’s day saw the struggles of the present. Elijah saw these struggles himself as he spent a lot of his life on the run from Ahab and Jezebel. People knew pain! People knew trouble! People’s faith would be challenged more and more every single day as they longed for prosperity. Elijah’s God wasn’t getting the job done to other people’s satisfaction. So pretty soon the Snake Oil salesman promoting Baal were getting rich. Baal worship made the past a problem of approach. If only “we” apply different techniques to life then “we” will achieve unlimited success in this life. Human nature is such that it will embrace any quick and easy solutions . Faith demands something different though!
I read a book a few weeks ago by author Angela Duckworth titled Grit. Duckworth defines “Grit” as one’s perseverance in achieving long-term vision in the midst of temporary hardship. Duckworth tells the story of Cody Coleman . When Coleman was growing up, his mom was declared “insane”, his father was in prison. Coleman’s grandmother attempted to raise him, but her body and mind was not up to the task. Coleman was one of the poorest kids at one of the poorest schools in the state. Cody Coleman was living life as nothing special: he wasn’t good at sports, he was in remedial English class, and was at best an average math-student. If Cody Coleman followed his peers who knows what path his life would have taken. Coleman’s life change when his brothers proclaim to him the “power of faith”. Coleman stopped looking at the past as defining him, but rather looked towards the future. Coleman by his junior year of high school was earning straight A’s. Coleman eventually gets accepted into MIT graduating with a near-perfect GPA.
Cody Coleman’s outlook on life was like Elijah’s. The past can only take as much power from us as we’re willing to give to it. There were plenty of days in Elijah’s life where he could have easily given up. Elijah could have thrown in the towel. Elijah could have said “I am too old for the struggle.” Yet, Elijah believed in the power of the future. Elijah believed that if he kept embracing the faith to which he clung his whole life that his God would eventually deliver. Elijah believed that Resurrection could indeed come to the Earth. Elijah believed that God indeed could deliver fire from heaven.
Our great hope for today is this. Our God promises to remain alongside you when everything else in the world seems to be against you. When your faith might be nearing its breaking point, our God will deliver. Just remember that crowds aren’t always right. The crowds thought Albert Einstein was too stupid to amount to anything. The crowds thought Cody Coleman was destined to end up in jail. These same masses don’t believe that Our God can indeed bring down fire from Heaven! Amen
 Kultirecity.org.“All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.” Facebook. 16.May.2016. Web. May.16.2016. taken from Mateusz M Facebook page.
 Kultirecity.org. “All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.”
 Kultirecity.org. “All Children have potential regardless of their diagnoses.”
 “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July.2004. Web. May. 17.2016.
 1 Kings 16:33
 1 Kings 18:1
 1 Kings 18:19
 1 Kings 18:24.
 1 Kings 18:26-29.
 1 Kings 18:30-35.
 1 Kings 18:39-39.
 Genesis 22:14.
 Inspiration for this section comes from Mateusz. M. “Vision”. You Tube. 26.Oct.2013. Web. May.18.2013. Section comes from Eric Thomas running from 1:00 to 3:25.
 Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner Publishing. New York City. 2016. Print. P.220-221.
 Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
First Lesson: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
Responsive Reading: Psalm 27
Second Lesson: Philippians 3: 17 - 4:1
Gospel Lesson: Luke 13: 31-35
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? –Psalm 27:1
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
King David was at the lowest point of his existence. David’s son had died. David had been rebuked by the prophet Nathan for his great sin. David had indeed committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. David had sent Uriah to die on the front lines of battle. Now word had begun to leak out to the people of Israel. David was unsure of what the next step forward in his life could be. David dreaded facing the public because of all the shame over what had happened. David couldn’t help but think: What will they say? Can I ever recover from my mistakes? From where might grace and mercy come?
We might not be King David, but we can probably relate to his shame. You were maybe picked on as a child and dreaded going to school. Perhaps as an adult, you regret certain decisions that you made and how your life could have turned out differently. As you get into your elder years, you worry about the next steps as you gradually lose control of your independence. There’s truth in the saying that seeing and hearing one word of criticism consumes our mind way more than hearing ten words of praise.
Last Sunday night, I received a phone call from a friend of mine that I’ll call Ed. Ed would seem to have an excellent life. Ed’s a doctor making a fine living. Ed’s personable and in-shape. Ed was struggling with life. Ed was struggling with not having his dad around anymore to give him advice. Ed was struggling with always having to meet other’s expectations. Ed was struggling with always having to escape the judgments of others. Ed was struggling with what might be the next step for his soul. Ed was afraid to fail, even though he seemed to be having all sorts of success.
King David’s story, our story, and Ed’s story are all unique. The common theme within them all is trying to find a word of light in the midst of darkness.
Today we reflect on one of King David’s psalms that seek to engage us in the midst of this human struggle. The Psalm on which we reflect through takes a slightly different course than the 23rd Psalm leading us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The 27th Psalm instead deals with the day to day hardships of this life as faced by King David and my friend Ed.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid-Psalm 27:1
Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid? People ask how David can speak words of praise if his life is down in the dumps as we can imagine. The truth is that we often get praise wrong as people.
Occasionally, when watching football on TV, you will see a player get down on his knees and point his finger at the sky upon scoring a touchdown. We intrinsically think these are the times that we need to give God thanks. Let me suggest something that might seem counter-intuitive. The times that we need to give praise are when life is the darkest. Moments like David was probably going through as he was wondering how might he ever recover from the loss of a child and exposure of his sin.
The truth is that praise centers are not of what’s taking place at the present, so much as praise centers on “what will happen in the future?” The problem with how we often view the world is that we often only see crosses, failing to remember that a cross needs to come before one’s resurrection. Perhaps, David needed to fall before everyone around him before God could ultimately build him back up.
Many people in these days almost speak of sin as a swear word that we cannot mention. The thing is though that confession of sin is rather an admission of imperfection. Confession is what we need in life before moving forward.
My friend Ed who I was talking about earlier, he decided to attend church last Sunday for the first time since college nearly fifteen years ago. Ed needed the opportunity to stand before God and his neighbor to speak the harsh truth that my life isn’t together. Ed needed to proclaim his need for forgiveness and resurrection and see others stand alongside him while he does so.
When we admit the imperfection of the world and ourselves; it is only then that we may begin to point to the unconditional nature of God’s love poured out upon us.
Whereas David begins the Psalm with a word of praise for what is to come. The second part of the Psalm takes a different tact. David speaks of the realities of the present. David begins to speak to the depth of his struggle. David talks about being lost in the wilderness. David talks about relating to God, who seems distant to his concerns at the present moment of his life. David talks about the need to turn his whole life over to prayer. Prayer for David is his means of connecting to God as a means of trust no matter what additional trials that the future should bring.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight- Proverbs 3:5-6.
Brene Brown says it best for too many people “Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong, shut up. That’s it.”
Brown’s critique serves a purpose to remind us that the greatest of spiritual truths is to be thankful that we are not God. God’s grace and mercy goes way beyond, what we would ever provide to those around us. We need to leave ourselves room to let God provide for us the answers that we might not necessarily provide for ourselves.
I almost don’t wonder if we often get what the Church is supposed to be wrong. We often go through life only viewing the words regarding extremes success or failure, Democrat or Republican, Saint or Sinner. When in reality it is the times when the world breaks us in nearly every single direction that the Gospel comes to us with a way forward. The truth for today is that our way forward in this life goes through a cross.
I was reading a fascinating reflection this week by a guy named Brian Zahnd. Brian Zanhd seemed to have all this Jesus stuff figured out. Zahnd was the pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country. Zahnd soon realized that something was missing from his life. Zanhd came to realize that his faith lacked a serious contemplation about the meaning of life itself. Too often when we pray, it’s all about us. I want to win the lottery. I want a new wife. I want a different job. I want some grand, spiritual purpose. The reality is that these are merely just our thoughts being confused with God’s will. When in reality what prayer should ultimately do is break down that the universe doesn’t run itself according to our reality.
What if we were to propose a new way of thinking about prayer as a faith community today? What if people above all else knew us whenever they see the cross that hangs outside our building as a sign of grace and humility in a broken world. Let Sychar be the place for people trying to be a sense of an embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even weird happening in their life. Let it be a place where people can dance without being embarrassed, where people can sing their hearts out with their non-angelic voices and a place that finds human connection in the midst of our imperfection. Let Sychar be the place that is always asking God for direction in prayer to respond to the world around us.
David’s Psalm closes with a final word of praise. A word that hopefully gives hope heading into David’s future. A word of conviction that the Lord will never leave him nor forsake him. David wanted to say now is not the time to give up, surely hope will soon come on the horizon. This word of praise reminds us that we don’t need to be anybody other than the person that Jesus sees to receive God’s grace and mercy.
Let me close with the words of Pastor Jane Strohl today. “In his description of Eden, Luther emphasized that it was a place where there was no fear, no fear of dying, no fear of other living beings, no fear of nature. It is a wonderful vision, for we live in a world fraught with fear. However, there is a bold word to throw in its face again and again and in God’s “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Then we wait.”
Perhaps today we can merely see a flicker of light. For some this flicker might burn brighter than for others. But rest assured this flicker is there. It is there this morning when we here the declaration that “we are indeed worthy” as our sins are forgiven with the preaching of the Gospel. The flicker is there as we soon partake in the foretaste of the feast to come. The flicker is present when a friend or a neighbor builds you up in your faith even when those around you might be tearing you down. This flicker will soon be a flash. The flash will blind you so that you may be able to see again. See a world filled with hope. See a world filled with Resurrection. Amen
 2 Samuel 2:18
 2 Samuel 12
 2 Samuel 11
 McLarty, Phillip. “Psalm 27:1-14”. Lectionary.org. 2007. Web. Feb.16.2016.
 Brown, Brene. “The Power of Vulernability”. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. June 2010. Web. Feb.16.2016.
 Guyton, Morgan. “Water To Wine: the salvation of a megachurch pastor”. Patheos: Mercy Not Sacrifice. 5. Feb.2016. Web. Feb.16.2016.
 Guyton, Morgan. “Water To Wine: the salvation of a megachurch pastor”.
 Tanner, Beth. “Commentary on Psalm 27.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 21.Feb.2016.Web. Feb.16.2016.
 Strohl, Jane. “Psalm 27 Commentary”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 28.Feb.2010. Web. Feb.16.2016.
First Lesson: Exodus 3: 1-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45b
Second Lesson: Romans 12: 9-21
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 21-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today, I want to reflect on perhaps the most well-known story of the Old Testament in the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. Moses is the most important character in the whole Old Testament. Four books of the Bible (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are written about the story of Moses’ life from the time of his birth to his death after forty years of leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the brink of the Promised Land.
The story of Moses starts about three generations before during the story of Joseph. Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. He ends up in prison where he showcases the ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh brings Joseph before him where he interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that Egypt will have harvests of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, so they needed to save grain. Egypt because of Joseph’s talent becomes the richest nation in the world. Joseph becomes second in command to Pharaoh himself. The story ends happily with all of Joseph’s huge family of ten half-brothers, one brother, Dad, and others immigrating to Egypt with Pharaoh’s blessing.
As Genesis ends about 65 years passes between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses. The Egyptian attitude towards the Jewish people changes greatly in this time. The Egyptians figured that the Israelites were becoming too numerous. The Egyptians began to fear that the Israelites could align with Egypt’s enemies in acts of treason. So Pharaoh decided he needs to get harsh with the Israeli immigrants or else supposedly the Egyptians would suffer terrible consequences.
So this background sets up a lot of Moses’ story. Moses’s birth takes place in Egypt at a time when all Jewish boys under the age of two were supposed to be put to death as a way to reign in the Hebrew population. Moses’ mother desperate to save his life puts him in a basket and lets him float down the Nile River taking hope in nothing but dumb luck and chance. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Baby Moses, and she would soon adopt him.
Moses grows up in privilege but one day his life changes as he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses snaps at the sight of an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave. In an attempt to cover up his crime, Moses hides the body. Only for Moses’ secret to be known by everyone, Moses was a murderer, and Pharaoh was going to find him to put him to death.
Moses then flees from Egypt and becomes a Shepherd for a period of 40 years. One day, while tending to sheep, Moses saw the oddest thing that he had ever seen for a bush was burning yet it wasn’t being consumed into ashes.
As Moses went to get a closer look, Moses heard for the first time in his life the voice of God commanding him to travel back to Egypt so that he may deliver the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Moses was hesitant to go about this task. Moses had a speech impediment and figured he would be laughed out of the room when he approached Pharaoh’s throne. The Lord promises Moses that he would walk alongside him and reunite him with his brother Aaron, a silver-tongued orator who was currently living in Egypt. The Lord also commanded Moses to take his shepherd’s staff with him to Egypt. For it was through this staff that Moses would perform signs and wonders in the presence of others to prove that Moses spoke for the Lord. As Moses returns to Egypt to step into Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Pharaoh figured that Moses was nothing more than a magician serving a false God.
So Moses with the Lord’s power brought forth ten plagues to the Land of Egypt: water turned to blood; frogs, gnats, and flies covered the land; all the Egyptian livestock died; boils broke out on every man and beast throughout the land; then comes hail storms, locusts, and perpetual darkness. Pharaoh does not change his position though either through the hardening of his own black heart or God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
Lastly comes forth the most significant of all the plagues of the tenth and final plague in the Passover and the death of the firstborn. It was during this plague that the Angel of Death was going to visit Egypt and take the life of every first-born son. No, differently than Pharaoh attempts to purge Egypt of all Hebrew children in the days of Moses’ birth. The only way for one’s child to survive was to place Lamb’s blood on their door-post so that the Angel of Death would know to pass-over your house with this most horrible of plagues.
It was only after this horrific night that Pharaoh recants his position of never releasing the Israeli slaves, only for Pharaoh to quickly change his mind as he considers how much valuable labor he would be losing. So Pharaoh decides to send his troops out towards the Red Sea to prevent the Israelites from leaving Egypt. Finally, as the Israelites come to the banks of the Red Sea, they appear to be trapped. Only for Moses to pound his staff into the ground so that he may perform his greatest miracle of parting the Red Sea into two so that the Israelites could cross to safety. The Red Sea collapses upon the attacking Egyptian army as soon as the Israelites reached the shore. The Israelites crossing the Red Sea is just a partial history of Moses’ life as we aren’t going to touch on him receiving the Ten Commandments or the forty years spent journeying throughout the wilderness.
But this morning I want to look at the story of Moses from a different angle. I want to explore the question of “Why so much blood had to be shed so that the people of Israel may be let go from Egyptian slavery?”
Let’s consider the bloodshed again in the story of Moses. Pharaoh seeks to kill all Hebrew children born in Egypt. Moses kills an Egyptian. All of Egypt’s livestock is wiped out. The Angel of Death kills all first-born Egyptian sons including Pharaoh’s own. Lastly, Pharaoh’s Army drowns in the Red Sea. All this bloodshed takes place so that the people of Israel may return home, after being forced to move to Egypt because of a famine in the first-place.
What confuses is with all this bloodshed is God’s role in it all? One of the more famous phrases from within the encounter between Moses and Pharaoh is “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” this phrase is present on four separate occasions. These passages have long been one of the scripture’s most fiercely discussed and debated.
Perhaps the greatest debate in all of religion is between free-will and determinism when it comes to human suffering. We could also ask this question as are we responsible for the bad choices that bring about bad things to our life or is God ultimately to blame? We don’t know what to make of these passages with God hardening Pharaoh because they imply that God is the author and the cause of all the evil, death, and destruction that took place within the story of Moses.
I think though to answer the question of God's role in regard to the suffering not only within the story of Moses, but all of human history, we need to go back to the beginning itself with the story of Adam and Eve. What we must remember is before Adam and Eve fell into sin there was no death or destruction, so ultimately human sin is to blame.
As pointed out by Pastor Larry Peters, an important thing to understand about the role of Pharaoh within the story of Moses is that Pharaoh’s heart is only hardened after not only years of abuse being heaped by Pharaoh amongst God’s people. This says nothing of Pharaoh rejecting God’s messengers who sought to correct his wayward course.
For skeptics encountering scripture passages where God actively sees to it that someone acts in such a way that they bring death and destruction to thousands of people naturally assign God being the one to blame.
The reality is that Pharaoh was not some decent, kind-hearted individual who God corrupted to not let his people go. God didn’t turn Pharaoh’s heart black; Pharaoh’s heart was already black rather God merely worked through Pharaoh’s black heart for God’s outcomes.
There are a couple different ways that we can interpret the story of Moses. We can either interpret the story through the means of it or the end of it. The means of the story are all sorts of horrific things taking place within the land of Egypt through God’s intervention and non-intervention. The end of the story has God fulfilling his promise to the people of Israel that he will not abandon, nor will he ever let them go.
As Peters expresses, part of the problem in how we interpret this story has to do with our understanding of God’s role within our lives. Many of us assign all credit for the good things in our life to our talents, and work-ethic, whereas the bad things are assigned to God, who hoists them upon us. Another way to look at this is all good things are seemingly under our control, whereas all bad things are God’s faults. When in reality, how we should be interpreting good and evil is with the remembrance that God works through both good and evil for his ultimate ends.
A while back, there was a Lutheran Pastor who served in the Minnesota legislature who one day was conducting a radio interview, when the Interviewer brought up a recent incident within his home area where a couple children perish within an automobile accident. The Interviewer asked the Pastor what he would say to the children’s parents about their loss?
The Pastor replied “God grieves alongside them in the midst of their pain.” The Pastor would wish to assure that God is there to comfort them and provide care for them in the midst of their suffering. Yet this is precisely the wrong answer to give to such a question of what to say.
For whenever people ask about God’s role in a particularly tragic situation? The only answer that we can give is look towards the cross. I would much rather follow a God who is responsible for death and destruction that can do something about it rather than follow a God who be nice, but is impotent and powerless.
I would rather follow a God, who can intervene in both life and death. As the Apostle Paul makes clear in 1st Corinthians 15 “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless.”
A good friend of mine Warren Baker explained this verse best when he said, “If Christ has not been raised, you should take your Bible and throw it in the fireplace”.
We can look over the story of Moses and Pharaoh see all sorts of death and mayhem then inevitability try to make sense of God’s role in it all. We will ultimately fall short in our search for answers. What we must remember is that God’s role in the story is not about bringing forth death and destruction rather God’s role is about rescuing us from death and destruction. God’s role in the story of Moses points towards God redeeming life, not taking it away, for just as God freed the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery, God would soon free all of his people from our own bondage to sin. As we hear this bloody story of Moses, and Pharaoh what we remember that our God’s ultimate purposes are not death and destruction, but rather our forgiveness and salvation. Amen
 Exodus 1:10
 Exodus 1:22
 Exodus 2:3
 Exodus 2:10
 Exodus 2:11-15
 Exodus 3:2
 Exodus 3:7-10
 Exodus 3:11
 Exodus 4:10
 Exodus 4:14
 Exodus 4:4
 Exodus 4:5, 4:21
 Exodus 7:11
 Exodus 7:14-25
 Exodus 8:1-15
 Exodus 8:16-19
 Exodus 8:20-32
 Exodus 9:1-7
 Exodus 9:8-12
 Exodus 9:13-32
 Exodus 10:1-20
 Exodus 10:21-29
 Exodus 10:27
 Exodus 11
 Exodus 12:1-28
 Exodus 12:29-30
 Exodus 12:31-32
 Exodus 14:5
 Exodus 14:6-9
 Exodus 14:10-12
 Exodus 14:21-22
 Exodus 14:26-29
 Exodus 20
 Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”. Pastoral Meanderings: The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor. blogger.com. 17.Oct.2013. Web. Aug.26.2014.
 Peters, Pastor Larry. “Does God harden the hearts of people?”.
 1st Corinthians 15:14
First Lesson: Genesis 37: 1-4, 12:28
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Second Lesson: Romans 10: 5-15
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 22-33
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with an apparent statement that families don’t always get along.
The most common tensions are related to money and possessions. For example, I had a great-aunt Bonnie Jean, who had a sister named Corrine. When their father Henry died, he left Bonnie Jean with over 900,000 dollars, while leaving Corrine without a penny. So these sisters never spoke the last thirty years plus years of their lives due to jealously.
The second cause of family conflict is power dynamics. For example, I have an Aunt in California who works as a psychologist who loves giving other people advice whether solicited or not. I have a Sister who is in law school who doesn’t like hearing what to do. So when my aunt contacts my sister let’s just say that the combo of Facebook, late-nights, natural combativeness, and wine tend to produce some contentious outcomes.
But a family not getting along isn’t anything new; Today’s Old Testament lesson comes from the Book of Genesis. There are more dysfunctional families in Genesis than an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
The first family in the Bible was Adam and Eve. Boy was their family dysfunctional! Genesis 3:6 describes Adam and Eve falling into sin at the same time by eating the forbidden fruit together, but as soon as the Lord confronted Adam and Eve for their sins, Adam blamed Eve for all their problems.
As is the case with couples who are quick to blame each other, but never acknowledge their faults, the bickering would continue for years and years. As is often the case with dysfunctional parents (Adam and Eve), they tend to produce dysfunctional children (Cain and Abel). Cain killed his brother Abel over jealously because the Lord preferred Abel’s offering. Cain then tries to pass off any blame for his actions by declaring to the Lord “Am I my brother's keeper?”
Then you move further into Genesis to see the Patriarchs, the fathers of the nation of Israel only to see more family dysfunction.
Abraham marries Sarah. Sarah is unable to get pregnant. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to take a second wife (her handmaiden named Hagar). Abraham and Hagar have a son named Ishmael. Only for Abraham to later have a son with Sarah named Isaac. Plenty of family conflict followed. Ishmael and Isaac didn’t get along, so Sarah wanted and got Ishmael and Hagar kicked out of Abraham’s family out of anger.
But just as Abraham’s family was dysfunctional so was his son Isaac’s family. Isaac had two sons. Isaac’s favorite son the rugged hunter Esau and Rebekah’s favorite son the chef Jacob, it was the tale of the hunter versus the mama’s boy. Well, eventually momma and younger brother trick father and older brother out of dad’s inheritance. Feelings are so bad out of this that Jacob flees for twenty years fearing that his brother was going to take his life.
Now we come to the last major story of the Book of Genesis, the last story of family dysfunction. Today’s Old Testament lesson tells the story of Jacob’s most famous son Joseph.
The thing to know about this story is Joseph was hated by his brothers, on account of a couple different reasons.
The first reason was jealousy. His father absolutely adored Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob’s favorite wife the beautiful Rachel, whereas Jacob’s other children came from his ugly wife Leah or his slave-wives. So Joseph from the time of his birth was special to Jacob because of his mother. What had really gotten the brothers going was Joseph’s latest gift of a beautiful multi-color coat. The coat would have been the Ancient Canaanite equivalent of ten brothers walking to school while the younger brother gets a mustang to drive. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him like anyone’s brothers would have been jealous of him.
Joseph’s brothers might not have hated him so much if it wasn’t for this fact, as can be summed up in the title of the sermon in that Joseph was an annoying little brat.
Joseph had a big mouth; he lacked common sense; he was arrogant, he was aloof and uncaring. Joseph was self-impressed and in love with himself. Joseph was the guy that we all know who was always bragging about his income, his or his kid’s athletic prowess, or his sake of genius. What Joseph’s brothers hated to hear him talk about were his dreams.
The first dream, Joseph bragged about was of eleven sheaves of wheat bowing down to Joseph in reverence. Joseph interpreted this dream to his brothers as telling him that a day would come when they all would bow down before him at his throne. Considering Joseph was the 11th of 12 brothers, the older brothers didn’t think much of baby-bro predicting a day when they kissed his feet.
Let me tell a brief story, when I was working as a substitute teacher I had a student who was a short, stocky little redheaded ninth grader who could not be quiet in class. Every two seconds were a disruptive comment, so I eventually sent him out into the hall to carry out in the classroom proceedings in peace. Only for me to be told that sending this kid into the hall was a terrible idea, when I inquired as to why “I was told that he would run his mouth to the seniors then they would beat him up”. I had a hard time comprehending that such a small kid would do such a reckless and foolish thing. As soon as I opened the door, I saw this kid shooting off his mouth to kids’ way, way bigger than him. This kid reminds me of Joseph in that he just couldn’t stop his mouth from moving.
So the question is not why Joseph’s brothers did try to get rid of him, rather the question is what took Joseph’s brothers so long to try to get rid of him?
So the brothers then began to consider their options for the next time they were alone with Joseph in their father’s fields. They were debating between killing Joseph or just throwing him into an empty well. They decided the best option would be to make a little money in the process, so they encounter some Egyptian slave traders passing through, saw an opportunity to make twenty pieces of silver along with never seeing their obnoxious, big-mouthed brother ever again.
The brothers then as a way of covering their tracks, took his multi-colored coat dipped it in Goat’s blood and told their father Jacob that his most-beloved son was alive no more. Jacob’s grief was such that he would never recover.
But the story of Joseph was by no means finished. Once Joseph arrived in Egypt, he was purchased by one of Pharaoh’s officials, a man named Potiphar. Joseph initially was a highly valuable worker to Potiphar. But soon Joseph would become embroiled in scandal as Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph as he was “handsome” and “well-built”. Joseph turned down her advances on account of his morals, so Potiphar’s wife became angry enough and bitter enough at Joseph to accuse him of attempting to seduce her and away to prison Joseph went.
Once Joseph went to prison, he ended up meeting two men who had been sent there by Pharaoh himself in a Butler and a Baker. Now both of these men were deeply troubled as they had dreams of which they could not figure out their meaning. Joseph figured he had a knack for interpreting dreams, so he went about revealing the Butler and Baker’s future. Joseph predicted the Butler to be set free and return to working for Pharaoh within three days, whereas Joseph predicted the Baker’s dream to have a less happy ending as he was going to hang within three days. On the third day, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was proven to be right on the money. As the Butler goes free from prison, Joseph’s only request for the Butler was to remember him in Pharaoh’s presence.
Around this time, the Pharaoh of Egypt began having dreams that made no sense. Pharaoh saw seven healthy cows standing next to seven sickly cows, along with seven healthy heads of grain, standing next to seven sickly heads of grain. Eventually, cows began to eating cows, and grain began eating grain. Pharaoh had no clue what to make of any of it. So Pharaoh started asking anyone who would listen to make sense of his dreams, Pharaoh was getting nowhere until he encounters the same Butler who encountered Joseph in prison. Joseph appears before Pharaoh’s presence where he interpreted the dreams to mean that Egypt would have seven years of plenty during the harvest followed by seven years of famine.
Joseph’s prediction was right on the money. So not only was Joseph set free from prison after two years, he became the manager of all of Egypt’s agriculture (second in command to Pharaoh himself).
Joseph was the complete story of rags to riches as he had all the clothes, gold, or feasts that he could ever want. Egypt was thriving being the only nation in the world that saved its grain during bountiful harvests, so that they made a ton of money during the famine as the only country in the world with food to distribute.
The situation at this time wasn’t good at all for Joseph’s brothers as famine plagued their land. They eventually had to leave their Canaan home behind and travel to Egypt bowing down before their brother begging for grain. Joseph’s dreams had come true. As Joseph’s brothers walked into his presence, they did not recognize him. Soon Joseph’s brothers would be given a very strange request; Joseph would give them enough grain to tie them over, but for more grain, Joseph needed to see their youngest half-brother Benjamin. Benjamin was Joseph’s only full-blood brother.
Upon hearing this unknown man’s offer, father Jacob would have rather starve then see anything happen to Benjamin in Egypt. Jacob had already lost Rachel’s older son; he was going to make sure that nothing happened to her youngest. Jacob eventually relented as the famine became a matter of survival not only for himself, but everyone around him including Benjamin.
Joseph was moved upon seeing Benjamin. For Benjamin was many years younger than Joseph and merely a young child at the time that Joseph entered into slavery. Joseph wished to reunite with his brothers, but was worried that they were the same backstabbers that had always been. So Joseph came up with a plan to try to determine if his brothers were who he thought they were. Joseph was going to frame Benjamin with stealing a silver cup to see how his brothers would react. So after his brothers received their grain, and began their journey back home, Joseph sent his guards after them with instructions to find his missing silver cup.
When the guards found the cup in Benjamin’s bag, the brothers were forced to head back to Egypt fearing for their life. They began to figure that this was God punishing them for all they had done against Joseph years before. As the brothers stood in Joseph’s presence, they confessed their sins against their brother Joseph from years before unaware that it was their brother hearing their confession. His brothers’ repentance shocked Joseph causing him to send everyone else out of the room.
It was at this moment that Joseph revealed “who he was” to his brothers. The one that thought might have been dead; Joseph was alive and stood before them. Finally, Joseph asked the question he had been waiting for years to receive an answer to as he said “Is my father still alive?” The family would soon reunite, a reunion that would have seemed impossible years before.
Joseph’s story has the happiness of endings. But what is the point of this tale?
Joseph summarizes the story quite well in Genesis 50:20 when he says “What you (his brothers) meant for evil, God meant for good.”
On the surface, this line spoken by Joseph seems ridiculous. We often have encounters in our daily life from which we think that no good could arise out. The idea that God can bring forth good from disaster seems incomprehensible.
As Joseph mouths these words, this is the part of the story where Joseph’s story becomes our story. God uses Joseph’s weaknesses to bring him to Egypt to save multiple nations. God took Joseph’s pride and arrogance to lead to one day reunite with his family. God’s plan for Joseph and his brothers probably didn’t seem real obvious at the time, as Joseph’s situation took years and years to play out towards a resolution. At the moment that Joseph got sold into slavery it merely got the ball rolling on this tale.
For today’s lesson reminds us of some very famous words from Romans the 8th chapter which say “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
We hear on this day that God works through dysfunctional families; God works through undesirable jobs, and God even might work through personal pain and tragedy. We remember that God is with us today through the pits of our lives and that God sees resolution even when we cannot. Our answer to the will of God is ultimately found for us on the cross.
For my good friend, Pastor Donovan Riley said explaining how God can work all things for good “God keeps the church impoverished and struggling, so we don't worship and preach the church. God keeps the pastor a broken, feeble man so we don't worship and preach the pastor. God keeps the Christian weak and needy so we don't worship and preach the Christian. God raised Jesus from the dead and made His the Name above all names so that at the name of Jesus every knee bows [in worship]; those in heaven, on earth and below the earth.” Amen
 Genesis 4:9
 Genesis 16:1
 Genesis 16:3
 Genesis 16:11-16
 Genesis 21:2
 Genesis 21:9
 Genesis 21:10-12
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27
 Genesis 27:41
 Genesis 35:23
 Genesis 37:3
 Genesis 37:5-8
 Genesis 37:18-24
 Genesis 37:28
 Genesis 37:31
 Genesis 37:35
 Genesis 39:1
 Genesis 39:2-6
 Genesis 39:6-7
 Genesis 39:8
 Genesis 39:11-20
 This story appears in Genesis 40
 Genesis 41:1-36
 Genesis 41:37-57
 Genesis 42:1-8
 Genesis 42:8-9
 Genesis 42:34-38
 Genesis 43:13
 Genesis 43:30
 Genesis 44 contains this tale.
 Genesis 44:13
 Genesis 45:1
 Genesis 45:2
 Genesis 45:3
 Genesis 46:28-34
 McDavid, Will. “Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Seven Verses Three Through Seven”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 14. Jan. 2014. Web. Aug.4.2014.
 Romans 8:28
 McDavid, Will. “Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Seven Verses Three Through Seven”.
 This is a quote from a 2011 Facebook post from Pastor Riley.
First Lesson: Genesis 32: 22-31
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5
Second Lesson: Romans 9: 1-5
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 13-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was young, I was a huge fan of professional wrestling. One of the great thrills of my childhood was attending matches at the Target Center where I got to stand about three feet away from Hulk Hogan as he marched to the ring to Rick Derringer’s “Real American." There was no more exciting thing in the world when you were 11 years old than when Hulk Hogan was able to body-slam someone who had a listed weight of well over 400 lbs. There was nothing more exciting than seeing Hogan conquering a seemingly unconquerable foe.
Hulk Hogan leads us into an interesting question for this morning “what if someone an average Jake who lacked the muscles of Hulk Hogan was able to wrestle against seemingly the most unconquerable foe of all and live to tell about it?” Our Bible story for today centers around the idea of wrestling against God, and it centers on the person of Jacob.
Jacob’s story begins about twenty years before our lesson. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau. I should tell you a little bit about Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first brother out of the womb. Esau was a man’s man. Esau was a rugged hunter. Esau probably had more muscles than anybody in the whole land. Esau probably had a manly beard like one of the guys on Duck Dynasty. Esau was the type of guy who probably would eat a three-pound steak in a single setting then polish it off with a gallon of whole, raw milk. Esau if he lived today would have loved football, monster trucks, drinking beer, and professional wrestling. Esau on account of his manliness was the apple of his father’s eyes.
And then you had Esau’s brother Jacob. Jacob was quite a bit different from Esau. Jacob didn’t like getting his hands dirty. Jacob liked spending time with his mom in the kitchen. Jacob probably had about as much facial hair as a twelve year old boy. If Jacob were alive today, he would probably love drinking wine and wearing skinny jeans.
These brothers tended not to get along the best. Jacob had been jealous of Esau his whole life for what he was about to receive. Esau was going to receive his father’s “birthright." What Esau receiving the birthright means is upon Esau and Jacob’s father Isaac’s death that Esau was going to be rolling in it. Esau was going to have twice as much money as Jacob, twice as much land, twice as many flocks. Esau was going to be the big man in all the land of Canaan. Jacob knew this and Jacob was jealous of it all.
Esau though had a weakness; he was arrogant. Esau thought that he was pretty hot stuff even if he didn’t have the birthright. Jacob used Esau’s weakness to his advantage.
One day Jacob is cooking in the kitchen when Esau comes marching in from the field. Esau demanded something to eat. Jacob said he would feed Esau as long as he sold him his birthright. This offer would have seemed outrageous, an evening meal in exchange for great riches. Esau in a moment of foolishness went along with Jacob’s demands.
All Jacob had to do for his swindle to be complete was to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob knew that Isaac would not go along with his favorite son’s foolish decision. So Jacob decided that he needed to take advantage of his father. Jacob was going to trick his father into receiving the birthright. Jacob killed an animal, and then covered his arms with hair so that he could pretend to be his brother Esau to receive his father’s blessing. Jacob takes advantage of his father’s blindness by marching into his room claiming that he was his brother Esau, stealing his brother’s blessing and now Jacob’s swindle of Esau out of his father’s inheritance was complete. So to recap Jacob’s behavior to this point in the story he lied to his blind father and cheated his brother out of their possessions. Esau was so furious about this that he threatens to kill Jacob. Jacob then flees as far away from Esau as he could be.
Esau and Jacob would not encounter each other for twenty years. In the meantime, Jacob had gone to live with an uncle named Laban. Laban and Jacob were both cunning and made for each other. Laban got Jacob to agree to work for him for seven years to get his beautiful daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage. Only for Jacob’s wedding night, Laban pulls a fast one on him by sending his undesirable daughter Leah into Jacob’s bed instead. Jacob, the con-man, had been conned. Jacob would not stop though; Jacob agrees to work for Laban for another seven years finally marrying Rachel. Don’t worry about Jacob though. Jacob got his revenge on Laban. Jacob tricked Laban into giving him all of his spotted, diseased livestock, only for Jacob to develop a breeding technique which made the spotted livestock healthy, thus making Jacob into a very rich man. Now twenty years later, Jacob wanted to return home with all his possessions. Jacob figured it was time for him to enjoy the benefits of his father’s inheritance. Only one big problem stood in the way. The problem’s name was Esau.
So Jacob being Jacob started to think about how to outsmart Esau once again. Jacob at first sends messengers to spy on Esau, yet when Jacob hears back from the messengers he finds out Esau has 400 men to fight alongside him. Jacob was still looking for ways to avoid his brother. So Jacob then decides like the conniving coward that he had been his entire life that he was going to send his wives in two separate parties across the river into the Land of Canaan, hoping to let half his party along with Jacob escape. Jacob’s schemes were going him safe from Esau at least for the night. The night of Jacob’s supposed safety was going to change his life forever.
In the middle of the night, a man comes out of nowhere to begin to wrestle with Jacob. Jacob didn’t know who the man was at first. As Jacob begins to wrestle, he doesn’t follow his normal course of action; Jacob doesn’t make excuses or try to escape. Jacob for the first time in his life chooses to face the problem before him. In this encounter, Jacob was taken to the darkest places in his life. Jacob on this night was finally forced to confront the past twenty years of scheming that had led him to this moment. The wrestler reveals to Jacob on this night that he had wrestled with God. Jacob wrestled with God so he may receive God’s blessing. This encounter changed Jacob as he ultimately saw God face to face.
When the story says a “man wrestled with Jacob until dawn.” What we must remember is that dawn in a biblical passage is the signal of a man undergoing an epic encounter in one’s life that will change them forever.
We hear the story of Jacob wrestling with God and don’t know what exactly to make of it. We wonder what such a scene might look as within our own lives.
In 1997, Robert Duvall starred in a movie called The Apostle. Duvall played Sonny a Pentecostal preacher who like Jacob had his share of character defects. Sonny was a womanizer, whose wife Jessie played by Farrah Fawcett grew tired of his act then proceed to run off with his church’s youth minister much to Sonny’s dismay. Sonny’s failures to win her back fail. Sonny’s congregational elders side with his wife in the dispute and show him the door. Sonny then proceeds to snap at one of his kid’s softball games and savagely beats his wife’s boyfriend with a baseball bat into a coma. Sonny then proceeds to become an outlaw much like Jacob. Sonny stays with his Momma hiding out from the law, no different then Jacob hiding out from Esau leading to the film’s greatest scene.
Sonny snaps at God for his life ending up so wayward. Sonny begins to yell at God for taking his wife, and stealing church. Sonny yells at God for answers wanting to know if it was God or the Devil messing with him like this. All Sonny wants from God is peace. Sonny’s previous few weeks finally cause him to break down as he yells out “Lord I know that I’m a sinner, and I’m a womanizer, yet what should I do Lord, what should I do, so that you blow this pain out of me?”(The Apostle)
This scene was beautiful because like Jacob’s wrestling it paints the tale of a messed up preacher putting it all on the line. Sonny wrestled with God, lived to tell about it, and that Sonny realized that God’s forgiveness was even more powerful than our greatest sin.
Richard Hays describes this passage best when he says the message of Genesis 32 is that if we are transferred from darkness to light then God is going to have to wrestle with us in the darkness. We cannot see God any other way. Those who wrestle with God in the midst of their darkest hours will ultimately change before the dawn.
This idea of Jacob wrestling with God all night seems rather silly to us. We wonder what would be the point of a human prevailing against God in a wrestling match?
Pastor Nathan Asseng tells the following story, a number of years ago in Iowa there was a wrestling match between Ogden High and Humboldt High. “Humboldt had a senior wrestler on the team with Down syndrome”. The kid with Down syndrome possessed no physical threat to any other wrestler. “But the coaches asked if anyone on the opposing team would at least give the boy a chance to get out on the mat”.
A wrestler from Ogden High offered to take him on. The Ogden wrestler not only wrestled him for entire six minutes, but allowed the boy with Down syndrome to beat him on points. He gave this kid, not only the ability to compete, but even more graciously the opportunity to raise his hands in victory. “At the end of this match, both wrestlers got a standing ovation, and as you can imagine, there was hardly a dry eye in the house”.
In the midst of Jacob’s greatest challenge, God sought to touch Jacob. God did not punish Jacob for every decision that he had made for the last twenty years leading to that moment. God instead takes down Jacob so that he was never going to be the same ever again. Jacob’s life from this moment forward was no longer going to be defined by his cowardliness, cheating, or manipulating. Jacob was instead going to go forward with the promise that his God would not be distant from his everyday struggles.
What happens to Jacob and Esau? Jacob after being wounded by God has a newly found courage, the same type of courage that the disciples find after they encounter the risen lord. So, Jacob the next day rushes all of all his men finally to face Esau on the front line of battle. Yet as soon as Jacob sees Esau a shocking outcome occurs. Esau runs forward, puts Jacob in a beat hug then Esau the manly man begins weeping over his reunion with Jacob, only for Jacob to break down shortly thereafter along with him. As Jacob reentered the Land of Canaan after twenty years away he was no longer the spoiled brat who had left it twenty years before. Jacob was instead ready to be the Father of a great nation.
What we reminded of this morning as we hear Jacob’s story is a reminder of the nature of God. How God stuck beside Jacob for reasons that we are not able to fathom. God is not the terrifying presence that Jacob saw Esau being. We receive a reminder how we wrestle with God nearly every single day of our lives. Many of us have thrown everything that we possibly could at God from anger to doubt to despair to even cursing his name. Our God will not abandon us in the wilderness; our God will wrestle us through the darkest moments of our lives, to bring us safely forth to the dawn. Amen
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:28
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:28-29
 Genesis 27:11
 Genesis 25:30
 Genesis 25:31
 Genesis 25:32-33
 Genesis 27:15-16
 Genesis 27:18-29
 Genesis 27:41-45
 Genesis 28:1-5
 Genesis 29:1-20
 Genesis 30:25-43
 Genesis 32:7
 Genesis 32:8
 Genesis 32:24
 Genesis 32:25
 Genesis 32:28
 Genesis 32:30
 This scene can be found at You Tube- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5v5DOEF45E
 Hays, Richard. “Limping and praising”. Faith & Leadership. 14.Apr.2009. Web. July.28.2014
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”. Working Preacher. 18.Dec.2007.Web. July 28.2014
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Genesis 33:4
First Lesson: Genesis 22: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 13
Second Lesson: Romans 6: 12-23
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 10: 40-42
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following is a modern re-telling of one of the Old Testament’s most confounding stories in the Story of Abraham and the near-sacrifice of his long awaited son Isaac.
I want to tell you the story of Mark and April. Mark and April met at the state university. They connected both being farm-kids with similar values. April was attracted to Mark’s brains and personal steadiness. Mark was attracted to April for being such a free-spirit, April was the life of the party wherever she went. Mark and April both graduated college, got married, and ended up with good paying jobs. They settled not in a town, not unlike this one. Mark worked as a Nuclear Engineer while April worked as a Fourth Grade Teacher. Mark and April soon then joined the local Lutheran church Saint Gerhard’s in town where they quickly became active. Mark and April seemed to have it all, they seemed to be an example of a perfect couple, but they wished for their family to be complete.
Mark and April tried to conceive a child for one year without nay luck. Mark and April then went to see a Doctor who would test for their fertility levels. April was discovered to be infertile. Mark and April spent nights trying to think about the next step. They prayed nightly as they considered their options. After months and emotional turmoil and soul-searching, they decided to begin pursuing the adoption process. Right when Mark and April began their paperwork, April wasn’t feeling right. April was constantly tired, and nauseous when she woke up in the morning. Mark and April went to the doctor to be checked out. A miracle had occurred! April was pregnant!
Mark and April were determined to be the best parents they could be. During the months of April’s pregnancy, they read every book that they possibly could. Nine months later a son was born. Mark and April named their son “Isaac” which means laughter. They named their son Isaac because of the long-odds of Isaac’s birth, remembering how the pregnancy announcement of the doctor caught April so off-guard that she laughed in a state of shock.
Isaac went through the next several years of his life as the apple of Mark and April’s eye. Isaac was a greatly spoiled child because of Mark and April’s means. Isaac was the All-American child with blonde hair, blue eyes, along with being a good student in school. Mark and April seemingly finally had it all!
Then one day Mark and April were put to a great test. One day when Isaac was out running around on the soccer field, he collapsed, Isaac was soon taken to the local discovered that Isaac had an enlarged heart. Isaac was going to need a heart transplant to live. The only problem with this scenario is that due to Isaac’s age it was going to be tough to find a donor heart for Isaac’s body. The doctors told Mark and April without a heart transplant they feared that Isaac only had weeks to live. Mark felt like his heart had been ripped in two at the moment of the doctor’s pronouncement.
Mark and April’s friends couldn’t help but look on at this whole affair with the belief that God was cruel taking a child so young. Isaac’s defect after Mark and April waited so long for his arrival was nothing more than God’s harshest jokes.
The next few weeks were a tremendous struggle for Mark and April were barely sleeping as they pondered all of the ifs about Isaac’s condition? They wondered why them? They wondered why faithful people such as them deserved this fate? Mark and April began to cope with the situation of Isaac’s illness differently.
Mark was furious at God. Mark vowed to stop going to church because of Isaac’s condition. Mark would spend the night shouting at God, cursing at God.
April’s response to Isaac’s diagnosis though was the exact opposite of Mark’s. April’s days were spent breaking down crying then praying. April would sneak out to the garage to cry when she thought Mark couldn’t stand to hear her cry anymore. On Sundays and Wednesday nights, April would stay around forever after church to just talk to whoever would listen about what her family and young Isaac were going through.
As April kept thinking about God’s role in this all, she had what would have seemed like a very strange feeling in the back of her head. April thought that God would work all things for good even if it led to the tragic loss of their son Isaac. April believed that even if Issac shall die before he gets a new heart then God shall be able to raise their son from the dead. April thought back to the times when God answered her and Mark’s prayer for a child of their own, even as their doctors deemed it to be impossible. April believed that God could bring a blessing in the midst of what seemed like the most unforgiving of curses. Through it all, April didn’t get angry with God, April didn’t argue with God, April didn’t seek out an explanation as to why God would seek to take Isaac’s life so soon. Whereas some people would look at April as an example of faith, just as many people would have dismissed April’s attitude as that of a crazy person.
The longer the test of Isaac’s illness went on, the more strain that it seemed to put on Mark and April’s marriage. Isaac had grown weary of seeing Mom and Dad fight as his body grew weaker and weaker. Isaac’s condition was growing scarier. Then one day a miracle happened. It was almost as if God shouted down from the heavens yelling out, “Do not harm this boy." A donor heart had been found to give to Isaac. The transplant took place. Isaac would go onto have kids, and grand-kids whose stories are worth telling another time.
Mark’s attitude about Isaac’s ordeal began to change after Isaac’s successful heart transplant. Mark understood that he would never know God’s angle in the whole thing. Mark could merely think back to his own relationship with his father from years before. Mark remembered getting so mad when his Dad would set boundaries upon Mark’s whims and wishes, yet it was only years later when Mark became a father on his own that his Dad’s words from a generation before made any sense. Mark realized he would never quite understand God’s challenges presented upon him in the form of Isaac. As Mark was at church one day, the preacher said something that made quite a bit of sense to Mark. The Preacher said “What the Resurrection ultimately proves is that God wants his people to live rather than die, regardless of whatever conflicting messages that this life might throw at them. How God wants to rescue people with his grace and mercy, rather than condemn them with fire and judgment. How we can never judge God’s angle through any one incident, we can merely judge him by what we know from the cross.
Now back to Mark and April. They slowly began to work out their issues to the point of reconciliation to their differing grief over Issac’s situation. One night talking about Isaac’s illness they talked about how plenty of people had gone through what Mark and April had endured. Situations of the impossibly tragic; many people had wondered why their own seemingly innocent children have been taken away from them for no good reason. They discussed why God might have intervened in Isaac’s case, but not in the case of other children. Abraham had been made the father of a great nation on account of his trial; Mark and April were apparently rewarded with nothing more than life experience, if Mark and April’s ordeal were a test, they couldn’t know whether they passed or failed it. Mark apparently failed the test with his anger at both God and the church through Isaac’s ordeal. Whereas all April did to respond to test of faith was cry and cry some more, perhaps the reason that April kept with her faith in the midst of her tears was because her tears were a representation of April’s own powerlessness. The tears served as a reminder that April’s answers did not lie within herself. April before Isaac’s illness thought her faith was supposed to make her strong, yet as she worried about her baby boy, she would quickly discover that her faith made her anything but strong.
As April and Mark struggled with God’s role in Isaac’s illness, they were reminded that our Gospel never promises unto us that life shall never be a struggle. It is rare to come across a person whose life ends up exactly the way they wanted it. Perhaps the reason that we enter into our own Garden of Gethsemane as a way to prepare for being put to death on our eventual crosses is because this would seem to be the only path to redemption. As Mark and April looked back on the tale of Isaac’s trial the only thing, they could take from it was that God was present even at those moments when it seemed like he wasn’t. What Mark and April had gone through was the strangest of contradictions how through even the worst of times, they still saw God’s love operating on some level. God stood by April and Mark even as they were brought to the brink of destruction.
We cannot imagine what Abraham went through as he was asked to sacrifice his only son “Isaac” upon Mount Moriah. Where we can identify with Abraham is that each of us has undergone tests at points within our life. The testing might have come in the form of cancer, heart attack, grief, hunger, financial difficulties, or martial troubles. The thing about tests and the reason we dread them so much is because they seem to attack us at our weakest points whether they be greed, power, sex, pride, or gluttony. Perhaps what Abraham went through with Isaac hits us closer to home than we often imagine. What the ultimate point of the story of Abraham is at the moment when Abraham is crying over the impending death of his son, this is the time when God responds over the sorrow of his children. Hope would be revealed in the years between Abraham, Mark and April when God gave his own son for the sake of the world. How God felt pain, so that ours may one day go away. How even if Mark and April had lost Isaac there was always going to be a resurrection in their future. Amen
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