First Lesson: Ruth 3: 1-5; 4: 13-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 127
Second Lesson: Hebrews 9: 24-28
Gospel Lesson: Mark 12: 38-44
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story of a woman not unlike a woman that many of you might know. This woman’s name is Naomi. Naomi’s life for most of it seemed to be going along good but not great. Her husband was a farmer who made a decent existence. She had a couple of sons. Naomi’s life was about to take a turn for the worst. Naomi’s life was about to face one disaster after another.
Disaster 1- Famine strikes the land where Naomi lived. Naomi’s life quickly went from the stable to the unstable. Naomi’s whole family was going to be forced to move to the land of Moab. No one would have lived in Moab by choice. Moab was a violent and dangerous place. The people of Moab didn’t just sacrifice individual human beings; they sacrificed entire villages to appease their Gods. Moab was a strange land filled with people unlike Naomi in any way, yet Naomi’s life would now be in Moab.
Disaster 2- Naomi’s husband dies. Ten years later then Naomi’s first son dies. A few years after that Naomi’s other son dies. Naomi was now as poor as any woman could be. Naomi had no income, no social security, no pension, no immediate family, nor any means of support. The only people that Naomi really even knew in Moab were her daughters in law Ruth and Orpah.
Naomi could have easily been the little old lady left to die alone with hardly anyone noticing. Naomi decides that Moab is no longer for her. Naomi hears that the famine is over in Judea. Naomi hopes to travel back to her homeland hoping to get some support from distant blood relatives. Naomi might get charity at home, but never in Moab.
Naomi’s Daughters in Law begin to travel with her out of Moab. Naomi stops them. Naomi wishes for them to remain in Moab living their own lives. They were young and they didn’t need to be surrounded by an old anchor like Naomi. They would never find men to marry in Naomi’s land. The cultures were just too different. One daughter in law Orpah returns home at Naomi’s pleading. The other daughter in law was a stubborn woman named Ruth. Ruth refused to leave Naomi’s presence.
I said earlier that we all know women like Naomi. Women that figure that time has passed them by. Women that think that they are just running out the clock on life. Women that figure they’re better off being alone. Women that assume that they have nothing else left to give. Who you probably haven’t met is a woman like Ruth. Many of us have heard horror stories involving someone else’s mother in law. There is no less steady relationship than the one between mother in law and daughter in law, yet Ruth would not leave Naomi’s side.
Ruth begged Naomi not to leave her “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”.” The promise Ruth of loyalty made to Naomi would have seemed like the promise of a crazy woman!
Naomi probably thought Ruth to be a foolish woman wasting her life on her decrepit, mother in law. Ruth was a young widow who could land a nice husband and enjoy a comfortable life in her homeland. No other widow it seemed would display such loyalty to their mother in law in the last years of her life. Ruth’s promise to Naomi though would not waver.
So even though Naomi had Ruth by her side, Naomi returned home a bitter woman. When her relatives and former friends saw her, they did not recognize her because she had aged so poorly. She no longer wished to be called Naomi which means “pleasant,” she wanted instead to be called Mara which means “bitter.”
Naomi was truly a bitter, old woman. Naomi was at the point in her life where she figured that she had nothing more to give. Naomi believed that God had indeed abandoned her to die.
The thing about Naomi is that she had legitimate reasons to be unhappy about the direction of her life. People will empathize with Naomi because everyone on some level probably had legitimate reasons to be unhappy with their lives. Naomi’s story speaks to all sorts of widows out there.
Here was Ruth vowing to stay with her mother in law, who seemingly had previously shooed her away like a stray dog. Ruth now worked in the fields day and night hoping to support her and Naomi. Ruth wasn’t going to make much doing this, but something is better than nothing.
Ruth’s work ethic though one day gets her noticed by a man named Boaz. Boaz was a few years older than Ruth. But the thing to know about Boaz is that he was one of the most eligible bachelors in all the land. Boaz had a good reputation; he owned the fields where Ruth worked, and people knew Boaz for his kindness. As Boaz saw Ruth work away in the fields he wondered “What’s her deal?” Boaz began asking around when he heard about her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi. Boaz became intrigued by Ruth. Boaz first offers Ruth water to drink. Boaz then gave Ruth the gift of extra barley to take home to Naomi.
Ruth goes home to Naomi talking about what a nice man that Boaz was. Naomi after earlier in the story figuring that she served no purpose now had her purpose come to the surface.
Naomi was going to help Ruth with a matchmaking plan. The thing to know about the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz is that it takes place during the Harvest. Boaz was going to be spending days and nights during the harvest at the threshing floor. Boaz was even going to sleep at the threshing floor. Naomi instructs Ruth to sneak into the threshing floor to lie at Boaz’s feet. Ruth’s moves were the definition of aggressive. Ruth was the aggressor in the relationship with Boaz at Naomi’s wishes. Ruth is saying to Boaz “marry me” in as forceful of terms as possible. Thankfully, Boaz felt the same way about Ruth. Boaz knew that Ruth might not have been his type being a woman from the land of Moab, yet Boaz is smitten with a woman so hard-working and loyal to her mother- in- law.
The story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz ends happily. Ruth and Boaz marry. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed. Whereas Obed might not be a famous name, Obed had a little more famous son named Jesse. Even if you don’t know Jesse’s name, you might know his son’s name. Jesse had a son who would be the greatest king that the land would ever know in David. David united the people like never before. The greatness of Naomi’s family tree though was just beginning. Centuries later, another descendant of Naomi’s would be born in the same town of Bethlehem to which she returned. This descendants name would be Jesus. The story of Naomi had indeed come full circle.
You see the story begins with Naomi thinking that she was told old to offer anything of value. Naomi had given up. In her descendant, Jesus he would encounter a lot of the same types of people: lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners and others on the margins of society. Jesus promised to be faithful unto people like these, regardless of whether the believed it to be possible. Whereas Naomi thought she had been abandoned, Ruth promised to be faithful unto her in both life and death. This is the same type of promise that her descendant Jesus gives unto us, today. Naomi’s story will play out like many of all our stories.
How does the story of Naomi relate to our lives? We all know someone like Naomi. We might even think of ourselves like Naomi. We wonder what the closing chapters of life’s story might have for us as a people? As long as God has us in this place, we have something to give.
Now matter how old a person might be the words of Jeremiah ring true “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The story of Ruth and Naomi might appear to be a story of God and suffering and how things will work out in the end. That’s not Ruth and Naomi’s story though that story rather belongs to Job. The story of Ruth and Naomi is ultimately a story of the value that God places upon our elders. Ruth saw in Naomi what she could no longer see in herself. Ruth saw wisdom and understanding brought about by a life that no one would desire to live. Ruth saw God’s purpose in Naomi’s life at a point where Naomi had given up. Naomi and Ruth’s actions impacted those around them long after either of them were around to witness them. So the point is don’t give up on the days that you have left. Our actions today can influence thousands of years from now.
Why are you here today? I can not give the answer to this question. Perhaps you’re here to teach the Christian faith to a grandchild or a friend either in good times or suffering. God might even have you around to play matchmaker.
God has a plan and purpose for your life even if you might be like Naomi thinking that time has gone past you. Above all else the story reminds us that our God will come through in the end for his people. The following is the Biblical story of Naomi and Ruth as told in the Book of Ruth. Amen
 Ruth 1:17-18
 Ruth 2:1-18
 Hoffracker, Reverend Charles. “Naomi, Ruth, Boaz and You.” Lectionary.org. 2006. Web. Nov.2.2015.
Hoffracker is citing from Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids. MI. 1980. p.102
 Ruth 2:19-23
 Ruth 3:1-5
 Ruth 4:17
 Gerhardy, Vince. “A Love Story”. Lectionary.org. 2006. Web. Nov.2.2015
 Jeremiah 29:11
 Markquart, Ed. “Ruth: Old Testament Series: Ruth 4:13-17”. Sermons From Seattle.com. Web. Nov.3.2015.
First Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 24
Second Lesson: Revelation 21: 1-6a
Gospel Lesson: John 11: 32-44
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Friday, I was down in Esko helping Jeff Asmussen call the Silver Bay-Floodwood section championship game on the radio. For four quarters, it was a back and forth affair. Now there were forty seconds left in the game. The play was 4th and less than one yard. Floodwood was fifteen yards from the end zone and going to state. The game was the definition of a nail-biter. In true Silver Bay fashion, Carter Leblanc burst through the Floodwood line makes the tackle, officials measure, and the Mariners are going to win the game! Ozzie and I start high-fiving and probably display a questionable level of appropriateness for radio. I then remember that our videographer was all alone on top of the press box taping the game all by his Mariner lonesome. So I leave the booth to give him a high-five. The emotions of the “victory” were such that he’s crying out “tears of joy”. These tears were for his friends and how much excitement this event was going to bring to the school and people in the community.
Silver Bay going to State in football was unexpected, last year the Mariners were 3-6. Cromwell was considered to be the unbeatable power in the section. Here people were celebrating a reality that could have only been reality months before in one’s dreams explaining the tears.
Let me tell another story, shortly after leaving home for college, my sister Anne was having a 16th Birthday party. I knew that Anne’s birthday was going to be a really big deal in her life, so I would make the four hour drive home from Moorhead for it. Anne was so surprised that I would go out of my way for her; she burst into tears as I came walking into the door. Anne’s emotions were a byproduct of regardless of someone being absent in a given moment, they were promising to come through for you in the end.
Today, we gather as a Christian people to reflect on death: we remember seven saints of Sychar that have gone before us in the past year. Today’s lesson comes to us from Revelation 21. Let me tell you a little bit about this chapter of the Bible.
Revelation was written to people who stared at death every moment. Revelation was written by John the Apostle as he was exiled on the Greek Isle of Patmos for his faith. John writes Revelation to seven churches in modern-day Turkey who had seen their friends, families and neighbors suffer and die for the Christian faith. These people had shed all sorts of tears over their powerlessness to control the present, so John seeks to lay out a vision for the future.
This vision according to John will only be fulfilled after years of hardship, but this vision will ultimately result in a “new heaven” and “new earth”. Our passage today lays out a vision of a fallen creation being done away with, for a new creation to emerge.
Where many Christian people misunderstand, salvation is in its meaning. Revelation doesn’t describe salvation as merely coming down to individual people. Revelation 21 when all of creation will be redeemed, once sin and death finally leave the world behind for good.
The new creation or “New Eden” signifies the defeat of all who oppose God’s purposes. The promise of the new creation is that there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, or no more pain for the former things of this world have passed away.
This week in Confirmation, we were having a discussion about scary things from the Bible in honor of Halloween. We discussed things like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the number “666”, and Armageddon. Scary concepts like these are how people often think about the end times when the end times are rather defined by the Scriptures differently. The Scriptures portray the end times not in terms of fear but rather in terms of promise.
I think of the famous funeral words from 1st Corinthians 15 “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
As we gather today, we do grieve. We grieve those that have left us in the past year. We grieve that our lives shall never look the same ever again. But we remember that the tears that we shed are not permanent. On this day, we eagerly await our Resurrection, a day when every tear is wiped from our eye forever.
We celebrate that those who have gone before us are recipients of a promise that is proclaimed in our lesson “Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down, for these things are trustworthy and true.”
Today we remember those who have gone before us as we look towards this powerful vision of the future on All Saints Sunday. Let me say a few words about each of our departed saints.
Bertha Savonen: When I think about Bertha, I will always think about Bertha and Toivo. I remember the visits over on Garden Drive where Bertha, as you can imagine, would do nearly all the talking. Toivo sat in his chair with a twinkle in his eye hearing Bertha once again tell the tale of going sky-diving on her 80th Birthday. Once Toivo died two summers ago suddenly, not a visit went by where Bertha didn’t mention her longing to reunite with Toivo. Bertha also loved being a part of Sychar’s Mission Circle. On Bertha’s fridge hung a picture of Bertha, Esther, and Lorraine when they came down to visit her. Bertha cared deeply about the people of this church. What I will always remember about Bertha is when planning the funeral with Darlene her daughter, Bertha’s one wish for her service was that they have Zup’s cater it because Bertha knew how hard it was for the church women to serve in the kitchen. Bertha wanted to show her appreciation to them.
Lois Kind: Bob’s favorite story to tell about Lois was about the time when he was a highway patrolman and he pulled Lois over down by Gooseberry Falls and she never let him hear the end of it. It was difficult for Lois being married to a cop because she was such a worry-wort whenever Bob went out on call. For Lois’ compassion was such that she would pray for the deer outside once she thought it was getting too cold. Lois’ daughter Gail drove up from the cities nearly every weekend for the last several months of Lois’ life. Gail and Bob sat by her dying bedside for weeks and weeks. Gail told me that the reason she did this was because Lois would have done the same for anyone. In Lois’s last days she kept repeating the same phrase over and over again continually citing from the 23rd Psalm how “She shall dwell in the house of the Lord” after passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Mabel Jacobson: Mabel was a charter member of Sychar. We will remember her and Leroy for the many years that they ran Jacobson’s hardware in town. Mabel was a proud Norwegian and Saint Olaf grad”. This week, I talked to Mabel’s close friend Dorothy Ives about what she remembered about Mabel to which Dorothy recalled what a “true friend” that she was. How Mabel was so easy to have a conversation with about nearly any subject. Whenever I would go see Mabel what I will remember is what an interest she took in asking me about all areas of my life, but always giving the freedom to not have to give an answer.
Lorraine Hendrickson: Lorraine was a woman of “great faith”. Once Lorraine was unable to read from her Bible, she would listen to her Bible again and again on CD. When I went to see Lorraine, she would always have a particular part of the Bible to which she wanted to listen, and she nearly always had a question about the Christian Faith that she wanted me to give an answer. Lorraine was a formalist as she would not call me “Pastor Stew” for her it was always going to be “Pastor Carlson” no matter how I introduced myself.
My favorite Lorraine story is this. Lorraine was 92 years ago; she had fallen and ended up in the hospital in Two Harbors. When I entered Lorraine’s room, I had to announce who I was. I notice Lorraine had a picture that I didn’t recognize by her bed. I ask, “Who is this?” It turns out that Lorraine had met a 90-year-old boyfriend at the assisted living in Two Harbors. I have never seen such a happy hospitalized woman in my life as she starts telling me all about him while beaming. Lorraine’s boyfriend had even come to the hospital to see her as she recovered from the fall. So let Lorraine serve as an example that you’re never too late to have someone special to come into your life.
Arnold Overby: The one thing that I will say about Arnie is that he truly lived out his convictions regardless of what people thought of them. We will remember Arnie as a long-time history/ geography teacher and passionate environmentalist. One of Arnie’s former students recalled getting into trouble during his class and being forced to sit by herself in the back. She was then compelled to run the film projector and pay attention. This student today now works for the Minnesota Historical Society because of Arnie. We will remember Arnie for his love of Polka music and inline-skating. Arnie was a faithful member of the Thrivent Board for a number of years. Arnie and his wife Marlene were responsible for the Adopt a Highway stretch that Sychar has maintained since the mid 1980’s in the Split Rock area.
Darrell Carter: We will remember the humorous Darrell Carter as part of vaudeville act of the last thirteen years of his life “Darrell and Carol.” Holy Hilarity Sunday was one of their favorites of the church year. Darrell was arguably the best dancer at Sychar as we got to witness Carol and him dancing up a storm during Rally Sunday 2013. What I will remember about Darrell is that when he would go through the receiving line at church, I would always ask him “If he was staying out of trouble?” Darrell never answered the question but would instead flash his mischievous smile at me.
Kent Shamblin: Kent admitted that in the later years of his life Marion would get on his case about being a “grouch” to which Kent replied he just choose to be selective about his commitments. I had spent quite a bit of time visiting with Kent over the last several months of his life. Yet when I read Kent’s obituary I was blown away by the depth of his civic commitments: president of two Lutheran churches including this one, president of Saint Paul Winter Carnival, numerous non-profit boards including a stint with Saint Thomas’ Center for Non-Profit Management.
Kent really cared deeply about this church. When Kent was living at the nursing home in Stillwater, he would always bring up who we could get to serve as the officers of the church. Kent was an extremely thoughtful man, who sent me some of the nicest notes of appreciation that I have received within the ministry. Kent last preached here in November of last year. The reason that people enjoyed Kent’s preaching so much is that he was very contentious about the faith that he was going to proclaim. Before Kent’s last sermon we had a very engaging email exchange over how we proclaim the Gospel as Christian people. What it all comes down to is the promises that we here on this day.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”-1 Thessalonians 4:13
The ultimate point of our lesson is that at the times when we’re unable to make sense of it all. Our God is there. Our God is there eager to wipe away our tears and promising to turn them one day into tears of joy as our eyes lay sight upon the “new heaven” and the “new earth”.
The promise that we here today is that what lies before our eyes in the grave, is not what heaven and earth shall become.
So as we leave this place on this day, we remember those who have gone before us: Bertha, Lois, Mabel, Lorraine, Arnold, Darrell, and Kent. We remember them as sinners of God’s own flock, yet saints of God’s own redeeming. We give thanks for how they impacted not only this church, but the world around them. Yet as we grieve their losses, we reflect on God’s promises that “one day all things shall be made new”-Isaiah 43:19. We shall not ascend into heaven, rather heaven will come down to us in Christ Jesus. We await the day when the savior walks into our presence and gathers us into his arms forever. Amen.
 Revelation 21:1
 Koester, Craig. Revelation and the End of All Things. Eerdmann’s Publishing. Grand Rapids. MI.2001.pages 191-192.
 Revelation 21:4
 1st Corinthians 15:51-52
 Revelation 21:5
 Psalm 23:6
 The following story comes from Jennifer Ehlen-Niemi posted on the Cavallin Funeral Home Website on June 10, 2015.
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Responsive Reading: Psalm 46
Second Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28
Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin by telling a story based on a real story. There was a church that I’ll call First Lutheran Church that sat in a town that I’ll call Leidner. Leidner was your typical Minnesota German farming community with the church made up of generations of the same large extended families. First Lutheran had gone through a decade of pastoral turmoil. Pastors had either been forced out or left for better jobs. Leidner was now going through another pastoral transition. Leidner was filling the pulpit Sunday after Sunday with whomever they could find that would be willing to preach. Nick had recently agreed to fill the pulpit. Nick was a chemical dependency chaplain in a neighboring community. Nick had all sorts of good qualities; he was kind, he was active in the community, and everyone knew how much Nick and his wife cared about people. Nick gave a decent enough sermon. Nick grew up in Leidner and had all sorts of family living there. People from First Lutheran Church began to wonder about Nick. They wondered if Nick could be their new pastor. A few individuals from the Call Committee decide to feel Nick out about the situation. Nick would proclaim his interest in the call at First Lutheran Church, which seemed like good news until Nick declared a couple stipulations. Nick wasn’t going to baptize babies nor confirm kids. Nick didn’t believe that either of these things had support in the scriptures. One of the members of the Call Committee called a former pastor to ask what of hiring Nick to which their former pastor Larry said “As long as you stop baptizing babies, you cease being a Lutheran Church, you might as well just call yourself First Church of Leidner and stop the charade.”
Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday. We celebrate the famous event of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses which people consider to be the birth of the Lutheran Church. The truth is, though; we are not Lutherans because of anything within the 95 Theses. Our Lutheranism has an entirely different basis.
Some of the most common conversations that I have in the ministry are in regards to Confirmation. People will often say to me “I wish I had learned more in Confirmation.” You ask people what separates Lutherans from Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Non-Denominational Christians the answers are often difficult to express other than we like the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
What I want to do this morning is an attempt to sum up the Lutheran Faith in fifteen minutes, hence the sermon title. The key to understanding the events that we remember this morning in Luther forming a new church can all be summed up in “What we believe about Baptism.” You understand our beliefs about Baptism then you know Lutheranism. The reason that Baptism is so important to use is that it proclaims everything that we need to know about God’s relationship with us.
To understand our beliefs about Baptism look no further than Luther’s Small Catechism from which I quote.
What does Baptism do?
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
How can water do such great things?
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism.
So what is the meaning of Baptism? This week a friend of mine linked to an old article on the website First Things. A woman named Amy Julia Becker writes the article. Becker recalls how a few hours after the birth of her daughter, her husband breaks the news that they think Becker’s daughter Penny had Down Syndrome. The most difficult thing in the hours after receiving this diagnosis was hearing other parents cry out “she’s perfect” upon holding their babies in their arms when Becker knew her baby was anything but perfect.
Becker then began to ponder that Penny’s Down Syndrome was a reminder of a harsh spirituality reality that the whole universe is out of whack. We see this truth whenever we turn on the nightly news. Becker could see evidence of humanity’s brokenness whenever people would be awkward in responding to the daughter. Becker eventually came to see that Down Syndrome’s meaning we can perhaps find in that our imperfections remind us of the need for each and every one of us to receive God’s redemption.
The story with Down Syndrome babies, Alzheimer's patients, and Infants is pretty much the same. Their hope rests in God’s goodness, not their ability to articulate the how and why?
Today’s lesson comes to us from Romans 3.
The key verse is Romans 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
These verses describe the whole Christian experience. We all sin, we all have pain. God bestows unto us his salvation as a “free gift”. None of us will appear to be worthy on the last day, yet God will declare us worthy on the last day and Baptism serves as our sign of this. We do not baptize ourselves; rather God baptizes us. Baptism is the sign and seal of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus.
What Baptism reminds us is that there is no such thing as a perfect person. A two-year-old is just as much a real Christian as anybody else.
Let me tell you a story about a girl that I met hiking that I’ll call Annie. Annie grew up Missouri Synod. Annie went through Confirmation but was bored out of her mind during it. Annie then after high school left the church for some years and engaged in many of the rebellions of youth. As Annie entered into her mid 20’s, she decided to try to reconnect with her spirituality. Annie starts reading the Bible seeking to grow in her faith. Annie decides that she should be re-baptized as a mark of dedication of her new level of spiritual commitment. She then asks me whether I would baptize her in the Baptism River up by Finland?
My response was when you are Baptized as an infant this is when “you become a child of God”. Baptism is not about your dedication to God, rather it is about God’s dedication to you.
The reason we baptize infants is because none of us can even begin to imagine every twist and turns that our faith journey might take.
Where plenty of Lutherans misunderstand Baptism is thinking about it as a one-time act, Baptism is instead a daily event. We die nearly every single day to Sin.
Last Saturday, I was at the Gophers-Nebraska Football game. Nebraska was pounding the Gophers all over the football field. I had to watch Nebraska fans celebrate before me. I know what I wanted to say, but then I remember that I’m a sinner and what I want to say is that which should not be said. I know that I’m a sinner no matter how much I pray, read the Bible, or even regardless of how well that I preach. I die every day to my sins, yet God in his gracious response to me brings me forth to new life in Baptism through in the words of Titus 3 “A washing of renewal and rebirth”.
We hold Baptism in such high importance because of what it says about a Christian’s life. 1. We do fail. 2. We do sin in thought, word, and deed. 3. We can not escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try 4. Our great spiritual hope is that our God will pour out upon us his mercy and his grace.
We cannot separate our understanding of Baptism from our understanding of sin. All sin is brought forth by either spiritual pride or spiritual despair. Spiritual pride is our trying to rebuild the Tower of Babel. We put together a list of our accomplishments as a means of trying to impress God. Nick, who I talked about earlier, had an great resume as a Christian. I wish that I was as good a guy as Nick. The problem with guys like Nick in how they see God is always going to be spiritual pride. There can often be problems though with being too successful a Christian in that you lose sight of what makes Christianity.
Martin Luther was not a successful Christian. Martin Luther was rather an “honest” Christian. Luther only posted the 95 Theses after spending nights sleeping on concrete floors hoping to motivate himself to do better. Luther’s problem was not spiritual pride, but rather spiritual despair the concern of Luther being too far gone that God could not possibly save him. When Luther finally did encounter the Gospel “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had been set free from a tremendous burden that it was not about Luther at all. Luther was free from not having to judge even himself, Luther’s eyes from that day forward would be perpetually pointed in the direction of the Cross. Baptism is ultimately express of The Cross because it reminds us of our God pours out his blessings unto the unworthy.
Let me close with a final story that I’ve told before. My first week in the ministry in Lamberton, Minnesota. A guy that I’ll call John dies. John wasn’t much of a church member; John wasn’t much of a husband, the one thing that people knew John for was how mean a drunk that he could be. John was going to be my first funeral as a minister. I’m talking to a guy that I’ll call Ed. Ed was one of the most influential members of this church. Ed was a big land-owner that is huge in a farming community. Ed was one of the church’s biggest givers. Ed asks me why we have John’s funeral within the church then Ed starts giving me a list of all of John’s faults. I knew that everything that Ed was saying was true. I said to Ed ministry that “John needs God’s Grace just like the rest of us.” I wasn’t going to get up there and proclaim where John was going to go upon death. What I was going to say though is God will save who he wants. Salvation comes via way of God’s decision, not our own. If God chooses to save lousy Christians like John, along with good Christians like Ed, the only hope that either of them will have in either life or death comes from God’s grace and mercy.
We struggle with Baptism because we want Christianity to be comfortable when in reality Christianity is never comfortable. We always seek to trust in our accomplishments, rather than to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to leave it all up to God. I had to DO something…so should you are the cries that failed Christians tend to hear.
The great spiritual truth as Amy Becker came to realize about her daughter Penny is none of us is perfect. This imperfection if why our faith is always pointing towards the cross. One day, Becker is sitting down reading a book with her daughter Penny about Jesus blessing the little children just like her. At which point, Penny bowed her head and began to pray. This scene reminded Becker that one day the world will be whole once again, but it will be God’s doing not ours.
“Let the little children, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the Alzheimers Patients, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the troubled monks like Martin Luther, come to me,” Jesus said. “Let the broken sinners, come to me when they have nowhere else to turn.” Baptism reminds us that we don’t know how and why we ultimately believe. We merely trust God’s promises to come through for us in the end just like he promises in our Baptism. Amen
 Becker, Amy Julia. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”. First Things. Nov.2008. Web. Oct.22.2015.
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 I found this point made in the comments section of the article “What I Like About Lutheran Baptism” by Chaplain Mike on Internet Monk published on May 25th.
 Chaplain Mike. “What I Like about Lutheran Baptism”
 Titus 3:5
 Genesis 11:1-9
 Becker. “Babies Perfect and Imperfect”.
 Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 Paraphrase of Matthew 19:14
 These paraphrases make the point about God is the actor and we are the audience in not only Baptism but also salvation.
First Lesson: Job 23: 1-9, 16-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4: 12-16
Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 17-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today, we come to one of the most famous stories in the Christian Gospels in the tale of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler.
Everyone knows the famous verse from this passage “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Plenty of people will assume that the point of this passage is to demonize the rich, demand that they give more of their money to less rich people like us.
Even the name Rich Young Ruler implies a villain like “corporate overlord” or “evil CEO”. The Rich Young Ruler sounds like the type of guy that would steal presents from children. Perhaps when people think of bad guys, then they’ll think of the Rich Young Ruler.
Let me tell you a little secret about the Rich Young Ruler, your life is way easier than his. The Rich Young Ruler would want you to share some of your wealth with him.
Consider the realities of the Rich Young Ruler’s life versus your own. Where you enjoy indoor plumbing, the Rich Young Ruler did his business in a latrine. Where you enjoy the convenience of just flipping a light switch, the Rich Young Ruler had to make due with oil lamps. Hot water, washing machines, the ability to zap meals in the microwave within minutes would have been things beyond even imagination for the Rich Young Ruler. In fact, our standard of living blows away that off even the richest men in Jesus’ day. So if the problem is his comfortable lifestyle, then everyone born in the Western World in the last hundred years would be in a world of hurt.
Perhaps though there is something else wrong with the Rich Young Ruler. The truth of the story was that the Rich Young Ruler seems like a pretty good guy. He seems like the type of guy that any parent would want to have date their daughter.
The Rich Young Ruler is well-mannered: He refers to Jesus as a “good teacher.”
The Rich Young Ruler is devout “Teacher, what must I do to inherit Eternal Life?”
The Rich Young Ruler is well-behaved “I have kept all the commandments: you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother. This guy had kept all these things since the day of his birth!
The Rich Young Ruler was probably an honors student, varsity lettermen, pretty smile, and did all sorts of service projects and charity work within the community. The Rich Young Ruler had all kinds of friends. The Rich Young Ruler was probably kind to his girlfriend. If the Rich Young Ruler wanted to join our church, we would be shouting “Hallelujah.” What is worth knowing about the Rich Young Ruler is that he probably had a limitless future ahead of him.
Here’s a secret to understanding our story: Jesus knew all this. Jesus knew that the Rich Young Ruler would seem to be the ideal applicant to the Kingdom of God, only the Kingdom of God looks beyond resumes.
Then Jesus puts another demand upon the Rich Young Ruler “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
We know that the young man went away sad and assumed he was sad because he was being asked to give up his money. Those who he heard Jesus speak to the Rich Young Ruler were amazed at Jesus’ words.
“‘Who then can be saved,’ if not this guy” the Disciples said. These words coming from the very men who seemingly did everything Jesus asked in leaving their fishing nets and boats behind to follow him. The Disciples knew that this wasn't so much a passage about wealth, but rather the standards of salvation.
The key question that the Rich Young Ruler asks comes in verse 17 ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The answer to the Rich Young Ruler’s question though does not come till verse 27 “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Jesus wants the Disciples and the Rich Young Ruler both to think about salvation in an entirely new way “But many who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.”
The thing about the Rich Young Ruler is that he thinks he can deal with God as he has dealt with others. The Rich Young Ruler could merely pull out his gold coins, disperse them liberally without having to do anything more uncomfortable than that. The Rich Young Ruler had gone through life knowing and expecting that he had the best of everything. The Rich Young Ruler had never lost at anything in his life. This guy Jesus wanted to give him a tip how to handle this tricky “eternal life” situation.
The Rich Young Ruler is not arrogant. The Rich Young Ruler hears Jesus’ words and walks away sad. The Rich Young Ruler didn’t want to make the ultimate sacrifice.
This tale brings up current events, last week’s big news story had to do with the Oregon community college shooting. The Gunman according to reports asked people in the classroom about their religion. The Gunman then declared “Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.” There seems to be some history of animus by the gunman towards Christians, and a few of the victims were publically professing believers. In the wake of this it raises an interesting question “If a gun is pointed at you, what would you say?”
Everyone after the fact can say they would have said “yes” that they would choose to enter “heaven.” The gunmen dare gets more complicated say if you have young children at home or are their elderly parents or spouses’ only caregiver. Answering this challenge also raises the issue of whether martyrdom is dying before a government or a mentally ill gunmen?
Being forced to give of our faith with such high stakes are hard. We can demonize the Rich Young Ruler for walking away sad, but these people often drive nice cars, play on I-Pads, and live in warm, comfortable homes. We probably aren’t even as devout as the Rich Young Ruler.
The question that Jesus is posing to the Rich Young Ruler is not whether he’d be willing to die for Jesus, the question is rather would we be willing to let Jesus die for us.
For everyone following Jesus, that day was not a believer that went through life with limitless courage. Peter stood and watched the Rich Young Ruler walk away sad. Peter was the member of the Disciples that Jesus trusted so much that he was going to take over for him upon his death, yet Peter would deny knowing him on three separate occasions.
The moral of our story is Jesus’ followers’ humanity. Peter was human, and the Rich Young Ruler was human. We are human.
When Jesus heard the Rich Young Ruler claim to have followed all of the Commandments, He knew having spent time on the lakes in Galilee that something smelled fishy.
D.L. Moody was a great traveling evangelist in the 19th century. Moody starts preaching about sin “one day.” A man from the crowd starts encouraging Moody’s sermon by shooting out “I haven’t sinned preacher in five years”. Moody at first ignores him, but the man wouldn’t be quiet about not having sinned in five years. Moody interprets the meeting to ask the man “Brother, you haven’t sinned in five years.” The man nods his head with vigor. Moody says, “Sir, that’s quite a feat what I want you to do is go home, find your wife, bring her back here, and have her confirm your story about not sinning for five years.” The man snuck out the back of the tent never to be heard from again.
The famous phrase about “the camel going through the eye of the needle” is pure hyperbole, given for dramatic effect. This illustration is used to make a spiritual point that in the words of Romans 3 “No one is worthy of salvation, no one”.
This week I came across an article about the pop singer Justin Bieber. Bieber had recently said the following “that he loves Jesus and wants to be like him”. But on the other hand, “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell that doesn’t make you a taco.”
Justin Bieber seems to be the modern definition of the Rich Young Ruler. What Bieber is saying is true on some level that there are plenty of bad people that go to church, and plenty of people that appear to be saints that don’t. Yet where Bieber is like the Rich Young Ruler is he doesn’t see the need to bow down before the almighty. Christianity is more than just a lifestyle, Christianity is about encountering Christ in your life. We only encounter Christ when we humble ourselves in the Lord’s presence receiving the gifts of the Gospel given in Word and Sacrament. We receive the Lord’s blessing when we gather with fellow believers in need of spiritual healing that don’t necessarily look like us or think like us. The Rich Young Ruler like many people is unwilling to surrender the spiritual pride they desperately long to cling.
In the words of Robert Farrar Capon, Jesus is meaning to illustrate that salvation “is for the last, the lost, the least, and the little.” Basically everyone that the Rich Young Ruler was not.
To paraphrase Capon, We can conceive the world like the Rich Young Ruler thought existed: sinners cast into hell, whereas the holy are lifted up to heaven. The problem is that there’s way too many sinners on the nightly news, and everyone else’s s sins seemingly lead to death, so, therefore, the cross of Christ becomes the means through which all things are made possible.
The thing about the Rich Young Ruler is he had a lot of possessions just like we have a lot of possessions this much is certainly true. The problem with the Rich Young Ruler though is he was letting his possesions define who he was. The truth is no matter what you may own today; it will not possess any value where you are going. In fact, we take a whole lot of different things to death: we take regrets, we take failed relationships, we take sin, and we take judgment. What Jesus is trying to get at today is that winners in the end don’t end up as winners whereas losers encounter an outcome beyond what they themselves can pay. Amen
 Mark 10:17-31
 Mark 10:25
 Mark 10:17
 Mark 10:17
 Mark 10:19-20
 Mark 10:21
 Mark 10:26
 Mark 10:31
 Mark 10:22
 Stetzer, Ed. The Targeting of Christians and How Christians Respond: Reflections on the Oregon Shootings “. Christianity Today. 2. Oct.2015. Web. Oct.8.2015
 Stetzer, Ed. “The Targeting of Christians and How Christians Respond: Reflections on the Oregon Shootings.”
 I came across a really interesting discussion of this question on Reddit’s Christianity page in a discussion thread entitled “I have an unpopular opinion” posted on Oct.6.2015.
 Taken from Reddit poster GoMustard in the “I have an unpopular opinion” thread.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Page 388.
 Romans 3:10
 Nussbaum Keating, Anna. “Go to Church, Justin Bieber”. First Things.6.Oct.2015. Web. Oct.8.2015.
 Nussbaum Keating, Anna. “Go to Church, Justin Bieber”.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Page 388
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Taken from page 389.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. The reference comes from C.J. Green in an article entitled “Grace in A Most Violent Year”. Mockingbird. 12.Aug.2015. Web. Oct.6.2015.
First Lesson: Job 1: 1, 2: 1-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 26
Second Lesson: Hebrews 1: 1-4, 2: 5-12
Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 2-16
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with a story. A while back my dad, Grandma, and I drove down to a wedding. The wedding was for a couple friends of my sisters that I’ll call Billy and Maggie. Billy and Maggie had recently had a child together. There were family members who weren’t happy about this. My sister Anne was the Maid of Honor and I was the preacher. I remember Anne calling me beforehand asking that I don’t bring up the child to keep fanning the flames. I told Anne “What happened in the past is the past, my concern is rather Billy and Maggie’s future.” Billy and Maggie’s wedding was not the place to editorialize about all the lifestyle choices that might have rushed them quicker to that day. Billy and Maggie’s wedding was rather about people gathering together promising to walk alongside Billy and Maggie going forward.
As Dad, Grandma, and I traveled to the wedding that day. Grandma was in a foul mood. Grandma kept referring to Billy and Maggie’s child by one of her favorite bad words over and over again along with throwing out some additional inappropriate church language. Dad debated whether to keep her in the car during the ceremony if she didn’t promise to tame her tongue. Grandma had one idea in her head about how the world is supposed to work: 1. Couple meets. 2. Falls in love. 3. Gets married. 4. The couple has a beautiful baby a few years later.
Let me drive home the most important point that I will make all the morning: The World often doesn’t work like we want it to work. The Christian is going to be often called to respond to situations that they do not desire.
This morning our lesson brings us to another issue of turmoil in the church the issue of divorce. The first question for this morning is “Is divorce a sin?”
Evaluating the divorce issue causes to face a much more fundamental question of “What is sin?” Sin is everything that takes place within the world if there was no Adam, no Eve, no Serpent, no Tree. Sin is everything that takes place that God would not desire for his creation. Sin is evidence of everything that proves humanity’s imperfection. So is divorce a sin? The simplest way to answer this question is to talk to anyone who has gone through a divorce?
Divorce is painful. Divorce hurts those involved. Divorce hurts children. Divorce fractures relationships between in-laws and between friends. No one ever walks down the aisle to “Canon in D “hoping to go through a divorce. Divorce will inevitability causes all sorts of painful conversations and sleepless nights.
The issue isn’t whether divorce is right or wrong. Divorce is wrong in that it’s not what God intended for his creation. Divorce is a byproduct of the harshest of human brokenness. Most people come out of a divorce with all sorts of regrets regarding their previous decision making. People wouldn’t respond this way if divorce weren't painful to the very core of their being.
Think of the most extreme situations regarding divorce: adultery, spousal abuse, never-ending conflict, all kinds of destruction to one’s emotional or spiritual well-being.
When we consider these backgrounds than the words of Malachi 2 “God hates divorce” make sense. Not only does divorce destroy human relationships, but divorce also brings baggage that is going to affect future relationships.
Many people say Christians are too lax on divorce? That we’re hypocritical on the subject by allowing that which the Bible explicitly condemns.
We do not celebrate divorce, nor do its participants. What we say is that divorce is often the lesser evil in a particular ethical conundrum. We would never hold a party to celebrate another person’s pain. I guess, we could kick someone out of the church for not being able to maintain idealized relationships in every area of their life. We would then have to turn around and throw out everyone who has ever had a bad relationship with a boss, fractured a friendship, or even gotten mad at a Packer fan. At this point, not only would our pews by empty but we would deny our calling to proclaim forgiveness moving forward.
As we reflect on divorce this morning, we just keep coming back to the spiritual truth that human relationships are broken because humans are broken.
Today’s lesson from Mark 10 contains the teachings of Jesus on divorce. Today’s lesson includes a debate of sorts between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus critiques the Pharisees understanding of divorce as being too easy in Today’s passage. Only Jesus doesn’t condemn the Pharisees for the reasons that you might think. Jesus’ primary concern with the Pharisees understanding of divorce had to do with how they viewed women. In 1st Century Judea, divorce was used as a way to disrespect and dishonor women. Women were basically put on the street because they would have no means to earn a living without their husband supporting them. The Pharisees would often excuse this behavior as o.k. for any reason whatsoever. The realities of divorce for females especially were very different in 1st Century Judea then they are today. Jesus wanted to fight the power in the system.
Jesus wished to let the Pharisees know that their whole attitude on marriage was all kinds of wrong. Jesus was challenging the flawed ideas of marriage that were present within his day. So to do this Jesus took a step back to the beginning of creation itself.
“The two shall become one.”
The best book that I’ve ever read on Christian relationships is Andy Stanley’s Love, Sex, and Dating. Stanley’s hypothesis is that the reason that human relationships are so screwed up in the 21st Century has to do with screwed up power dynamics that are brought forth from previous relationships. Sex is often confused with Love. Manipulation is too often justified as a way of winning or losing the relationship. No one trusts anyone. Men are thought as out to get women, and women are considered as out to get men. Nothing is ever anybody else’s fault because it can’t be. All sorts of belief systems emerge trying to assign blame to a large percentage of the world’s populations. These situations merely speak to the brokenness or sin present in our world.
What Jesus is trying to get at though is something different. Men and women were created as different entities at the beginning of time. When I took training to facilitate pre-martial inventories for Prepare and Enrich the differences in relationship expectations between men and women when it came to physical and emotional needs kept coming up again and again. Differences between men and women should be celebrated rather than denied.
When these two entities come together in parenting, friendship, problem-solving, and togetherness, you see the highest of Christian callings being lived. We have a lot of people out there this morning that have been married 50, 55, 60, and even 65 plus years. Think of the best thing that your partner brought to your life that you wouldn’t have had if you didn’t meet them. This sentiment is at the heart of what makes marriage such a beautiful entity. We are grateful for so many bonds in our congregation this morning.
We also acknowledge that marriage doesn’t always work. Jesus knew that marriage doesn’t always work in Today’s Gospel, we then have to sort out the aftermath of human relationships in the wake of divorce. Jesus’ words remind us that we do not begin to consider either divorce or re-marriage lightly.
If divorce is bad what about remarriage?
Let me quote from the Sychar Lutheran Vision Statement-
“We will perform remarriages, not because we do not mourn divorce. We perform remarriages precisely because God gave marriage for the mutual benefit and consolation of both male and female within a fallen world.”
As with divorce, there are two possible solutions. We can either take the legal solution. We can say divorce is wrong which is true. We can say that God never intended for remarriage that’s also true. We can then say no to such remarriage requests. Christians have thought about divorce and re-marriage in these terms over the years. Plenty of people have had the book thrown at them because of their divorces. The other possible response is to remember that the world often doesn’t work like we often want it to work. We can go through life obsessing about the past. This type of behavior will only bring benefit for so long. Eventually, we admit that the past can only be given as much power as we allow it to take.
We perform remarriages because we take the words of Genesis “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Seriously, Marriage does not exist because we become spiritually pure or perfect once you enter into it. If people view Marriage as the fixing solution to everything that’s wrong with them, then there are going to be all sorts of problems. Marriage instead exists for the sake of a Christian’s vocation. Marriage has everything to do not with making a believer right in the eyes of God, but rather how a believer interacts with the world around them. So even if someone’s first marriage were an unmitigated disaster, the pastoral response should not be consigning someone to a life of isolation. Marriage exists for the purpose of protecting us and restraining us. Marriage exists for the sake of a lifelong support system, even if the first support system did not meet its intended goal. If we can give someone a second chance for a better life, then we should celebrate it.
No one is going to be a perfect person before they get married, no one is going to be a perfect person while they are married, and no one is going to be a perfect person once they leave a marriage.
As we leave this place, our understanding of marriage will speak to our understanding of God’s grace. Marriage is not Baptism nor is it Communion. Marriage is not the means by which God creates faith nor sustains eternal life. Marriage is rather something given by God for our blessing and benefit within the confines of our life. We can not and will not get this right life, in spite of the best of our intentions. Sin is why we realize that within the institution of marriage and all of human relationships in general that God has placed a cross upon them. What we remember today, our God is not about defining us by our past, but our God is rather about creating new life within our future. In the beginning, God created them male and female. In the end, God will redeem them because God saves broken people even from their broken relationships with the world around them. Amen
 Malachi 2:16
 Mark 10:2-16
 Mark 10:8
 Markquart, Ed. “Miracle of Marriage: Mark 10:2-16”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Sept.29.2015
 Genesis 2:18
First Lesson: Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10; 9: 20-22
Responsive Reading: Psalm 124
Second Lesson: James 5: 13-20
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 38-50
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story today of the Queen, who grew up an orphan. I want to tell you the story of a queen who rose to the throne in a land other than her own. I want to tell you the story of a queen whose exploits were such that she became a national hero who her people celebrate over 2000 years after her death. This morning, I want to tell you the story of Queen Esther.
Esther’s story begins about a century before she was born. The Jewish people strayed from worshiping the one true God against the warnings of men like Jeremiah. The Babylonians had conquered and seized the land of the Jewish people. Many Jews had been forced from their homes for generations and forced to migrant to the Kingdom of Babylon. But like all great empires, the Babylonians soon fell to a more powerful army of the Persians. The Persians soon controlled all Babylonian land. Living in the capital of these Persian lands was Esther along with her cousin Mordecai that raised her after the death of both of Esther’s parents.
How did Esther become a queen? Our story begins with a great royal banquet.
King Artaxerxes was the most powerful man in the world as the ruler of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes decided to hold a banquet of triumph for all the dignitaries and inhabitants of the capital city. At this banquet, Artaxerxes wanted to parade his Queen before the people. The Queen refused to appear. At this sign of great disrespect, Artaxerxes decided to begin a search for a new queen. Artaxerxes decided to hold a beauty contest for women from all 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes was going to choose the best looking woman from the Middle East to India to be his queen. Esther was a beauty. Older folks might imagine Sophia Loren, younger folks might imagine Jessica Alba when they picture Esther. Esther was chosen to be the new Queen of Persia.
Esther had a secret though that she wasn’t going to tell. Esther was a Jew. The Persians didn’t know what to make of the Jews and their religious ceremonies. If word got out that Esther was a Jewish queen, there would be trouble for not only Esther, but it would cause a weakened standing for Artaxerxes in the eyes of his people.
If Esther is the hero of our story, then the story needs a great villain. Haman is a great villain. Haman was an official of King Artaxerxes. Haman wasn’t satisfied. Haman had a big ego. Haman thought that he should be king so that all the people would bow before him. Haman’s life was one continual power trip because of this. One day, Haman encounters Esther’s foster father Mordecai, who refuses to bow down before Haman. Haman snapped! Haman decided that he wanted revenge not only against Mordecai but all Jews.
Haman decides to throw dice or “pur” as a way of determining the extermination date for the Jews. A favorable roll for the Jewish people takes place as Haman’s plan was going through in eleven months time. King Artaxerxes gives Haman’s plan his blessing. The threat was so serious that 375 tons of silver were set aside to enlist soldiers to carry out the extermination. It was the custom of the Persians that not even the King himself could withdraw such an order. Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews in the Persian Empire had eleven months to live. God’s people would soon be no more!
Mordecai heard about Haman and Artaxerxes’ plan and was frightened. Mordecai began to weep in sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai figured that there was only one person in all of Persia that could save his people in Esther. Mordecai goes to Esther imploring her to take action. Esther was closer to Mordecai then anybody else in the world.
Esther initially was afraid of acting upon Mordecai’s request. Esther did not know what might happen to her once her secret became known. Esther’s secret was a source of terror for her.
Mordecai though says to Esther the most important thing in her story “For this time Esther you have been born, God has put you in this place to save his people?”
Mordecai reminded Esther that she did not become queen by accident. Esther was queen because God wanted her to appear before the King. Esther knew that approaching Artaxerxes was going to be risky. The King did not know that Esther was Jewish. Esther asked that Mordecai ask her people to pray for her for three straight days.
Where Esther did not know how to approach the King, Esther had a trump card, though. Esther’s trump card has caused plenty of men to do stupid things for women over the years. Esther knew that Artaxerxes would not be able to resist her beauty. Esther gets invited to a feast with Haman and Artaxerxes. At this banquet, Haman sees Mordecai outside once again. Haman’s obsession was getting Mordecai to bow down before him. Mordecai still refuses. Haman snaps he orders that gallows be built “seventy feet high” to hang Mordecai. King Artaxerxes also saw Mordecai on that day remembering him from before. Mordecai harbored no ill-will towards the King. Mordecai, in fact, a while back had saved Artaxerxes’ life by warning him of a plot that had planned by a couple of his officials.
Artaxerxes, in fact, couldn’t sleep that night as he remembers his failure to honor Mordecai for his previous service. So Artaxerxes decides to do something for Mordecai. Artaxerxes asks Haman “How can you honor a man who served the king with a great reward?” Haman is feeling pretty good about himself at this point. Haman figures the King is talking about him. Haman sticks his chest out, begins to walk around the palace with a strut. Haman is soon shocked though to learn that the King wishes to honor Mordecai. Mordecai! Really! Haman thought Mordecai was the last person to honor. To Haman, this would seem like Barack Obama wishing to give a presidential medal to Donald Trump. The King wanted to put his own robe on Mordecai and parade him all over the capital city. Haman was ordered to lead the King’s horse and Mordecai in this process. Haman was humiliated. Haman figured though his blood-thirst for Mordecai would soon be satisfied.
Esther requests a second banquet take place. Esther wants Haman present at this second banquet. Esther was finally going to reveal her secret to the world.
“For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.”
Esther revealing her faith would have been a huge political scandal. Think of Esther like you would Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings in 5th Century BC Persia. Jaws would have hit the floor upon this revelation. The Persian King married to a Jewish woman! This would have seemed like a story straight out of the National Enquirer.
The evening drama though was just beginning as Esther pointed out how Haman was behind a plot to exterminate her people. Artaxerxes was furious! Artaxerxes stormed out of the room! Haman for the first time in the last number of months no longer obsesses with Mordecai but rather protecting his own life. Haman begins to grovel to Esther pleading for her to save his life. Right at this moment though comes bad news in Artaxerxes returning to the banquet room and thinking that Esther is being assaulted by Haman. Never touch another man’s wife! Haman is sentenced to death by immediate hanging. Haman suffers the death that he had spent months plotting for Mordecai.
There was still one little problem, though. The King could not rescind his decree to exterminate the Jewish people. Royal decrees always being honored was the law of the Persians. The King does allow the Jewish people though the right to defend themselves. Soon Haman’s sons and their allies had been defeated at the hands of their Jewish enemies.
Esther and Mordecai’s story has a happy ending. Esther sends a letter to the Jewish people advocating to create a holiday which would celebrate the day of the Jewish people’s redemption in Purim. Esther would receive all of Haman’s land, and Mordecai would receive Haman’s position. All the Jews enemies in Persia were defeated. Esther had saved her people!
So what is the meaning of Esther’s story for our lives? Martin Luther did not like the Book of Esther. Esther is a unique book along with Song of Solomon in that it never mentions God within its pages. Esther is rather a story about God’s chosen people. Esther brings up the common Biblical theme of enemies of the faith seeking to destroy it.
What the story reminds us of is that God lurks in the shadows even when we can’t necessarily see him. God’s people had been assigned a death sentence, yet God rises up the orphan Esther to be a queen. Esther is a story of coincidences that end with a remarkable conclusion.
Mordecai was now the prime minister of Persia where as Esther was the queen.
Esther above all else is a story of death and resurrection. When Esther initially appraised the situation of trying to save her people it seemed to be hopeless. Mordecai reminded Esther thought that God will not abandon his people even when times seem to be at their bleakest.
Esther then went forth to her place of judgment in the presence of the king with the utmost of confidence. The key line in the entire book is Esther saying “If I must die, I will die”. Esther reminds us that the grave is not the scariest thing that we might encounter; instead what is scarier is that no one promises to die alongside us.
Esther’s story is a tale of hope for us as Christian people. God does not and will not fail his people. Our evidence of this is the cross. The Cross serves as the definitive proof that there is not one place where God will not go for our salvation. God will save his people through the Queen of Persia, God will save his people through a burning bush, God will his save people in a Lions’ den, and God will save us in spite of our best proofs at a given moment that salvation is currently taking place. In Esther’s story God’s plan took place over the course of eleven months, in our story, God’s plan of salvation might take a lifetime.
Esther’s story reminds us of the famous words of the 46th Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
No matter how mighty of foes we might be facing on this day, God’s faithfulness towards his people will ultimately win out in the end. Amen
 Markquart, Ed. “Ester”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Sept.17.2015.
 Esther 4:14
 Esther 7:4
 Smith, Vaughn. “The Sovereign in the Shadows”. Lectionary.Org sermons- Esther 7. 2009. Web. Sept.17.2015
 Esther 4:16
 Psalm 46:10
First Lesson: Proverbs 1: 20-33
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: James 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I have one lesson during confirmation class that gets kids to listen to like no other lesson. All our confirmation kids can probably explain the summary of this lesson quite well. The lesson is on the second commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The lesson deals with the differences between cussing, swearing and cursing? Now many people hear the words cussing, swearing, and cursing to assume that they only have to do with naughty words. The comedian George Carlin in 1972 did a monolog on the seven dirty words that you can’t say on television. So many Christians assume that the seven words that Carlin named are the only words that we shouldn’t say.
What we must always remember is that the scriptural warnings regarding our tongues go beyond these words. So what is the difference between cussing, swearing, and cursing? Cusses are bad words that I dare not say in a sermon and most parents dare not say in front of their impressionable young children. Cusses aren’t the worst mistakes with a person’s tongue. Swears are a failure to maintain a promise; swearing builds all sorts of distrust and brokenness within the body of Christ. Cursing though is worse then even swearing or cussing. Cursing involves calling down the name of the Lord to bring harm to others. Cursing is taking the Lord’s name in vain by assigning death, destruction, and mayhem to God’s wishes. Cursing is a direct violation of the second commandment.
As I think of this famous confirmation lesson, the reason that it is so effective is that kids know first hand that the tongue is the most powerful part of the human body. You ask people about the most painful moments of their childhood they will remember the words that made them feel miserable about themselves, words that made them feel weak and ultimately powerless. I can remember first hand these things growing up with a speech impediment being on the receiving end of taunts. For other children, it might be their weight, their glasses, lack of style, beauty or talent. Words do hurt!
The power of the tongue is one of the first lessons that a child learns in life. When 7th graders sit in the school cafeteria and try to sneak in as many bad words into the conversation as they can without getting caught. They do this because they instinctively know that the tongue has power.
Tales from the school cafeteria leads us to our lesson for today from James 3 regarding the power of the human tongue. What you maybe haven’t considered before this morning is what kind of emphasis that the scriptures place on the tongue.
Two of the Ten Commandments have to do with the human tongue. The second commandment, that I mentioned earlier, along with the eight commandment regarding bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.
John Jewell tells the following story. There once was a man in Scotland. This man didn’t care for his neighbor. One day he hears a rumor about his neighbor. The Man tells his friends this rumor. The man’s friends tell their friends. Pretty soon nearly everyone in this small village had heard the rumor about the Neighbor; the rumor destroyed this man’s relationship and reputation with the community. The Neighbor had to leave town as an emotional and physical wreck because of the rumor’s toll.
The Man soon finds out something disturbing about the rumor. The rumor was false! One man’s careless tongue had destroyed another man’s life. The Man’s guilt begins to consume him to the point that he goes to visit the local priest. The Man asks, “If I can be forgiven for my sin?”
The Priest looks at him and tells him that one can not easily fix such sins. The Priest had a potential solution, though. He instructed the man to go round up a bag of feathers and place one in every yard in the village. The Man thought this request to be strange, but he followed the Priest’s request. The Man finally goes back to the Priest asking if he could now be granted forgiveness.
The Priest replied “not until you pick up every feather that you have placed in people’s yards.” Hours had passed as the Scottish winds blew through the countryside. The Man quickly realized the Priest’s point that you can never take back what you say. Feathers will always blow away before you have a chance to retrieve them.
This story helps illustrate the power of the human tongue that our lesson reflects on.
James 3:5 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
What was the point of this lesson that James was seeking to give the earliest Christians. James was attempting to acknowledge a reality that Christian people will have conflict. What Christians need to know is “The first instinct that we have is often the worst instinct”. Someone will say something that we don’t like, so feeling the need to win the argument; we try to say something harsher and more relentless back in return. Pretty soon the tongue leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.
James realizes this! When James wrote his letter, he wanted Christians to think differently about how to use the tongue. James realizes that how one used their tongue is often the difference between peace and discord.
I was talking to a guy from the community a while back at an event at the school. This guy starts giving me a laundry list of everything that was wrong with his wife. She tended to be overly emotional blah, blah. As I’m hearing this guy talk, my concern wasn’t with whether what he was saying was true. This guy’s criticisms probably were true on some level. My concern was rather two-fold: 1. Why do I need to know all this? The guy couldn’t have possibly expected me to change his wife’s natural personality after years of marriage. 2. If this is how you talk about your wife in my presence, how do you build her up when you are in her presence?
James 3:8 “But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.
If people doubt that the tongue is mighty, think of family members that you might have that have used one sentence to isolate forever themselves from someone they previously claim to hold dear.
Ed Markquart says it best “People will remember three harsh words, more than a thousand words of praise .”
Think of the worst tongue lashing that you ever received in your life and how warm you feel about it. The person could have been a school-teacher, I’ve told the story about my 8th grade English teacher Mr.Chrun and Me before. Your worst tongue lashing could be an old or current boss. Your worst tongue lashing could even be as a result of a brother or sister. Now think how you feel towards the person that harshly used their tongue at you even till this day.
If anyone of you here doubts that the human tongue has unlimited power, consider that the serpent deceived Adam and Eve merely with his tongue.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin travels around the country speaking to audiences about the power of the human tongue. Telushkin asks audiences the following question “if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.” The audience will inevitably have a few hands go up, many others laugh, whereas the majority shouts out “no.”
But abusing the tongue is no laughing matter. If someone can’t survive twenty-four without nicotine then they have a smoking problem, if someone can’t make it twenty-four hours without drinking then they have an alcohol problem, whereas if someone can’t tame their tongue think of how much more damage the tongue can cause then just an individual beer or cigarette.
The whole of James’ passage today centers around our understanding of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” People can easily dismiss the tongue, by claiming it’s not a matter of salvation. What we must remember is that the tongue has everything to do with salvation.
Now some of you are probably out there thinking that this all sounds pretty good so far. But the Old Adam within all of us really wants to cling to exceptions. You might say what about my neighbor Bill who is the biggest jerk. What about the lady whose religion or politics that I can’t stand. These are precisely the types of people around whom we need to be mindful of our tongue. How we live out grace is how we treat those who have nothing to give us back in return. Some of the wisest words that I ever heard in Seminary were “Forgiveness needs to come before you can except anyone to change.” Jesus did not go to go forth to the cross, once he believed that the people of Judea were truly sorry for what they had done. Jesus knew that a sinful people needed grace and mercy anyways!
I want to close this morning with a couple different stories about the power of the human tongue. The first story is about a guy named Swanny. Swanny was a life-long bachelor who lived next to the Tom Thumb in Lindstrom. Swanny every day would go up to the Lindstrom Post Office. One day, Swanny is at the post office talking like Swanny would speak and none of the words were church appropriate. Into the room walks Reverend Blackford, who was the Methodist preacher in town. What My Grandma would always say about Reverend Blackford is that he got really mad when a bowling alley came to the Lindstrom because they served booze. Reverend Blackford met the definition of uptight minister, whereas Swanny met the definition of crass, slovenly bachelor. Reverend Blackford and Swanny would seem to be as opposite as people could be. So Reverend Blackford hears Swanny’s careless tongue and decides to confront him. Reverend Blackford said, “Sir, your language offends me.” Swanny stops dead in his tracks, even Swanny knew the power of the human tongue. Swanny begins to apologize profusely to Reverend Blackford for his language. Interestingly enough, Swanny did not avoid Reverend Blackford after this. Swanny and Reverend Blackford became good friends because Reverend Blackford was able to proclaim grace to Swanny when he needed to hear it the most. Reverend Blackford ended up preaching at Swanny’s funeral.
Final story from Luke 7, Jesus encounters a woman who the text describes as a “sinful woman”. Each and everyone here could probably guess her exact sin. The Pharisees are shocked that this woman would stand in Jesus’ presence. Jesus could have given one of two words to this woman. Jesus could have condemned this woman to hell. Plenty of people had probably used her tongue to do the same thing. Jesus instead chooses to give this sinful woman a different type of word by declaring “Your sins are forgiven”. The crowd that gathered around Jesus was shocked that he would use his tongue in such a bold and counter-cultural fashion. As Jesus words’ reminds us the human tongue has unlimited power for both good and evil.
So the point that James seeks to address about our words is the following: “Do our words forgive or condemn?” “Do our words bring hope or despair?” “Do our words tear down or build up?” Do we in the words of Galatians 6 actually “Bear each other’s burdens?” when we choose to exercise our tongue. Do we use our tongues in the words of Romans 10 “To preach to those who do not believe”? Consider the meaning of the human tongue this morning as it truly is the most powerful part of the human body. Amen
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words”. Lectionarysermons.com. 17.Sept.2000. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words.”
 Markquart, Ed. “James the Tongue: Series B Pentecost 15:James 3:1-12”. Sermons from Seattle.com. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well”. Imprimis Hillsdale College. Volume 25. No 1. Jan.1996. Web. Sept.9.2015
 Teleushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well.”
 Matthew 7:12
 Luke 7:36-50
 Galatians 6:2
 Romans 10:14
First Lesson: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 125
Second Lesson: James 2: 1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 24-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following is a modern retelling of Jesus’ encounter with a Syro- Phoenician woman from Mark 7. The following story takes place in a town such as this one.
I want to tell you the story of a woman named Sarah, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Growing up Sarah’s Dad was an alcoholic on whom she could never count. Sarah’s Mom abandoned the family when Sarah was but four years old. Sarah was left to fend for herself as a child. Sarah didn’t have much exposure to religion growing up; she was occasionally dropped off at Sunday school when Dad was sober enough to drive. Sarah’s life was beginning to unravel by the time that she started to reach confirmation age. Sarah was smoking cigarettes by 11, drinking by 12, smoking weed by 13, and injecting meth by 16. Sarah got pregnant for the first time at 16. Sarah got pregnant again at 18 by a different guy. Sarah finally thought at 20 that she had met the love of her life, only for him to abandon her once the third baby came. Sarah seemed to be imperfect in all aspects of her life. Sarah had a quick temper and had spent nights in jail because of it. Sarah’s work history was checkered. Sarah worked hard, but her lack of education and responsibilities at home never led her to get anything beyond a minimum wage job that she couldn’t hold down for very long. People who didn’t like Sarah claimed that she slept with every guy on the south side of town and that it was a miracle that she had only had three kids. Truth be told that Sarah would have had more children except she scrounged up enough money for a couple of abortions out of her financial desperation. Sarah’s boyfriends had been a series of losers: abusers, users, cheaters and flat-out deadbeats. Sarah had been called a “dog” more than once in her life. Sarah often felt like a stray mutt just drifting through life hoping to hear someone tell her that she had value for something other than her body.
One day Sarah finally snapped. One more guy had failed to come through for Sarah in the end. Sarah thought her life would never escape screaming children and pinching every penny. Sarah had to get away for a morning. Sarah dropped her kids off with a friend. Sarah drove to a part of town where she had never been. Sarah figured that she should do something rather than just drive around. Sarah saw a church that looked like the most beautiful building that she had ever seen. Trinity Church looked like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The parking lot at Trinity Church was filled with SUV’s and luxury sedans. The service seemed to be in progress, but this wasn’t going to stop Sarah from going in. Sarah was the definition of a religious outsider once she stepped into Trinity Church. Sarah prayed occasionally, never got the answers that she wanted. Sarah was a stranger in a strange land, gathering amongst strange people in the hope of answers.
Sarah walks in late, and every eye in the sanctuary turns to Sarah. Sarah was pretty, but she wasn’t their kind of pretty. Sarah’s jeans were torn, her shirt failed to cover her entire stomach, her hair was dyed a cheap, jet black. The people inside Trinity Church looked at Sarah like they would a stray dog that was running down their street. Sarah stood out like a sore thumb amongst the lovely dresses and pressed suits. The people that Sarah saw looked like the most religious people that Sarah had ever seen. Trinity Church’s membership was ideal with engineers, school teachers, nurses, and business owners where as the best-paying job that Sarah ever had been cleaning septic systems. Trinity Church wanted to be a very particular kind of church: they wanted their type of music sung, they wanted their minister to project a certain type of image in the community, they wanted their favorite treats served at coffee hour and they wanted the minister to bless and affirm their comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle. Sarah didn’t fit the image. Sarah was just hoping not to say a cuss by accident during the passing of the peace.
There was one man in the crowd at Trinity Church that day that was a little bit different. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse. Jesse stood out for his long hair and a full beard. Jesse always dressed in Hawaiian shirts plus shorts and sandals. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse though because of the sincerity with which he lived out his convictions. Jesse would give the occasional what people thought was kind of nutty sermon about the kingdom of God, but Jesse practiced what he preached. Jesse was the only one in the building who lived with any sort of conviction.
Jesse notices Sarah standing alone after the service. Jesse goes over to greet Sarah. Sarah snaps at Jesse. Sarah probably wouldn’t have snapped most other days. This Sunday morning though Sarah was in a particularly bad mood as it brought her to church in the first place. Sarah said, “no one here would want anything to do with a person like me.”
These were the people whose kids made fun of Sarah’s children for their ratty clothes. Sarah finally confessed “I know about sin, I’ve done every sin in the book, more than once, I’ve enjoyed them too.” Sarah cried out “If there’s a hell then I’m probably on the top of their waiting list”. Most of the other people steered clear of Sarah at this moment. Jesse would not move from the presence of Sarah.
Sarah then looked at Jesse’s eyes then began blurting out all the problems with her life. Her oldest child was nearly ten years old, and couldn’t read. Her second oldest son was emotionally and behaviorally disturbed and Sarah didn’t know how to take care of him. Sarah’s youngest child was bullied nearly every day at school, by the so-called “good Christians” kids.
Jesse did not answer her initial venting. Jesse could have made a polite excuse to leave Sarah. Jesse probably had what others would deem more important people to talk to on that day. Sarah wasn’t going to bring much money to the church if they ever saw her again. A few of Jesse’s friends tried to come up with an excuse for why Jesse had to leave Sarah’s presence, but Jesse blew them off.
The truth about Sarah is that she was nothing more than an annoyance to the many of the people at Trinity Church. Sarah did not even come close to meeting the definition of prim or proper that many would except within the church crowd.
Finally, Sarah shouted out “I some days feel like I’m lower than a dog.” Jesse did not answer. Sarah began to cry.
Jesse knew he needed to say something “Woman, great is your faith.” Sarah was confused, how could her faith be great. Sarah was a lousy Christian sticking out like a sore thumb among so many good Christians. The Christians at Trinity Church knew their Bible verses and could pray long beautiful prayers. You see Sarah’s faith was great because she did not own it. Sarah’s faith was great because it was sustained by the occasional sunlight of God’s word when she encountered it. Sarah’s faith could not be taken from her, even as the world around her might give her every reason to abandon it.
Jesse said to Sarah “I will pray for your healing.” Sarah was as healthy as a 26-year-old woman who had lived hard like Sarah could be. Sarah didn’t need physical healing. Sarah needed spiritual healing. Sarah needed to know that her sins of being an imperfect parent with a temper were forgiven. Sarah had many things that she needed to be forgiven everything from spending many nights passed out on the floor to guilt of her abortions. Forgiveness of her sins was the healing that Sarah required. Jesse on that day assured Sarah that no matter how defeated that she possibly felt that everything could be alright. Jesse had fully proclaimed the Gospel in Sarah’s presence. Sarah was no dog in the eyes of God.
The thing about Sarah is that she embraced the forgiveness that many of the people within Trinity Church didn’t believe could be for them. Sarah though did believe in the promise of Jesse’s words regarding her own forgiveness.
After the service, Sarah finally went back towards the other side of the tracks. Sarah picked up the kids. Sarah entered the single-wide where they were living. Sarah’s approach was going to be different. Sarah’s life certainly wasn’t going to be easy. Sarah was going to go through it not as an angry sinner but rather as a forgiven being who held out hope for the possibility that someday someone outside this world would call Sarah a saint. Sarah’s life was not going to be the same. Sarah’s life was not going to be what it was before. Life was still going to knock Sarah down, more times than a person could probably count. Sarah was going to be persistently though because she had been assured of God’s promises of grace, hope and resurrection.
God on that day at Trinity Church had said “yes” to Sarah. God had opened up the heavens in Sarah’s presence and declared “you are my child”. The thing about our God is that he’s not afraid of the rough edges that other people might be. When others shout out nasty names, God responds with compassion. Sarah was not a stranger in a strange land when it came to entering into God’s presence. The fact was this wasn’t going to matter when it came to receiving God’s abundant generosity. Sarah was not going to receive merely a crumb of God’s grace as she begged for it. Sarah was going to receive a whole meal.
 Karoline Lewis’s commentary at Working Preacher entitled “God Said Yes to Me”. Web. Aug.30.2015 provided the motivation for this re-telling of Mark 7 tale with Sarah playing the part of the outsider Syrophoenican woman.
 Jesse would be the one voice of grace that Sarah would encounter.
 This is a play on Mark 7:28 where the woman talks about how even dogs receive crumbs from the master’s table
 Matthew 15:28 (Matthew 15 is a different telling of the Mark 7 story)
 The story of Sarah versus the membership of Trinity Church is trying to invoke Jesus’ previous encounter with the Pharisees in Mark 7 on the meaning of defilement.
 Lewis. “God Said Yes to Me.”
 Today’s sermon text was Mark 7:24-30.
First Lesson: Song of Songs 2: 8-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9
Second Lesson: James 1: 17-27
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin this morning by telling a conversion story only it isn’t a typical conversion story. This conversion story centers on roast beef. You see about four years ago, I was small and weak. I weighed less than I did in Middle School which for most people would be a happy thing, only it wasn’t. My energy levels were always dragging, and I was perpetually hungry. I ate everything that I thought I was supposed to eat: lean meats, whole grains, fruits, the occasional vegetable, no soda, and never any dessert. I was scared of having any fat in my diet because of the potential consequences that might come with it. Butter would have been a rare treat reserved for holidays. Then I started reading; I was reading voices that contradicted everything that I had previously thought. So I decided to make a complete 180 in my diet. I adopt a philosophy that I hold to this day that a person can never eat too much fat especially saturated fat in their diet. Some positive things start to happen to me. I start increasing my bench press in the weight room and take this as evidence the diet is working. So maybe a month or so after changing my former ways, I go with a group of Confirmation students to an all-you-could-eat brunch. This brunch would be a dream for me: prime rib, steak, sausage, bacon, butter that I could eat to my heart’s content. The day was glorious! One of the kids that day was named Cookie. Cookie wanted to drink orange juice with his meal. Cookie asked what I thought about drinking orange juice?
Now remember, sometimes the new preachers are the most radical preachers. The Apostle Paul was the most radical preacher of grace because it went against the ways of his former home. So I decided I would be a radical preacher on this day. I told Cookie that orange juice is worse for you than pop because of the fructose sugar content being so high. One of the other chaperons was a Nurse Practitioner who thought I sounded like a nut when I was espousing all this stuff. Why was I so extreme? Recent converts tend to be the most passionate about following their beliefs, but they also tend to occasionally blinded because of the fervor of their perspective. I’ll get back to Cookie and the orange juice in a little bit.
Today, I want to look at one book of the Bible in the Book of James. What should you know about the Book of James is that Martin Luther didn’t like the Book of James. Luther considered James to be the “epistle of straw”. Luther didn’t like the Book of James because he saw it as being in direct contrast to the Book of Romans which he considered the most important book in the New Testament. If Romans was the book of gold then James could be burned away never to be heard from again.
What made James so bad for Luther? Luther kept hearing the famous verse from James over and over again “Faith without works is dead”. Luther had problems with this verse. Luther had struggled for years and years with the meaning of this verse. Luther had spent nights sleeping on concrete floors hoping it would motivate him to do better in his faith. Luther spent years believing that his faith was dead because of all the good that he had failed to do. One night Luther is reading from the Book of Romans when he finally discovers a word of liberation from his previous struggles.
Romans 1:17 “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I want you to think about Luther’s attitude towards the Book of James this way. 1998, I go away to Concordia College in Moorhead. I wasn’t going to have to go to bed at any particular time. I could eat whatever I wanted. No one was going to ask me any questions about “Where I was going?” or “When might I return?” Newfound freedom all sounds great for a little while until you finally come home and are dealing with the same parents that raise you. You quickly get offended if one of your parents dares ask you where you were at 2 AM the previous night. My worst college homecoming behavior was one time getting mad at my sister Anne because one of her friends had the gall to call at 5 in the afternoon when I was taking a nap.
Whenever old ways of life and new ways of life collide there is going to be conflict. In the 1960’s this would have taken place when a child returns home to proclaim to his World War II serving father to say that he is morally opposed to all war. At this point, there is going to be some inevitable conflict.
So back to the Book of James. Paul’s letters make up the majority of the New Testament. Paul’s letters talk about sin, grace, law, Gospel and drive home the heart of the Christian message that “There is nothing you can do to earn salvation because Jesus won salvation for you.” Paul’s writing is all great stuff! I want to preach Paul every Sunday because of it.
The people that heard this in the early church thought it was good stuff! People in the early church had grown up believing as evidenced by today’s gospel lesson that if you don’t wash your hands the proper and holy way, then you’re not a child of God.
So when people began to hear Paul’s message of freedom they began to take it to extremes. The church in Thyatira had all sorts of sexual immorality, the church in Corinth had all kinds of drunkenness and if you read through the Book of Jude you see all kinds of problems of poor behavior that permeated the New Testament church.
To illustrate this concept, let’s reflect on teenage binge drinking. Europe tends to be a lot more lax about laws regarding teenage drinking than the United States. Many European children grow up with the idea where there is little in the way of a fixed drinking age. European children tend to drink quite a bit but in many countries they have half the rate of excess binge drinking that they do in the United States. A study came out a few years ago which described US Teens as among the highest offenders of drug use and binge drinking in the western world even though both are strictly illegal. As the story of Adam and Eve reminds us, there is such a thing as a forbidden fruit effect. So when people in James’ day kept hearing “grace, grace, grace” along with no stern commandments that a Christian need to do. They revealed in their previously forbidden fruits to excess.
Back to when I first went away to college at Concordia. I thought it was great. I could stay up till 2-3 AM and still go to class in the morning. I could eat or drink whatever I wanted with no one to tell me “no”. Moorhead was one of the few places with 24-hour pizza delivery. Total freedom all sounded so good until I realized nearly a decade later how unhealthy all my liberated habits had become. If I have one, major, regret in my life it’s that I wasted so many years of my life trying to get it all together. I wish I had realized the harm in my actions sooner. Many people will probably name similar periods in their life where they failed to understand how their freedom can have unpleasant consequences.
Back to the Book of James. James is a reaction against extremes. The idea that if there is no such thing as law or judgment then the good times can just keep rolling on.
One of the big news stories this week has to do with Ashley Madison.com which is a website that seeks to provide the means and connections for married individuals to carry out affairs. Hackers revealed Ashley Madison had 36 Million registered users. Every zip code in the United States but three had someone that was a member of Ashley Madison. This list gets publicly revealed all sorts of destruction takes place: marriages and families collapse and individuals even take their own lives. The issue with Ashley Madison isn’t that people can’t receive forgiveness. Jesus specifically proclaimed forgiveness to a woman caught in adultery in John 8. The issue rather has to do with social mayhem caused in Ashley Madison’s fall. Now why James was written was that people shouldn’t use God’s grace as an excuse to commit bad behavior. I shouldn’t be a jerk to Bob because God has forgiven even worse jerks than me. The Gospel is not an excuse for selfishness. This is the very attitude that James seeks to address.
What can we say about Luther’s attitude about the Book of James? Luther was an emotional guy and a hothead. Luther also wrote a ton of stuff. Luther was the type of guy who you would probably want to keep off Facebook when he got into a bad mood. Luther’s overall concern was “What is the Gospel?” or “What promotes Christ?” Luther was absolutely correct in his ability to assess the main issues. Luther wasn’t wrong, when he held that James could be abused.
I knew a lady whose named was Catherine. Catherine grew up Presbyterian. Catherine said the minister nearly every Sunday would preach on the Book of James. The Minister was able to use James to point out all the flaws in individual congregation member’s lives. The issue with this minister isn’t whether what he’s saying is true or not (it probably is) Christians will fall short, the issue with obsessing over the Book of James is that it misses the bigger point. Our obsession should be clearly defining the Gospel. We must clearly define God’s rescue from a world racked with sin. Sin always brings brokenness, sin always brings pain, and the Gospel seeks to liberate us from our fall. The idea that James is trying to rebel against is the idea that because of the Gospel that our lives don’t matter. Our actions have the potential to wreck lives beyond our lives of which the Gospel is no justification for defending.
At the same time, we remember the words of Isaiah 64:6 this morning that “All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”-Isaiah 64:6. We will not impress God. The point of James is to protect us against our worst instincts, not to inspire us to reach God’s presence. James isn’t seeking to encourage us to bring more to God’s table. James is rather saying that God’s generosity isn’t an excuse to purposely throw plates on the floor.
I want to admit something this morning. I will admit it to Cookie Price and Nurse Practitioner Julie Kircher. I was wrong about orange juice. While I wouldn’t keep orange juice in the house, it does provide vitamins and minerals that are helpful when consumed in moderation. My second confession is that as much as I enjoy saturated fat bonanzas it is probably of benefit to my digestive system to throw in a salad every once in a while.
The point of the Gospel is that while it can reach the worst of sinners, it doesn’t seek to give sinners permission to commit the most heinous of sins. While converts are always passionate about the liberating new way in which they view the world. The old guard always needs to try to keep converts in check against the worst of our own bad behavior.
 Markquart, Ed. “James, True Religion, and the Real Thing”. Sermons from Seattle. Pentecost 13 B. Web. Aug.25.2015.
 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23.
 Revelation 2:18-29
 1st Corinthians 11:21
 This comes from a 2012 study in The Lancet medical journal found in a Daily Mail Web article published on Apr.25.2012.
 Brewer, Todd. “James, an ‘Epistle of Straw?’ Not So Fast!” Mockingbird (MBIRD). 26.Mar.2015. Web. Aug.24.2015
 McAlone, Nathan. “There were only 3 zip codes without any Ashley Madison accounts. Yahoo Finance. 25.Aug.2015. Web. Aug.26.2015.
First Lesson: 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43
Responsive Reading: Psalm 84
Second Lesson: Ephesians 6: 10-20
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 56-69
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you a story this morning that we will not find in the history books. We know the “twelve disciples” in Andrew, Nathanael, James the Young, James the Old, John, Judas, Matthew, Jude, Peter, Phillip, Simon, and Thomas. What we maybe don’t know is that Jesus started out with way more than twelve disciples. What happened to these “other” disciples? These “lost” disciples one day came across a teaching of Jesus’ so radical that they were not willing to stay with him through thick and thin. I want to tell the story of these former disciples this morning.
You see Jesus wished to call all sorts of “disciples”. A little while back, Jesus called a couple of John the Baptist’s disciples in Andrew and Peter then Jesus went and picked up a couple of Galilean fisherman in Phillip and Nathanael. Jesus kept traveling to different places such as weddings and throughout all of Galilee along the way, Jesus kept making disciples. Jesus had just done something big, and I mean really big! Jesus had left a crowd of 5,000 people in awe as he fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish. The Feeding of the 5,000 would seem to be the event that would expand the ranks of the Disciples ten, no scratch that, a hundred fold, only it didn’t. What actually happened after the Feeding of the 5,000 is our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus started to speak and people didn’t like what he had to say.
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”-John 6:56. The crowd immediately began to grumble as they were easily offended.-John 6:60-62.
You see people complaining about God are like people complaining about the weather or Joe Mauer. It’s the easiest thing that someone can do. Only on this day, Jesus was hearing that he was at the center of the people’s grumbles. The thing is that most people when they hear someone grumbling about them are quick to apologize for fear of offending others.
Jesus would not back down from his initial remarks instead he doubled down on his remarks. Not only was Jesus going to give his flesh to eat, but he was going to ascend to the right-hand of the Father. Jesus was going to give the same flesh to eat that he was soon about to give on a cross.
Why was Jesus offering his flesh so controversial?
You see plenty of people in the crowd that day thought they knew how God should work. The crowd that has previously surrounded Jesus as he fed the 5,000 loved his potential as a new Moses or David a unifying force for the whole nation to rise around. The crowd hoped that the feeding of the 5,000 was going to be the first of many miracles that were about to take place within their presence. They were looking for a messiah that would make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. A messiah that would roundhouse kick the Romans right off the holy ground. A messiah could not suffer, nor die. A messiah was supposed to be an invincible hero, a mixture of Superman, Samson, and Dirty Harry all rolled into one. Manly men like these guys don’t cry nor show weakness, men like these are always victorious. When Jesus started to speak though he didn’t offer the prosperity that they sought, Jesus rather offered suffering and death.
Jesus knew that this was going to be a problem. Jesus knew that as soon as he talked about the command to eat his flesh and drink his blood that many would fall away. Shortly after Jesus’ death, one of the greatest critiques of his followers was that they were nothing more than cannibals. They mocked them for making their worship service a celebration of receiving a dead guy’s body and blood. Jesus’ incessant talk about his flesh and blood was going to make people leave and they did. They marched their feet right out of his presence and vowed never to associate with this “flesh-eater” ever again.
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”- John 6:66
The loss of so many disciples was one of the hardest days of Jesus’ ministry. Many of their closest friends were no longer going to surround Jesus’ remaining disciples. They were going to be twelve lonely men traveling all alone through the wilderness.
One evening Jesus approached the remaining twelve disciples. These men were in need of a pep talk. The remaining disciples were the team that just lost a game 63-0, they were the bride that had been stood up by the groom at the altar, or the father who had just watched his only son go off to war. Jesus knew that he needed to say something to the men that remained.
You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.-John 6:67
No one wished to be the first one to speak. Finally, Peter spoke up. Peter wasn’t a perfect guy by any means. Peter’s eventual denial wouldn’t stop Jesus though from later promising unto Peter that he would be the “rock” upon whom Christ would build his church. Jesus bestowed unto Peter an awesome promise as imperfect a vessel as Peter might be.
Upon being asked if he was getting ready to leave Jesus, Peter cleared his throat and began to speak. I imagine Peter sounding like the fourteen boy trying to muster up the courage to talk a girl for the first time.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”-John 6:68-69
As soon as the others heard Peter’s words they knew that they were a band of brothers who would stick together no matter what foxholes they might be required to crawl into going forward.
Jesus knew that this feeding of the 5,000 was not going to be the last time that he lost one of his disciples. For he knew one of the men who was still present with them, would soon betray him into the hands of the authorities. Jesus was still going to go forth bringing hope and salvation to the world, no matter how bleak the outcome may be. The Disciples were far from perfect men, but they were the kinds of men for whom Jesus was going to die.
The fact that Jesus was going to remain steadfast till the end reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham as he pleaded to save the Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gommorrah from certain destruction.
The Lord answered “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy them.” For the sake of one man, Christ Jesus would lose his life. Reminding us once again that God’s mercy will always be greater than any individual’s sin.
The story I told is the tale of the twelve lonely men known as Jesus’ remaining “disciples”. Their story does raise an interesting question for us this morning regarding what exactly happened to the former disciples? Were these men saved, only to at one point in time lose their salvation?
This morning is the fifth and final sermon in our Bread of Life discourse from John 6. This morning we consider the radical meaning of Communion. Communion is so radical that many of Jesus’ previous disciples abandoned him.
The men that abandoned Jesus had good reasons for doing so. These men knew the Old Testament well.
Genesis 9:4 “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
Deuteronomy 15:23 “But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.”
These men who abandoned Jesus were pious, religious men. Their story reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel. Abel was the good brother, the generous brother, and the holy brother. Abel was probably considered by Papa Adam and Mama Eve to be the better brother. Cain had heard his whole life “Why aren’t you more like your brother Abel”. So Cain finally snaps in a field one day. Cain kills Abel. We think we should know God’s response, only we don’t. God decided to put a mark of protection on Cain no matter how wicked his previous sins have been. God promised to walk alongside Cain no matter what other people thought God should do.
So what happened to the men that fell away as disciples? The issue with them isn’t that they betrayed or even abandoned Jesus. Each and every one of us leaves Jesus during our lives. We call this sin. The problem with the former disciples that left Jesus is that in the midst of their sin that they did not believe that God’s grace was big enough to save them.
Many people wonder whether one could lose their salvation. What if they commit an especially bad sin? The thing though about the Jesus claiming to be the “bread of life” is that it speaks to people who have their anxieties and doubts as they entertain the biggest questions of the Christian faith. Jesus in giving his supper seeks to assure people that their faith has made them well, regardless of their own self-examination.
The issue with the Lord’s Supper isn’t whether it is possible to fall away from the Christian faith. The issue with the Lord’s Supper is that it is given to us to let us know that we shall perverse no matter how nasty the conditions surrounding us shall be.
The words of 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These words begin to ring true when we consider thinking that it is our heavenly supper that sustains our faith in the darkest and most isolated of times.
“But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,”-1st Corinthians 1:23
The thing about the Lord’s Supper is that it doesn’t matter whether it makes one lick of sense to us. We hear “flesh” “blood” “body” and we don’t want to begin to even attempt to sort it out. The thing about the truths of the Gospel is they probably won’t make sense to us. God’s promises are not conditional, but rather they are unconditional. The way that God truly does work as in the story of Cain and Abel is difficult for many of us to grasp. The thing about the Disciples who did stick around is they probably knew there was no one else to turn. The music chairs game that they were playing had seen every chair filled up. The remaining disciples had no other answers up to this point in their life. So they stayed with Jesus for the reasons that Peter says:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”- Amen
 John 1:35-42
 John 1:43-51
 John 2:1-12
 John 4:46-54, John 5:1-18 along with the previously mentioned Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) are the previous major signs in John’s Gospel.
 John 6:1-15
 John 6:56-69
 John 6:62
 Hylen, Susan.“Commentary on John 6:56-69”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 23 Aug.2015. Web. Aug.17.2009
 Peterson, Brian. “Commentary on John 6:56-69”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 23 Aug.2009. Web. Aug.17.2009
 Genesis 18:16-33
 Genesis 18:32b
 Background on the “lost disciples” given by Markquart, Edward. “Series B Gospel Analysis: John 6:56-69”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.17.2015.
 Genesis 4:1-16
 Genesis 4:15
 John 6:68
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.