Monday, February 27, 2012

God Will Provide the Lamb

1st Sunday of Lent, February 26, Year of Our + Lord 2012                                     
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
God Will Provide the Lamb

            God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham prepares to do it.  Abraham saddles up the donkey, splits the wood, and heads to Mount Moriah, going to sacrifice he and Sarah’s one and only son, to kill him and burn his body, because God tells him to do so.  It’s shocking, the very idea that you would be able and willing to kill your son at God's command is frightening, beyond our comprehension.   

            At times we do have to subject our children to danger and pain, for their own good.  This is hard enough.  We may send them into surgery, to be given drugs and knocked out so that a surgeon can cut them, sending them without a guarantee of success, because we know some illness or problem they have will only get worse without treatment.  But it’s not easy.  Good parents hate nothing more than subjecting their children to pain, even when it's the right thing to do. 

            And so Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac is hard, almost impossible to imagine.  We know, on this side of the story, that God did not allow Abraham to kill Isaac.  But Abraham didn't know this when he set out on the three day journey.  Abraham didn't know this as he split the wood for the fire, as he tied the wood on Isaac's back, as he took the knife in hand.  God had been speaking directly to Abraham for many years by this time, giving him specific instructions for his life, which had always worked out.  So Abraham believed God really wanted him to sacrifice Isaac.

            Isaac could see that something was strange.  "Father," Isaac said, "we have the wood and fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?"  "Dad, are you sure about this?"   

     “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."  Isaac trusted Abraham, and Abraham trusted God.  God had made great promises to Abraham, including the promise of a son with Sarah, a son through whom God would make a great nation.  A son through whose descendents God would bring a blessing for all nations, the Savior of the world.  Against all human reason, Abraham and Sarah had that son, when they were very old, as good as dead.  That son was Isaac.  God was faithful.  Abraham trusted in God's Word, for it had always come true.  Abraham believed sacrificing Isaac would turn out for good, because God, the source of every good, had told him to do it. 

            So now, despite the fact there was no way to make sense of killing Isaac, Abraham believes and obeys.  He prepares to kill his one and only son, the son through whom God had said a great nation would come.  The author of Hebrews teaches us that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead, because he knew that the promises God had made about Isaac had to come true.  Whatever was going through Abraham's mind at that moment, he takes the knife in hand and prepares to sacrifice Isaac. 

            But God never intended that Abraham should sacrifice Isaac, that would have been pointless.  The Angel of the Lord calls from heaven and stops Abraham's hand.  The Lord did intend to test Abraham, and through testing to strengthen and deepen his faith, and Isaac's, and yours.  But there is no value in the death of a sinner, there is no redeeming purpose for sacrificing Isaac.  Abraham may not have really understood how, but he was right, "God would provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” 

 In this our Old Testament story reveals the outline of God's ultimate plan of salvation.  A father delivers his one and only son to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah, the same place where Jerusalem would one day be built.  (2 Chronicles 3:1)   The wood upon which the sacrifice is to be made is tied on the back of the son who would be sacrificed.  He carries his own wooden place of death up the hill.  Despite the pain and heartbreak, the father prepares to sacrifice his beloved son. 

            This, however, is where the comparison ends, for Isaac cannot be the sacrifice.  God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner (Ezekiel 18:23),  because the death of a sinner is simply justice.  And Abraham understood our plight before the justice of God.  Abraham's faithfulness did not spring from his own goodness, for Abraham too, and Sarah, doubted and sinned and turned away.  Earlier in his life, Abraham gave Sarah to Pharaoh as a wife, lying, saying that she was his sister, in order to save his own skin.  Only the intervention of God prevented Abraham's betrayal from being fulfilled.  Sarah laughed at the promises of God, and then lied to the LORD’s face, claiming she hadn't laughed.  Isaac's name means "He Laughs," a reminder of God's faithfulness in the face of Sarah's unfaithfulness. 

            God himself must provide the Lamb.  God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner, for sinners like you and me cannot atone for our own sins, let alone the sins of others.  Like Abraham and Sarah, you and I doubt, and betray and lie to God. 

            When God places a clear choice before you, when in your life you are called to follow God's instructions, but doing so appears to mean trouble and sacrifice for you, what do you do?  Say you've made a big mistake, and you must choose between admitting to your error or covering it up.  Do you  admit your sin and face the consequences, or do you hide your sin and work on your alibi? 

            Or maybe you have the chance to make a quick buck, but someone else will be hurt by it.  Do you turn from evil, or do you serve yourself?  When you are in the middle of the struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong, do you take the steps necessary to complete God's will, trusting in His promises, even though choosing to God's way may cost you?  Or do you put things off, hoping that circumstances will provide you an out, that you can avoid the tough decision, or at least hide your failure under a cover of self-justification?  What do you do?  We are so often unwilling to make even the small sacrifices that God asks of us.  When things look tough, we are unable to generate the faith that trusts God will provide. 

            God himself must provide the faith, and so He provides the Lamb.  The faith of Abraham in our story today is great.  God gave him an incredible measure of His Spirit.  But Abraham's faith is not great enough to save the world.  And Isaac is not a fitting sacrifice, he cannot be God's Lamb, we can find no good news for our problem in either Abraham or Isaac.  To find Good News in this story, look to the ram caught in the bush, the lamb that God provided in Isaac's place.  Like all the sheep and goats one day to be sacrificed in the Tabernacle and Temple by Abraham's descendents, this ram is a figure of Christ, the foreshadowing of the Innocent One.  This innocent animal represents the sacrifice of the Jesus, the once for all sacrifice of Christ for you and me. 

             "The Lord Will Provide" became the name of that mountain.  What Abraham prophesied, the promise he looked forward to, has now come true.  The Lord has provided, on that same mountain, Mount Moriah, the place where Jerusalem was built.  The sacrifice that is beyond human comprehension is complete, God has made the sacrifice himself.  God the Father sent His Only Begotten Son.  Jesus came, willingly, ignoring the shame, enduring the pain.  As the ram’s head was caught in the bush, Jesus’ head is crowned in thorns.  As Isaac obediently carried the wood for his sacrifice on his own back Jesus, for the joy of having you for His very own, carries the wood of His sacrifice up the same hill.  The Lamb of God lifts the cross and climbs up Golgotha, to take away the sins of the world.  The Lord has provided. 

            The Source of the faith of Abraham is revealed.  The Promise that brings the Holy Spirit is fulfilled.  To give you the faith of Abraham, God calls you to  look where he looked.  Look to Jesus, the Descendent of Isaac, and also the Son of God, the Promised One, willingly sacrificing Himself for us.  This promise is what created Abraham's faith.  This promise fulfilled in Jesus is the source and object of Christian faith.  Look with the eyes of Abraham, look to Jesus, believe in His sacrifice.

            Believe, and you will live differently.  Faith alone saves; our works do nothing to earn us God's favor.  Jesus has done it all.  Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone.  The Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart, in order that He can make your heart His dwelling place.  God lives in you, the Baptized are clothed with Christ.  (Galatians 3:27)  And so now faith, never alone, leads to good works, because God is at work in you.  Faith leads to sacrifices of thanksgiving.  God will never ask you to sacrifice your child or anyone or anything else to atone for sin, because Jesus' sacrifice for sin is perfect and complete.  But God does call you to turn from your sin, and do good works.  Day by day, you and I, baptized into Christ, are called to flee from sin, to battle against ourselves, the world and Satan, to struggle with God, to struggle with God for good, and live differently, to love God and serve our neighbor. 

            But never imagine that God is waiting on your to conquer your sin before He will accept you.  No, you are free to strive to conquer sin only because God has already accepted you, in Jesus, who conquered sin for you.  When you succeed in turning from sin, know that this is by the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you.  When you fail, that same Spirit convicts you of your sin, in order to bring you back, to give you repentance, so you again beg for mercy in the Name of Jesus. 

            And God will meet your repentance with mercy, with forgiveness, every time.  For in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God the Father's only begotten Son, your acceptance is complete, you need not fear failure.   For, as Paul says, if God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?
            Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?... neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Lord has provided the Lamb.  Look to Him always.   Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How Much Will We Charge for a Baptism?

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, February 12, A+D 2012
Trinity and St John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
2nd Kings 5

How much will we charge for a Baptism? 
     This past week I was blessed to have two different conversations with people seeking to be baptized, making this past week a very good one.  We have celebrated a number of Baptisms in the past, and Lord willing we will celebrate many new ones in the coming months.  Today, after hearing our Old Testament reading, and considering what God gives in and through the washing of Water with the Word,(Eph 5:26) it seems reasonable to consider the question:  How much will we charge for a Baptism?   

     Just because we’ve never done it before doesn’t automatically mean it’s a crazy question.  And there are several ways we might determine the proper amount to charge for baptizing people.  One way is to consider what it’s worth.  What is the value of Christian Baptism?  Man, if we could somehow manage to charge an amount for baptizing that even partially reflected it’s true value, we’d be rolling in cash.  What a great way to pay the light and the heat bill, and the other costs of being a congregation, to somehow get people to pay even a fraction of what Baptism is worth.  Because Baptism is priceless, beyond compare.  For, as Paul says, those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ, (Gal 3:27), they are clothed in God.  And when people, especially people of means,  understand something to be of great worth, they’ll pay whatever they can, whatever it takes. 

     Just like Naaman.  As this Syrian general, the subject of our Old Testament reading, prepares to go meet the Israelite prophet, who, according to the little Israelite slave girl, can cure Naaman of his disease, he is ready to pay a king’s ransom, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothes, all to pay for the privilege of receiving the promised healing from the prophet in Samaria.  In our day of cheap and high quality machine made textiles, including ten changes of clothes in with the gold and silver may seem strange.  But we can all grasp that ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold sounds like a lot.  And it was.  Translating the value of Biblical fortunes to modern American dollars is always tricky, but Naaman brings a fortune, more riches perhaps than any one of us will ever own.   

     Now, it’s true, Naaman does not go to Israel seeking Christian Baptism, mostly since Christian Baptism would not be instituted for another 800 years or so.  And, Naaman doesn’t even know he’s going for any kind of washing at all.  But he was seeking to be healed, and that healing came in a baptism, that is, in a washing with water, which is the simple meaning of the word ‘baptism.’  And the washing that Naaman would receive would be in the Jordan River, the boundary between the wilderness and the Promised Land, the river where John the Lutheran, I mean John the Baptist, did his baptizing, the river where Jesus Christ Himself would come to be baptized. 

     So no, Naaman did not receive Christian Baptism, but he did receive a baptism, a washing in water, that was given for healing, based in the authority of the Word of God’s prophet, an Old Testament baptism rich in connections to the New Testament Sacrament of Holy Baptism. 

      But wait, there’s more!  If you read on in 2nd Kings chapter 5, you’ll discover Naaman’s washing in the Jordan, which resulted in the physical healing of his leprosy, also caused Naaman to believe in the True God, the God of Israel, the God who is ultimately revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  And so Naaman’s washing was an awful lot like Christian Baptism, even though it preceded it by 8 centuries. 

     So, given the riches Naaman offered for his precursor to Baptism, how much will we charge for a Baptism?  Well, we could try to charge a fortune for a Christian Baptism, but I doubt we’ll get it.  Not everyone is as wealthy as Naaman.  And not everyone feels their disease as acutely as he did.  Despite the depressing depth and breadth of our sin, (Gen. 8:21, Psalm 51, Isaiah 51:6, Romans 3:9-20), despite the promise that Baptism washes away our sins, (Acts 22:16), despite God’s promise that Baptism saves you from eternal separation from God, (1 Peter 3:18-22), regardless of all we know that God’s Word says about it, I doubt very much that we will ever get people to give us most, or even a significant portion of their wealth, in order to be baptized. 

     A better question to ask might be, “What will people pay?”  That is, after all, how prices are set in the marketplace.  Can I speak in terms of the marketplace?  Well, if, just for the sake of argument, I dare to use the language of the marketplace, then, in the “marketplace of religions,” what is the demand for Christian Baptism?  Well, while we had a good week last week, in general, the demand for Christian Baptism isn’t that high these days.  Now, many babies are still baptized, which is good.  But given the depressing frequency of baptized children not being raised in the Church, it isn’t clear that people truly value Baptism, or even understand it.  Before I leave the terminology of the marketplace behind, perhaps forever, let me say I suspect that trying to get top dollar for a Baptism would drive a lot of people out of the “market.” 

     The world has always tended to degrade the value of Baptism, and today everything associated with Christianity is subject to devaluation.  You and your Church’s hospital or school don’t want to pay for ‘morning after’ or ‘Plan B’ pills, that is, you don’t want to be forced to pay for chemical abortions?  Too bad, the Department of Health and Human Services says you must, religious convictions be damned.  If the world doesn’t value something as easily understood as a Christian’s opposition to ending the lives of the unborn, how can we expect the world to understand the value of something as mysterious as Baptism?     
     And concerning the understood value of Christian Baptism, we must admit that we the Baptized don’t help much.  Do you value your Baptism?  Very few of us ever miss an opportunity to recognize and either celebrate or mourn the anniversary of our physical birth.  What  about your Re-Birth?  (John 3:1-17)  Do you know your Baptismal birthday?  More to the point, do you rely daily on the incredible value of being one of the Baptized, a sinner adopted by God the Father, given the Holy Spirit, joined to Jesus Christ?  (Galatians 3:26 – 4:6, Colossians 2:9-14)  Do we follow up on the commitments we make as parents and sponsors and pastor to the babies we baptize?  Are we doing all we can to see them raised in the Church, teaching them toward a good confession of the faith into which they are baptized, that they might take the seat at His Table which the Lord has prepared, to feed them with His Body and Blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins? 

     These are hard questions, because they are all about the life that should flow from Baptism, the life of faith and works that God desires in His people.  And every time we stop to take stock of how well we are doing in our Christian walk, we always have to admit we are falling short.  But don’t despair.  Remember the good news:  Baptism is for sinners.  Only for sinners.  And always for sinners.  It is not too late for you and I to learn again of God’s promises delivered in Baptism, not too late for us to rededicate ourselves in joy to the life of good works that is God’s plan for the baptized, not too late for us to celebrate and rest in the power of Christ’s Baptism.  This joyous life of forgiveness and new beginnings God offers to you and to me daily, because we are the baptized. This is the life that God began in you, in your Baptism. 

     Even though it seems so weak.  Baptism isn’t outwardly impressive.  Kind of like the Jordan River, which Naaman thought was a poor candidate to be used as a leprosy cure.  Are not the Abana and the Pharpar, the clear, cold mountain streams of Damascus, better than the muddy Jordan?  For fishing, probably.  But God promised through Elisha to use the Jordan River to cure Naaman’s leprosy.  And today God says, “Use any water you wish, as long as you join it to my Words of Institution, and I will make it a Baptism, that is, a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”  (Titus 3) 

     Baptism brought you here today.  As we began today’s service in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Baptismal formula, we were reminded that this is a gathering of the Baptized.  And even if you are not yet baptized, God brought you hear today to hear the promises He has made to you in Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, promises which He delivers to you, into which He seals you, by Holy Baptism.   

How much will we charge for a Baptism? 
     One could argue that we might charge a great deal, or at least as much as we can get, for Baptism.  But in the end, the proprietor sets the price for an item, and we are not the proprietor.  Oh yes, I baptize people, as a regular part of my vocation as Christian pastor.  And oh yes, any Christian, including you, should in an emergency also baptize, if there’s not time to do it in a regular gathering of the Church.  Baptizing isn’t hard.  Get some water.  If you want, say the Lord’s Prayer, read some Scripture, but in the end, just apply water to the candidate’s head, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. When confessing Christians do this, God promises it is a Baptism, a life giving water, in which you were sealed with the Holy Spirit. (2 Cor 2:21-22)  This is what He has sent His Church to do, for all the nations, for you, and your children, for all whom the Lord will call to Himself. (Matthew 28:16 – 20, Acts 2:36-41)   And so, we are reminded that we are not the proprietor of Baptism, God is.  And as the proprietor, God sets the price for Baptism. 

     Which is far too high for you or me to pay.  The price of Christian Baptism was the life of Jesus.  For the power of Baptism flows from the Cross of Jesus.  In order for your Baptism to have the power to wash away sins, and bind you to God, to give you a new heart and a new future, in order for Holy Baptism to be as valuable as the Bible says it is, Someone had to pay for the sins of the whole world.  Someone had to accept the full punishment, and so rob Satan of his power to accuse sinners.  And Someone has,  Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who entered into His own creation to be born of Mary, and was sought out by the masses for teaching and miracles, but then abandoned by the crowds, and by His friends, when He submitted to evil, to false arrest, a sham trial, and crucifixion.  And so, Christ alone has given Baptism its power by submitting to the Baptism by Divine Fire that was HisCross.  (Luke 12:49-50) 

     And now, in a miracle of grace, God gives away this most precious gift.  For free!  No good works required, no suffering needed, there is nothing left to pay, Jesus has paid, once, for all.  God by the resurrection of Jesus has declared peace with sinners, peace found in and through Christ.  To declare this free gift to anyone who will listen is the privilege of the Church.  To deliver this miracle is the highest honor we forgiven sinners could receive, to freely give to others the gift of forgiveness that we have freely received, and so to share joyfully in God’s ongoing work of salvation.  We will of course charge nothing for a Baptism, and rejoice! 

     Maybe we should be careful who we tell.  What if people find out?  What if we are overrun with sinners seeking the same forgiveness that we have, and that we continue to receive, forgiveness that makes us rich in God’s love?  I guess we can risk it.  We have plenty of water, and God is still speaking His Word. 

     The Lord grant that we rejoice in our Baptism, and that He use our joy to draw others to the Water and the Word, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Raising Us Up

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 5, A+D 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Isaiah 40:21-31. Mark 1:29-39

I was going to take the week off.  Not a vacation, I was going to use an old sermon, and take the week off from studying the texts and writing a sermon.  As I usually do on Sunday evening, or, in this case, last Monday morning, I read through today’s texts, and I knew right away that I didn’t want to touch the Old Testament reading from Isaiah.  Texts like this one, that declare the all powerful, all knowing, all in control nature of the LORD are good news, but not easy news to preach about, especially when things are rough, when days are dark. 

Even harder to deal with in difficult times can be wonderful promises, like the one that concludes our Isaiah passage: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.  Good words, but hard to take these days when we don’t seem to see many rising eagles.  

I didn’t feel like tackling such a difficult topic.  My pessimism carried over as I read the Epistle and Gospel, and so my next step was to look at past sermons.  There I thought I found my relief, my salvation from having to wrestle with God’s Word this week, in a six year old sermon.  It didn’t stink.  It was actually kind of nice, and short, faithful, I thought, and not too heavy, with even a couple of gentle mother-in-law jokes thrown in.  I’ll use that, I thought, and so I was done.  A week of relief from wrestling with God’s Word in the midst of the ongoing sadness that still covers our community.  Nobody will remember a sermon from six years ago; I’m home free.

God, however, had other plans.  First a good friend called me, to see how I was doing, how I was holding up trying to serve the family of Sherry Arnold and our congregations.  I didn’t want to talk about it, and so I put him off with some empty phrases:  “I’m doing o.k., thanks for your concern, blah, blah, blah.”   I lied.  Then, while trying to change the subject, or get off the phone, I wandered into our laundry room at the parsonage, and saw this card.  The Hardin girls basketball team presented one of these to all the girls on the Sidney team at a recent game, the 3rd or 4th home game in a row where very caring and kind words and deeds were shared by our rivals, just before the team introductions, beautiful expressions of concern and solidarity, which for me were becoming increasingly hard to watch.

I’m tired of thinking about it, of pondering questions without answers, of feeling sad.  I’m probably no more tired of it than many of you, certainly not nearly as weary and burdened as Ron and Sharon, as Gary, as Holly and Jason and Rhonda.  They cannot escape the struggle.  Our community cannot escape our altered, damaged new reality.  We have a long way to go, and the family will not be completely free from this sadness until they meet Sherry in heaven.  The kind acts of all those girls basketball teams were at the same time sad reminders of our reality, and I, however selfish this might be, was tired of it. 

So, while putting off my friend’s concerns and wandering into the laundry room to look for my hoodie, I saw on the dryer this card from the Hardin girls.  As I said goodbye to my friend, I remembered Shelee telling me:  “You should take a look at that card.”   Well fine, I thought.  I’ve escaped my friend’s concerned questions.  I’ve found an acceptable sermon so I can avoid God’s Word this week.  I might as well take a look at this card so I can be done with it, too.  And what should I find on the back, along with promises of prayer and kind words signed by all the Hardin girls?  This verse:  They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 
I broke down.  I  had wanted to avoid it.  I had wanted to avoid tears and sad thoughts and everything else, but through the readings assigned by our lectionary, words that that also ended up on the back of this card, God made it quite clear that running away from this reality is not an option, not last Monday, not this week, not this Sunday.  I might as well face it, and so you, called here today to listen to me preach, are going to have to face it as well.  Lord have mercy on us all. 

Our passage from Isaiah chapter 40 starts out with a declaration of the greatness, the otherness, the majesty and inescapable power of the LORD God, portrayed in somewhat sarcastic contrast to the grasshopper like stature of mankind.  God is great, and we are tiny.  He is the Creator, the Ruler, He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Then Isaiah goes on to the promises:  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

These words, I think, puts us in a very tough spot.  On the one hand, we hear of God’s character and nature, all powerful, all knowing, and all concerned for His faithful people, promising to give strength to the weak and the faint, to lift them up on eagles’ wings.  On the other hand a great evil has been done in our midst.  A beloved sister has been struck down.  We are weak and faint, and it is hard to see how we can be lifted up.  We are tempted to give in to our anger.  We are tempted to doubt God’s promises, or to doubt that we are truly His people.  For if God really loves us, why would this happen?      

And of course, it’s not just the crime committed against Sherry.  There’s more evil, there’s always more evil than we know.  We are all affected by the current crisis, which is at the same time very public and very personal, even for people who barely knew her.  But this is by no means the only thing that knocks us down and leaves us angry, hurt or doubting.  But most of the time we hide our problems, so we do not know the evils with which our neighbors struggle.  I don’t know yours, and you don’t know mine, because we’re afraid to make them public, afraid they will only grow more powerful if we reveal them to others, afraid to let anyone know the source of our problems, which might be random, or might be a loved one who treats us badly in private, or the source of our evil might be ourselves.  We are ashamed to speak of our evils, so we struggle in silence, hiding our problems, and looking the other way when the struggles of our neighbors start to show through, rarely risking to ask a real question, all too ready to be put off by a polite lie.  How are you?  Oh, I’m fine.  Good to hear.  Have a nice day.  Blah, blah, blah.  We lie.      

So God is God, but all too often we are hurt, angry, sad, and full of doubt.  But today, according to Isaiah, I’m supposed to tell you to wait for the Lord, and He will renew your strength, and you will rise up on wings like eagles. 

How can I say that?  How can we believe that?  To be sure, believing in the greatness and goodness of God, and speaking of His promised deliverance, these are the most basic tasks of the faithful.  But so often, and perhaps especially today, it is not within us even to do these simple things.  Kind of like Peter’s mother-in-law.  Peter was bringing Jesus the miracle worker, the new Prophet, to her house, and she couldn’t do the simple task of serving them some food and hospitality.  She was sick in bed with a fever, and, if she wasn’t out of her mind from the fever, probably also sick with regret that she couldn’t do the simplest tasks of a hostess.   So Jesus comes to help her.  He is apparently concerned for her regular, run of the mill illness, a fever, just like He is concerned with what seem like the much greater problems of others, like the demon-possessed, the crippled, the dying.  Jesus goes to Peter’s mother-in-law, and with a touch, and a word, he lifts her up. 

Jesus by His concern for all kinds of problems helps us know this: the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the grave illnesses of the people carried to Jesus, and the frightening demon-possession of others are all connected, and they are all a concern for Jesus, because they are all connected to the same great evil, the evil which prevents us from doing the simplest things right.  

All of the maladies described in our Gospel, and all of the struggles that you face, from Sherry’s abduction to the silent evils that oppress you, to the sins within you that you cannot escape, these all flow from the same evil brought into our world by Satan.  The problem is simple to describe, but impossible for us to solve, or even fully understand.  And so, when we are really struggling with evil, the Lord’s words through Isaiah, about how great He is and how He will strengthen His own, these promises can seem very troubling.  Where is this Almighty Lord?  When will He lift me up? 

Jesus is the Lord, coming to lift up the weak and the weary as on the wings of an eagle, to lift up sinners by  the wings of a cross.  The coming of Jesus drew out all kinds of evil, from demons to fevers to death, evil forced to show its ugly face when the Lord Jesus arrived, for He had come to deal with evil, once and for all. 

When we come face to face with evil, whether publicly or privately, whether evil in the world or evil in ourselves and people we love, we cannot avoid the question of why.  Why does a loving God allow evil to exist?  And why does evil still happen to Christians?  And why does evil still exist in God’s people,  who trust in the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  How do we reconcile an all powerful and loving God with the ongoing reality of evil and suffering? 

We cannot.  We cannot reconcile these things.  But God has.  God has not in His wisdom given us explanations to every question we can think of.  Instead, God has given us the Savior, who came not to give explanations for sin and evil, but rather He came to face sin and evil, and destroy their power.  Every punishment deserved by every human sin has been suffered, by Jesus Christ crucified.  Every sinner has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, which covers all sin.  Every doubt in our hearts is removed when God gives us faith to know that Jesus died to save me from my sin. 

And He has.  Crucified, dead, and risen from the dead, Jesus Christ is our answer, our salvation, the only Savior.   

And now, God sends forth His preachers, God sends forth His people, to speak this message of the Cross.  To the world, it is offensive foolishness.  To those who deny God, Christ crucified is foolishness.  To those who cling to the idea that somehow weak, weary, fainting people like us can still work our own way to God, to them the Cross of Christ is an offense, an insult, for it says Jesus had to do it all, we had nothing to offer that met God’s standard.  But to those who believe, to those who have glimpsed the power of evil, but who have also seen God in the face of Christ crucified, the message of the Cross is the very power and wisdom of God. 

And so we go on, daring to wrestle with God’s Word, daring to proclaim the foolishness of the Cross, daring to preach Christ for you, the gift of forgiveness, the promise of glory, the end of evil, and the hope of every nation. 

With a touch, with a word, Jesus lifts us up.  From the wings of His Cross, His arms stretched out to all the world, Jesus pours out forgiveness and peace and new life, for you.  By the power of the Spirit, God’s church continues to speak this Word of the Cross to people beset by evil, that they might be set free.  This He did for Sherry.  This He does for you.  Your suffering is not without meaning, for Christ is with you in your suffering, to give you peace.  And also joy.  Though we have tears, there is also joy for all whom the Lord rescues from sin, joy which we find in gathering together as Christians, joy which we share with our family and friends, joy found in serving a neighbor because Jesus has served us, joy in knowing that evil is defeated, and life goes on, in Christ Jesus, forever and ever, Amen.