Monday, July 29, 2013

Good Food

Seventh Sunday after Trinity, July 14th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Good Food – Genesis 2:7 – 17, Romans 6:19 - 23, Mark 8:1 - 9

     Good Food.  What comes to mind when I say, “Good Food?”  How about a yellowy-pink, just perfectly ripe peach, momentarily firm to your bite, then juicy, sweet flesh melting into your mouth, the dribble running down your chin caught with your finger or your tongue, because every taste is to be cherished. 
     How about a cool, crisp apple, just picked, crunchy and sweet in the fall morning coolness, a noisy delight that pleases your taste and cleans your teeth and promises good health? 
     Or fresh, warm bread, steaming just a little, maybe dinner rolls pulled apart to reveal the delicious, satisfying, happy interior, full of flavor and goodness?  Good Food.   
     The man, made alive by the very breath of God, was given to eat freely from the fruit of the trees of the Garden, every tree except one tree, free to take and eat, and be satisfied, he and his bride, eating Good Food for life, even free to eat the Good Food of Life, the fruit of the Tree of Life.  In those moments of biting into wonderful food, I think we taste just a hint of just how great they had it, of just how good God is, how much He wants to bless us, providing for our daily bread Good Food that gives pure joy. 

     God still desires to bless us with pure joy.  But finding and enjoying Good Food is more complicated, isn’t it?  When it comes to us, we love the sweetness, the crisp crunch, the warm wholesomeness.  But our food is not always so good.  Having tasted some good, we are by that pleasure set up for a small reliving of the Fall, tasted in the disappointment of a dry, pithy peach, good looking on the outside, but upon biting found to be displeasing, almost making us choke as we bite into the coarse, gritty, ruined flesh.  Or the apple with hidden bruises, turned to mush, rotten to the core.  Worst of all of course is biting into an apple and finding only half a worm.  Bread can be wonderful, or it can be stone-hard, or full of fungus, covered in mold, unfit to eat. 

     We know and long for the fresh, delicious and good, but we also know the dry, rotten and ruined.  And not just in our food, also in ourselves.  We know about hunger, a little.  More common for 21st century Americans is when disease or emotional trauma robs you of your appetite, the cancer or the depression turning your body’s signals against you, so that everything is tasteless, inedible.  We know thirst, and we know dry mouth that doesn’t go away even though you drink gallons, and spend half your day in the bathroom.  And there’s the thirst for alcohol that all too often takes over, a thirst you know is killing you, and yet you still long for that drink.  

     We also know fear puts knots in our stomach, driving out physical hunger.  We know physical fear, of violent men, or of heights, or of a thousand other threats, real and perceived.  We know the fear of being found out, the fear of being shamed, exposed, ridiculed.  We know fear for ourselves, and fear for others, because life is fleeting, and fragile, and our fragility frightens us, because we know something about death.  Just this past Monday, Adam Schreibeis, 28 year old son of Pastor and Jo Schreibeis at Trinity Lutheran in Miles City suddenly fell ill and died, victim of a defect, a blood disease he was born with, but never knew about, until it ended his life.  And we in Richland County are reeling from the death on Wednesday of a young woman, Janae Moore, whom many of you watched play basketball for the Lady Eagles, Janae, with whom my daughter played. 

     Indeed, because she loved playing so much, Janae would even come out early in the morning to play basketball with a bunch of old men, a joyful athlete with whom I also played basketball, just a couple Tuesdays ago.  One day, one moment, full of energy and talent and potential, the next, gone.  Adam.  Janae.  And a list of other lives cut short, a list too long for one sermon, the bread of tears all around. 

     And our daily bread of tears is even broader and deeper, is it not?  Even when our fridge is full and our lives are outside the shadow of death, still, we know. Every part of our life is tainted, prone to decay and bitterness.  
     Like Work.  Sometimes work is great, and we rejoice in our vocation.  But sometimes work is monotonous, filled with strife, slowly taking our life from us, 40 or 50 or 70 hours a week. 
     Or Family.  We love our family most of all, and suffer most of all from their sins against us, suffering the most at the hand of those we love, unless we suffer even more from our own guilt for all the wrong we do to them. 
     Marriage.  The one-flesh union of man and wife, created by God to be our closest relationship on earth, also offers the well from which we draw the deepest hurts. 
     Guilt and Shame.  Our personal failures, those known to all, and even worse, those we alone know, and can’t tell anyone.
     Our stomachs churn, not often from physical hunger, but certainly when any of the gifts from the Garden turn moldy and rotten.  And so we hunger for Good Food, for life, real, good life, like God made it.  We think we see it.  We can almost taste it, but cannot not hold onto it.  We hunger for life, for the breath of God, without which, we slowly die.  It all traces back to a piece of fruit, the one that Adam was told, thou shalt not eat.  Adam sinned, for he ate.  The woman, his wife, was deceived, and even though he wasn’t created to be a follower, she led Adam to sin, to take and eat, and so to receive hunger, decay, sadness, and death.  For the wages of sin, as God so clearly told him, is death. 

     Jesus knew you would be starving for life, for Good Food.  Indeed, He started His ministry with hunger, a hunger strike if you will, fasting in the wilderness forty days after His Baptism, fasting and  hungering to strike back at the serpent, to show that One Man would refuse temptation, fasting to join you in your hunger, which He had come to relieve.  Jesus knew you would be starving for Good Food, and so He breathed out on the crowds, speaking and teaching and having compassion.  Jesus breathed, because that’s how we human beings speak, breathing out over our vocal chords. 

     And so Jesus, God in the flesh, breathed out, speaking words of peace, speaking of the Bread of Heaven.  Breathing out, Jesus said:   “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”  And he asked the 12, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.”  … And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.   And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.  And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

     Jesus sent them away, filled with Good Food, their spirits filled with His Word of Promise, and their stomachs filled with His promise-filled bread.  For the feeding of 4,000 foreshadows the final fulfillment of all God’s promises, the final fulfillment of every hopeful meal recorded in Scripture, the final fulfillment of all of humanity’s deepest needs and hungers.  For having compassion on all people, Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took Bread, and giving thanks, transformed it into His Supper, the food and drink of everlasting life, the Body broken on the Cross, the Blood poured out to wash away the sins of the world, every sin, from Adam’s first bite, to your latest failing.   Good Food, indeed.

     And so by God’s Spirit, we hear of this Good Food, and we hunger and thirst.  We by God’s grace hunger and thirst for righteousness and forgiveness, for life with God, at His table, forever.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, that God would fill us with His Good Food, and overcome our sinful flesh’s ongoing desire for the empty food of sin.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, because we know and believe that Jesus Christ lived to fulfill all righteousness on our behalf, and died to suffer all punishment, in our place.  We hunger and thirst for righteousness, and Jesus feeds us Good Food, giving Himself to us, that He might then turn and give us to His Father. 

     Brothers, what can we do, when the bread of tears enters our life, again?  What can we do, sisters, when our sins and the sins of others gives us knots in our stomachs?  What can we do when the sin that entered into this world through eating leaves us with no appetite for life, no hope for satisfaction, our souls struggling to breathe?  We, the baptized believers in Jesus Christ can come and receive His Good Food, His forgiving meal, His life giving breath, breathed out through His Holy Word.  We can come and bring our spoiled rotten sins, our bread of tears, and confess them, knowing absolutely that God will exchange them for His Good Food of forgiveness. 

     The next time you taste something really special, I pray that you are reminded of Jesus, of His eternal gift of Good Food, prepared for you on His Cross.  Even more, I pray that the Spirit of God would create in you and in me a hunger for God’s Good Food, a daily desire to take and eat of the promises that Christ has made to us, in His Word, and in His Meal.  Taste and see that the Lord is good, and you will hunger no more, nor thirst anymore, forever and ever, Amen. 

Is He Ready?

Ninth Sunday after Trinity, July 28th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
Is He Ready?  2nd Samuel 22:26 – 34, Luke 16:1-13

     Is he ready?  Will he be up to the task?  Now?  In a year?  Will he succeed, or fail?  Many years of preparation have led us to this day,  hours and hours of study and discussion, trial and error, tentative steps and stumbles, moments of promise, and awkward ones too. 

     Can he effectively balance the multiplicity of tasks that are before him: defending the faith in the public square; calling the erring to repentance; consoling the sick and broken-hearted; planning hymns and services appropriate to the texts and the congregation; clearly proclaiming God’s Law in all its harshness, for the sake of proclaiming the Good News, the Gospel, in all its sweetness?  Can he counsel the troubled, encourage the timid, equip the saints, mourn with the bereaved?  Can he be organized enough to not hinder the Gospel?  Can he strike the balance between extolling the Sacrament, and yet maintaining our confession and administering the Supper in keeping with Christ’s Institution?  Is he ready to tackle a tough text, a really tough one, like today’s Parable of the Dishonest Manager, in which our Lord Jesus seems to be endorsing sinful behavior? 

     Is he ready?  A fair question, indeed, since in just 11 days, your pastor will celebrate the ninth anniversary of his ordination.  Am I ready to be a competent minister of the Gospel? 

     What’s that?  Oh, you thought I was talking about someone else?  You thought I was referring to Vicar Toombs?  Oh, no.  If nothing else, nine years have taught me to avoid picking on individuals in sermons, that almost always backfires. 

     Is he ready?  It is a fair question, one that applies to me, and to Vicar Toombs, and to every man called, or seeking a call, into the pastoral ministry established by Christ.  We all want every vicar and every seminarian and every pastor to become ready, and to continually become more ready, to deepen knowledge, to learn compassion and humility, to become bold in defense of the truth without becoming harsh and overbearing, to learn to fight off the wolves and shepherd the lambs, even when they are manifest in the same individual.  We all want these things, and the Gospel deserves our best efforts to achieve them.  Just as the Good News of Christ crucified and resurrected for your salvation calls for the very best effort from musicians and singers and ushers and all of you, so also the glory of God’s love revealed in Christ calls for the very best from pastors. 

     However, while ‘Is he ready?’ is a fair question, it isn’t the thing that matters, not ultimately.  It is indeed a good work to do your best in service to the Gospel, and God does work through the good works of His people, (indeed He has prepared these good works in advance, that we should walk in them).  We Christians can receive no higher honor in this life than when, through our preaching and confessing, through our music, our service to neighbors, our singing, when through whatever thing we do in joyful response to the Gospel, God builds His Kingdom.  What a privilege to be used by God.  But neither your readiness and good works in your vocations, nor my readiness and good works in my vocation, nor Vicar Toombs good works and readiness in his vocation, none of these are the thing.  These are all fruit of faith, wonderful, joyous things.  But we are not saved, we do not fail or succeed, by the production of fruit.  We can’t be.  For because you and I are involved in these works, they are not, in and of themselves, perfect and righteous.  No, our very best works are still imperfect, still tainted by sin, still unworthy of God. 

     But, they are still precious, because God moves us to do them.  By our communion with Christ, we are moved to do good works, to live well, confess well, preach well, serve well.  And even more, by our communion with Christ, by His ongoing mercy, what is lacking in our works is fixed, restored, made perfect, not by us, but by God.  May we never think our success or failure as Christians, as members, servants, or pastors, depends on our works. 

     The good works we do in our vocations are all fruit of faith, wonderful, joyous things.  But even if we fail, we are not lost, for our works are not the thing.  Christ crucified, resurrected and present with us today to deliver the mercy of God, this is the thing.   God is the One whose way is perfect.  The Word of the Lord, not of the Pastor, proves true.  The LORD, not the pastor or the vicar or the very best Christian, but the LORD is the shield for all those who take refuge in Him.  He enlightens our darkness, and gives us courage and strength to run against a troop, and leap over a wall.  He is our Rock, the Giver of life, and Savior of sinners, body and soul. 

     Thus far our good works and salvation.  What about our money?  Jesus does an odd thing in our parable today.  The meaning is not unclear; He gives it in the last verse:  No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  Pretty straightforward, First Commandment stuff – you shall not make anything, no earthly good, into your God.  If you do, you are rejecting the One True God, in whom only is there life and joy and goodness.  This is all very clear, very clear law.  But the way Jesus brings us to His concluding statement is very strange.  The master commends the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, who upon his firing stole from him by lowering the bills of the master’s debtors, in order to win friends for himself.  And Jesus seems to commend such shrewdness as well, when He says: “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Then our Lord takes it even farther, muddying the waters of our minds even more, by telling us “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

     Does the Lord think it’s o.k. for us to cheat a little for the sake of heaven?  Can we somehow insure our heavenly dwellings by being shrewd with our material things now?  Did Jesus just cancel the 7th Commandment, You shall not steal? 

     No.  Jesus is not saying any of these things that might be entering our minds.  Note that Jesus says:  make friends by unrighteous mammon.  The material goods God gives you are unrighteous because they are part of this fallen world, and cannot save.  But you can and should use them to make friends, that is, use worldly goods to serve your neighbor.  This is how we love God with our money and possessions, by using them for the good of others, by treating them as mere tools for service to our neighbor, which of course also means we will not be worshiping them as our greatest good. 

     Also note how easily we become confused  by this parable.  Why is that?  Why do our minds leap to understanding this parable in ways that justify our own greed and dishonesty?  Because, almost as much as we like to think our good works achieve our salvation, we really like our stuff, our money, our unrighteous mammon.  If the worship of worldly possessions weren’t a problem, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t bring it up so much in His Bible.  But it is.  For you, and for me, the temptation to value and love our money and our things most of all is very great.  And so Jesus final words are damning, no?  You cannot serve God and money.  If you are serving your money, if your I-phone or your clothes, your house or your boat, or any other earthly thing is most important to you, then you are cutting yourself off from God.  If your wealth and possessions are more important to you than God, you are heading down the path to hell. 

     What a way to end a Gospel reading.  Don’t leave us here, Jesus!  But if you keep going in Luke 16, you’ll only find Jesus turning up the heat, sharpening the Law, revealing again and again how hopeless keeping the Law is for sinners like you and me, and yet also declaring the Law will not pass away.  Jesus just keeps on going, removing every hope for us to find salvation, keeping on and keeping on…  until He reaches Jerusalem.  And the Upper Room.  The Garden of Gethsemane.  The midnight sham trial before the high priest Caiaphas.  The Bema of Pontius Pilate, where the Roman governor tried repeatedly to spare Jesus.  But there the angry crowds, whipped up by the Jewish religious leaders, showed just how much they hated God and loved mammon, worldly goods, by demanding Christ be crucified.       

     And so, even as He proved our unworthiness, Jesus also made us worthy.  What the Law of God could not accomplish in us sinners, the Grace of God achieved for us, by the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.  In Jesus, God’s Law is completely fulfilled for you, and His extravagant mercy is revealed to you.  For Jesus sake, God has forgiven you all your sin. 

     You shouldn’t worship your money and things.  Your life now would be happier if you stopped, and oh by the way, it is a sin worthy of eternal death.  You shouldn’t worship your good works.  Your life now would be happier if you stopped, and oh by the way, it is a sin worthy of eternal death.  But do not despair, Jesus has died your death, and paid for your sinfulness, and for all your sins.  He has bought you out of slavery to the idol of money, and released you from the idol of self-justification by good works.  You are free, in Jesus. 

     Christ is risen, and He lives to forgive you and restore you.  So confess your sins of greed, and your sins of pious self-satisfaction.  Confess your sins of thinking that Christ’s Church won’t make it if you don’t do your part, if you don’t become the perfect pastor, or if you don’t somehow fix your pastor, or be the perfect Christian yourself.  Of your own strength, skill, and goodness, you will never be ready for salvation.  But Christ is ready.  Indeed, He has finished achieving your eternal life.  It’s not about you; it’s about Christ for you.  Rest in His grace, mercy and forgiveness, every day, and He will give you life, today, and forever and ever, Amen. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Christian Nation

Sixth Sunday after Trinity - July 7th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Christian Nation - Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 5:17-26
Vicar Jason Toombs

There are people who claim that “America is a Christian Nation.”  They insist on having the Ten Commandments near the courthouse door.  They are upset when the country does anything patriotic or comforting without a “Civic Service.”  They think, if only we win this battle on gay marriage, on abortion, on whatever, then God will welcome us once again with open arms.  They think, if America get’s right with God, then we will once again thrive as a nation.  Is this really the case?

No!  America is not a “Christian Nation.”  America is a sovereign nation, her young men and women have fought, bleed, and died for this independence.  We celebrate Independence Day every year.  This is not a Christian celebration, this is a day where the nation, and every one of her citizens, celebrates.

But maybe those clamoring for the Ten Commandments are onto something.  Maybe they should be written down somewhere.  They have been written down; they are written on our hearts.  The Ten Commandments have been handed over by God to Moses and the Israelites, but they are also written on the hearts of all people.  Nobody has an excuse when they break these rules handed down by God.

Let us recite the Ten Commandments so we can hear them once again from God’s Word.  Please turn in your bulletin to the Old Testament reading where we find:
The First Commandment in Exodus 20:3, together “You shall have no other gods.”
The Second Commandment in verse 7a, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”
The Third Commandment in verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
The Fourth Commandment in verse 12a, “Honor your father and your mother.”
The Fifth Commandment through the Tenth Commandment in verses 13 through 17:
“You shall not murder.”
“You shall not commit adultery.”
“You shall not steal.”
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

You can point to your heart and say, “Beheading a Catholic Priest in Syria is wrong because doing so breaks a very fundamental human right: the right to life.”  You can point to your heart and say, “Abortion is murder.”  You can point to your heart and say, “People who have sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman are committing adultery.”  You can point to your heart, but why should you point there?  The heart is deceitfully wicked.  The heart is an idol factory where we put ourselves, our desires, what our heart seeks after, above God.  Instead, you should point to God’s sure and certain word in the Old Testament.  Better yet, you can point to where God in the flesh pointed out the true heart of the matter: the heart.

Jesus says to His hearers, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  Jesus points out that it is not the outward keeping of the Ten Commandments that will bring judgment, it is the heart that will be judged.  You must approach God with a clean heart if you wish to be judged righteous.

But our hearts are not clean, they are tainted, they are covered in sin.  Every time we sin, the death sentence is leveled against us.  Every time we ignore God’s Word about living righteously before Him, we are adding to our guilt.  There is no way you can atone for your lives before God.  It takes someone who is without sin to atone for your sin.

It takes Jesus Christ, true God, true man.  Taking our humanity into the Divine Godhead, Jesus became man.  Jesus walked the path of righteousness, living righteous before His Father.  Jesus loved God and loved His neighbor with His whole heart.  Jesus perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments, never once speaking against them.  Jesus pointed to His coming death and resurrection as the sure and certain promise that His Word endures forever.  Jesus went to the cross for you.

Upon the cross, Jesus took all of your sin, all of your guilt, all of your damnation upon Himself.  And Jesus gave you His righteousness, His innocence, His blessedness and salvation.  This is the blessed exchange: your sin, His righteousness; your guilt, His innocence; your damnation, His blessedness and salvation.  Here your salvation was won, but first He must rise again to be vindicated as the spotless Lamb of God.  Three days later, the tomb is empty, Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.  The risen Lord speaks His peace to the apostles and speaks His Word and Sacraments upon the Church.

Jesus handed over baptism as a way to proclaim His victory on the cross to His bride, the Church.  St. Paul says not only has Christ been crucified, we have been baptized into Christ’s death.  The baptized have died with Christ, only to be raised in Him.  We have been crucified, dying to our sin, and raised to live with Him.  But we don’t see this new life yet.  We have to wait until our sinful bodies stop clinging to this sinful world.  But the death our bodies will eventually go through is not the final death, we will be raised just as Jesus was raised from the dead.  We will live with Him and Our Father, who art in heaven.

Jesus also handed over His Supper as a way of proclaiming His death upon the cross.  The body which would soon be broken, the blood which would soon be shed for the forgiveness of sins is given first to the apostles and to the Church.  Jesus’ last will and testament, the blood of the new testament, has been handed over to strengthen and sustain His Church.  He feeds Her with what she needs: forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He nurtures Her through His Word.  He sustains Her through His promise to always be with Her, wherever two or three are gathered in His name.  He shows His deep love for Her by dying for Her.

Jesus is how our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus is how we will enter the kingdom of heaven.  The scribes and the Pharisees thought they could keep the law.  This is the reason why they created laws of their own, 613 of them in fact.  They thought they would not break the Sabbath law of God by not doing any work.  This was their way of keeping the Sabbath holy.  Is watching yourself to make sure you don’t do any work on the Sabbath a work?  It would have to be, as it is most definitely not a gift.  Jesus alone is the only way we can keep the Sabbath, or any other day, holy.  Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” 

The Sabbath was a day of rest, a day to return thanks to the Lord for leading His people Israel out of bondage in Egypt.  Christ rested in the tomb on the Sabbath and rose on Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  Therefore, our day of worship is Sunday, a day to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection.  A day to hear God speak to His people.

God speaks His Word of the cross, the crucified Jesus, to you.  God speaks how He has lead you out of bondage to sin in the death and resurrection of His Son.  The Lord’s Day is a weekly Independence Day where you celebrate Christ winning your release from sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus is your righteousness.  You worship God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, offering up your thanks and prayers to Him.  You thank Him for taking your sin-filled heart away and putting a heart which loves, fears, and trusts in Him above all things in its place.  The Christian Nation is the Church, the saints of God who are called together with Jesus Christ as their head.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Our Fear and God's Word

Fifth Sunday after Trinity, June 30th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Our Fear and God’s Word – 1 Kings 19:1-21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Luke 5:1-11

     Many Christians, indeed, I’m sure many of you, are feeling pretty glum, even fearful, about the state of things in America these days.  The Department of Health and Human Services, while giving an exemption to Churches, is trying to tell every other employer of more than 50 employees in this country they must pay for abortifacient drugs in their health plans, regardless of the faith and principles of the owners.   That is, employers are being told they must pay for the chemical abortions of their employees, regardless of their personal belief about the sanctity of human life in the womb.  In this the government is effectively saying you can believe what you want Sunday morning, but it can’t be put into action on Monday in the marketplace, unless the government approves.  So much for freedom of religion. 

     The IRS has been caught persecuting groups that seek to promote liberty and constitutionalism and patriotism, all the while giving extra scrutiny and often audits to nearly every family who adopts a child and seeks to take advantage of the tax credits they are offered in federal tax law.  Adopting parents do a wonderful work, both for the children they take in, and for the nation, as they give children in need their best chance for a productive life.  For their trouble, they are treated with suspicion and harassed by their government.   

     And then, just last Wednesday, the Supreme Court told the voters in California they have no right to decide that marriage in their state will only be between one man and one woman.  Oh no, the judges who overturned the voters’ decision get to have the final say.  So much do judges have the final say over the definition of marriage that the Supremes also declared the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act which prohibits federal benefits for same sex couples to also be unconstitutional.  The Court stopped short of openly declaring that there is a constitutional right for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman, but they’ve paved the way. 

     On every front it seems, the way the Church has traditionally taught about any number of issues is being ignored, kicked to the curb, or outright banned.  In the place of a common morality that was most heavily influenced by Christian teaching, today America is a moral free-fire zone, where everyone is free to do whatever they want, unless you want to do and say traditional things and cling to your faith and your Bible.  Then you are a bigot and a fruitcake who must be shouted down and regulated into obscurity.   

     What’s worse, many clergy and church bodies who used to maintain traditional Biblical morality have in recent years caved to societal pressure, and are now full supporters of the radical homosexual agenda, the radical pro-abortion agenda, and pretty much any other group out there that is trying to tear apart the moral fabric which has held chaos in check in our nation for two centuries. 

     All of this means we are in a somewhat similar situation as Elijah in our Old Testament reading.  Just before, Elijah had served as God’s man, achieving what seemed like a great victory for the Lord and His faithful.  Elijah won a public contest with the prophets of the false god Baal, a “call down fire from heaven” contest.  I’d like to see that on reality TV.  Of course the wooden idol Baal could not deliver, but the Lord God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob delivered in spades, burning up the altar, even after Elijah had prepared by baptism, dousing it with 12 pitchers of water.  Following the steamy conflagration, Elijah directs the execution of 450 false prophets of Baal, and it seemed that right was going to prevail in Israel. 

     But Elijah underestimated Jezebel, the wicked queen who had influenced her husband Ahab to lead Israel into false worship of Baal.  She vowed in her rage to destroy Elijah, which caused him to flee across the wilderness.  Elijah wantsd to give up and die.  He seems to be utterly abandoned, alone, helpless before the evil intentions of Jezebel.  Elijah is tired of running, tired of fighting, ready to die.  Take me now, Lord.  There is no one left fighting but me, and the cause is hopeless.  Take me now. 

     Maybe you’re not quite there with Elijah, not yet.  But the arc of history does seem to be turning sharply against authentic, Biblical Christianity, against traditional morals and family life and society, and against the right of Christians to argue freely in the public square.  The future appears to be dark.  Should we fear for ourselves?  Maybe the glide path will be long.  Maybe the descent into paganism won’t engulf us before we die, at least not here in Sidney/Fairview Montana.  But what about our children?  What about our grandchildren?  Should we fear for them? 

     Fear not.  Do not fear, God will have the last Word.  To despair, to give up hope, is a sin, for in His Word the Lord has promised good to us.  So let’s hang on a moment longer, and see what His Word teaches us this morning.  Let’s listen and hear a bit more of what God has to say, and see where He takes us. 

     God’s response to Elijah’s resignation to defeat was direct and concrete:  bread, water, strength for the tasks ahead, and a list of things to do.  Yes, the end of the course of service for each servant of the Lord does eventually come, and it isn’t wrong to want to be with the Lord, to desire that your long struggle against sin be over.  But as long as the Lord gives us breath and a calling, He will also give us the energy and courage to continue on.  God’s angel fed and watered Elijah, and he went in the strength of that bread from heaven forty days, arriving at the Mount of the Lord, where God had made so many promises to Israel, centuries before.  There, the Lord reminded Elijah how He works, and where God’s people are to look for comfort and assurance. 

     We might look for comfort and assurance in earthly power and fame and fortune.  We might look to the things of the earth that impress and frighten us.  As Christians, we might be tempted to think the only hope we have of altering the course our nation is to win elections, to raise more money for advertising to expose lies, to win the public debate for our side.  We might be tempted to hope for a great hero to arise who will fix everything and lead us into a brighter day. 

     Well, elections and public opinion and good leaders have their place, in this life.  Indeed, God had Elijah appoint two kings, along with one new prophet.  But do remember this: in the Old Testament the  people of God and the political nation of Israel were the same entity.  Church and State were one by God’s institution.  This is no longer the case.  The United States of America is not the people of God, for the Church is universal, with members spread in every nation on the globe.  The Church of Christ can and should speak in the world, including public life, and we can work to improve our society, but the purposes of God are not achieved through politics.   

    Indeed Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world,” and so Christians seeking to influence the world for God had better look elsewhere for their tools.  What we should take from our Old Testament reading is how the Lord appeared to Elijah, to remind Him that He will protect His people, He will build His Church, He will achieve His purposes.  But don’t look for the Lord in loud, powerful and flashy things.  He isn’t in a wind so strong as to break rocks.  The Lord isn’t in an earthquake, shaking the very earth.  The Lord isn’t in the raging fire. 

     The Lord is in His Word.  Even if His Word is just a whisper, even if His Word is spoken by just one prophet, there the Lord is, and that is all we need, for that is all He needs.  For by His Word the Lord brings good out of evil, and strength out of weakness. The Word of the Lord calls things into existence that were not.  The Word of the Lord is living and active, accomplishing the things He intends.  The Word of the Lord can even overcome the shedding of blood and the death of its champion.  For all of the struggles of Elijah against the false prophets and wicked queen are precursor to Jesus’ struggle against satan and the world and all evil.  The Word of the Lord is ultimately the Word of the Cross, the preaching of foolishness and offense which destroys the kingdom of hell and makes sinners into saints, through the sacrifice and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. 

     The Word of the Lord, the Word of the Cross, is always surprising, always unsettling, even to us who believe, because we are still sinners, believing, yet still struggling with unbelief, still prone to believe our eyes over our ears, and the words of the world over the Word of Scripture.  So one day the preaching of Christ crucified may seem foolish to you, and the next if may offend, but the Spirit keeps bringing you back, to hear it again, because only by that Word of the Cross are you delivered from sin and guilt and shame.  Only the Word of the Cross gives you victory over death, and the devil.  And only by the Word of Christ Crucified are you given peace, peace which removes your fears, peace in which to rest, peace  in God’s forgiving love, which then moves you to share that forgiving love with others. 

     That’s what Jesus did with Peter, and with James and John, and all the rest of His Apostles.  The first obstacle to their service as Apostles of Jesus Christ was their sin.  Their sin was the ongoing obstacle to their ministry as well.  Peter and the rest were miserable sinners, but Jesus came to them anyway, speaking of His Kingdom, helping Peter by the miraculous catch of fish to understand that Jesus is the Lord God Almighty, and then, giving fearful Peter peace by the forgiveness of his sins. Yes, you are a sinner, but fear not, says Jesus, I choose you.  From this Word of power and mercy, Peter was changed into God’s man, sent to capture more sinners for God, through His Word. 

     Jesus is still working, in just the same way, today, by putting His Word into the mouths of sinners like me, and into the ears, and mouths, of sinners like you.  Like Elijah, Peter would face many dark days in his ministry.  Peter was arrested multiple times, and eventually died, crucified upside down, for refusing to stop speaking the Word.  Peter was also stopped short in His sin many times, as when he denied that Jesus should die, and when he denied he knew Christ after He was arrested in the Garden, and when he shunned Gentile Christians when influential Jewish Christians pressured him.  In every case, the Lord sent a Word of rebuke to Peter, in order to turn him in repentance from his sin, and back to Jesus, who is the love and forgiveness of God, come to us in the flesh.    

     And so, I think we can see what’s ahead for us, as well.  I don’t mean to predict the future.  It could be that despite how negative our current situation seems for the Church, the Lord might be preparing a great revival.  Or, there could be a great persecution.  Or, the Father could send Jesus tomorrow, to resolve all our struggles in God’s final peace.  But regardless of what the immediate future holds for us, we know that God is in and with His Word, the Word of the Crucified One, the Word of  Repentance and Faith, the Word of Forgiveness, found in the Body and Blood of Christ.  This Word is our future, and in it we find God’s peace.  So fear not, rest in God’s peace, for He has promised to sustain His Word, and to sustain us, come what may, through that same Word, the Word of the Crucified and Resurrected One, Amen.