July 22, 2018

You Have a Message!

9th Sunday of Pentecost
Devotion 1:  Isaiah 53:4-6

Devotion 2:  Psalm 51:1-5

Devotion 3:  Isaiah 52:7  

Welcome to all, especially those of you who joined us as guests.  It is great to have you here and we pray that our worship service is meaningful and uplifting for us all.  Many of you know we haven’t really done a service like this where we have a good amount of guests.  I have to be honest that when I thought about it all, I had a hard time writing the message.  I just wanted to nail it, you know.  My mindset was that I wanted to have the perfect sermon.  Hours and hours were wasted as I wracked my brain. And then, for whatever reason, I had an idea.  I remembered times I’ve gone to a worship service, read the bulletin (esp. the sermon info), and thought, “This sermon is not going to be very good.”  So that’s what we are going to do.  I want to focus on sermons I thought were going to be really long/boring but turned out to be anything but that.  And our theme is simple: The Most Boring Sermon You’re Going to Hear (kinda). May God bless our time gathered together. 

Devotion #1: Isaiah 53:4-6     Years ago I was a 2nd year student at the Seminary. A few times each year we’d have special services for special times right on campus. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, was one of those times. I got up at 4 AM that morning came in to study until classes started at 7:30. Classes ended at 12:30 and I headed to my concrete job. After work, I flew back to campus, showered up, and got ready for church.  I was tired after a long day, and it was still winter.  The chapel was very warm and I remember thinking, “Boy, it is going to be tough to stay focused/awake.” I opened the service folder, and the sermon theme jumped out to me, but not in a good way. The theme? “The Power of Pronouns.”  Honestly, can you think of a more boring sermon theme? I figured I was in for a long evening.

The text for the sermon was Isaiah 53. Hear a few verses. This is a prophecy God gave to Isaiah, and it happened 700 years before Jesus went to the cross.  As I read it, I hope you noticed I really emphasized the pronouns. Still awake?  Good.  Throughout that Ash Wednesday sermon, the preacher did the same. He talked about pronouns in about every sentence.  And when he was done, I remember saying to a friend, “That was one of the best sermons I have ever heard.” How so?

Instead of just saying the pronouns – words like he, him, we, and us – the preacher talked about who those pronouns represent. And let me read it again, this time doing the same thing the preacher did. “Surely Jesus took up our pain – yours and mine - and bore our suffering, yet we considered Jesus punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But Jesus was pierced for our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought peace to you, Jim, you, Kelly, and everyone of us here was on Jesus, and by Jesus wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.”

So why did that hit me so hard? So often it can happen that as we hear God’s Word or listen in church, we can disconnect ourselves from what is going on. Maybe we’re tired, unfocused, or in the midst of some crisis. We can hear things like the pronouns in our text and think the author is talking about someone else. That’s not true. Whenever God speaks in his Word, he speaks to us.  That is exactly what is happening in our text.  We – you, me, him, her – are the reason Jesus was on that cross.  Isaiah talks about transgressions and iniquities - fancy words for sin. But get the point.  Jesus was not pierced, crushed, and punished for his sins. He didn’t have any. Has he pierced, crushed, and punished for our sins – the bad things we’ve done that go against to God’s will or the good things God wants us to do that we don’t.  Our holy God declared all sin has to be punished.  But instead of punishing us, he punished Jesus.  He took our place.  He sacrificed that we might live.  

But let’s not slip back into over pronoun use.  Jesus didn’t just do this for someone or for everyone.  He was punished for you, X.  He went to the cross for you, X.  He paid the price for every one of your sins, X.  And he did all this so that you, X, you, X, and you, X might know you are loved, forgiven, a child of God, and an heir of eternal life at God’s side in heaven.  

And maybe the simplest way of saying it is this: you are not just a pronoun to God.  You – insert your name – are not only someone he created, but also someone for whom he sent his Son to the cross.  You – insert your name – are not only someone for whom Jesus did he work.  You are also the exact one Jesus was thinking about as he did his work. He was thinking about you – insert your name – and how he loved you so much which is why he was doing what he did.  You – insert your name – as a result of all this, aren’t just a Christian.  You are also someone in whom God’s Holy Spirit lives, meaning you know the truth, believe the truth, and are filled with hope, confidence, peace, and joy. 

Sure, God did all this for many people, and we are very thankful for that.  But esp. on our down days when we feel alone, when our consciences hammer us, we can wrap ourselves in the glorious truth that we are known by our Lord – each of us as individuals – and loved by our Lord, so much so that the peace that results from that is almost too glorious for words.  All because of the power of pronouns.  All because he did his work for us.  Far from being boring, that is a truth that sets our hearts at rest, fills them with joy, and helps us face each day with confidence.  And I am talking about you – child of God.  

Devotion #2: Psalm 51:1-5    In 2004, a friend who we thought would get married was blessed by God with a lovely bride.  He asked me to stand up in the wedding, and I was thrilled. It was a scorching August day - 90+ outside, super humid, no AC in the church, and we were wearing wool tuxedos.  We marched into church, already sweaty messes, and took our spots up front, trying not to pass out. 20 minutes in, the pastor starts the sermon. The text was Psalm 51.  As I read them, remember that this is the text for a sermon at a wedding, what is supposed to be the best day of the bride and groom’s life thus far.  On this happy, momentous occasion, the preacher stands up and reads these words…

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Know what was going through my head?  The same thing as on that Ash Wednesday: “This is going to be one of the worst sermons I’ve ever heard.” How would you react if you went to a wedding and the sermon, which you expect to be about love, wedded bliss, joy, and all that other stuff is about the deadliness of sin, how we are all completely covered in it, and how as a result we deserve nothing good from God?  Chances are you would daydream about tasty appetizers and family style fried chicken and beef tips at the reception.  I can say my mind was only on getting into something that had AC ASAP.

But the sermon turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever heard.  After reading the psalm, the preacher talked about what is necessary in a marriage. What do you think he mentioned?  Communication?  Date nights? Handling disagreements in a kind and civil way? Nope. He said what is most necessary in a marriage is forgiveness. He told stories about ways he failed his wife and sinned against her in their marriage.  He tactfully told stories about how she did the same. And he honestly said that without forgiveness, the marriage wouldn’t have lasted.  He and his wife would’ve started keeping score and resented each other. Eventually, the list for both would be too long and they would have to call it quits.  But that didn’t happen.  Even though both had to admit what David admits in our text, they forgave each other.  And they did so because they know that God had forgiven each of them.  They knew they were, as David says, washed and cleansed, and because God did this for them, they did this for each other.  That preacher and his wife just celebrated 50 years together, 50 years of a marriage focused on what was truly necessary – God’s forgiving love for them, and their forgiving love for each other. 

So, what does that have to do with you?  Well, it isn’t only in a marriage that forgiveness needs to be at the center of the relationship.  It has to be at the center of our relationship with God. Why? Are we any different than David? Take yesterday alone.  How many bad thoughts went through your mind? How many angry words came out of your mouth?  Did greed or envy cloud your judgment? And it’s not just the things we do. It’s also the things we don’t do.  How many of us went out of our way to help our spouse, kids, or parents, sacrificing time and energy to bless them?  How many of us walked by someone in need of help, help we could’ve given? How many of us had multiple opportunities to show love to many, but we only showed it to a handful or to no one? You get the point. In catechism, when the topic is forgiveness and why we need it, I make sure the kids have this answer down: “Because we daily sin much.”  That’s the simplest way to say it.

And what do sinners need?  What do we need?  What is at the center of our relationship with God – forgiveness.  And we have it.  How so?  Did we earn it?  Did we look pitiful enough we forced God’s hand? No. The concept of forgiveness has two pictures.  One involves a courtroom.  Imagine God is the judge, and you are the defendant.  He has a massive file that covers all the sins you have done. What should the judge’s verdict be? Guilty!  But in steps Jesus.  He speaks to the judge.  “Judge, I know he/she sinned, and I know they deserve to be punished.  But I offer myself up.  I will take the punishment upon myself.”  (That, by the way, is exactly what Isaiah was saying in our last lesson.)  The judge accepts this, and what does he say to us?  “I declare you not guilty!”  We go free.  We are forgiven, all because Jesus took our guilt upon himself.

The other picture involves a marketplace. I’m selling apples. You want a dozen, but you don’t have money. I write your name on a board and how much you owe.  When you pay me, your debt is erased. Imagine each of our sins goes on a board. How big would that be? What would the cost be?  More than we could pay. But someone did.  Jesus. That’s what the cross was all about – him paying our debt. And what happened to our board? Sins erased. Never coming back. It’s spotless.

And maybe this helps drive home the point.  Imagine each sin was a one pound weight.  How many pounds would we be carrying by the end of today? The week? The month? The year? In 50 years? It is hard to fathom, and thank God we don’t have to do so.  Forgiveness means daily those weights can be dropped at the cross, and we can walk from it was refreshed, thankful, joyous hearts. Yes, sadly, we daily sin much.  But our sin can’t match Jesus’ love.  And that love means that at the center of our relationship with him is and always will be forgiveness, the one thing we need most, the one thing we have.

Devotion #3: Isaiah 52:7      I’ll keep this last one short.  Years ago my home church got a new pastor.  This is how he started out his 1st sermon.  He said, “Friends, if I showed you my feet, you’d be really grossed out.  I am a runner.  I have callouses and bunions. I’ve had issues with my toenails. And I’m a sweater, so my feet don’t smell good at all.  To be totally honest, my feet are very disgusting.”  Once again, guess what I was thinking.  “This is going to be the worst sermon ever.”

Why did he say all that?  He was preaching on these words of Isaiah: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”  His whole point was that humanly speaking his feet were ugly, but from a spiritual perspective, they were beautiful.  Why?  Because he was bringing a message of joy, love, and hope. And that message is the same one we’ve focused on all morning, the message of God’s forgiving love and the message of him keeping every amazing promise he had made to us.  Once again, by the time the sermon was over, it was already filed in my “one of the best ones I have heard” mental folder.

OK, but what does that mean to you?  Whether you have been a lifelong Christian, someone who came around to things later in life, or maybe very recently, realize you have beautiful feet.  How so?  You have a message, a message offering all the things this world tries to rob us of: peace, hope, confidence, and joy.  Your message of peace is rooted in the forgiving work of Jesus.  We have peace with God and ourselves, and we can live in peace with others.  Your message of hope is rooted in God’s promises, promises to be with you, to bless you, and to do all you need him to do until heaven is your home.  Your message of confidence is rooted in the reality that you are never alone.  Your Lord is always there, through good and bad, through thick and thin, to follow through on his plan to work all things for your good.  And your joy is rooted in the fact that all of this will never end.  We enjoy all these now, and in an even greater way, we will enjoy them at God’s side in the heavenly home our Savior won for us.

Now what?  Use those feet.  Use them to seek out and talk to the despairing and the downtrodden.  Use them to seek out and talk to those who struggle to find purpose in life.  Use them to seek out and talk to those who beat themselves us for past mistakes and failures.  Use them to seek out and talk to those who need a friend, an earthly one and a heavenly one.  I could go on and on, but you get the point.  You have a message.  It is a message everyone needs to hear.  And it is a message that is true, uplifting, and encouraging. It is the message of a Savior.  And feet that bring that message to those who need it, well, feet don’t get more beautiful than that.  Amen.