BE SOBER-MINDED, BE WATCHFUL, 1 Peter 5:6-11

Last Sunday we spoke about the fact that we were created to worship. Though fall, we are still created in the image of God and we have an inner need to worship. The problem is whom do we worship. Created to worship the God who made us sin has put a wall up between us. Separated from God we reach out to the false gods that have been offered to us. These god’s make promises to us that they cannot and do not deliver on. But the pull is great.

The struggle we face is not a new one. They are the same struggles and temptations that are faced by Christians and non-Christians throughout the world and throughout time. It all started in the garden with our fist parents. The world, we are told was created for our pleasure. It was very good. We were set in the garden to enjoy God and his creation. We were to be fruitful and multiply, subduing the earth. All was well.

Satan, the liar and deceiver comes on the scene. He doesn’t down play the beauty of the creation, which would have been a lie no one would believe. What he did was offer an improvement. He first raised doubt. “Did God say that you could not eat any of the fruit of the garden.” God told them to avoid only the fruit of one tree, the three of the knowledge of good and evil. He then makes his offer. God doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because if you do you too will be like God knowing good and evil. Don’t you want to be like God? The lie continues. Each of us hears in their own way the lie; don’t you want to be like God?

The enemy comes to each of us taking the good things of God and distorting them. He seeks to cause us to divert our attention off of God and onto the things the God gives us in order to make us think that we can be like God ourselves. Often the gods of this world are the gifts of God to us that are distorted and taken out of context. The creation seeks to replace the creator. Peter warns us to be sober-minded and watchful. Our first parents were not and were caught off guard.

The enemy takes good things and distorts them in order to draw us away from God. Let’s look at this for a moment. Health is an important issue for people these days. Our life expectancy is longer then every before but not a long as people think. We are told that if we eat right and exercise we can live much longer; some would have us believe over 100. I am all for healthy eating and exercise because you feel better when you are in good shape. Because of better nutrition we do live longer but do we have things a bit distorted. Health has become an obsession for some.

Created in the image of God we have a longing for life, eternal life. God sent Jesus to deal with the sin problem so we could have abundant life and that it would go on forever, eternal life. The promise of eternal life comes with serving and following Jesus. We enter into a relationship with God through the cross of Jesus Christ. The question of our sin is dwelt with and once our sin is removed and or relationship with God restored we are called to follow Jesus and continue to nurture that relationship. We do this through spending time in his word, prayer and corporate worship. Eternal life is gained through walking with Jesus, which involves dying to self, serving others, and walking humble before God. This is not always glamorous but the way up is often down.

The devil comes along and tells us that the way to long life is through exercise and right eating. Remember in its place this is good and God pleasing but it gets distorted. The gym becomes a place of worship. Sunday morning the gyms are full while the churches are empty. Priorities are important and in our mixed thinking our physical health gets a higher priority than our spiritual health even though our desired result, eternal life in not found in the gym.

It is important that we take care of our financial needs. He who does not work, the Bible tells us, should not eat. Work is important. We were created to work. Adam and Eve were set down in the garden and given work to do before the fall. Our work is the primary means through which God meets our daily needs. But the devil comes along and distorts the position of work in our lives. Work becomes for many the place where they find there self worth. The more money you make the more important you are. Others are driven by a fear of the future. They worry that they will have enough to carry them through hard times.

God calls for a pattern of work and rest; seven days to do all that needs to be done and a day of rest to focus on him. The Daily Orders called for the monks to stop at various hours of the day to worship God. It was a reminder that the day belongs to God. We pray, give us this day our daily bread, to acknowledge that all that we have comes from God even if it is the result of our labor because our ability to work is a gift from God.

The Devil comes in and distorts the picture. People, for whatever reason find themselves working long hours and working seven days a week to satisfy some inner longing. The god of this world calls them to worship and in so doing the person neglects their relationship with God. Our self worth comes from Jesus not work. Our future is in God’s hands not ours. If we don’t make all the money we think we should or could, will not matter in eternity. To spend time in the worship of the god of money draws us away for worshipping the one true God of the Bible.

It is not good for us to be alone. God put us in families. Though some are called to singleness most of us are not. We desire to be in a relationship with someone else. Family is important. But again they are a gift from God and must be kept in perspective.

One day Jesus was preaching and word came that his family was there looking for him. Jesus looked at the crowd and asked, who is my family. He than looking around said that the people in the crowd where his mother and brothers and sisters. One thing to remember is that we have been adopted into a new family and that we will spend eternity with our Christian family and not with our non-Christian blood relatives. Again family are very important an our unsaved relatives are our first mission field.

Again the Devil seeks to distort the truth. Because we live more isolated lives from our family they can take a more exalted roll in our thinking. They can become more important to us then God. Remembering that are a gift from God nevertheless Jesus said if we are not willing to hate father and mother and sister and brother we are not fit for the kingdom.

Some times our longing for family causes us to feel desperate. We meet someone who we like a lot. They are fun to be with and we share much in common with them except that they do not share our faith in God. We are walking in two different directions. Still we like them and though God says not to be tied together with unbelievers this person is different. We will win them to Jesus because of our love for them. More times than not the believer eventually stops serving the Lord because of their commitment to their partner.

Marriage is a sacred vow for the Christian. Two people commit themselves to each other before God. Weddings are a serious matter. But again the Devil seeks to distort the truth. He tells us that it is not commitment that matters but love. If you love the person than what difference dose a piece of paper make. And anyway marriage is important so shouldn’t we live together first to make sure it will work between us.

It’s not how it works. We commit for better or worse for good or bad. It is the commitment before God that carries a couple through the hard times. People postpone marriage for all kinds of reasons. They want to try each other out. They want an expensive wedding and they want to wait until they have the money. They don’t think being married matters. The problem is that it does to God.

I could go in giving illustrations but the point is the Devil seeks to pull us from God. You need to be watchful and sober-minded, staying close to Jesus. God has called you to eternal life with him and that means that as pilgrims and strangers in this world we might not be as successful as we would like, we might not have the career we desire or the wedding we hoped for. We can’t date anyone who interests us. We are called to follow Jesus but know this; the God of grace has called you to his eternal glory. He will restore you confirm your faith, strengthen you and establish you in his kingdom. You have been called to follow Jesus. You are not your own, you have been bought with a price. Therefore serve God with your whole being.

THE SALVATION OF THE LORD, Luke 2:29-32

It is time for Mary’s to be purified at the temple following childbirth. She makes the sacrifice for a male child but the one for the poor; a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. In the temple is an old man named Simeon. We are told that he is a righteous and devout man who was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ.

We are given no time frame for Simeon. We are told that he is elderly. What we are not told is when the Holy Spirit spoke to him. Was it recently that he heard from the Lord or years previous? I sense that he has been waiting for some time for the Lord to fulfill his promise to him. Waiting is such a hard thing to do.

We live in an age of immediate gratification. “We want the world and we want it now.” God does not work on our time frame and God does not understand power the way that we do. One day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day to God. When the power of God confront the powers of the enemy God comes as a baby born to a poor family who sets out to die a lone on a cross.

Waiting is so hard for us. Our schedules are maxed out and so we leave no time to wait for anything. We don’t know the people who live on the same block as we do or the people on the floor of our apartment because who has the time to get to know their neighbors. We want Facebook friends who can like us in an instant. We want complex situations resolved in a moment. It used to be that something worth having was worth waiting for, but now if I have to wait it’s almost not worth having.

It’s been 500 years since the Old Testament prophets were silenced for the last time. Then all of a sudden a baby is born. There has been some scuffling amongst one family. Old barren Elizabeth becomes pregnant and her doubting husband Zachariah is struck dumb till the birth of the child because he challenged the angel. Mary their niece becomes pregnant through a miracle and her fiancé Joseph has to deal with a pregnancy he had nothing to do with. When the baby finally comes to term he is born in a stable and the only people who show up to celebrate are some local shepherds and some wise men from the east. Somewhere during this time a righteous devout man named Simeon gets a word from the Holy Spirit that the messiah is coming and he will not die until he sees him with his own eyes.

Then one day it happens. Simeon is in the temple as usual doing what he usually did. We are not told he is a priest or Levite, just that he is an old man. Thro the gat of the temple comes a young couple. The Holy Spirit taps Simeon on the shoulder and lest him know that this is the one he has been waiting to see.

Simeon has been waiting to see the one who was the hope of Israel, the promised messiah. Who knows what this man was waiting for; a great general, a king who would take the throne from Herod and establish justice and righteousness in the land again, or a great religious leader how would turn the people back to God? He was given a great promise from God that he would see the one and the promised one had finally arrived and he is a baby.

How often in our needs do we cry out for God expecting him to deliver us? How often we turn to the scriptures and reread the promises to us that God answers prayer and we pray. Finally the answer comes and we barely recognize it because it is nothing like what we were expecting. Short of money we pray for relief and God in his mercy sends us a job but not the one we were looking for. We feel led to pursue and certain career believing after much prayer that God was directing our path. Upon graduation the only job we can land is not the one we were working toward and we wonder is this of God. After work most of our lives thanking God for his sustaining grace we get a pink slip and we are back in the job market. We pray for a new job so that our needs could be met. God continually supplies our daily bread but we still can’t seem to land a job. Is this of God? Is this his hand upon us we ask?

Simeon was looking for the hope of Israel and a baby enters. This baby will grow to meet every human need and defy every expectation. In many ways we are all like Simeon.

Like him we are in desperate need. The world around us is fallen. Sin is rampant and death reigns upon all of creation. Yet with in each of us is a longing for something better. You sense it in everyone you meet. There is a hope however faith that things will get better, and the emptiness inside will be filled. We, like Simeon, long for deliverance.

The striving that you see in everyone you meet, the pressure to succeed that is in the very air of this city is the longing for something better. We are promised that good things will fill the need and so we work long hours. We are told that just having that good job will cause people to look up and take notice of us and we will feel needed and appreciated, successful. The nice apartment, the big house, the quiet neighborhood or the busy active one is all offered as solutions to our greats need. So like Simeon we go to our temples, our places of worship and we wait for that one thing, that one person, that one situation that will change everything and time passes,

Then one day at the least expected time in through the gate of the temple comes the answer to our deepest longing. It’s not a new job, it’s not the latest stuff, nor a new boy friend or girl friend it’s Jesus. He is no longer a child; he comes as our risen savior. Simeon know immediately that this baby was the messiah and he know that he would not live to see this child’s deliverance plan. He was left to die in peace that his eyes had seen the savior but left with questions about how.

We too are left with many questions. Jesus comes on the scene and promises to fill the void we can’t seem to fill and bring us back to God. But somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit. The values of our expectations and Jesus’ answer to our needs seem at odds with one another. We are told that if we work hard and live right we will see the blessing of God and enjoy all the world has to offer us.

Jesus comes promising us that he will meet our every need; daily bread, family and friends, clothing but he doesn’t promise to meet them on our terms. Jesus invites us to partake in his abundant life but in order for that to take place we must die. In order to die we must follow after Jesus. And so the battle rages, Paul speak of it in Romans 7. The world pulls one way and Jesus another. Jesus holds up to us peace and joy that can only be found in our relationship with God. Mean while the devil whispers in our ear, “Did God really say…?”

The temple court was busy that morning, it always was. The people pushing and shoving each other trying to carry out their religious obligations. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were just one family among many. There were other women there for the purification rite, No one noticed that the answer to their deepest longings the very reason they were in the temple that day was in their midst.

Jesus is here in this city. He is the answer to our deepest needs. Yet he goes unnoticed by the majority of the people. They go on about their business, worshiping the gods that promise but cannot provide all the while missing the savior who died that they might live. Will you stop and notice? Can you say with Simeon that your eyes have seen the salvation of God? Will you follow him?

THE KINGDOM IS AT HAND, Matthew 4:12-25

Today we begin to look at the ministry of Jesus as it starts to unfold in Matthew’s gospel. John has baptized Jesus and a number of John’s disciples have left him to follow Jesus. Up until this point John and Jesus are both ministering in Israel; John is announcing the coming of the Messiah and Jesus beginning to pull together his group of disciples. The Old Testament and the New are in a period of overlap. John was telling his disciples that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. In the providence of God John is arrested and will eventually die in prison. God removes him from the scene. In Matthew chapter 4 Jesus emerges onto the scene to inaugurate his full time ministry on earth.

Jesus leaves his hometown of Nazareth and relocates to Capernaum to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that the land of Zebulon and Naphtali will be called from darkness to light. Jesus presence there is likened to the light of dawn breaking forth.

Jesus announces his ministry by declaring that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In so doing he calls the people to repentance. This is what they have been waiting for. The kingdom has finally arrived and it is truly good news. John is removed and Jesus emerges forth to announce the kingdom of heaven.

The first thing Jesus does is to call a group of men to follow him. He goes by the sea and sees Simon and Andrew working their fishing business. Both of these men have already spent some time with Jesus. Remember last week Andrew who was a disciple of John followed Jesus to where he was staying and spent the day with him. He then went and got Peter telling him he had met the Messiah and wanted him to come meet him as well. So the call of these two men by the side of the lake was not a first encounter. They had some idea of who Jesus was. This was a personal call to a deeper commitment to Jesus. They had a knowledge of Jesus, they were aware of who he calmed to be and they believed that he was the messiah. For many that is enough. Our churches are filled with people who have sound theology. Ask them who Jesus is and they will tell you he is the Son of God, God in flesh, born of a virgin, who died and rose from the dead for our salvation. They declare their faith each week and go home to live their lives. Nothing changed, and nothing altered about how they carry themselves in this world. Andrew and Peter had met Jesus but they were back at the lake fishing.

One day Jesus comes walking by the lake and sees them by their boats. He calls them to come follow him and he will make them fishers of men. This is a promise to these men that they will be successful at spreading the kingdom. This is a foreshadowing of the Great Commission where the call to fish for men will be given to all of us.

Jesus goes on to see James and John and asks them to also come and follow him. They all leave their nets and walk after Jesus. Notice that Jesus tells them nothing of what lies ahead, but calls them only to follow. The just shall live by faith.

The ministry of Jesus is summed up in this simple idea; the kingdom of heaven is at hand, repent of your sins, and follow Jesus. It is not a call to simply believe a set of truths but rather a commitment to follow a person. We need to know who Jesus is and believe he is God in flesh among us but to believe is not enough. Scripture tells us that even the demons believe and tremble. We are called to follow Jesus. What does that mean?

There are lots of images throughout the New Testament that give us insight into what it means to follow Jesus. We are called to lay down our lives for Jesus. He who keeps his life will lose and he who loses his life for Jesus sake will find it. Our life is not our own we have been bought with a price, the death of Jesus, and so we belong to him.

When these first disciples laid down their nets they were changing the direction of their lives. They were putting down control of their future and committing themselves into the hands of Jesus.

The message of Jesus has not changed. We are called to believe him but that is only the first step. We are then called to put down our lives and follow him. The side of the lake encounter is one we all experience. At some point Jesus comes to us and says, “Lay down your life and follow me.”

That means different things to different people. Everyone who encounters Jesus is asked to believe and follow but in different ways. Some like the disciples are called to enter into fulltime ministry but others Jesus sends back into the world to reach the people around them. What doesn’t change is the fact that you belong to Jesus. This means there has to be a priority switch. Being in the word and prayer must be scheduled into your life. How are you going to be able to resist the temptations of this world if you never spend time with the savior? How are you going to know where he is leading you if you never listen to his voice?

We see ourselves as living in a Christian nation. What happens in our world is seen as the will of God in some sense. Many in the church think that if they just live good and moral lives they have fulfilled their obligation to Jesus. All that is required is attendance at church most of the time.

We have also lost our perspective on vocation. We are all called to declare the glory of God in the work place. Each has been placed in their various tasks by God so that the gospel my reach deep into the culture. We are all called to make disciples. What we do has become an end in and of it self. Instead of seeing our work as an opportunity for mission we see little or no connection between our job and the mission of the kingdom. On a very minimal level we work so that we might give to the ministry. Our money and talents belong to God. Part of what we make is to be given back to God to further the ministry, it is our Thank Offering sacrifice to him. But more than that we are to share our faith with the people that we work with.

Many simply work for their own good and pleasure. They make a token offering to God, never speak about their faith and think that coming to church is all that is required of them. The seaside encounter challenges that understanding. Jesus comes to us on our jobs and in our life and says, come follow me. We can assume what that means but the do we ever ask God? My challenge to you this morning is to pray, to ask God what it means to follow him. He has given you money and talent; he has placed you in jobs and in situations where you are called to make disciples. What does it mean for you to drop your nets and follow him?

To do nothing is to be like the man who was given some money by his boss to invest while he was gone. They man buried the money and was rebuked buy his boss when he returned. Do you want to hear well done good and faithful servant or depart from me I never knew you.

Jesus has come by this morning and he is asking that we follow him. Will you?

WITNESS LIKE ANDREW, John 1: 35-42

Witnessing is the responsibility of every member of the church. Jesus, just before he ascended to the Father from the top of the mountain, told his followers that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. They would start in Jerusalem and fan out until the entire world heard the message of the gospel. We are the witnesses to the world of the life and ministry of Jesus.

A witness plays a specific role in a trial. The witness is not the judge who rules on the case. The witness is not a lawyer either defending or seeking to convict the person on trial. The witness is not the jury that seeks to decide guilt or innocence. The witness is just asked to tell what they have seen or heard.

So when Jesus tells us not to pass judgment on others he means it. We are not asked to decide someone’s eternal state. We need not worrying about pointing out the faults of others our job is completely different. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convince people of their sins and it is his job to infuse them with faith. Our job in the economy of God is simple, we are to tell of what we know and have experienced about Jesus. Simple enough.

The clearest example of this is found in today’s text. Jesus is walking in the area where John is baptizing on the shore of the Jordon River. John is standing with his disciples when he sees Jesus walking past. Looking up at him John says to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Two of his disciples who have been with John and were anticipating the coming of the Messiah upon hearing John left to follow Jesus

Jesus, seeing them following, turned and asked them, “What are you seeking?” They ask Jesus where he is staying and he invites them to join him. They spend a day with Jesus. We aren’t told what happened but we can infer that Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God and invited them to follow him. One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Andrew is moved by spending time with Jesus. Whatever transpires Andrew is convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Messiah is a weighty concept. For a believing Jew like Andrew the coming of Messiah was his hope. Messiah would come and deliver his people from oppression. He would restore Israel’s relationship with God. He would be more than a military leader or a great king. When Andrew identifies Jesus as the Messiah his whole view of the world changes. The things he deemed as important shrink in significance. If the promised one has come all else would fade in importance.

Think about that for a moment with me. What does it mean to you that Jesus has come, anything? For those of you who have grown up in the church maybe you never think about it. You grew up believing in Jesus and never really give it much thought.

As Christians we live in a dual world. Each having a different and often times conflicting set of values. We end up somehow combining the two. I think this was the problem faced by the Pharisees when confronted with Jesus. The tax collectors and prostitutes who came to Jesus knew they had problems. They understood that the life they were living was wrong and when greeted by Jesus they stopped what they were doing, did an about face and followed after Jesus. Not so easy with the Pharisees. They saw themselves as religious. They had a system of drawing near to God so that when Jesus called them to repent they couldn’t filter that idea through their system of belief. They had combined the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God.

If you have grown up in the church you may take your relationship with Jesus for granted. It’s always right there somehow. You come to church, you do a few good deeds and all is well. It’s a neat box that is picked up and put down at will. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world get meshed together. They are not the same. You grew up in this culture and when you don’t think about the culture you move in you are like a fish in water. The culture is just there. You assume that everyone sees life as you do and there is no conflict between your faith and the world you move in. The claims of the gospel are not clearly recognized because you don’t distinguish them from the values of the culture around you. So the gospel becomes part of your world rather than an affront to it. The words of Jesus are not where you put your hope. You are not, as Andrew did, longing for the coming of the kingdom of God to deliver you from this world in fact you kind of like it here and see this as somehow a Christian nation that might be going astray but certainly not at war with the kingdom of God. Herein lies our problem of sharing our faith. We are not sure what it is we are sharing.

When church is just another cultural institution we are see evangelism as inviting people to our church. That raises a lot of questions for us. Is our church interesting enough to invite people too? Are we marketing ourselves correctly? Will the people we invite feel welcome and comfortable here? The focus becomes on us, and our product, which is our church. As a social institution we are competing with other social institutions. On many levels we cannot compete. We continue to attend but we bring no one with us. But church is more than another social institution and as important as some of our question are we are not the answer to peoples deepest needs.

We need to understand our own situation more clearly and think about what is actually taking place. You and I were born dead in our trespasses and sins. Until the coming of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith we could not see the kingdom of God. Once baptized into the kingdom and born again so we have eye to see and ears to hear the call of God we were placed into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ his Son.

Our hope is not in our church body, our hope is in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Apart from God our lives were a mess. Our future was without hope and all that we did was a futile effort to fill the void that sin left within us. Encountering Jesus the void was filled at last. This is the fact of our existence.

Now if we fail to acknowledge that reality we go on living like the people around us. Their hopes and dreams become ours. Their attempts to find satisfaction are taken up by us because we have substituted the promises of God with the empty offers of the gods of this world. That is why the Bible tells us to put off the old man and put on Christ. We need to make the paradigm shift. Once we do everything changes.

When Andrew encountered Jesus he know he was the promised one. Once meeting Jesus a values change took place. He no longer found consolation in the things of this world. No social institution, not even the Temple, could meet his needs. He had meet Messiah.

What happens next is what is so important and something we each need to understand. Having meet Jesus Andrew runs out to tell his brother. His message was two fold. Finding Peter he declares, “We have found the Messiah.”

The first question you must ask yourself is, have you found the Messiah? Is Jesus the Messiah? Has he delivered you from your sins? Is he the one in whom you have put all of your hope?

Don’t answer to quickly. If Jesus is the Messiah who has called you and you have decided to follow there is a cost involved. Jesus said you must lose your life if you are to follow him. Your plans and desires are all up in the air once you follow after Jesus. Job security, career choices, financial advancement, where you live and whom you marry if at all are all up for grabs. The question is no longer, what is good for me, but what am I called to do to further the kingdom of God. How can I use my gifts, talents and resources to advance God’s kingdom. You must take up the instrument of your death daily and follow Jesus. You have to ask yourself if that is true for you.

Having answered that you must announce it to the world. Certainly not in an obnoxious way but it must be announced. People should take notice that you are different. The life you live must express the kingdom of God and people will question you. Your response to them when they ask, why are you different, must be I have met the Messiah. Do people know you are a Christian and do they know that you are different? Or are you just like everyone else. That’s the first thing you must answer.

Now lets look to the evangelistic aspect of our faith that we so quickly shy away from. If you have meet Jesus and your life has change and you understand that those who have not met Jesus are dead and sin and apart form God are you willing to let them continue in their blindness? Andrew met Jesus and ran to find Peter. Having found him he declares to Peter that he has met Jesus the Messiah. So far so good; you have been saved and the people around you know you are a Christian. But Andrew goes a step further. Peter you have to come meet him. This is evangelism.

If you have met with Jesus and he turned your life around don’t you want to tell others about it and introduce them to him? You are not inviting people to church because we have the best worship band, or the preaching is ok, or we have good coffee hour. You are inviting people to church because Jesus is here.

The church is not a social institution where we go to fulfill our spiritual obligations. The church is the gathered body of believers who experience together the presence of God. A high point for me in the service is just before the reading of the Gospel. We sing, “Jesus is here, he is alive.” We declare the essence of our faith. Wherever two or three are gathered in his name Jesus is present in a real way.

So out in the world we encounter our friends, our loved ones, and people we know on the job and in the community. We have met Jesus they have not. While our hope is secure, their living a lie. What are you to do? Jesus was quite clear on this point. People want to know the will of God for their lives,011 well here it is. Declare that you have met the Messiah and his name is Jesus and then very simply invite them to come and see.

THE LORD’S CHOSEN SERVANT, Isaiah 42:1-9

Who is this child born in a manger? Who is Jesus? How we answer this question will have an effect on how we live our lives. Everyone deals with him. We order our calendar based on the date of his birth. He is never dismissed. Everyone has an opinion of who he is. Most people have a positive take on his life. He is considered by many to be a prophet. Others view him as an ethical teacher. If nothing else he is viewed as a good man. But who is he really? Isaiah, looking into the future, described the person the people of God should be looking for. We looking back, messiah having come, understand him as reveled to us by God.

God describes Jesus as his servant. A servant has only one role in life and that is to obey his master. Jesus comes to us with one purpose and that is to obey the will of the Father. Throughout Scripture we are told that Jesus only spoke the words of his Father and came to do the will of his Father. Our redemption story is more about the will of God concerning us than it is about us. We put the emphasis on God so loved US! For us the US is the important part when in reality what is important is that GOD SO LOVED. God is the center and focus of our redemption.

God goes on to describe Jesus as the one he upheld. Jesus placed his life in obedience to his Father and his Father sustained his life. From the time of his birth in the manger, his fleeing death as an infant to Egypt right up until the time of his arrest and execution, Jesus was upheld by his Father. Jesus’ life was one the perfectly unfolded the will of God.

God chose Jesus. This is not a random chance event. The life of Jesus was always the center of God’s plan for humankind. The redemption that was in the mind of God before the fall of man always had Jesus at its center. We get uncomfortable when we talk about God choosing people or ordering events but would you have it any other way? If my eternal state rests upon my receiving in faith the savior I want to know that God is in control of the whole process. I take comfort in knowing the Father chose Jesus. He repeats this verse at the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and lights upon Jesus. The Father declares for all to hear that, “This in my beloved Son in whom I am will pleased.” Not only is Jesus the chosen, obedient, one upheld by the Father, he also brings pleasure to the Father. God so loved us he sent Jesus to save us but he also takes pleasure from the unfolding of God’s plan.

So what does Jesus do? The Holy Spirit is upon him. His ministry is Holy Spirit driven. Just like the church received power when the Holy Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost so Jesus received power when the Spirit descended upon him. It was the start of his ministry among us.

He mission is to bring forth justice to the nations. Justice: the being and doing what is right. That kind of behavior will be seen among the nations of the earth. Until the fall it will be lived out among the people of God. Don’t look to government to b the one to legislate right behavior. We look to Jesus and follow in his footsteps. As we live godly lives and draw others to follow Jesus we begin to see glimpse of justice among the nations.

We are involved in a quiet revolution. There is just too much talking going on. When the church gets co-opted by a political party, when the people confuse worldly government with the kingdom of God our mission gets side tracked. The gospel is spread one person at a time. It is spoke in relationships that people have to one another. Jesus wrote no books. His message was delivered over dinner tables and tax booths. It was spoken of on the beach to a group of fishermen who were called to follow him. It looked vulnerable and at times a failing effort but it was the work of the Spirit and not of our efforts.

The kingdom of God is gentle. Jesus is kind to the broken and bruised. He does not take advantage of our weaknesses but kindly nurtures us to spiritual health. His goal is to bring forth justice. Justice best displayed in the kingdom of God on earth, which is a future event.

Jesus has not lost patience nor is he discouraged. Jesus walked purposefully toward the cross. The crowds came and went but Jesus was building his kingdom. At the end he knew he would be alone but he also know that the disciples would wake to the truth and filled with the Holy Spirit would spread the gospel. We are the continuation of that work. No matter what is looks or feels like the work of the Gospel is going forth and Jesus is patiently bringing his work to conclusion and on the appointed day will return and set up his kingdom.

Then in verse 5 Isaiah again states the call of Jesus. God first establishes his credentials. He made the heavens and earth. He is the one who gives us the breath of life. This God, the one who made and sustains us has called Jesus. He will lead Jesus through the plan of redemption and he will place us in Jesus’ hands.

Jesus was the promised hope to the covenant people. Jesus is a light to the nations, that’s how German Lutherans got in. He will open the eyes that are blind. When I was running the streets I had no interest in the things of God. I gave them no thought. Jesus met me on a beach in Florida on Easter Sunday in 1973 and touched my spiritually blind eyes and I saw the kingdom of God and believed. He took the shackles of sin off of me and set me free. I walked out of darkness and into the light of the kingdom of God.

Does this make me special? No way. God’s glory is seen in what Jesus has done for me but all glory goes to Father who sent the Son to die in my place and to the Holy Spirit who filled me with faith to believe.

We are now left with the message. The message is one of hope. To those who are bound in sin we offer the hope that is only found in Jesus. He is the one brings hope, opens blind eyes and sets the prisoner free.

If you have been baptized into the kingdom I am here to remind you that the former things are past the new has come. Paul talked about this in the Roman’s 6 passage we read earlier. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ therefore we must recon this to be so. We are new creatures in Christ Jesus. The birth of Jesus changed everything. Those who understand and receive him in faith are no longer living in the old world. We are experiencing the newness of the kingdom of God among us.

THANK GOD FOR THE INCARNATION, Ephesians 1:3-14

The world has moved on. Christmas is over and we are a week into the New Year. The decorations are coming down and Christmas trees line the curbs, Christmas is over for them. But for us in the church we are still in the Christmas season. It will end tomorrow with the celebration of Epiphany. But today we are still reflecting on the Incarnation. This is the second Sunday after Christmas.

In our Epistle text this morning Paul celebrates the incarnation. For us it doesn’t end with the event but with the benefits that the incarnation has brought to us. The incarnation addresses the sin that has entered the world and the rule of death that has reigned ever since.

Sin entered the world through the disobedience of our first parents and with sin came death. First came spiritual death, we are separated from God our creator. We, created in the image of God, have no access to the one who made us. We have been cut off from the very one who sustains us and gives us abundant life. Since the fall humankind has been in a desperate and futile effort to find meaning and purpose in life. We seek to define happiness and then pursue it with passion only to continually to come up short. Outside of God there is no peace.

Second came physical death. This body will decay and die. No matter how much try there is no way to sustain life indefinitely. There has been some progress but still if we read the census data we realize that on average we will die in our late 70s early 80s and though a few will live longer few make it to 100. Death is inevitable. Yet we are in a desperate drive to extend life.
To this problem we read, that God so loved us that he took on flesh to live among us that he might save us from our sins by paying the ultimate price of death on the cross. He died for our sins, in our place that we might live and reign with him forever. The incarnation, the Christmas story, is the beginning of the story of our salvation through Jesus. With the incarnation in mind Paul, writing to the Ephesians, celebrates the blessings we have in Jesus.

He starts by saying we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. Our blessings began before for the foundation of the world. Our being here this morning was ordained by God, before the world began. Before God said let there be light we were chosen by God to be holy and blameless before him. In spite of the fact that God know that sin would enter the world he ordained that we would be holy and blameless before him because the incarnation and the cross were already in God’s mind. How do we know that?

In love, God so loved the world remember, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will. Our salvation is found not in us or anything that we do, but in the will of God. God called us, in love to be his adopted children. It is all unfolding according to his will. Sin did not interrupt the plan of God because God’s plan was in place before the world began.

So how is it that we stand holy and blameless before God? We find our redemption through his blood; the cross as the means of our redemption. Through the cross our sins are forgiven according to his riches in grace. Salvation starts and ends in God.

How do we know this is true? God has poured upon us wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will. The shepherds came because God revealed to them who the baby in the stable was. The wise men came because God led them by a star. We believe the testimony of the Scriptures concerning who Jesus is because the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe. Salvation comes to us when in faith, which is a gift from God, allows us to see who Jesus really is. Jesus is the mystery of God revealed. He is the one who will unite all things in heaven and earth.

We have an inheritance from God because he has called us according to his purpose. We are part of God’s working all things according to his will. Our witness is the continuation of what God began with the apostles. We believed we heard the word of truth. We believed the gospel and we believed in Jesus and because of that we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. What God started in eternity past he will finish in eternity future. Our calling before the foundation of the world will find its fulfillment in our future home in glory. The Holy Spirit guarantees our future. We will acquire our eternal inheritance to the praise of God’s glory.

Our salvation is not the center of our focus. It is not the thing that gets our praise. The focus must always be on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. He called us saved us and sustains us. To God be the glory great things he has done.

So that being the case what do we owe to God? Called out of sin, made holy and righteous in spite of our sin (because of the cross), and sustained through the work of the Holy Spirit, and assured of our home in heaven. We have been called out of this world.

Paul will write to the Romans that we must not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. The word has a pull on us that if we are not vigilant will drag us down. Paul reminds us to put our focus on Christ and the cross. We must remind ourselves of all that God has done for us in Jesus so that we will stand fast against the world.

The subtle lie of the enemy is that we can somehow have it both ways. We can somehow embrace our eternal inheritance and embrace the world as well. We confuse Christendom with Christianity. This world is at odds with the kingdom of God but thanks be to God because of Jesus we have a way out.

Christmas season is ending. We will move into Epiphany and look at the life of Jesus. The cross is always central. We move from the manger to the cross. Our eternal calling finds its hope in the fact that God so loved us that he came among us. Our response is to praise his glorious name in word and deed.

ARE YOU THE ONE? Matthew 11:2-15

We live in a multicultural world. We interact with many different kinds of people every day of our lives. They live next to us, ride with us on the subway, and share the next cubical at work. No longer do we live in a world where everyone shares the same background. Not only are we from different backgrounds, we no longer share the same understanding of life. We operate under different paradigms. Since we are all created in the image of God our view of life is a religious one, a faith perspective if you will. Even those who claim to have no belief in a god operate from a position of faith. Our world is one of religious diversity.

To function is a multicultural world we have learned to be tolerant. I must give people the space to practice their own beliefs if I expect them to give me space to practice mine. We call it freedom of religion. You practice your faith and I practice mine. As long a one party doesn’t force his or her opinion on others everyone gets along and life is good.

The problem is that Christianity is an exclusive religion. Orthodox Christianity states that Jesus is the only way to God. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” That being the case all those who refuse to come to Christ are lost and destined to separation from God forever. If true this is a serious assertion. It means that those people we live among, travel alongside of and work with who are not Christian are lost forever. This is what our historic Christian faith declares and here in lies our problem.

When the lost were those people who lived somewhere else it was easier to maintain our position on salvation but we now know them. They are our friends and neighbors, our coworkers. Add to that the fact that many of them are good people we have a faith dilemma. How do I reconcile what my faith tells me is true with the fact that my friends and family members are not believers in Jesus? What do I do when it feels like my faith is losing ground in the public square?

John the Baptist had his own crisis of faith. John was called to herald the coming of the long awaited messiah. After years of silent anticipation God had spoken again. He was sending the promised one to deliver his people. John was the messenger sent to prepare the way. The hope was that now Jesus had finally come everything would be made right. God’s reign of justice and righteousness would enter the world and all would be made right at last. John’s problem, it wasn’t working according to plan.

To start with Jesus was running into opposition from the Jewish leaders. If Jesus is the promised one of God why is it that those who were most concerned about maintaining the faith resisted him? Instead of surrounding himself with powerful people, people of interest, Jesus puts together a rag tag group of misfits. He brings together some blue-collar fishermen, a taxman, a revolutionary and few others. Add to that the fact the he has women following him some of questionable character and you start to wonder if he is who he says he is.

To complicate matters John is arrested and thrown in prison. The forerunner of the messiah is jailed and no one comes to his rescue. Where is Jesus the deliverer? Not only can Jesus not put together a resistance army he can’t even establish himself, he has no place he calls home. Jesus does not seem to be living up to expectations. John, in prison, is having doubts.

Do you have doubts this morning? Are your non-Christian friends really going to hell? Is God really angry with the nice ones? Is there really only one way to heaven? Is Jesus the only way to the Father? Are you uncomfortable with your faith this morning? Can you with love and boldness say to the people you care about, “Unless you are born again you will not see the kingdom of heaven.” If you have unsaved friends and you believe the Bible to be the word of God this truth has to be unsetting.

We ask with John this morning, Jesus, are you the one or do we look for someone else? The claims of scripture are both outrageous and final. They are either true of not. If Jesus is the promised one and the message of the gospel is one’s only hope of salvation than we need to be serious about our call to make disciples of all nations. If the claims of Jesus are not true then what are we doing here?

John sent his disciples to Jesus to find out what was going on. Jesus tells them to return to John and report what they had witnessed. The bound were being released, the sick healed, the dead raised to life and good news is being proclaimed to the poor. John need not worry; Jesus was doing what he came to do. When doubt raises its ugly head we need to return to Jesus. He is doing just what he came to do.

This is why we pray and read the word. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. This is why we need to remain in fellowship with other believers, to hear reports of what God is doing in our midst.

The problem is that God doesn’t always meet our expectations. If you are looking for someone to make your life easy Jesus never promised to do that. If you thought serving Jesus was a sure path to the American Dream you are not following the God of the scriptures. Jesus calls us to die to self. He calls us to a life of service to others. The abundant life he offers has nothing to do with monetary success. In prison John looked around and started to wonder if this was what messiah had come for? Where was the deliverance, the victory over the Roman oppression?

The fact was that the real enemy was being defeated. Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. The real enemy was being defeated everywhere Jesus went. John from prison was loosing sight of what Jesus was accomplishing.

Is Jesus the expected one? Yes he is and if we have eyes to see his handiwork is everywhere. All around us people are coming to faith in him. Jesus has never stopped working in our midst. That being the case we need to come to grips with our reality. Those good people we know and love are lost. If they do not hear they will not believe. They will not hear unless someone goes to them. That someone is you and I.

This is Christmas and there is a lot of talk about putting Christ back in Christmas. Someone posted that maybe what we really need to do is put Christ back in Christian.

During this season our focus is on the coming of the savior, God so loved the lost world that he took on flesh to die for our sins that we might have life. If many roads lead to heaven God would not have come among us. This thing that we call life is real and humankind is lost; the good and the bad. If Jesus is who he says he is and we have gathered to remember his coming among us than the fact that people are lost with out him is our reality. We have been given the charge to go and make disciples of all nations. The nations have come amongst us. Rather that worrying about some made up war on Christmas let us take our faith seriously. Let us draw strength from the Christmas story and go forth into the word with the message of salvation. Let us truly live our faith out loud.

GET READY, Matthew 3:1-12

The most recognized Advent story is the coming of John the Baptist. He jumps onto the scene apparently out of nowhere to announce the coming of the messiah. He appears in the wilderness an unlikely place for such an announcement. You would think that such an important and long awaited event would be declared in Jerusalem.

This was certainly a spiritual event the people of God were expecting. The messiah was to be a spiritual leader who would direct the people back to God. Wouldn’t the announcement of such a person take place at the center of Jewish worship? After all the temple was in Jerusalem and it was the place where Jewish worship took place.

The coming of messiah was also a political event. Messiah was to free his people for oppression. They interpreted that at the time as being deliverance for Rome. What better place to announce the coming of the deliverer than the capital of the country?

John appears in the wilderness. He doesn’t go to the seat of spiritual and political power, the city of Jerusalem, but appears in the wilderness. He doesn’t go to the people the people must come to him. This would have been contrary to all expectations.

His message meets expectations at first glance, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” If messiah was coming the people needed to be ready. They were in the condition they were in because of disobedience and sin. They were in need of a deliverer because they as a people had turned from God and needed someone to point them back in the right direction. The call to repentance in anticipation of the coming deliverer was right and expected.

But John’s message has a twist. His message is to prepare the way of the Lord and make his way straight. John was to make the way to the Lord clear and simple, which we seem never to want to do. Consider the Pharisees. They made the way difficult and taxing. They added law upon law, precept upon precept. Every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed. You couldn’t just come to God you had to come the right way with the right information. It was difficult to come to God, that’s what made it important and worthwhile. We are no different. You want to come to Jesus you have to have all of your doctrine straight. We say come as you are but do we mean it? The minute points of doctrine become important because we think we are somehow defending the faith when in fact we are pushing people away from Jesus. Don’t get me wrong doctrine is important, but we come to Jesus as we are and then learn of him. We don’t learn and then come to Jesus. John was to make it simple and clear.

John wore the clothes of an ascetic, not the garments of the religious leaders of the day. It was the message that mattered not the form it took. The message drew attention. We need to remember that. It is the message of the gospel that draws people to Christ. The word through the work of the Holy Spirit generates faith within and we turn to the Savior. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

Many came; even the religious leaders flocked to John. John confronted them and challenged the foundation of their self-understood standing with God. The foundation of their faith was the realization that they were Jews; they were children of Abraham by birth. For them, that was enough to guarantee a place in the kingdom. They pushed the keeping of the law, but that was almost a status thing. They were the holy men because they strove to keep the law. Other Jews were to follow them and Gentiles were out of the picture unless they were circumcised and became Jew who would then keep the law.

John saw through the hype. His message was clear and simple, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The simple message of grace, admit your sin and turn to God through Jesus, is all that is necessary. But for the Pharisees and Sadducees this was a giant obstacle. It challenged not only everything they believed but their status in the community. We hold our beliefs so tightly because they give us status. We are what we believe and if we make it hard to come to God people look up to us for what we know. The religious leaders became gatekeepers of the kingdom. We like that role. Admitting we are sinners in need of forgiveness puts us on the same plain as everyone else. We are asking people to walk with us toward the kingdom and we are asking to walk alongside them. We are no more deserving then they are. In the kingdom of God we have no status. All are there because of grace. How humbling a reality?

John goes on to point out that the axe is laid at the root of bad religion. The foundations that we build our belief systems on are all faulty and will be knocked down. The gods of this world cannot and will not stand. The things we trust and lean upon cannot hold up. The Pharisees and Sadducees trusted in their birthright. Many in our camp trust in their Lutheran heritage. My family is Lutheran so I get a pass at the Pearly Gates. I’m a good person so God has got to let me in. I am a regular contributor to the church so my place is secure. None of that matters.

John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Our message, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Nothing has changed. The way into the kingdom is through repentance and faith. Nothing else matters.

Repentance of the heart will be witnessed in our actions. If we say we believe and do not live accordingly or faith is not faith at all. Faith is more than an assent to a group of principles; it is belief in the risen Christ and the desire to follow after him. The decisions that we make and the way we live will reflect the Savior that we follow. There are many signs that points to the God people serve. If you are serving the God of this world it will be evident in the way that you live your life. If you never have a problem with what the people around you are doing you need to check what you really believe and whom you are serving. If you can ‘t live without the latest fashion or the latest tech equipment what god are you serving. Jesus came without a place to call home to teach us we are to trust God for all things. Not saying you are to live homeless on the street but where is your heart? What are you anxious about? Where is your money spent? What is it you can’t live without? Where your treasure is there will your heart be. These are unsettling words.

John announced a clear and simple way to God. I said clear and simple not easy. The way to Jesus is costly. We must give up all to follow him. In our materialistic world that is not easy. The pull is to acquire more and more, bigger and bigger. Jesus says to us, “I am enough.”

This is Advent, a time of anticipation. Jesus is coming and are you ready. Christianity is not mindless faith but a faith engaged in an understanding relationship with God. Advent is a time of preparation. Are you taking the time to think about God during this season? Are you preparing for the coming of Jesus? The message has not changed. Repent and bring forth fruit of your repentance. Live like you have died to self. Live like your life is hid in Christ.

THE HOUR HAS COME, Romans 13:11-14

The hour has come. The old year has past. We stand at the beginning of the church calendar once again. Let us tell the story one more time. The history of redemption will unfold throughout yet another year as we wait for the coming of our Lord.

Advent: the word means arrival, start, beginning, or dawn. We stand at the beginning and await the arrival of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There are two anticipations during this season. We wait for the coming of the celebration of the birth Jesus: the Christmas story. The baby born in a manger in Bethlehem witnessed but a few shepherds and some wise men from the East. We look forward to telling the story and we rejoice in all that it means for us: Emmanuel God with us. But we also anticipate the second coming of Jesus when he will establish his kingdom on earth, when truly his will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We look for the city whose builder and maker is God.

What does is mean to anticipate, to wait for, to begin? Paul, writing to the church at Roman during the first century reminded them that they knew the time. The hour had come for them to wake up. Get out of bed for the salvation longed for is closer than when they first believed.

We stand that much closer to the coming of Jesus. Time for God does not carry the same meaning that it does for us. He inhabits all of time at once. We experience time experientially as it unfolds before us. When God tell us the time is at hand for the return of Jesus it is a true statement for him. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day to the Lord. All of earths events, the things we experience are always now before the Lord.

But we live in time and so we schedule our lives accordingly. There is a time for everything that we do. Our busy lives are scheduled so that we make time for everything that we have to accomplish. The tasks we need to accomplish, the meetings we need to attend, and even our family commitments are written into our schedules so that we can take control of the busyness that we face. We don’t like surprises. They throw off our schedules.

The problems God does not fit into our schedule. He does as he pleases with his creation of which we are a part. With God there is always surprises. God spoke through the prophets of old announcing that he would send the messiah to deliver his people. The revelation became clearer and clearer as the time drew near. The message was wait the deliverer would come and then there was silence. 500 years of silence and when no one was really paying much attention or looking in the wrong direction an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the earthly mother to the savior of the world. We gather to celebrate and remember that event.

Everyone had their schedules to keep, things they had to get done. It was the time of the census and everyone had to make plans to travel to their homeland to be counted, the coming of the savior was not top priority on the minds of the people and yet that is what happened. The result; no one noticed. Jesus was born in a barn and the only people in attendance were some shepherd who had been directed there by some angels who appeared to them on the side of a mountain as they watched their sheep.

Jesus came as was announced and fulfilled the words of the prophets just as they predicted. The problem was everyone was asleep. No one noticed because they were all to busy doing what they had to do. The word of the apostle Paul comes to us this morning and it is wake up. Just as Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets on his first trip to earth he promises the he will come again. So we wait.

The urgency of the first coming was always there but the silence caused people to doubt and turn away. They longed for the savior but they just got busy. The urgency of the second coming of Jesus is just as great today. He is coming just as he promised, but on God’s time not ours. He will come as a thief in the night so be ready we are told. Paul tells the church at Rome to wake up. They must have been starting to drift off to sleep. You wait and you wait for something and when it doesn’t come you start to question if it is coming at all. You start to focus on other things after all you are a busy person.

Paul wants to shake us up this morning. Jesus is coming just as he said. And since we understand things based on our time line know that his coming is closer than it was when we first believed. Therefore, since this is the case, wake up. That being the case, we must live accordingly.

When you don’t think that Jesus is coming or you don’t think he is coming anytime soon you let the schedule take over. Now all of us schedule according to our priorities. We make sure the important things get done and the rest gets done as time allows. Things due soon get moved up on the priority scale. The work due this week takes precedence over work due at the end of the month. Our schedules change based on what is coming up.

Here is the problem for us when it comes to the return of Jesus. We don’t know how to schedule it in. If he is coming this week or this month or even this year it becomes an important event. If it will not take place for years or even in our lifetime at all it moves down the priority list. But should it?

Jesus is coming either he will burst through the clouds or he will call us home but either way Jesus is coming for each of us. His coming is always top priority for the believer, but it is hard to maintain the level of urgency. After 9/11 the city was put on alert. It was a color-coded system with red being that we were under attack and orange being a very good possibility that an attack could come at any time. For years we were code orange. The question was always what does that mean practically? How are you supposed to live under code orange? In effect what almost everyone did was ignore it. That is how most of the church lives under the awareness that Jesus could come at anytime. But that is no way to wait for the savior’s return.

Paul tells us that the night is almost gone and the day light of the kingdom is almost upon us. Therefore we must cast off the life of darkness and begin to live in the light. It’s the prayer of the church, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is no time to satisfy the flesh but a time to serve the Lord.

We live in a world where satisfying the flesh is the main if not the only thing of importance. What we wear, where we live, what we eat, and whom we party with is all that matters. All we have heard about the last few days is Black Friday; the sales, the crowds, the fights, the excitement and the satisfaction that comes from buying stuff. We are told that the most important thing we can do is to shop. It is presented as our patriotic duty. The god’s of this world call us to worship and we who are tired of waiting on the Lord fall prey to its enticements.

The people of Israel left Egypt by the outstretched hand of the Lord and when they got to Sinai they became impatient. They were taken to the side of the mountain and experienced the power of God. They told God not to speak to theme directly but do it through Moses. God agreed and called Moses up into the mountain to receive the covenant. He was gone 30 days and the people became impatient and asked for a god they could see and touch. The danger is that when we become impatient we look for a god that will satisfy immediately.

This is Advent and so we wait. We wait with patience, expectantly. Our flesh wants to experience now. The gods of this world promise immediate satisfaction. Jesus says, “Wait I am coming.” Faith trusts God. God’s word is true. He came as he promised and that is the Christmas story. We are reminded again during this season that God is faithful to his word. We stand on the encouragement of the Christmas story and look forward to the second coming of Jesus. And because we believe him we live accordingly.

THE LORD PAID ATTENTION AND HEARD THEM, Malachi 3:13-18

We step back this week in the lectionary. Last week we were in Malachi 4 and today we read from Malachi 3. Today’s text is one of hope. We are told that the Lord paid attention to his people and heard them; what an encouraging confirmation of the love of God. When God’s people cry out to him he listens. I love the line in the Aaronic blessing that says, “May the Lord lift of his continence upon you and give you peace.” The image is of a person standing in the presence of the Lord and the Lord lifts up his head to recognize their presence before him. God recognizes his people.

Our text jumps in, in the middle of a conversation between God and his people. The Lord is complaining about the grumbling of his people. “Your words have been hard against me,” he says to them. His people true to form deny everything, “How have we spoke against you?”

Isn’t that how it works? It’s never our fault. We complain about God all the time because of the situations we find ourselves in and it’s always, “What? Who’s complaining?” It is never our fault. We are fast to blame God for whatever mess we are in.

What is the nature of their complaint? Serving the Lord doesn’t work. “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?” Serving God doesn’t work. What a warped understanding of what it means to serve God.If you believe that coming to Jesus means that you get anything and everything you want, if coming to Jesus all your problems will be solved what happens to you when life happens? If Jesus is an insurance policy against all of life’s struggles what do you do when the inevitable struggles come?

If you believe that God wants you happy what happens when you lose your job? What happens when your family relationships break down? What do you do when a disaster strikes? What happens when you don’t get the promotion you deserve? What happens when life happens?

Malachi writes at the end of the Old Testament? Things had not worked out so well for Israel. Way back when they left Egypt they were to enter the Promised Land and life was to be good all the time. They were to inherit a land flowing with milk and honey. They disobeyed the Lord early on and things started to unravel. They finally ask for a king to rule them so that they could be like everyone around them and that didn’t work out your so well either. Over and over again they turned their backs on the Lord and then wondered why things didn’t work out for them.

Earlier in the chapter God rebukes them for robbing from him for not paying their tithes. They neglected to give for the work of the temple and were wondering why God was not listening to their prayers. We forget that we are called to serve God by laying down our lives for him. He who loses his life will gain it but he who keeps his life shall lose it. We are called to pick up our cross, the instrument of our death, and follow Jesus. This is not what we want to hear or what we really think we are called to. How does one reconcile give your life for Jesus with the idea that God exists for our happiness?

Serving God doesn’t work. Not if your standard is this world. We are coming up a holiday that is a time we set apart to give thanks to God for all that we have. It is a time to gather with family and friends to be thankful for all that we have. It is or should be a response to our prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.” God continues to answer that prayer and Thanksgiving Day should be our corporate response to answered prayer. Yet Christians will be on line Thanksgiving night to worship the god of consumption at the temple know as the shopping mall. We have no time to say thanks because there is still so much we don’t have yet.

God doesn’t work and so we turn to a different god. If the God of the Bible doesn’t make us happy we will turn to the god of consumerism and he will make us happy, right? “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.

Let’s look at this for a minute. Notice the objection to serving the Lord. What is the profit in it? I serve the Lord and I don’t get what I want. I am not happy. The arrogant seem to be doing well. They are the blessed ones. Look around you. Who’s making all the money? Who is living in the big apartments? Who has all the perks? The Evildoers not only test the Lord but they escape any punishment. Why serve God when it doesn’t work.

What we need is a change our paradigm. God isn’t there to work for us. It is not about you but about God. You exist to bring glory to him. What we receive from God is salvation. God so loves us that he took on flesh, lived among us, died for our sins and gave us eternal life. The struggles of this life are momentary light afflictions compared to what God has in store for us. What doesn’t work is the god of this world.

The things you wait on line for will bring momentary pleasure but in a short time will have little or no value. The joy they promise is short lived. There reward is immediate but short lived. So what are we to do, how are we to respond?

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.” The response to this world on a very basic level is a conversation among the faithful. The reason we have started mission groups is so that we can talk to one another about what it means to serve the Lord in this time and place. The gathered community, the church needs to be a place of encouragement. It is among the people of God where my values are challenged and my faith is molded. It is in the church that God is conforming me to the image of Jesus his Son.

When the people of God spoke among themselves and encouraged one another in the faith the Lord paid attention. The Lord listened in on the conversation and reminded them of their future glory. There is a book of remembrance. Those who fear the Lord are in that book. If your name is in that book God will remember you, you belong to him. On the Day of Judgment when God will make up his treasured possession these people, us, will be remembered.

Remember the sheep? They were invited into the kingdom because they served the least of these; the sick, imprisoned, the naked and the hungry. It had nothing to do with their happiness. They were content to serve the needy.

God promises that his people, those who fear him will be spared. We need a long-term vision. We see the wicked prosper and the people of God struggle and we question, where is God. When in fact we need to understand that God puts up with injustice in order to give the wicked time to repent. But a time is coming when the righteous will be remembered.

We have had a free ride for a long time in this country. As one author put it, our religion shape this country and this country shaped our religion. We got to incompatible ideas confused and in the end our faith suffered. Instead of standing on the outside with a prophetic voice we let the culture co-opt our faith. We confused good citizenship with good Christianity. Freedom to serve Christ became freedom to do whatever we want. We forgot what the early church understood clearly. When Paul spoke of obeying the government he understood that Rome killed his God on Calvary’s tree. We forget the Washington DC, this country that we live in, killed our God on Calvary’s tree. The kingdom of this world is at war with the kingdom of our God. We need to be good citizens but we wait for the city whose builder and maker is God.

At some time in the future the distinction between the righteous and the wicked will be clearly seen. The first in this life, the one’s who seem to benefit from the system, will be last and the last those of us who struggle with our faith in this ungodly place will be first.

Serving God doesn’t work if what we mean by working is that we will be happy and fulfilled but the promises of this world. Only God works if what we long for is to be in his presence.