Monday, May 25, 2020

O Christian, Do Not Expect Approval From The World!

Text: John 15:26-16:4

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

There are particular core needs that we all have as humans. We all need food, water, air, house, and home – physical needs.  There are also emotional needs that we have as well, such as the need to feel safe and secure. But perhaps one of the most powerful core needs - that often goes unnoticed - is the need for approval from others.  In other words, we want to be validated by others, for when others approve of us, we feel content.  All is well in the world when other people give us a thumbs up.  Having approval and validation gives a great inner peace. 

But what happens when people do not approve of us? Well, quite frankly, our world can be turned upside down.  Indeed, when people reject us, it can cause a great sense of pain and insecurity, even despair or possible depression.  To make things worse, when we are rejected we begin to ask all sorts of questions of ourselves,  

“Am I that wrong?  Should I rethink my life?  Should I change how I act?  Perhaps I could listen to what others are saying, and do what they say to get approval.  Or, should I not listen to others?  Should I write them off as jerks?”

After much soul-searching, one of two things happens though. We either write the nay-sayers off as jerks, so that their opinions do not matter to us, or we seek out people that will validate us.  Many times we go to places, like a church, for validation. 

Dear friends, churches are many times full of people who have been beaten up by life – rejected by others. The church has a way of being a haven of acceptance for many individuals needing validation in life.

But I have some very bad news for you.  If you are looking to the church to be a place of validation in the world, you are misguided.  If you think being in the church will allow you to be free from the world’s rejection, scorn, and hatred, you are mistaken.  

Consider our reading from the Gospel of John.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus warned His disciples that they would not find acceptance, approval, and validation but persecution, hatred, and rejection from the world. Why?  Because they were followers of Jesus.  In other words, as Christians, you and I should not expect validation, acceptance, and approval from the world but hatred, rejection, and persecution.  As a Christian you must not delude yourself but be ready for and face the scorn of the world.  The world hates Christ, which means that it will hate you as Christians.   

Now, we must keep in mind that there was a time in America when Christianity was accepted and revered. Decades ago, Churches were intentionally put at the center of the town. Pastors were well respected. The pews were generally full on Sundays.  And so, being a part of the church not only gave you acceptance among other Christians but validation and credibility among society.

But my dear friends, this era of Christian acceptance in America has been fading away for quite some time.  Furthermore, that era of Christian acceptance in the United States has been the exception and not the norm.  That is to say; throughout the history of the Christian faith, millions upon millions of Christians have not been accepted, validated, or approved by the world.  But instead, Christians have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed.  Bluntly stated, persecution, rejection, and hatred towards Christians is the norm, not cheering, applause, and love. 

And so, if you are in the church to be accepted socially and culturally by the world, you are severely misguided. If you find yourself being offended that the world does not treat Christians fairly, it is time to stop being so na├»ve and wise up to Jesus’ words. Jesus did not promise you and me a fair shake from the world. Jesus never promised that the ‘church’ and the ‘world’ would hold hands and take peaceful walks on the beach.  In fact, as Christians, we should ‘expect’ the very opposite of special treatment from the world. As Christians, we should ‘expect’ to be mistreated from the world, for the world is blinded in unbelief.  We should ‘expect’ to be ostracized from the table of the world. We should ‘expect’ bigotry and hatred against Christ and His church. And when we are mistreated, we mustn’t throw a temper tantrum and say,

“Woe is me; I am mistreated as a Christian!  Why is this happening to me as a Christian?  Why does the world ‘not’ validate me?” 

But instead, dear friends, we should confess,

“Christ is right. His word has been fulfilled. The unbelieving world neither knows the Father nor the Son, which is why the world hates and rejects the church and Christians.” 

Dear Baptized Saints, please pay special attention.  Christ does not share this news with you to plunge you into despair. Also, He does not share the news of the world’s rejection of Christians so that you might develop ways to become like the world to get approval. In other words, the news that the world rejects and despises the church should not plunge you into hopeless despair where you shuffle your feet in the shadows of depression.  And the news that the world rejects and despises the church should not make you seek out ways of trying to get validation from the world. Beware of trying to change the world’s hatred of Christianity.  For example, too many churches and pastors play high school lunch-room games.  You know what I’m talking about. Too many churches and pastors try to flatter the world with exaggerated displays of groveling to sit at the same lunch table as the world.  Too many churches and pastors sell the church out when seeking favor and approval of the world. 

No!  The world may tolerate the church and even use it, but validate it?  No, it cannot, for the world is spiritually blind – the world cannot see the glory of Christ-crucified for it does not have eyes to see.  The world believes that it was righteous, putting the disciples out of the synagogues and killing them.  And the world is blind when it murders God’s children thinking that it is doing a good deed.   

And so, dear Baptized Saints, do not despair when the world hates you!  Do not seek validation and approval from the world, as a way of overcoming the world’s rejection of you! In fact, hear the whole point that Jesus is essentially making in our Gospel reading in John – who cares what the world thinks! 

Baptized Saints, it is true that there is an incredible desire to be validated and accepted by others.  But mark this, as a Christian you will never be validated by the world, nor should you be.  In fact, do not be offended if the world rejects you!  Do not be alarmed if the world persecutes you!  Pay no attention to the world, for your validation does not come from the world to begin with!  Your validation, acceptance, and approval – as a Christian – does not come from mere mortal men but from Christ, who overcame the world! 

And so, if the world rejects you, do not give it a second thought, for you are accepted in Christ.

If the world does not treat you fairly, do not be offended saying,

“I never saw that coming, what shall I do?” 

No!  Remember that justice has been accomplished in Christ for you.  Vengeance belongs to the Lord; forgiveness belongs to you in Christ.

If the world does not let you sit at its lunch table, do not despair, for you feast at the heavenly table of our Lord in His Supper. 

If the world persecutes you, mistreats you, and does not validate you; take comfort, for the world does not own you, control you, or have the final word over you. 

Know this, the world rages against Christ and opposes the Gospel because it is blinded by darkness.  Therefore, we can pray,

“God forgive them for they know not what they do.”

You, Baptized Saints, you are in this world – this vale of tears – but you are not of this world.  You know who you belong to – Jesus.  And Jesus is your truth, way, and life.  Therefore, remain in God’s acceptance of you remembering the mighty water splashed on your head that snatched you from darkness to light. 

Continually receive God’s approval of you through the forgiving words of Jesus poured into your ears in the Absolution – you are redeemed; you are mine! 

Rest in Christ’s validation of you in receiving forgiveness in His true body and blood laid upon your tongue and into your bellies.

You have been given the Holy Spirit through the Word, and the Holy Spirit is comfort against the world’s terror; truth against the world’s falsehoods, and an Advocate for you from the assaults of the world’s tyranny. 

Stand firm; rest in the Gospel in the midst of all that this world will throw at you.  You have Christ; Christ has you.  And Christ, has overcome the world.    

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.    

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Friday, May 15, 2020

The Lord Has More To Give Than Death Can Take

The following 'Funeral Service Sermon' is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Dennis Oothoudt, and all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care. 

Text: Isaiah 43:1-3a and Revelation 21:1-5

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Every Sunday after the Divine Service, a hand reached out to me, and I would shake it.  It was not an aggressive handshake; however, it was firm. It was the kind handshake that you give to someone else when you are content and pleased – full of assurance.  Then with a brief pause, Dennis would slowly nod his head, squint his eyes (as if he were deep in thought) while saying,

“Thank you for the gifts today, Pastor. Thank you for God’s gifts.” 

Dear friends, I will let you in on a little secret, most pastors really don’t care to be acknowledged after church services. Most pastors would rather not hear about how inspiring they came across in the pulpit.  Pastors are unworthy servants doing only what they are called to do. And what are they called to do? They are called to hand over the goods.  They are called to give God’s gifts of the Word and Sacrament to Christians, Christians like Dennis.  And Christians sitting in the pew just like Dennis, they are receivers of good gifts.  So, when Pastors hear the words, “thank you for the gifts,” it is divine music to their ears.

I’m not 100% sure what was going through Dennis’s mind every Sunday, when he would shake my hand and thank me for delivering God’s gifts.  However, I am fairly confident that it had something to do with the profound reality of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah.

You see, Dennis knew that he was among the redeemed, as Isaiah stated in our Old Testament reading.  Yes, indeed, Dennis knew he was among the redeemed; however, I get the impression from all my visits with him that this reality of being redeemed by Christ's life, death, and resurrection was an incredible overwhelming gift that sometimes perplexed him.  How can the Lord be so good to us sinners?  In other words, Dennis knew that to be among the redeemed is not a special Christian Club that one joins through great moral achievements.  To be among the redeemed is not something that is acquired through Bible trivia points or a certain level of holiness. But rather, to be among the redeemed is to be a poor miserable sinner who has been graciously called out of darkness - by name - in the waters of baptism.  To be among the redeemed is to be purchased out of the clutches of darkness and placed into the ark of the holy church, where the Lord desires to give the gifts of the Word & Sacrament – week after week after week.  Bluntly stated, the Lord snatches us from darkness and places us into the holy church, so that He might not take from us but continually give us His good gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation all the days of our lives.  Again, this is why Denis sometimes seemed overwhelmed after Sunday Services; the Lord not only plucked Dennis from darkness and placed him in the holy ark of the church, but the Lord also longed to give Dennis gifts – to pronounce him forgiven of His sins in Absolution, to pour the comfort of the Gospel in his ears through the preached Word, and to lay forgiveness upon his tongue and into his stomach in Communion.  To have a Lord and God that does not suck us dry or take from us in the church but give to us in His church?  Well… it is quite remarkable and overwhelming – so much that we nod our heads with Dennis saying,

“Thank you, Lord, for the gifts!”

Tragically, though, as you know, this past week, Dennis died. And here we sit.  Death has a way of ruining everything, putting a stop to everything.  Death not only strikes fear into our hearts, but it has a way of locking us down - putting an end to all that is good. It has a way of stopping us in our tracks.  However, in the midst of death, we must hear the bold, remarkable, and good news that death cannot stop your Lord from giving good gifts. Death cannot and does not keep our Lord from handing over the goods of forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Now, you and I could easily think that when Dennis took his last breath that he would no longer be a recipient of God’s good gifts; after all, he has died.  However, this could not be further from the truth.

Dear friends, please hear this, when Dennis took his last breath, his body and soul were indeed and tragically torn in two.  His body is to be placed in a cemetery.  However, because of the goodness of Christ, Dennis’s soul has received the gift of paradise.  Yes, his soul is in the presence of Jesus – where Dennis will never experience the pain of eternal death.  This is in itself a gift, despite the pain of death.  But dear friends, open your ears, sit up in your pews, and hear the great news that I am about to share with you – the Lord has more good gifts for Dennis to receive.  The Lord has more to give than death can take.  You see, the Lord has promised Dennis that there will be a resurrection of the body.  That is to say, the Lord is not content to leave Dennis’ body of ashes in a cemetery but intends to give him a resurrected body at the great last day. And so, Dennis awaits another gift – that gift is the reuniting of his body and soul back together again, where he will receive a renewed and improved body!  And with his resurrected body, every tear will be wiped away. Death shall no longer have any control over Dennis’ new resurrected body. He shall have no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain, for all things, will be made new—a gift of a new body, a new heaven, and a new earth – all new and given to Dennis.   

And just in case you may not realize it at this point – the gifts that Dennis has received and will receive… they are for you and me too!  That is typically how it works with gifts – they are meant to be given away, and they are meant to be received. Furthermore, our Lord is not a stingy gift-giver where He only gives His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation one time. But He gives these gifts to us over and over and over.

That means the cross of Christ is a gift intended for you. The resurrected body that you will receive someday – gift!  The new heaven and earth – gifts as well! 

And so, right here at this moment while we grieve and cry over the loss of Dennis, we take a brief pause.  We slowly nod our heads and squint our eyes, saying,

“Lord, thank you for your gifts.  Thank you for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Thank you for your Word and Sacraments. 

Indeed, we say,
“Thank you, Lord, for the gift of taking Dennis into your presence.  Thank you especially that you will give Dennis, and all of us, resurrected bodies someday. Thank you for the undeserved yet gracious-good gifts you give to all of us.  Thank you for the gifts, O God.  Thank you for the gifts, O Christ.  Thank you for the gifts!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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