July 1, 2018 [Pentecost 6] Lamentations 3:22-33 J.D.Roekle
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.
Christians Can Hope in the Lord
Dear Friends in Christ,
General Douglas McArthur was one of the most well-known and loved generals of World War II. He also was the commander of the troops during the Korean War. After President Truman removed him from that position, General McArthur returned and addressed Congress. His memorable speech included these sad lines: “I am closing my fifty-two years of military service. When I joined the army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished.”
Life has a way of dashing hopes and dreams. When we’re young, we look ahead with optimism. As we get older, reality sets in. Many of the things we hoped for were not at all realistic. Disappointment and regret can set in when we realize that those hopes aren’t attainable.
But we do not live without hope. Even if many of the things we hoped for are never realized. We still can live with hope, when we hope in the Lord. When we hope in the Lord, we have hope that is real. Hope that is permanent. Hope that never disappoints.
Hope is something that Jeremiah’s audience needed to hear when he wrote Lamentations. For years, God sent prophets like Jeremiah to warn the people to change their rebellious ways or God would send judgment on them. After refusing to change their ways, God finally sent an enemy, the Babylonians who conquered the people of Judah and took over Jerusalem. A large number of people were carried off into captivity to Babylon.
Gone was all that they were familiar with. Their beautiful city of Jerusalem as they knew it was no more. The temple that they had regularly worshipped in had been desecrated and destroyed. All their hopes and dreams had seemingly vanished.
It was within this context that Jeremiah wrote: “Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.”
Those are pretty depressing words for the most part. We do well to take them to heart. We do so to remind us that much of the sadness we endure is due to our own sinfulness. Due to the consequences of the things we’ve done wrong. Yet, right in the middle of them, did you catch what the prophet said? “There may yet be hope.” There may yet be hope.
Think about the things that you as a child of God may have to endure. You endure a daily wrestling match with your sinful nature. You may be rejected or get the silent treatment by people because you are a Christian. People may seek to humiliate you because of what you believe. For some believers around the world, it also means that they endure physical suffering for the name of Christ.
Jeremiah reminds us that the Lord has laid it on him. Yes, the Lord puts these things in our lives. Things that bring us sadness. We see that truth in the Gospel lesson for today. A man named Jairus, who was the ruler of the synagogue, came to Jesus with an urgent request: My daughter is dying. Help! And we find out in the course of the account that his daughter did actually die.
You have faced this. A loved one has died. One day you’ll be faced with your own mortality. How do we deal with these realities? Much of the world around us falls into despair over these realities. Many just give up and just go through the motions. Others see nothing good ahead so they take their own lives.
Dear Christian, hang on to the words of Jeremiah: there may yet be hope. Yes, there is hope. When we hope in the Lord, that is. “for men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion.”
There is no one more compassionate than Jesus. He had so many important things to do. He had an important plan to fulfill. And yet, when Jairus summoned his help for his dying daughter, Jesus went with him. As they were on their way to Jairus’ home, people came to Jesus and Jairus and reported that his daughter was already dead. “Don’t bother Jesus about this anymore.” But Jesus kept going. In his compassion, he was determined to go to Jairus’ grieving household. Jesus comforted Jairus by saying: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
In his compassion, Jesus extends those words to you as well. When faced with trials and tribulations, when faced with the death of a loved one, or when you are facing your dying day, Jesus’ compassion for you should ring out loud and clear: Don’t be afraid; just believe. When we believe, we are putting our hope in what God says.
This hope is not empty. This is a hope that is based on God’s steadfast love for us. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Jairus’ hope in Jesus did not disappoint him. When they got to his house and found the daughter lifeless, Jesus miraculously raised her up from the dead. The Lord did those kind of miracles in order to validate the fact that he is God and to validate the message he speaks.
And the message that Jesus has for us is the same he preached while he walked the earth. It is a message of hope. Not just hope that is here today and gone tomorrow. It is a message that remains. That’s because the hope Jesus gives us is certain.
Our hope rests in the certainty of the cross and what it means for us. It means that our sins are forgiven and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Our hope rests in the certainty of the empty tomb. He lives, so also we live in him. He lives, so also will we live even after we die. And all of this hope is certain, because it doesn’t rely on you or me. It relies on Christ alone.
We are in the time of the year where some of you put your boats in the water. Ask yourself, whether or not you would go out into the water without an anchor. Since so many things can happen while in the water, the anchor is a necessary part of the boat’s equipment. In fact, there may be circumstances that arise when the hope of the boat doesn’t rely on you, or the motor, or the oars, but on the anchor.
The Lord is that anchor. No matter what you might encounter in life. No matter if your hopes and dreams are dashed. The Lord remains the one to keep you grounded. All else may fail, but he never will. You can count on it. You can put your hope in him. Amen.
June 24, 2018 Pentecost 5 Job 38:1-11 J.D.Roekle
Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.
2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
The Ways of God Are Beyond Us
Dear Friends in Christ,
Are you a person who likes to give feedback on things? When I get my oil changed, they had me a postcard and ask me to fill it out and mail it in. When I get my haircut, I get an email the next day asking me to fill out a brief survey. Look at the bottom of your McDonald’s receipt and you will find that they will give you a buy one get one free deal if you go online and fill out their survey. All around us, people are looking for feedback. How are we doing? What could we be doing better?
That kind of thinking carries over into our thinking about God. Maybe God needs my feedback too. Maybe he needs some advice from me. If he would just listen to me for a second, I think I could reason with him about what’s going on in my life. Then maybe he would change his course. But is God really asking for our feedback? Is he really looking for advice?
Job seemed to think so. He said: “I desire to speak to the Almighty
and to argue my case with God.” On more than one occasion, Job had expressed his desire to give God feedback. To give God advice.
Of course with Job we might think he had good reason for it. If anyone had the right to question God and to argue his case with God, it was Job, right? Remember his situation? God had allowed Satan to inflict a lot of pain and suffering on Job who was a blameless and upright man. Review the first two chapters for yourself and you can see the pain inflicted on Job. For starters, he was robbed of all his wealth; then he was robbed on his family – his sons and daughters were all killed; finally, he was robbed of his health, with painful sores infecting his body.
And then top that off with advice he was receiving from those around him. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends were telling him that he was to blame for this because of sins he must have committed. Job’s head was being filled will various ideas about what was going on. Is it any wonder that Job wanted to give God some feedback?
Job isn’t alone, is he? Whenever we question God, aren’t we seeking to give God some unsolicited feedback? Some unsolicited advice? We may have similar things going on in our lives as Job, or we just may question why God allows certain things to happen in our world. Maybe God could use my input?
When we question God, God does answer us. He answers us in his Word. But he doesn’t give us the answer we may be expecting. After hearing Job’s solicitations to have an audience with him, God responds to Job in our verses for the first time. And as God often does when he appears, he does it in dramatic fashion: he answers Job out of a storm. He does this to signal the importance of what is happening: the Almighty God is stooping down to talk with his creature.
The words God speaks to Job are really a rebuke: ““Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”
Job has some beautiful confessions at times. After he found out his wealth and his family was wiped out, in faith he said: ““Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” And later on after commiserating with his friends and opining about his suffering, he confessed his faith in his risen Savior: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
On one hand, Job’s faith came through loud and clear. At other times, he expressed his doubts. He tried reasoning things out. In doing so, Job said many things that just served to confuse things. To confuse the truth. And God called him out on it. You don’t really know what you’re talking about! the LORD told him. I’m here to set you straight and to set the record straight.
That certainly happens with us too. We attempt to explain the unexplainable. We use our reason to do it. When we have no real answer, we try to provide the answer ourselves. We try to persuade God to our way of thinking.
Can we convince God? Not likely. God sets us straight as he did Job. He rattles off a series of questions to Job relating to the creation of the world. Were you there, Job? God asks. In asking these questions, he was putting Job in his place. He couldn’t have possibly understood how God did what he did in laying the foundations of the universe. If that’s the case, how could Job possibly understand the design of God’s plan for him?
There’s another important point to this first series of questions God asks of Job. God pictures his work like that of a builder who speaks in terms of foundations, dimensions, and measurements. Constructing a building isn’t just a matter of putting up walls and throwing a roof on top. It takes careful planning. An architect draws up plans and blueprints with careful measurements. During the building phase itself, builders carefully plan and measure things. By using this comparison, God is reminding Job and us that God does things in an orderly fashion. He has created the world in an orderly way. It was well planned out. There was specific purpose behind everything that God created.
Only God was there originally at creation. Only the stars in the sky and the angels witnessed a portion of his creating work. He alone knows how he put the world together. And God is an orderly God who carefully planned things from the beginning. To question God’s plan for the universe and how he goes about carrying out his plan is presumptuous. Are we foolish enough to think that we somehow know better than God?
When we are faced with the reality of who God is, we must admit that the ways of God are beyond us. That certainly is true when we consider what God allows Satan to do. God allowed Satan to have his way with Job for the most part. It appears that he allows Satan to have his way with us and our world at times.
While that is true, we do well in understanding a second point God is making through his second set of questions. In this series of questions, God is comparing his command over the sea with a parent’s command over a small child. God controls the sea just like a mother has control over a baby she has wrapped up in swaddling clothes and cradles in her arms. God has control over the sea as a parent has control over an infant he puts in a playpen. The infant has some freedom, but there are boundaries.
In Job’s case, this is a reminder that while God has allowed Satan to have his way with Job, Satan is still contained. There is a limitation as to what Satan can do. God is still clearly in control. That’s true for our lives and our world too. Satan may seem to have the upper hand at times. But he is clearly is limited…and he knows it. Remember that God is in control.
And God being in control is always a good thing. God approaches us from a mindset that is foreign to us. He reveals that mindset in the name he calls himself: LORD. If you look back in verse one, he uses this name, LORD, in order to reveal his mindset to Job and to us. He wants us to know that his ways are truly beyond us. And that’s a good thing. He is a God of grace and mercy. He is a God that seeks and saves that which is lost.
It is this LORD whose ways are foreign to us who has conceived a plan to rescue us from the beginning. He has carried out that plan by sending his one and only Son Jesus to suffer and die for us. It is this Savior, this Redeemer, who rose victoriously and now lives, as Job reminds us, whom we will see with our very own eyes one day. And when that happens, everything will be made clear to us.
Do you have feedback for God? Well, God doesn’t want your feedback or advice. And unlike us, God doesn’t need any feedback or advice. Especially not from imperfect people like us. His ways are beyond us. Thank God for that! Let’s be content with knowing that God’s purpose in everything he does is always to bless us with his grace. Amen.
June 17, 2018 Pentecost 4 Mark 4:26-34 J.D.Roekle
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
How Does God’s Garden Grow?
Dear Friends in Christ,
How does your garden grow? If you are a gardener, by now you probably have your seeds, seedlings, or plants in the ground. How is it going, or how is it growing? Are you seeing the seeds pop out of the ground yet, or are you seeing visible growth on the plants?
Of course, there’s another way to think about the question ‘how does your garden grow’. How is it even possible for a seed or plants to grow and even produce vegetables? Of course, a plant needs fertile soil, water, and sun in order to grow.
God has a garden too. In our text, Mark calls it ‘the kingdom of God.’ The kingdom of God is different than the garden in our backyard. The kingdom of God isn’t visible. It is within you. Inside the hearts of people. So how does God’s garden grow? Since we can’t visibly see it, we can’t really answer that so much from the standpoint of results. We can, however, see the evidence of its growth. The words before us today help us to understand how it is possible for God’s garden to grow. God uses a powerful tool to make it grow. He uses his Almighty Word. Because it is God himself who is making his garden grow, the results are incredible.
The Lord teaches us some powerful truths about his garden or his kingdom by speaking in parables. The first parable went like this: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
A seed doesn’t look like much. But it truly is a marvelous thing. You put it in the ground and cover it with soil and after a few days it begins growing. The soil, the sun and water are all important to the health of the growing seed. But what is it that makes the seemingly dead seed grow? The power is found in the seed itself, isn’t it?!
Jesus is here comparing the seed to the Word of God. At face value, it may not look like much. The Bible may not look any different than any other book. And yet it has power beyond comprehension.
Why are you here today? The Word of God draws you here. Think about how that is true from the start. Your heart was dead to God at birth. There was no inclination in you that would have drawn you to God. In fact it was just the opposite. You are born with a desire to oppose God and genuinely hate him.
Enter in God’s Word into your life and heart through the water of Holy Baptism. It is there that your sinful, selfish, hostile to God nature was drowned. And it is there that a new self arose in you. One that loves God and wants to please him. How was that possible? The seed of the Word of God was planted in your heart and it took root and began growing.
Now you know that your sinful nature wasn’t wiped out. You continue to do things wrong. You continue to act out against God at times. Your thoughts and words aren’t always pure.
Because that is the case, we need to remember that the Old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance. That means a daily examination of your heart to see what evil lies there. It means being honest with yourself and realizing that you have not and cannot live up to God’s standards. It also means turning away from that sin and turning toward God to receive his loving pardon once again.
God planted faith in us through the seed of the Word. It is through that same Word that he makes his garden, his kingdom grow in your heart. What happens when you neglect your garden? When you fail to water or weed it? The good plants soon die out. So it is with God’s garden. God is never a neglectful gardener. We are the ones who are neglectful. We are the ones to fail to listen to God’s Word which alone can make us grow. We sometimes need to have a break from things. From work, from school, or even perhaps from family. Don’t ever let Satan convince you that you need a break from God’s Word. That’s like being convinced that we need a break from air.
How does God’s garden grow? Through his powerful Word. God’s Word is so powerful that it has worked wonders in your heart. But it hasn’t worked in your heart alone. It is so powerful that it has created a bountiful garden, a vast kingdom.
Jesus pictures that vast kingdom in the second parable of our text: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
The mustard plant in Israel can grow to heights of up to ten to fifteen feet. It can grow to be twice as big as average humans. So big in fact that even birds can “camp out” in its shade. This is quite incredible when you realize that the mustard plant comes from such a tiny seed. The seed is often about 2 millimeters in diameter. Stack two pennies on top of each other, and the thickness of those 2 pennies is about 2 millimeters.
Now think about God’s garden, the kingdom of God. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the kingdom of God didn’t appear to be too much. After all there wasn’t much to see. There was no plot of land allotted to God’s kingdom. There was no army defending it. In fact, there was really no way of seeing who all was a part of the kingdom. Jesus’ followers had largely scattered and even went underground due to persecutions.
That’s what the kingdom of God looked like to human eyes. But take a look through God’s eyes. Those earlier followers that scattered and went underground spread the message of Jesus Christ all around to at least three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.
Today, the kingdom of God has found its way to virtually every corner of the globe; to practically every country on the face of the earth. Think about that a moment. The mighty Roman Empire that ruled most of the civilized world in Jesus’ day is only a memory. And yet the kingdom of God continues to flourish. And it will flourish until Jesus returns and makes his kingdom visible as he destroys the earth and creates a new heaven and a new earth for his kingdom where multitudes will forever praise him.
And it all started with a tiny seed. The seed of the Word of God. The Gospel that worked its way into countless people. The same Gospel that has seen its way into your heart and mine.
God’s garden, his kingdom, is still growing, and he uses you and me to do that. And the tool that he gives us is the same one he has used throughout the ages. The seed. The Word of God.
Do you ever find yourself doubting the power of God’s Word by putting limitations on it? Do you every find yourself saying something like, “If I could speak more fluently maybe I could convince my neighbor to come to church.” First of all, we should be concerned with bringing our neighbor into God’s kingdom. Secondly, no matter how eloquently a person might speak, he cannot bring anyone into God’s kingdom. It is our job to plant the seed. To use the powerful Word of God. The Word alone make God’s garden grow. Don’t doubt its power. Use it as you talk to those around you concerning the thing which matters most: the needs of their soul.
Are you looking forward to later in the summer when you are able to harvest your garden or when your neighbor who gives you produce harvests his? As your mind takes you to that garden, consider God’s. How does God’s garden grow? Through the Word of Christ alone. God’s garden grows as the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection works on hearts. As you soak in the summer’s sun, soak in that Word which brings your heart all that it needs to flourish as your faith in Christ grows. And then use the Word to plant seeds in the hearts of others who need it, so that God’s garden will grow there too. Amen.