Sermons

Archives - July 2020

Compassion for People

July 26, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

Our text for today is the gospel lesson from Mark 8:1-9 along with some Scriptures both before and after this passage. Right at the beginning of this passage, as a large crowd had gathered around Him, Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd” (Mark 8:2). Compassion is a deeply heartfelt care and concern for others, where one wants to bring help and mercy to them. It is a feeling that leads, at least in the case of Jesus, to action.

In Mark, chapter six, another large crowd, mostly made up of His own Jewish people, came to Jesus, and we read, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And so, he began to teach them many things” (v. 34). We know, from John’s gospel, that Jesus especially taught them what they needed most of all - to know that he was the very “Bread of Life,” and that by trusting Him and His Word, they could have eternal life themselves (John, chapter 6, especially v. 26ff). But, He also had compassion on them, then and there too, because they were hungry, and so He provided a meal for 5,000 men, plus women and children (Mark 6:35-44).

In our text for today, another large crowd had gathered around Jesus; but this time, it seems to have been a group mainly made up of Gentile, non-Jewish people. For (you can read about it yourself in Mark, chapter 7) Jesus had just made one of His very few trips, ever, outside of the land of Israel. He went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, north of Israel, with His disciples, (v. 24), and right away, a Gentile woman came to Him, begging that He would cast an evil spirit out of her little daughter, and even saying that if she could only have a few crumbs of help from Jesus, the Bread of Life, that would be enough. Jesus immediately heals the daughter, a long distance away, and when the mother gets home, she finds the demon gone and the daughter at rest and peace, at last (v. 25-30).

Jesus and His disciples soon head back toward Israel, and a man who was deaf and could not speak properly, was brought to Jesus; and Jesus heals him privately (Mark 7:31-37). From where this man was healed, this man might likely also have been non-Jewish. Finally, later on, Jesus and His disciples stop in a “desolate” place, our text says (Mark 8:4). This word means an uninhabited, desert-like place. The only towns anywhere close were mostly Gentile areas, again.

Jesus and His disciples get little rest and peace though. Another big crowd gathers, 4,000+ people, mostly non-Jews also, it seems. Jesus had compassion on them too, as we have heard. They were with Him for nearly three days, our text says. Jesus was bringing them His most important gift too - the Word of God and His Good News. The compassion of Jesus continues. If the people had brought food with them, it was surely gone after three days. It was an uninhabited area. No place was close to go and get food. The people might faint on their way home, Jesus said. And so, in His compassion for them, Jesus provides another miraculous meal starting with seven loaves of bread and a few fish, He fed 4,000+ people and had seven big baskets full left over to gather up. Apparently, even in the Bible, leftovers were good - and worth saving and using later - even if we today don’t always think so (Mark 8:1-9).

But, an even greater miracle might have been that Jesus was even willing to talk with and associate with so many non-Jewish people, and even provide a meal of fellowship with and for them. At that time, the general attitude among the Jews was that they only were the chosen people of God and non-Jews were unacceptable and unclean. To put it in contemporary language, for Jews, “only Jewish lives mattered.” To get a sense of that, you could read Acts, chapters 10 and 11. Peter is asked to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman, non-Jewish, soldier. It took a vision and voices from God and a direct message from the Holy Spirit to get Peter even to get moving to the house of Cornelius. And when he got there, he literally said, “You yourselves know how unlawful (unlawful! - to Jews, but not to God) it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28. See also 11:2-3).

That is what Jesus was teaching and living out in our text for today - in His compassion for all, big crowds and individual people, no matter who they were, no matter what their background or nationality or what problems they were struggling with. In fact, not long after our text, still in Mark, chapter 8, a blind man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus helps and heals him too (v. 22-26).

All of this is really a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, chapter 35, predicting what would happen when the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would come. It would be amazing things coming to desolate places - a prophecy spoken some 800 years before they happened. Listen to some of these words: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice …” (and that is exactly where Jesus is in our text) … “They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God…” (and the glory of God is seen in what Jesus does) … “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come… He will come and save you.” (Jesus is God the Son, who came into this world to save.) … “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped … and the tongue of the mute sing for joy …” (These are the very miracles Jesus performed, plus many more!) … “The redeemed shall walk there … (Those rescued by Jesus) … They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-10, selected verses).

These last words of Isaiah 35 also remind us that Jesus was willing to go even farther in His deep love and compassion for those people and for us and for the while world. Jesus knew the warning God gave Adam in our Old Testament lesson: “If you eat of the tree… you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Jesus also knew that Paul would write of the reality that “death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) and the sobering words of our epistle lesson, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is what our sinful work has earned for each of us, left on our own. Everyone will eventually suffer physical death unless Jesus comes back first, on the Last Day.

It is no surprise, then, that we still see so much suffering and sorrow and death, even today, and so much yelling and screaming at one another, and so many tears, because we all struggle with a lack of compassion for others, at times. But we are not left on our own, struggling with all of this. That deep compassion of Jesus, that love for us and the world, carried Him through all the events we talked about today; and His compassion carried Him, finally, to the cross for us and our very sinful world. Think about it. Jesus did not need to die, himself. He never earned that wage of death, because He never once sinned in all His life (2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 4:15). But for us and for the whole world, He died, taking all our sins upon himself and paying for them all by suffering in our place, a horrible physical death on the cross - and somehow, suffering even the eternal consequences of sin, being forsaken by His Father. That is the worst thing about hell - being totally separated from God. And through it all, his compassion continued as He prayed for us from the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Matthew 27:46, Luke 23:34).

And then He rose in victory over sin and death on Easter morning to bring to us that great promise also in our epistle lesson: “The wages of sin is death; but, [BUT!] the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That amazing promise is ours as we are brought, by Christ’s compassion, to faith in Him and all He has already done for us. And we rejoice in our own baptism, as we have died to our old life of sin and risen to new life in Jesus.

Jesus himself is risen and still alive, now and forever; and His compassion comes to us, still today, as we hear His Word, the Scriptures, as the people did in our gospel lesson. His compassion still comes today as He also feeds us in the Lord’s Supper with His real presence and forgiveness and strength. And Jesus, in His compassion, also gives us each other as family and friends and as a church. As we are strengthened by the Lord and His compassion, He can open our eyes to look at each other with more compassion too. Jesus brings all the blessings; but He can work through us too.

If you would go back and read through Mark, chapters 7 and 8, you would see that ordinary people were also involved along with Jesus. Jesus cast the evil spirit out of the little daughter, but it was because her mother loved her and went and begged Jesus to help. Prayer is so very important (Mark 7:25-30)! We read later on: “They brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Jesus to lay His hand on Him” (Mark 7:32-25). Did you ever wonder who “they” were? Probably just ordinary people, like you or me, who had compassion on this man.

When Jesus fed the 4,000+, He didn’t do it all by himself. He involved His disciples. He did the miracle, but we read: “He gave the bread and the fish to His disciples to set before the people, and they set them before the crowd” (Mark 8:6-8). And later we read: “Some people brought to Jesus a blind man, and begged Him to touch him” (Mark 8:22). Jesus did the healing, but who were the “some people” who brought the man? It could have been some of you who just had compassion on someone else and helped them out. How exciting that the Lord could work through us and our compassion and caring to draw others a little closer to Him and His love; and He can then do His miraculous work with them.

How comforting it is, that in all our own joys and struggles, Jesus knows us and has compassion upon us and will keep giving us His free gifts so that we can carry on in faith, even on days when we wonder if we can keep going one more day, until that day when the prophecy of Isaiah 35 is completely fulfilled, and we will have only gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away, in life everlasting together with Jesus. Let us pray: Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in Christ Jesus our Lord, and His compassion for us.

Amen.

Tags: Mark 8:1-9

Old and New

July 19, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this sixth Sunday after Trinity comes from our gospel text, where Matthew records Jesus’s words, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

I remember being absolutely terrified when I first heard these words as a child. See, I have an older sister, and when we were growing up, man alive, there were times when we made each other CRAZY. I remember her being absolutely livid with me on more than one occasion, and there being times when I was very angry at her. We have since, obviously, grown up and have become close – we still give each other a hard time every once in a while, but we love each other as brother and sister do – but in that moment, when I heard those convicting words of law coming from the lips of my Savior, even as a child, I knew that I was in trouble!

I don’t know how old I was at the time, but if my memory serves me correctly, after hearing those words, I did my best to try and be extra nice to my sister. I let her win playing Mario Kart 64 (even though I could have easily won). I let her have more time in the bathroom. I would even let her choose what toppings to put on the homemade pizza. That lasted … about a week, at most, before I couldn’t take it anymore. She started being a pill again, and I got angry. By that time, I think Jesus’s words had faded from my memory.

It’s probably a good thing, too. That sounds odd, but the reason I say that is because, as a child, I didn’t understand what Jesus was saying in our gospel reading. To my naïve, childish ears, it sounded to me that when Jesus said, “You have heard it said …” He was saying, “You think the Ten Commandments were tough to keep? Well, that was a cake-walk compared to these new commandments that you NEED to keep as a Christian!”

 No doubt, this is how many have read the Sermon on the Mount: basically, thinking of it as Sinai 2.0. This is Ten Commandments Plus. This is the stuff you’ve gotta do! After all, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

From there, He moves into what some perceive as “amendments” to the Ten Commandments. “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you ….” He uses this formula with different issues – anger, lust, divorce, taking oaths, revenge and retaliation, love for one’s enemies, beneficence, praying, fasting, judging, and a myriad of other examples of where the Decalogue intersects with real life. At first glance, it does indeed look like Jesus is telling the people, “Y’all haven’t been pious enough! Because you haven’t kept the commandments, here are some new, even more impossible ways that you must keep them! If you keep them, heaven is yours! If you don’t … you will die and burn in hell for all eternity!” That’s what the Old Man, the Old Adam within us, hears. He hears God’s commandments as what we are to do in order to merit salvation, when in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Sermon on the Mount is not Sinai 2.0. It’s Jesus’s way of painting the cats into the corner. See, the Pharisees had set up a whole system of rules and regulations that the people were expected to keep as a way of avoiding breaking the actual Commandments – by way of example, to avoid breaking the 3rd commandment regarding the Sabbath, it was forbidden to heal someone, lest that be construed as work and incur the wrath of God Almighty. Is that what the Commandments were meant for? Is that why YHWH wrote them on tablets of stone for Moses to bring to the people: to tell them how to act in order to be saved from eternal damnation? Not at all! That wasn’t their original intent, and it certainly wasn’t their purpose by the time Jesus began His public ministry!

It is true that the Law is what we strive to keep; no actual Christian would say otherwise. However, we don’t strive to keep them for our own sake and for the sake of our salvation; we strive to keep them … in order to serve our neighbor in love! The Pharisees had forgotten that; they thought that their salvation was assured because they had followed the rules and laws surrounding the Commandments … not realizing that God’s law is so utterly perfect that even anger against your brother, even insulting someone, even something as relatively benign as calling someone a fool is trespassing the commandment! The Sermon on the Mount is not some new-fangled laundry list of new laws you have to keep; they’re the evidence of our inability to keep them!

“Oh, you think you haven’t murdered anyone? Well, here’s the reality: if you get angry with your brother … if you insult your brother or call him a fool … you’ve broken that commandment!” The natural human response is, “But that’s impossible to keep! How can I possibly keep from being angry with my brother?” And to this, God smiles and says, “EXACTLY.”

The point of all that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount is to show us poor, wretched sinners that it is IMPOSSIBLE for us to perfectly keep the Law of God, even though He demands that we do keep it perfectly! WE CAN’T DO IT, AND WITHOUT INTERVENTION, WE WOULD BE LIABLE TO THE FIRES OF PERDITION! The Law remains … to show us how incapable we are of saving ourselves! Like a mirror, we look at our lives and compare our conduct in thought, word, and deed with the perfect mandates of the Law, and we see how utterly short we fall! We see that we can’t do it, and that we need a Savior!

Thanks be to God, we have one! Jesus, God in the flesh, did what we could not by keeping and fulfilling the requirements of the Law on our behalf … and yet, even though He had never known or committed sin, He became the embodiment of sin for us, taking the sins of all the world upon His shoulders and killing it in His broken flesh on the cross! Salvation doesn’t come to us through the keeping of the Law; none of us would be saved were that the case! “Salvation unto us has come … by God’s free grace and favor! Good works cannot avert our doom; they help and save us never! Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our ONE Redeemer!”

We need the Law to show our need for our Savior, and we yearn for the blessed day when we will actually be able to keep God’s perfect commandments perfectly, in the Day of our Lord Jesus! But until that time, we trust that it is faith in His all-atoning sacrifice alone that gives salvation! The Old Adam and his erroneous thought of earning salvation is drowned in the waters of holy baptism; he is replaced by the New Adam, Jesus Christ, who gives us His righteousness, which far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, and who says, “You can’t do it; but take heart, for I have done it for you!”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Foolishness

July 12, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday after Trinity comes from our Gospel text where Luke records Peter’s words to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” and Jesus’s response, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

You need to understand, first and foremost, that fishing done at night usually yielded good results. That’s often the case today; it’s been some time since I’ve gone fishing myself, but often enough I’ll hear friends say they were on the lake before dawn to get the best bites. In any case, it was supposed to be easier and more fruitful to do than during the day, but for Peter and his crew, the night prior to the events of our text were less than fruitful. Perhaps they were washing their nets because there wasn’t anything better to do during the day than to prepare for the next night’s fishing. It’s unlikely they would have gone out during the day if the night’s work yielded nothing. Which makes what Jesus tells Peter to seem perhaps … foolish.

We aren’t privy to the thoughts that were going through Peter’s head when Jesus asked him to “put out a little from the land” in order to teach the crowds of people on the shoreline from the boat. He does it, no questions asked; he probably enjoyed listening to what the rabbi was teaching as he went about whatever business he had. But then Jesus tells him something extraordinary: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” To Peter’s ears, this is probably most unwelcome. He’s tired, he’s disheartened by the fruitless night of toil. He’s clearly not keen on going back out into the deep to spend another several hours of fruitless labor; if the night’s work yielded nothing, there certainly was little chance of catching anything during the day. It went against the conventional wisdom of the day, and no doubt sounded to Peter like foolishness. Hence, his initial protestation of, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Nevertheless, he also adds, “But at Your word I will let down the nets.”

It seemed like foolishness. You simply don’t fish during the day! And yet “… when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”

Mindboggling! Unfathomable! Contrary to conventional wisdom, and clearly not a fluke! This can only mean one thing: Peter and his compatriots are in the presence of One who is sent from God. They are in the presence of holiness! And Peter acts in kind. He’s acting according to human nature and wisdom that had been passed down for generations: sinful mortals cannot be in the presence of holiness and live! As with the nature of fishing at night, there is precedence for this wisdom: Moses had to veil his face after being in the presence of YHWH, Isaiah bemoaned his life when he saw YHWH in His throne room, and even in our Old Testament lesson, Elijah covers his face with his cloak before the presence of God. Thus, Peter cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He knows he’s a sinner in the presence of holiness, and he doesn’t want to die! Who can blame him? For a sinner to treat holiness with flippancy sounds exceedingly foolish!  But Jesus tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” That is not foolishness; it is the love, mercy, and grace of God.

Some may think that sort of reckless love for wretched sinners like Peter is, in and of itself, foolishness! After all, we know how nasty people can be. We’ve all been jilted, hurt, cheated by others, and Lord knows that the wisdom of this world would dictate, “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Forgive, maybe, but never forget.

But God’s ways are not our ways! He chooses what appears to sinful humanity as nonsensical foolishness … and uses it to accomplish His great purposes. Who would have anticipated a huge haul of fish after a night of nothing? Who would expect a holy God to tell a sinner to not be afraid? Who would have thought that Peter – the same guy who would deny his Lord thrice on the night when He was betrayed – would become a great apologist and leader in the Church? Who would have thought that Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews who initially took great pride in the persecution and destruction of Christian lives, would go on to be the greatest missionary that ever lived and bear the message of Christ before the Gentiles? Who would have ever thought … that the way God would save His world, His creation … would be through offering up His only-begotten Son, God in the flesh, as a sacrifice for all sin? On its face, according to human wisdom, this is the height of foolishness!

But “… the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Who would expect water and a promise to make you clean for all eternity? Who would ever think that words spoken by a simple man can actually have the power to forgive sins? Who could have anticipated that in, under, and with simple bread and wine, you would actually taste and see that YHWH is good, in the very body and blood sacrificed for you on the cross? It’s foolishness, even stupidity, according to the wisdom of this world! But when God steps into His creation, into the space and time of His cosmos … He does the unexpected, the alarming, the foolish … and He shows Himself to be the only One who is wise, and the only One who truly loves.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tags: Luke 5:1-11

But God Meant It for Good

July 05, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

A couple of people have mentioned to me, in the last few weeks, that they think we may be in the last times, because of all the Covid problems and so many unsettling things going on. This is a situation worth thinking about, since the Bible clearly says that there will be an end to all things and that we need to prepared, by continued faith in our Savior. At the same time, even nearly 2,000 years ago, our Lord Jesus predicted, “In the world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Troubles and challenges will come. And early Christian leaders like Paul were telling people, “When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:4).

Joseph certainly knew this reality of affliction and trouble, in our Old Testament lesson. If you remember the story, Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob and clearly his father’s favorite. (You can read the entire story in Genesis, chapters 37-50.) His brothers were jealous of him and became more and more angry and frustrated with him, over time.

His father compounds the problem by giving Joseph something he gives to him alone - a coat of many colors. And finally, Joseph has two dreams which he interprets to mean that his brothers and even his father would one day bow down to him. That was the last straw for his brothers. They decided to kill him and be rid of him.

But one of his brothers, Judah, convinces the others to sell Joseph as a slave. They could then get some money for selling him and still be rid of him. They kill an animal and put its blood on his coat of many colors, pretending he had been killed by a wild animal. Father Jacob is devastated by hearing of the supposed death of his favorite son.

And Joseph is only 17 years old when he is sold as a slave and taken to Egypt. If you were Joseph, what would you be thinking about your brothers and the evil they did to you? And what would you think about God? Why in the world would He have allowed such a thing to happen? We don’t know all of Joseph’s thoughts, but he was sold again, in Egypt, as a house slave to Potiphar, captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt.

What we do know is that, by the grace of God, Joseph kept his faith, and the Lord was with him, and over time, he became an important, faithful slave and leader for his master; and Potiphar even recognized that the Lord, the one true God, was with Joseph.

All went fairly well, though he was still a slave, until Potiphar’s wife wanted him to do wrong things with her. She kept after him and after him, though he kept refusing, until he finally had to say, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Joseph had done exactly the right thing; but then Potiphar’s wife turns against him and lies and betrays him, and Joseph is thrown into prison. Prisons in those days were horrible. Joseph called it “the pit.” But he was there for at least several years.

Again, the Lord was with him and helped him survive. God also gave him the gift of being able to interpret dreams; and Joseph meets the cupbearer of Pharaoh, who had fallen into disfavor with Pharaoh and was thrown into prison, also. Joseph interprets a dream of his, exactly, and the cupbearer is soon released from the prison and returns to serve Pharaoh.

The cupbearer quickly forgets about Joseph and his help, though, and for two more long years, Joseph sits in the prison, that pit. Finally, the Pharaoh himself has some dreams that none of his advisors can understand or interpret. The cupbearer remembers, at last, and Joseph is called out of prison to see the Pharaoh.

Joseph is able, by God’s power, to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. He tells that seven very prosperous years are coming for Egypt followed by seven years of famine and trouble. But with careful planning and God’s blessings, plenty of food can be stored up in the good years, and the people can then make it through the lean years, too. Joseph himself is chosen to be the architect of the plans for Egypt, for even Pharaoh says, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”

All goes well for Joseph and for Egypt, and it is during the years of famine that his father, Jacob, sends some of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, because that is the only place around to buy food. Joseph recognizes who the brothers are, but they do not recognize him. He gives them a rough time, for a little while, to test them and see if his father and younger brother are still alive. Then Joseph reveals who he is, forgives his brothers, and arranges, with Pharaoh’s permission, to move his whole family to Egypt where they can be safe and well for several generations.

As our text (Genesis 50:15ff) begins, though, the brothers are not so sure about all this. When Father Jacob dies, they are afraid that Joseph would now punish them. Maybe he had only been kind to them because their father was still alive. They beg and beg, in the name of Jacob and of God, for forgiveness; and they fell down before Joseph, saying, “Behold, we are your servants” (v.16-18). It was exactly what had been predicted so many years before, in the dreams that Joseph had, that had them so upset.

But Joseph is full of mercy and forgiveness for them. He knew that God had been so merciful to him and had helped him so much through very difficult times. He had to be merciful also, in thanks to His Lord. So, he says those beautiful words, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Is it my job to judge and condemn? No! “You meant evil against me, but God means it for good ... that many people should be kept alive, as they are today…” by all the food available to them (v.19-20).

And Joseph is also thinking of the promises of God to his own family. Earlier in Genesis 45, Joseph had told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth … So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:7-8).” And in our text, Joseph not only forgave his brothers, he helped them. He said, “‘Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (50:21).

God used Joseph and even the evil acts of his brothers to advance His whole plan of salvation and spare those sons of Jacob. He grew their little group of about 70 people into the great nation of Israel, the Jewish nation, a people about whom we read in the whole Old Testament. They had plenty of ups and downs too, but from a “remnant” of them, the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus, would come. As the book of Romans tell us, “From their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (9:5). The brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!

But could that be said about us, too, in the midst of all the ups and downs we face in our lives, still today? We know, from the whole of the Scriptures, that what God wants to give us and His world, above all, is His love and mercy and forgiveness. “God so loved the world,” we know from John 3:16. And John 3:17 says, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” And it was through His Son, being condemned to die for us, in our place, on the cross, for our sins, that forgiveness and life and hope have come to us.

We have, by the grace of God, come to be baptized and to believe for ourselves this wonderful Good News in Jesus our Savior. And we have the promise of God in Romans 8: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him,” (the Christ), “graciously give us all things?” (8:32) But that does not mean all things we want or think are right for us. Joseph has to remind us in our text, “Am I in the place of God?” Do I know, better than God, what should happen? Romans 8:26 also reminds us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not even know what to pray for, as we ought.” Isn’t that so true, in confused, uncertain times?

And when the troubles and evils of this sin-filled world pile up for us, it is very difficult. We wish for instant answers and quick solutions, not years of uncertainty, as Joseph had to go through. It is so hard, also, for us to show mercy to others, when our own burdens seem so heavy; though Jesus tells us, in our gospel lesson, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). But, by faith, we do try to hang onto that promise, also from Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” - His purpose and plan, not ours.

Maybe you heard the news from the Purdue News Service this past week that one of Purdue’s women’s basketball players was to have had ankle surgery earlier this year. Covid came along, though, and all but emergency surgeries were postponed. There have been more and more delays, and now, this student will have to miss the whole upcoming season. She can “redshirt” for next season, but things are not going at all as she expected. Now this might not seem like a big deal in the whole scheme of things going on in the world today, but whatever troubles we face, big or small, whoever we are, are very real and important for us - and for people of Indiana, basketball is always important and a big deal!

Coach Sharon Versyp said, “It was crushing news” to hear this. But I am very glad that Purdue’s News Service also chose to include this reaction from the student herself. She said, “Sitting out this season will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face in my life … But I keep reminding myself that God has a reason and a plan for everything.” Here is a young woman who is living by faith and trusting that God can and does work for good, somehow, no matter what the circumstances. She is honest, too, and says, “I keep reminding myself.” We all have to keep hearing these promises of God, don’t we, to stay strong? It is not easy. And this student also said, “I’ve stayed focused on the positives.” She knows her Lord and can see many, many blessings in spite of her setbacks. She is a good example to us, and we pray that she will be back next year, better than ever.

But sometimes, some of the best witnesses and encouragers for us are also those who don’t get better, whatever their problems and struggles are, even with many prayers. We have certainly known people like this and have some of them in our own congregation. The Lord helps them to carry on, even with many limitations, and they are a great light and witness for Him; and the Lord is especially working good for us through them and their faith and perseverance and example.

For all of us, whatever our situation and struggles, the apostle Peter, in his first letter, writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time” (in His own good time), “He may lift you up” (1 Peter5:6). We pray that the Lord lifts us up to good health and better times, soon. But for some of us, the Lord may choose to lift us up to heaven, to eternal life, which we know is ultimately “far better” (Philippians 1:23). So, Peter says, “Cast all your cares (all your anxieties) on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). And he really is working for your good, too.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds safe, only where they are safe, in our Lord Jesus Christ and His love for you (Philippians 4:7).

Amen

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