Sunday, August 29, 2004

Luke 12:49-53 - “Hello, I Am Dead”

13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, August 26, and Sunday, August 29, 2004

Well, maybe you have a group of friends that meet together as a book club, reading and discussing books together. Or maybe you followed Oprah’s Book Club, where she chose books and had discussions on her TV show. Well, now we’ve all been invited over the past few weeks to join Pastor Miller’s Book Club. As he’s been saying, he plans on following the Gospel readings from Luke for his sermons through the next couple of months. The way the lectionary, the chosen readings for each Sunday works is that until Advent, every Sunday the Gospel reading is from Luke. Pastor Miller has been encouraging us all to read Luke and study it with him. I decided this week that I too will join Pastor Miller’s Book Club.

Today’s reading continues a lengthy teaching section in chapter 12 of Luke where Jesus is trying to help His disciples understand what it means to be His disciple, to be His follower. The disciples are learning that it is extremely challenging to be a disciple, to have faith in Jesus and learn from Him. It is scary, difficult, and lonely to follow His ways.

As you look through chapter 12, you realize that it keeps giving answers to the question: what does it mean to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to trust Him, to love Him, to do His will, to follow Him even when you don’t know where that’s going to lead?

When you get to verses 49-53, they’re the verses of death. Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth,” judgment on the earth, condemn the earth for sin. Jesus has come to bring death to the earth. Jesus says, “But I have a baptism to undergo,” a baptism of death, His crucifixion. Jesus came to be put to death. Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division,” separation from God, removing the sinners from God’s presence. Jesus came to put sinners to death.

Jesus came to pronounce our death, so what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to believe these three things: I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever. Of course, there’s more that we believe about Jesus. Luke chapter 12 teaches other things about what it means to believe in Jesus. I think you know that believing in Jesus also means trusting that He forgives us, He loves us, and He gives us life after death. But according to verses 49-53, believing in Jesus means: I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever.

Another way to look at this passage is to realize that to believe in Jesus means labeling ourselves as dead. Like the picture on the front of the bulletin, when we believe in Jesus, that’s like putting a nametag on that says, “Hello, I am dead.” Hello, I am dead. I deserve the fire, the judgment of God, eternal death for my sins. Hello, I am dead. Jesus, well, His death is my death. When Jesus died on the cross, that should’ve been me. Hello, I am dead. I should be divided from God forever. God should have nothing to do with me, because I am sinful, corrupt, out to do my own thing, forgetting the things of God. Hello, I am dead.

When you say that you believe in Jesus, you are calling yourself dead in your sins.

But maybe you don’t like the picture on the bulletin. It’s too blunt; it’s a bit morbid; it doesn’t tell the whole story, because you thought that Jesus brought life, life to the full, the new life, life after death. And He does. He does bring life, but the “Hello, I am dead” nametag reminds us that we don’t see the new life right away. Jesus tells His disciples about death, because at first, when we follow Jesus, that’s all we can see. In order to believe in Jesus, we have to believe that we are sinful—dying because our lives are hopelessly beyond repair; we can’t fix ourselves. We have to believe that there is death, eternal death, death that lasts forever. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means putting on the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.”

Yet, what we don’t see, what we can’t see, what we’re still waiting to see is the new life that Jesus promises. Jesus forgives; Jesus loves; Jesus saves; Jesus rescues; Jesus resurrects; Jesus gives new life. It is like the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.” All you see is the word, “Dead,” but that nametag is over a beating heart. You can’t see it, but there is life where there is death. “Hello, on the surface, I am dead, but underneath, I am alive and free.”

By going with Jesus, what we can see is that we’re labeled as dead in our sins. Yet, that’s only the surface. By going with Jesus, what we cannot see, what can only see by faith is that we are alive. We have the promise of living after death. As Martin Luther said, believing in Jesus means believing that we will pass through death unharmed.

Why is it so hard for people to hear about Jesus? Because when you tell them about Jesus, when you tell them about their sins and why Jesus had to die on the cross, when you tell them all of this, you’re saying, “You’re dead.” You’re saying that to believe in Jesus, they too have to wear the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.” People don’t want to hear that; you don’t want to hear that. We don’t like wearing the nametag; we don’t like admitting that we are dead without Christ.

And that’s when the division comes. Jesus says, “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” The division comes, because people don’t want to be labeled as dead.

When you tell people around you that you believe in Jesus, you believe He is real, that He died for our sins, that only those who believe in Jesus will live after they die, when you tell people this, when you show them your nametag, “Hello, I am dead,” that causes division. No matter how close that person might be to you, no matter what kind of relationship you have, if they are offended, if they don’t want to hear about Jesus, if they think this Jesus stuff is all baloney, then there’s going to be division.

A family member sees you saying, “I am dead in my sins,” and they’re not ready for you to say that the same thing about them. You’re handing out “Hello, I am dead” nametags, and they don’t want to wear that kind of nametag. They don’t want to label themselves as dead, as nothing, as condemned in God’s eyes. When we approach people and tell them about our faith, many people may turn away saying that we’ve got it all wrong, that they don’t want a dead religion, that they don’t believe in a God that calls us bad people. When you tell someone that believing in Jesus means saying, “I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever,” when you tell someone that, it may very well cause a division, cause the conversation to stop, cause tension, cause a relationship to end.

Yet, didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? You know, the Christmas angel says, “Peace on earth! Goodwill to all people!” Division and separation, getting people upset by telling them that they’re dead in their sins, that doesn’t sound like peace in Christ.

But peace in Christ is not “everyone happy together, no one says anything that might be upsetting.” Peace in Christ is being at peace about knowing that we are dead. Christ comes and puts that nametag on us, tells us that we are dead, that we are sinners, but He gives us the peace of forgiveness, love, and the hope of being saved from death. He gives us peace about knowing that we are dead.

The peace is not some kind of surface level, smiley, everything works out alright kind of peace. The peace of Christ is that deep, penetrating, life-changing, peace at the core of your heart. Everything might be spinning out of control around you, everything in your life might be touched by greed and disease and death and despair, everything in your life might be a mess, and Jesus comes to give you peace. He doesn’t clean up the whole mess; He doesn’t fix all of the problems; He doesn’t stop the things that are out of control. He walks right into the center of your life, kicks out the faithlessness, the hopelessness, the emptiness; Jesus walks right into the center of your life and puts the peace right there. Now as everything spins and gets tough and gets messy, now there’s this center, there’s this core, there’s this thing that doesn’t move, doesn’t change, doesn’t breakdown. That’s the kind of peace that Jesus brings.

So you’ve got that peace in the core of your heart as you tell a loved one, a friend, a coworker, a fellow student about Jesus. Then when there’s division, when the walls go up, when the conversation gets strained, when it looks like everything is spinning out of control, then Jesus has planted that peace in your heart to be unmovable in these divided, separated, conflicted, fighting, warring times.

Jesus warns us about the division, about how His message isn’t going to be received so well, because He wants us to be prepared when we start to speak. He wants us to know that there’s going to be division, that people are going to be upset, but He expects it. When someone tells you they don’t want to hear anymore about Jesus, Jesus is saying, “I know that’s going to happen. It’s not your fault. It’s the message, but I still want you to tell people about Me.”

Jesus warns us about the division that is possible, because He doesn’t want us to tiptoe around the message. That’s what I tend to do. People ask me about Jesus, and I end up tiptoeing around this “Hello, I am dead” stuff, kind of hem and haw about this major truth about God, try to mumble my way through when explaining sin and judgment and hell. I say, “Ah, yeah, God is nice, but I guess, well, we also believe that God is. . .well, you know, a little concerned about our behavior.” A little concerned? What am I thinking? Jesus is ready to cast down fire on the earth. Around and around I’ll go, but I never get around to saying, “Believing in Jesus means admitting that you deserve the fire.” It’s like writing their nametag in one of those invisible markers, only to be revealed much later.

But if you didn’t know you were dead in your sins, if your nametag was a secret, then you wouldn’t know why Jesus died, what His death has to do with you, and why we need to have a Savior. Jesus warns us about the division caused by His message, because He wants us to be courageous, speak the whole message, knowing that the whole message is what brings true peace, true life. The whole message of Christ is how we know that we will pass through death unharmed.

So let me tell you, the passage from Luke made me think of the reality TV show, “Big Brother.” Could “Big Brother” be based on what Jesus said about one house being divided? A show like “Big Brother” where they put a bunch of strangers in a house to live together, to compete, to try to be the last one left, to be the winner, is that the kind of division that Jesus is talking about? No, Big Brother and other reality TV shows get people to be divided based on looks, strategy, personality, greed, competition, pettiness.

Remember the kind of division Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with you personally. There will be division in your families, among your friends, because of Jesus, because of His message. This isn’t like Big Brother which is about the individuals, but this is a reality series. The division that will come your way because of Jesus has some elements of a reality series. When you speak about Jesus, people will turn against you. People will set up alliances against you. People will vote you off the team.

But your goal, your mission, your task on this reality series is not a million dollars, is not fame and fortune, is not to be the last one alive. Your goal is to tell people that through Christ, we are dead—and alive. We are judged—and forgiven. We are divided from God—and brought back to Him.

The reality series Survivor ends with Tribal Council where the players speak about what’s been hard, what’s been making them mad, and how they think things are going. And then they vote someone off. So mainly they point out what is wrong with the other people.

With Jesus, the Tribal Council is about admitting what is wrong with ourselves, something that you wouldn’t want to do on a reality series for fear of everyone deciding to vote you off. But in the Tribal Council with Jesus, we say, “I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever.” And then instead of Jesus putting out your torch, instead of Jesus saying, “The Council has spoken. You must leave the game,” instead of getting kicked off, Jesus says, “I will protect you from the fire. I died so you didn’t have to. I have brought you back together with God.”

May we invite other to a Tribal Council like that, where people can admit that they are dead in their sins and then get eternal life through Christ.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Proverbs 3 (selected verses) - “Win! Train! Trust! Serve! Celebrate!”

Vacation Bible School
Thursday, August 5, and Sunday, August 8, 2004

From Northwestern Publishing House -
This week at Vacation Bible School it’s been a theme of “Ready, Set, Gold!”, an Olympic theme, and with the Olympics right around the corner, it only seemed appropriate that we talk about the Olympics and how athletic events are similar to our faith. So we had five key words at VBS this week, and in your bulletins, you have a colored half-sheet, and you probably have a different one from the people around you. That’s your word, and if your sharing a bulletin, share with person next to you, that’s your word too. I’m going to ask to join me sometimes in shouting out those words, so we’re going to practice right now.

Some of you have the word, say it with me, “Win!” Now let’s hear the people who have “Train!” Next is “Trust!” “Serve!” And the last one is “Celebrate!”

Those are five Olympic words, five words that come from the Olympics. I mean think about it, the athletes want to “Win!” They are getting to Athens, they are going to work as hard as they can, they’re going to compete, and they want to win. They want to do their best at each event.

But the only way an athlete can do that is if they “Train!” You can’t just show up to the Olympics and hope to do very well. Most of those athletes start training from the time that they’re little. And they train over and over again to get ready for that one moment. Sometimes it’s an event that’s only 15 seconds long, and they train all of those years to get ready for that event.

But when they get there, they have to “Trust!” They have to trust that their muscles are ready, their skills are ready. Think about an Olympic swimmer. They look down the pool, and they have to trust that their muscles are going to get them down and back again, down and back again, however many times it’s supposed to be. They have to trust those muscles, trust their coach that has get them practicing, and trust sometimes their teammates, which takes us to the next word.

“Serve!” If you’re on a team, you’ve got to serve the people around you, and I’m not talking about volleyball serving or tennis ball serving. I’m talking about serving, helping one another. You can’t do your own thing and hope to win. Basketball has to be a team. Soccer has to be a team. You have to help one another, serve one another.

And then finally we get to “Celebrate!” That’s the key, right? That’s the image we have of the Olympics, somebody getting the gold medal, somebody celebrating that they did so well, and everybody cheering.

Well, those five words are Olympic words, but they’re also five words about our Olympic faith, the faith that is a gift from God. It’s this huge, great gift that God has given us, and let’s see how those words work with our faith. And that’s what VBS has been about this week.

You see, we “Win!” We win with Jesus Christ. We win with Jesus Christ when He died on the cross and rose again. He give us His victory. But see, that’s the amazing thing, when He died on the cross, it looked like the worst defeat ever. I mean, it was worse than losing in the Olympics. It was like Jesus didn’t even show up for the Olympic trials; He didn’t even try to get on the team; He didn’t fight; He didn’t compete. It looked like the worst defeat when He died on the cross.

But He took that defeat and turned it into a victory, turned it into a win. Because when He died on the cross, He defeated death, and He rose again. And then He said, “I’m gonna share that with all the people, with all My people. They can have that same victory.” Jesus took what just looked like a terrible performance, and He turned it into a gold medal performance. And then He said, “I’m gonna give that gold medal to everyone. I’m gonna let them all win. I’m gonna give them all that gold medal. They can all win. They can all have life after death.” He gives us that salvation, so that we can all win. So again, the “Win!” is ours in Jesus Christ.

But now we also said that you can’t win unless you “Train!” But now I just said that you already won through Jesus Christ, and that’s true. Most of the training Jesus took care of; in fact, He took care of all of it. He trained, so that He lived a perfect life. He trained, so that He would know how to defeat death. He was the One who was prepared to win the event. So winning, or salvation, life after death, it’s not about you training to get good enough or get there yourself. However, God does train us in order to see that we have won through Jesus Christ.

God trains us through His Word, through the Bible, like we’ve been studying all week with the students and like we study all the time. We get trained by His Word, so that we know that we have salvation. So that we know that God loves us. So that we know that He forgives our sins. That’s the kind of training we get. We get “Train!”ed in order to see that the “Win!” is ours through Jesus Christ.

But then it comes to “Trust!” Like that Olympic swimmer who stands up on the block, looking down the pool, and has to trust those muscles, we have to trust that God has given us the faith for salvation. We have to trust that when God says, “You’ll be saved through believing in My Son,” we have to trust that that is true. We have to trust that He has the power to save us. Like looking down the pool and trusting that your muscles are gonna get you there and back again, we have to trust that this faith from God is gonna get us down and back again through life, down and back again through the grave. We trust in God for that. We “Trust!” that God has “Train!”ed us to see that the “Win!” is ours through Jesus Christ.

But then having all of that, we come to “Serve!”, to serve God and to serve others. God gives us all this victory, this great thing, and then He says, “I’m going to let you be a part of My relay team.” A relay team, you can’t be out for yourself if you’re on a relay team and kind of hold onto that baton, and say, “Well, I don’t really want to give it to anybody else today.” In order to be on God’s relay team, it’s the same way. You’ve got to pass on that baton, pass on the faith. God gives us all this love, and He’s calling us to serve others, to share with other people, to tell others about Jesus. And so He calls us to be on His team. We “Serve!” others when we tell them that we “Trust!” that God has “Train!”ed us to see that the “Win!” is ours through Jesus Christ.

One more word and it’s a big word. “Celebrate!” That word is perfect for describing what Jesus has done and for describing what we should do every time we get together. Picture in your mind the Olympics and the gold medalist takes the stand, and they give him or her the gold medal, and flowers, and the national anthem plays from that person’s country. It’s this great moment of celebration.

Well, imagine that moment of celebration even bigger for Jesus. Jesus takes the stand up there, and they put the gold medal around his neck, and they give Him flowers, and I’m not sure what the national anthem would be for Jesus, maybe it’s the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of the angels, but there’s this great moment of celebration for Jesus. He’s the victor! He’s the gold medal winner.

And then Jesus says, “Come on up! Come on up on the medal stand! I want to give you My gold medal. I want to give you this win. I want to share it with you. I know you that you were in the back, you weren’t even paying attention. You weren’t even here, but I want you to be up here with Me,” Jesus says. “I want you to have My gold medal.” That’s the celebration we come together for here. We “Celebrate!” that God wants us on His team. We “Serve!” others when we tell them that we “Trust!” that God has “Train!”ed us to see that the “Win!” is ours through Jesus Christ.

Those are five Olympic words, but five words about our Olympic faith.

Now I want you to flip over your little colored piece of paper, and you’ve got a few passages from Proverbs chapter 3. Proverbs chapter 3, verse 8, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart,” was one of the memory verses this week at Vacation Bible School. I took a look at the rest of Proverbs chapter 3 and saw how it matches up with our other four words.

The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is great about having these little statements, these little kernels of truth, these little reminders of who God is and what our faith is. In that same way, these five words are like that. They’re little kernels, they’re little reminders of our faith. Let’s just take a brief look and see where these five words show up in Proverbs chapter 3.

So the first word is “Win!” and that’s in verse 25-26: “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” In Jesus, we win. You don’t have to be afraid of death; you don’t have to be afraid of what is coming. Jesus says, “You’re not going to get caught by death. I’m going to bring you through the grave, bring you through death. You have the win.” So just like Proverbs chapter 3, this “Win!” is a reminder: do not be afraid; He’s going to bring you through death.

The next word is “Train!”, verses 11 and 12: “My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” That sounds a little complicated, but basically it’s saying, “Don’t get mad at God if He tells you that you’re doing something wrong.” He’s training you. He’s training our minds; He’s training our souls to know that we have salvation through God. And just like a father, a mother, a coach who gets on your case over and over again to help you figure out where you did something wrong and get you back on track again, that’s what God is doing. But God is doing it so that you know, remember, He’s training us so that we will know and we will see that we have the win in Jesus Christ.

Next word, “Trust!”, verses 5-8: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” I love that last verse, because that’s exactly what we need from trust. If you’re not trusting in God, if you’re anxious, if you’re nervous, if you’re worried about your future, it’s hard. You feel like you are wasting away, your bones are shaking, and you’re scared all of the time. And God is saying, “This is the flip side of that. Trust in Me, and I’m going to bring you through that. You don’t have to be so anxious and worried. Trust in Me, because I’m going to give you the win in Jesus Christ.”

Next word, “Serve!”, verse 28, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you.” In other words, somebody comes and asks for your help, and you say, “Well, I could help you today, but why don’t you come back tomorrow? I’ll help you then.” God is saying, “Don’t put that off until tomorrow. Help them right now.” Go back to the relay race idea, and it’d be like running in a relay race, you have the baton, you get to the next person, and you say, “Well, I’ll give it to you in a couple of minutes.” In a couple of minutes the race is lost, right? I mean, the race is probably over if you wait that long. In that same way, God is saying, “Don’t wait around if you could help someone today. Serve them right now.” He’s calling us to serve other people and serve Him with our lives.

Finally, the word “Celebrate!”, verses 19-20, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” Proverbs 3 takes us all the way back to the Creation of the world. That’s where our celebration begins. We celebrate that God created the world. We celebrate that God loves us. And even when we went the wrong direction, we celebrate that He forgives us. That’s where our celebration begins. We celebrate, and then we serve God. We trust God. And He has trained us to see that we win with Christ.

Visit the National LCMS Youth Gathering Homepage
Now the interesting thing is that these five words kind of match up with the five words from the National Youth Gathering. 14 youth, 2 other adult leaders, and I got back less than a week ago from Orlando, Florida, where we were with 35,000 other youth and leaders. It was this great big event, and it happened over 5 days, 5 theme words. Let’s look at how they match up with the five words from Vacation Bible School.

Vacation Bible School, the word is “Win!”, but down in Florida, the word was “Power.” It was the power of God, the power of Jesus Christ that made it so that He could defeat death. And He shares that power with us.

Here at VBS it was “Train!”; down in Florida it was “Truth.” There’s no sense in getting trained in something that’s false, trained in a lie. We need to be trained in the truth, trained in God’s Word. And the truth is what gives us life.

Here at VBS it was “Trust!”; down at the National Youth Gathering, the word was “Love.” Not only can we trust God; we can love God. Because He shows us His love, He is worthy of our trust, worthy of our love. And so we turn to Him, and that’s our reaction after we see what He has done for us.

We “Serve!” in VBS, and in Florida, it was to “Live!” You turn around, and you live for God, live for others. And it’s that matching up again of these similar themes.

Finally, our word this week was “Celebrate!”, and down in Florida, it was “Praise.” And down in Florida with 35,000 people, we praised God in so many different ways. There were bands, dancing, banging on drums of all sorts. Even running a race can be praising God. You cross the finish line, raise your arms, and as long as you’re not saying, “I’m the greatest,” as long as you’re saying, “Praise God that He has given me these gifts and abilities,” then that’s a way of praising God. Everything you do in your life can be a way of praising God.

So whether it’s at VBS, Vacation Bible School; or NYG, National Youth Gathering; or RLC, Redeemer Lutheran Church; or ABS, Adult Bible Study; whether it’s at MTWC, Manitowoc, or TR, Two Rivers. Wherever you are, these five words are kernels, reminders of the faith that we have, of the faith that has come to us and given us this taste of victory through Jesus.

I want to try one more thing. I want to try a little chant. We’ll start kind of slow, and then we’ll see if we can keep it going. Win! Train! Trust! Serve! Celebrate! Win! Train! Trust! Serve! Celebrate!….

That’s a way of praising God! And what I want you to remember from those five words is that we “Celebrate!” that God has called us up onto the gold medal stand, that He has invited us to be on His team. We “Serve!” others when we tell them that we “Trust!” that God has “Train!”ed us to see that the “Win!” is ours through Jesus Christ.