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LWML Sunday

Text: Psalm 62:1-8

Title: “The Rest We Share”

Date: October 7, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

(based on a sermon by Rev. Ken Hennings, LCMS Texas District President)

Social media have brought more information to our electronic devices than ever before. These media give us instant news with live interviews of people experiencing situations in their lives. Some of this has been a blessing to people in need. Rescuers bringing assistance to people in times of a crisis like Hurricane Florence can receive calls, texts, emails, and messages from people who need help. First responders can pinpoint where these people are and where the nearest rescue team is to bring help and assistance.

         But for many, social media have raised the level of fear and uncertainty about their safety and even their future. Church and school shootings, terrorist acts, and threatening Facebook postings are just a few things that have robbed many people of any sense of security or peace. Instead of the world moving closer and closer to peace and love, the world is moving closer and closer to destruction. Hatred and division are on the rise, while love and peace seem to be losing. You and I are brought face to face with the reality of insecurity. So where does a person go for peace and security in an uncertain world like ours?     

         To help answer this question, we go to our sermon text Psalm 62, which was written by King David, who was very familiar with the insecurity of his world. David wrote Psalm 62 sharing his own uncertainty and where he found peace and rest. He was under a serious attack from an enemy or enemies who wanted to overthrow him as king. There are also hints in Psalm 62 that David is an older man when he wrote this Psalm. He uses the phase, “like a leaning wall, a tottering fence,” to describe himself. And some Bible scholars believe that this Psalm might be a reference to the revolt by Absalom, David’s son, when David was an older man and had to flee Jerusalem quickly.

         Whatever situation David was in…when he writes this Psalm, he shares with us his strong response to threat and uncertainty. This Psalm proclaims David’s strong faith, and it proclaims where you and I find rest and peace when we are confronted with the threats and uncertainties in our world. Rest and peace are found in God alone! He is the Rock, the Fortress, and Salvation you and I need!

         You may have heard about Melissa Falkowski, a journalism and English teacher at a high school in Parkland, Florida, who hid 19 students in her classroom closet on Feb. 14, 2018 when she learned there was an active shooter at the school. This heroic woman is a reflection of God who hides you in the shadow of His wings as evil rages. (cf. Psalm 57:1)

         Also at the high school in Parkland, Florida…Assistant Coach Aaron Feis stepped in front of students to protect them from the gunman. In doing this, Aaron gave up his own life for his students. This heroic man is a reflection of God the Father’s only begotten Son, who was sent as your eternal refuge to defend you and give up His life for you. On the cross, Jesus took what would crush you and died in your place. The only place you can find lasting rest in this turbulent world is in the One who conquered death in order to give you eternal life. Through the living Word of God, you receive rest. Through Holy Baptism, you receive forgiveness…you are rescued from death and the devil…and you are given eternal salvation. Through the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, you are hidden in Jesus’ grace, strength, and forgiveness. Indeed, this world will rage until the Lord returns. It may even injure you physically and emotionally. But Jesus, who is Lord over all, is your rock of protection and your salvation now.

         Making a strong statement of faith and confidence in Psalm 62, David declares God to be your rock and salvation when faced with a challenging situation…the One who quiets your soul and the One who gives you rest that goes beyond physical and emotional rest. This rest invites you to stand in the presence of Almighty God in silence, receiving the peace your Rock and Salvation gives you no matter what’s happening around you. David knows this and serves as a witness to God’s grace and rescue. He recognizes in the first part of this Psalm that his challenges come from people who use lies and falsehood to bring him down from his place of honor. Outwardly blessing David with their mouth, they inwardly curse him and want him defeated.

         Up to this point, David declares that his soul waits in silence on God alone. God is his rock and salvation, and he will not be greatly shaken. He follows this strong statement of faith with verses 3 and 4 describing the actions of those who want to defeat him. As we ponder what David has written, words of Jesus might come to mind when He said in John 8 that the devil is “…the father of lies.” (v. 44) The devil desires you and me to fall down from our place of honor as children of God. He will challenge you to doubt God’s forgiveness and love for you. You must recognize this and know that we are in a spiritual battle against a mighty foe, needing the Armor of God described in our Epistle reading from Ephesians 6. Because of who God is and His commitment to you and me, we say with David: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6)

         It is our arch enemy’s desire for you and me to prove to God that we really deserve His love and forgiveness because of what we have done. Yet, there is no rest, no refuge for you and me in this approach to God because we will be constantly wondering whether we have done enough. That’s why God invites you and me into His presence to stand in silence and receive from Him His love, based on HIS actions. In Psalm 62, verse 8, David affirms this when He says: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

         You’ve read and heard about many heroic rescues during the flooding and destruction of Hurricane Florence. You’ve seen the stirring photos and have been moved by the accounts of self-sacrifice. But there was a much greater storm than Florence. The storm of sin and death engulfs humanity. Our rock and our salvation, Jesus Christ, came and bore our sins onto Himself. He’s the One who was promised to Adam and Eve…the One who died and rose from the dead to give you great confidence and assurance, no matter who attacks you or what is happening around you. In Jesus, you stand before the Father with your soul silent, receiving life abundantly and salvation from Him.

         Many congregations in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are celebrating and thanking God for the ministry of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. For 76 years the LWML has been supporting mission work nationally and internationally. The women truly are Lutheran Women in Mission, and they are also women of encouragement. The LWML hasn’t just been collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in their mite boxes. They have also been encouraging women and men in their faith walk to find true rest in God alone.

         Over the 76 years of ministry, the LWML has lived through major challenges in our world and country, and even in their organization. Through all of the challenges and uncertainties, the LWML has placed their trust in God and have looked to Him for direction. Lives have been touched through their work and people have received rest that comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Let us be encouraged in our own witness by the witness of the LWML. There are people all around us that struggle with insecurity in this fast-changing, uncertain world. We have true rest to offer them in the God who loves them and gave His Son for them. Live in this rest…in the One true God who loves you and sent His Son to redeem you, thereby restoring the right relationship with your Rock and Salvation, who said: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) Live in this rest…and share this Good News with others. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 20 - Series B

Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20 & Mark 9:30-37

Title: “God’s Dysfunctional Family”

Date: Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

When you hear the phrase, “dysfunctional family,” what pops into your mind? Is it Dr. Phil or a particular reality show? When you hear these words “dysfunctional family,” various ideas, emotions, and memories come to mind, don’t they? How many of you didn’t realize that your family was not as normal as you thought until you got married and introduced someone new to it? Sometimes it takes an outsider to ask simple questions like: “Why does your family do this?” or “Why does your family act like that?” The fact of the matter is not one of us grew up in a family that functioned perfectly. None of us live in families where everything is perfect.

        This morning I am going to take you on a journey. We are going to look at three different dysfunctional family relationships. My prayer for you is that you will grow in appreciation of how God takes you and me…sinners as we are…and through His grace, restores us and reconnects us to Himself and His family. No matter how God finds you or whatever family struggle you find yourself in…my prayer for you is that you will know you are a valued part of God’s family.
        The first dysfunctional relationship that we are going to look at comes to us in the Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah. What is going on here is that God’s spokesman Jeremiah is depressed because he has just learned that a group of people want to kill him. Not just any group of people but these people are from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth. Not only are the people from Jeremiah’s hometown plotting to kill him, listen to what God says in Jeremiah 12:6, “Your BROTHERS, your OWN FAMILY – even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you.” Jeremiah’s own flesh and blood…his own family…his own brothers have been calling for his death. I have had my share of disagreements and arguments with my brothers and sisters, but it never, ever ended up in a death wish.
        What a terrible situation for Jeremiah, who feels betrayed according to our sermon text. He feels like a gentle lamb…the family pet that played with the kids and slept in their rooms…who is suddenly being taken away to be butchered! (cf.  vv 18-19) But the worst thing of all is that Jeremiah is now in the unpopular position of having to call down judgment from God, not just on the people of his village, but also on his own family. How hard it must be to speak these words: “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (v 20) Jeremiah puts his defense into the hand of the LORD Almighty. The prophet has no personal hatred in his heart nor is he seeking personal revenge since he is meek, obedient, and ready to serve the LORD in all circumstances. This situation Jeremiah finds himself in is heartbreaking for him. Is it any wonder that he is sad and sorrowful?
        This leads us to understand something about the second dysfunctional relationship. In Jeremiah chapters 11 and 12, the prophet speaks openly and plainly about how he has been betrayed and how much it hurts him. But Jeremiah is not the only one who has suffered heartbreak on account of his family. Wrapped all around Jeremiah’s tears and grief is the sadness, pain, and grief of God, who has also been betrayed by the family He loves…betrayed by His own people…His own children. You can hear the hurt and betrayal in God’s words from Jeremiah 11:9-10: “Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who have refused to listen to my words. They have followed after other gods to serve them.” It is not hard to see that God’s own people make up the dysfunctional part of God’s own family. What is hard to believe is that they would show such little gratitude to God…or run off and worship other gods…or be so brazen in rejecting the One who loves them so much.

But they do…and it breaks God’s heart, which leads us to the third dysfunctional family relationship that we find in our Gospel reading. This one is a little more personal. This one involves the disciples and it involves you and me. In Mark 9, we meet up with the Son of God taking His disciples away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to spend some intentional and intense time teaching them about what was soon to happen. Jesus says to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk 9:31) This is not an easy thing for the disciples to hear. In fact, St. Mark makes it clear that, “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mk 9:32)
        Now, don’t blame the disciples for not understanding or, at least, not wanting to understand. This is not what any of them want for their Lord or what they picture happening to the long awaited Messiah. The people whom Jesus comes to save will be the very people who reject Him…punish Him…and kill Him. It is the ultimate betrayal! But Jesus says this is exactly what is going to happen! John 1:11 states it so chillingly: “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The plain truth is that Jesus came into this world to save the very people who rejected Him…who sinned against Him…who killed Him.
        Yes, that includes you and me. There is not one us here this morning who doesn’t fall into this category. You and I have betrayed God and neglected to do what He asks. You and I have gone chasing after other gods. You and I have been unfaithful to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Of course, you don’t like to think of yourself in these terms. But you and I need to because this is the reality of who we are…poor, miserable, wretched sinners, who have “…bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in [our] hearts” (James 3:14) as St. James puts it. “You adulterous people, continues James. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

        In a book titled: The Heat: Steelworkers' Lives and Legends, Joe Gutierrez tells five stories from his 42 years as a steelworker. In one story called, "Snow Danced in August," he describes a scene of silvery dust flakes that frequently floated to the floor in an area of the mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. For years, workers and visitors alike flocked to the sight, which was especially picturesque at night. Then they discovered the dust was asbestos. "Everybody breathed it," wrote Gutierrez, who suffered from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as did many other plant workers. "Who am I? I'm everybody” he continued. “Can't walk too far now. I get tired real fast and it hurts when I breathe, sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job." How many things in our culture and society resemble the silver flakes in that steel mill…very enchanting but deadly to us?

Even when you fail God and sin against Him…even when you have nothing to offer to Him…the Good News is God will continue to love you and have compassion on you. Because the LORD chose to die for all those in His dysfunctional family, including sinners like you and me who have rejected Him at times and chased after idols…He has paid the terrible price for all of our sins, including our double-mindedness and our rejection and refusal to receive Him. By doing this, the LORD restored the relationship that we broke with Him. He reconciled us to Himself and thereby gave us eternal life.  

Of course, on this side of heaven, you and I will continue to struggle with sinful dysfunction in our lives. But confidently know this: God sacrificed HHimself for your sins and He loves you perfectly. Constantly repent and return to Him to confess your sins and to experience the gift of His merciful restoration once again. After all, God has made you His own, now and forevermore. Amen.


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