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16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Series B

Text: Isaiah 35:4-7a

Title: “The Source of Life”

Date: September 9, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

One of the first things parents try to teach their children is that there are natural consequences to certain actions. For example, a parent says, "Jimmy, if you pull the cat's tail, she will scratch you!" Should Jimmy question whether his parents are correct and pull the cat's tail? As you know…if he does pull the tail, Jimmy very likely will learn that his parents were absolutely right…that there are indeed natural consequences to certain actions we do!

Isn’t that the same way with God? From the beginning, God has made it clear that He is in charge and that there are serious consequences to going against His command. (cf. Gen 2:16-17) Leading up to today's Old Testament reading, we see more natural consequences of going against God's desire. Israel had repeatedly gone against the Lord's command and was bearing the grave consequences of their disobedience by being surrounded and threatened by nations on all sides who were their powerful enemies.

        Isn’t that the same way with us? When confronted by our own sin, you and I, like the Israelites, find ourselves haunted by past sins. And the unclean things of our lives cannot be exterminated or eliminated by us, no matter how much we try. Just as an owl hoots over and over again in the night, calling to all who will listen…so our sins call out to us…reminding us of our lack of righteousness, which God demands of all people.

        And be assured that our own methods of obtaining righteousness go nowhere in fulfilling our desperate need for it. No amount of alcohol, drugs, entertainment, or any other self-designed remedy will permanently erase the sin that haunts you. These man-made remedies for your unrighteousness are a façade…a false hope that provides no relief from the terrors of your conscience. These so-called remedies fade away into nothingness, just as a mirage's false hope still leaves a desert traveler thirsty.

        Yet, there is hope! God Himself comes to the rescue. He’s greater than the nations lined up against the Israelites and also greater than anything that would turn your life into a desert wilderness ‘haunted by unclean things’ from your own past. God says: “to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong, fear not!"” (Is. 35:4a) Is this because God points you to yourself and your own abilities? Of course not! He points you to Himself…and Himself alone! God brings Himself into the world from His heavenly home to rescue sinners like you and me…to bring us back to life from the desert wilderness of sin. Being God's people, take heart that your Rescuer is greater than all your enemies. As Martin Luther points out: "Though all devils were rolled into one, my God is still greater!"

        Now, to those who might be thinking: “Yeah, Pastor, God may be greater but He is too far away from me and I cannot reach Him,” the beautiful answer is this: “You don’t have to reach Him…He comes to you!” God reaches out to you in His Word and Sacraments to rescue you from your desert wilderness of sin. At the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas, a sign warns visitors to “Keep Hydrated.” The guide explains that some visitors get sick because they don’t drink enough water to handle being outside in the hot, dry, sunny climate.

        Likewise, followers of Jesus Christ are to “Keep Hydrated” in God’s Word in the Bible. This is good, sound advice for the children and youth of our congregation as we celebrate Sunday School Rally Day today. We thank the Lord for how He has wonderfully made you and worked in your lives thus far, including providing Sunday School instruction and Youth Bible Study, in which both are led by dedicated teachers and staff.

        Like these children and youth, we adults need spiritual renewal and refreshment again and again and again! That’s because the evil one continues to work through the non-believing world and will try anything and everything to keep children of all ages out of worship…out of Sunday School…out of Confirmation class…out of the Bible study class…out of using your gifts to serve God and others. And sadly, many times He succeeds! The evil one tempts you with all sorts of activities that will try to get you to misplace your spiritual priorities. The secular world will force you to work more hours and thereby have less time at home. The ‘father of lies’ will get you students to believe that studying and doing homework and projects aren’t as important as spending your time on social media or playing electronic games. The ‘deceiver’ will get you adults to believe that when you finally pick the right numbers in the lottery, your life will then be complete and you’ll be fulfilled!

        To counter these deceptions by Satan, listen and concentrate on the voice of God through His Word in the Bible. He’s the One who continues to give His all for you! Even though He knew no sin, the source of our new life…Jesus Christ, the Son of God…became the sacrificial offering for your sin so that you could be reconciled with God. And as Isaiah tells us: In the LORD, spiritual healing occurs with absolutely wonderful and great results: “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Is. 35:5) The lame do not simply walk…they leap! (cf. Is. 35:6a) Those formerly speechless do not simply stutter and grunt…they shout for joy! (cf. Is. 35:6a)

        Because God comes and saves you, "waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” (Is. 35:6b) New life blossoms in humans, who were formerly caught in the wilderness of sin. As the life-giving waters flow where they will, so do they renew what’s dead and barren...parched and desolate. Just as water changes the desert, so does Jesus the "living water," (Jn. 4:10- 11) rescuing and restoring those who have forsaken the LORD and are entrapped in the wilderness of sin and death. He will lead them to "springs of living water," (Rev 7:17) where perfect, eternal peace will reign.

        This talk about water brings to mind the sacred waters of Holy Baptism. When you were baptized, Jesus took you aside and made you His own. When you were baptized, Jesus opened your ears to His Word and gave you His Spirit and faith. When you were baptized, Jesus released your tongue to speak in prayer and praise. When you were baptized, the words of Isaiah the prophet became yours: “He came and saved you.” (Is. 35:4c)

        This is because in, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the vengeance and pay-back of God was poured out upon the sin that has oppressed you. In, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the fires of evil were quenched by His blood and the storms of hell silenced with His forgiveness. In, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross…where the Son of God hung as your substitute and condemned in your place and dying your death, so that you may have His life…eternal life.

        Being the source of “new life,” Jesus Christ is the one who breaks the natural consequences of your sin by dying in your stead so that you might experience His grace for not only your misspent years, but also for your misplaced priorities and for your willful and wayward actions. Being the source of “new life,” Jesus has come and is here for you today…here in His true body and blood for you to eat and to drink in order to save you and to give you the forgiveness, faith, strength, and peace that you so desperately need. Repent and come receive Him, and you will find rest for your anxious heart! For as long as you live in this world and life, you will have many anxiety-causing afflictions. You will have no shortage of troubles. You will not be immune. But you do have this promise that they will not win, and you will not be alone. “He will come and save you.”

So, like the natural consequence that if you pull the cat's tail, he will scratch you…the natural consequence of your sin will land you smack dab in the middle of hell. But "[b]e strong, fear not”…for your God has come to save you! Through Jesus and His love for you...you are released from the desert wilderness of sin. You are now free to serve the Lord and others…and to live with God in joy and peace now and throughout eternity! Amen.

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