Monday, October 20, 2014

New Commands and a New Covenant

Week 4: The Story

So are you ready for a quick review of the major themes in The Story that we've covered so far?  Anybody miss a Sunday and want to get filled in?  Sound good?

Here’s the first theme:  God created the heavens and the earth.
God created all things. And out of everything God made, we are the crown of His creation.

So, we had the Creation, and then we had the Fall.  The second theme is the Fall.
Adam and Eve started a cycle of disobedience called sin.
Sin separates us from God, because when we sin, we’re essentially telling God to get lost,  that we don’t need Him.  We can do just fine on our own.

And sometimes we come to our senses and realize that we've fallen, and we’re ashamed.  And like Adam and Eve, we try to hide like they did in the Garden.

Cain fell when he killed his brother Abel.
Noah, was faithful but then after the flood, Noah forgot God’s faithfulness, got drunk, and embarrassed his children.

Abraham and Sarah, trusted God, but they also had doubts, and tried to produce an heir, by concocting their own plan.  Later Jacob tried to get ahead by tricking his father.

But time and time again, even though we are fallen, God pursues his people in love.
And that’s the next major theme: God pursues his people in love.
Creation, Fall, then God pursues us in love. 

In the Old Testament, we see God’s anger when people sin, but we also see God’s patient and steadfast love.

God pursued Adam and Eve in the garden,
he called out to them when they were hiding and brought them back into relationship with Him. God fulfilled his promise to Abraham and Sarah, and even in their old age they had a son.

God pursued Jacob, wrestling with him, and giving him a new name Israel.
And then God protected Israel/ Jacob and his sons, during a great famine.

And even though Joseph’s brothers meant to harm him,
we are told that God used it for good to protect his people.
He kept his covenant promises to Abraham, and to Isaac and Jacob.

So this brings us to theme # 4:  God always keeps his promises.  All the way through Scripture, God always keeps his promises.
Then last week, we had the story of the Exodus.  The story of God delivering the people of Israel from captivity.

And we heard that the Exodus is the central story of the Old Testament. It’s a powerful story.
It’s the story of God is leading his people out of slavery into freedom, into a new life,
into the promised land.
And it’s a foreshadowing of what God ultimately did through Jesus, when he brought us out of the slavery of sin, into the freedom of life in Him.

And this story of the Exodus becomes a big story in the life of God’s people.
It still is.

And as we pay attention to God’s story, we continue to see the connecting points between God’s story and our story. 

And even back then God began telling his story, to help them remember the story.
 When God spoke to Moses, he said,
“Moses, remember who I am, I am the God of Abraham, and remember what I did for Abraham and Sarah?  I blessed them and made them parents of a great nation.
I kept that promise.”

And throughout the Old Testament you will hear God say,
“I’m the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.  I’m the God who will deliver you.
“I’m the God who brought you out of Egypt. I brought you out of slavery.”

And even today, God says to us:
“This is my story.   You know me by my story.  You identify me by these stories.”

And so in today’s story God says to us, “This is my story.   This is how you will know me.
This is how you will identify who I am.”

So in today’s story we learn something new about God.  We learn something new about God’s identity and we learn something new about our identity.

Through the Exodus God saved His people.
But He didn’t just save them for no particular reason. God saved them for a purpose.

On the very first page of Chapter 5, I want to share with what that purpose was,
why God saved his people and brought them out of Egypt.

While they were camped in the desert at the base of Mount Sinai:  it says,
“Then Moses went up to God, and Lord called to him from the mountain and said: This is what you are to say to the chosen descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel.  You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, how I carried you on eagle’s wings, and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my commandment, then out of all the nations, you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

So, right at the end there, did you hear why God saved His people?
Did you hear the purpose God gave them?

He made a covenant with them, right? 
And a covenant is a promise, it’s a commitment, it’s a pledge.
And it was a Divine covenant, God’s covenant with his people. 
God made a promise to them, and his promise was to give them this mission, this purpose,
to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

So what does that mean?
It meant that out of all the nations of the whole world they were called, they were set apart, that’s what it means to be holy.

They were blessed to be a blessing. 
Isaiah 49 states this purpose very clearly:
God says:  I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

So how did God set about to accomplish this purpose?
How did he work that purpose out in the people of Israel,
and how does he work that purpose out today, in your life and mine?

First of all, as they were gathered in the camps at the base of Mount Sinai
God required His people to consecrate themselves, to prepare themselves to meet him.

Now that’s something, we are called to do every single Sunday morning.
We consecrate this day as a holy day, a day set apart for worship.
And when we come here, we prepare to meet God.

Now, the Israelites were called to be different than all the nations surrounding them.
the nations surrounding them were known for all kinds of immorality and they worshipped gods made with human hands, gods made of metal or wood.

Well on Sunday morning when you roll out of our driveway, or down the street,
do you see the street crowded with cars rushing to worship?

Well then, we are a lot like the Israelites.  Because we are called to be different.
We are called to consecrate this day.

We are called to worship the one true God, not gods made of metal.
And today when I think of gods made of metal I think of luxury cars, or luxury houses made of wood, things that people can idolize.

Not that having something nice is bad, but what ultimately do we do?  Do we worship the things that we have? Or do we put God first?

Well the amazing thing is:  God does meet us here.
When He spoke to Moses the whole mountain trembled.

And believe me, when God speaks to us, and he speaks to your heart, your heart has reason to tremble because it’s the God who created the whole universe who is speaking to us.

God’s power is just as real today, as it was to the Israelites.
And God’s presence is just as real today.

As Lutherans we teach that God speaks to us through His Word, through Scripture,
and in Scripture God speaks to us through Law and Gospel.

And so today we have the 10 Commandments, we have this covenant of law that God made with his people.  And some people look at this at a superficial level and see the 10 Commandments as just a list of rules.  Things that we should do.  Things that we feel bad about if we don’t do.  And some people think that that is what church is.
That it’s a place where you go, and God judges you, and makes you feel guilty.
and that the Law just proves God doesn't want us to have any fun.

But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Law, the 10 Commandments were given as a gift.

Just like a loving parent sets boundaries out of love for their children.
Life without boundaries is not fun.  Life without any boundaries at all would be complete chaos.

When I was preparing for this sermon, I watched a sermon from a pastor who invited a member of his congregation, who happened to be a major league umpire, to come and speak on a Sunday morning.  And he asked the umpire what baseball would be like if there weren’t any rules.  And he said, “It would be complete chaos.  All the fun in the game would be gone.
It would be like kids on the playground trying to play a game with different sets of rules, and arguing about who had a better set of rules.”

A relationship without any expectations is not a loving relationship.
Remember the covenant God made with Israel?
Remember the purpose He gave them?
He called them to be set apart, to be holy, to be a blessing and a light to all nations.
And that’s what happens when we keep God’s commandments.

Now I want you to just take a moment, and think of a person of faith you look up to and really admire.  When you think about that person you probably think about the blessing they have been to many people.  You might ber thinking about their kindness or their integrity or their honesty.  And you can just picture their character, and the way God has worked in their lives, and lived through them.  And you can see that they have been is a light to everyone around them.

Now I want you to think of your own life.
In our better moments God is working through us to bless those who are closest to us.
In our better moments we listen to God.  Our hearts are open to God and we ask for Christ to live in us and through us.  And we gather strength from times of prayer, and Bible study, and worship and fellowship with other Christians.

And at other times, sometimes even within the same 24 hour period, instead of keeping the commandments, our sinful nature gets the better of us.
We may keep a commandment at one level but at a deeper level we break it.

Like when Jesus was teaching about commandments to his disciples and he was explaining to them that Pharisees were keeping the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law.
They could say, “Well, I've never committed adultery.”

And then Jesus ups the ante, and said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

So the commandments are a gift a gift to show us how to find life within God’s boundaries.
they show us our purpose as God’s people.

But they are also a Word from God that can convict us.
Just like the Israelites, when life is stressful or when life is hard,
sometimes we’re tempted instead of turning to God, just like the Israelites we in effect build our own Golden Calf.

Have you ever built a Golden Calf, figuratively?
Have you ever turned to food, or alcohol, or possessions, or some other thing to comfort you instead of God?

Well, this morning, the Good News is that when we find ourselves in that place, when we have turned our backs on God and turned toward other things, God never turns his back on us.

We remember that Jesus kept the commandments perfectly, and paid the price for our sins,
and died and rose again, so that He could live in us, and through us.

So that daily, we could turn to the promise, the covenant God made to us in Holy Baptism,
and remember that when we break God’s commandments, that He calls us back to Him,

that we don’t need to hide in shame, that God calls to us, and forgives our sins.
and restores us to relationship with Him.

And He speaks to us again and again, through the Law, and through the Gospel…
through God’s Holy Word and reminds us that He will never fail us or forsake us.    

God speaks to us today, calling us back into a life of service, a life of loving others, and loving Him above all things. And he calls us to set aside those other things that take His place.

For we are God’s people, in Christ and through His Holy Spirit, God is alive in you and me.
you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,  a holy nation, God’s special possession,
that you may declare the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.[i]   Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Out of Egypt: Deliverance

Week 4: The Story

It’s so good to have you here in worship this morning.  It’s so good you that you’re here on, truly one of the “can’t miss” Sundays in this grand story of God’s plan of salvation.

You see, today in the story of the Exodus God is painting a picture, God is paving the road,   
toward what Jesus is ultimately going to do on the cross.

God is showing us that what happened to the Israelites through the Exodus, what he did through Moses, he will do through Jesus in us. The Exodus will become our story. 

Because what God calls Moses to do, is the same thing God calls you to and the same thing he calls me to. God has called us to go out into the world to share the idea, and not just the idea but the reality, that we are free,
that the enemy has been defeated no matter what circumstances we face.

Because there are times in our lives, when we feel just as enslaved as the Israelites. 
Maybe life has thrown a situation at you recently, and you feel like you are stuck.
Maybe it was something that came on slowly, something you didn't even notice at first.

Like the Israelites in Egypt. They moved there to avoid a famine.
And life was good.
God provided for them. 

But then they began to get comfortable with the ways of Egypt.
And they began to prosper and they grew very numerous.

They worked for the Egyptians, and they were doing okay until a new Pharaoh, a new king came to power. And since generations had passed the memory of Joseph had faded.

In the eyes of this new Pharaoh, Joseph meant nothing.
And he felt threatened by their large numbers, and worried that they might join his enemies.

So, this situation for the Israelites, came on slowly.
The shackles from their Egyptian slave masters didn't happen overnight.

Maybe it was like in Nazi Germany, when the Jews lost their freedoms little by little
because fellow citizens looked the other way.
As the saying goes, “all it takes for evil to triumph, is for good people to stand around and do nothing.”  Enslavement can happen that way.

Jesus said this about the power of evil:
“The Devil is a liar… and the father of lies.”   
“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy… But I have come that you might have life.”

Well, in this story, the new Pharaoh, certainly began to personify evil.
He put slave masters over the Israelites.  He made their lives bitter with harsh labor, and he worked them ruthlessly.  And to make matters worse the Pharaoh gave this order to all his people:  “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile.”

Imagine the suffering of those moms and dads.
Imagine the heart rending grief.

Maybe you identify with the suffering in this story.
Maybe you have suffered at the hands of a new “Pharaoh”
…someone who seems to have no compassion.
…someone who makes your life bitter with harsh demands.

Or maybe the Pharaoh that enslaves you is an addiction, or a habit that has way too much power in your life.

Maybe you have suffered a tremendous loss
or a heart-rending loneliness,  or a grief that has never healed.

And maybe like the Israelites you have cried out asking God to hear your prayer.
a prayer for freedom from enslavement,
a prayer for healing.

The Israelites prayed year after year and nothing seemed to change. No hope was in sight.
And when we cry out to God like that, and years go by,
we also can begin to wonder if God hears our prayers.

And we wonder if God is God, and God has power, then why does it seem like God is absent?
Why does it seem like God doesn't care?

Maybe you have even been tempted to stop praying, or the words to pray just aren't coming.

In this case, though, the Israelites continued to cry out to God.
And their lament was a faithful prayer.

Let me say that again.  Their lament was a faithful prayer.

Sometimes, we forget that.
We forget that God hears our prayers of grief, just as surely as He hears our prayers of thanksgiving.  There are 150 Psalms in the Bible, and we usually think of Psalms of Praise.

But did you know that over one third of these Psalms are Psalms of lament,
prayers where God’s people are crying out and asking “How long O Lord, will we continue to suffer?”  “Where are you Lord?”  “Hear my prayer, and answer me.”

Well, years passed, and the Israelites did not stop praying.
And then we read in Exodus 2, verse 23 and 24

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And so God began to work his plan through Moses.
First, saving baby Moses at the river Nile from the Egyptians.
Then later, Moses had grown up, but as a young man he fled from Egypt, in fear for his life,
because he had seen an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, and killed the man.

But God had not given up on Moses, and he had a plan to redeem his life
And while he was away in Midian, tending flocks for his father-in-law, Jethro, God called out to Moses from the burning bush.

And he said to Moses:
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
And God said, “I will be with you…”
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Now you would think that after hearing God speak so directly, and knowing that God was with him, that Moses would have answered the call right away.

But instead, he as fearful, and he was afraid that he did not have the gift of speaking well
and so he asked God to send someone else.

That’s just like us, isn't it?  God calls us to go.  God calls us to speak words of encouragement and hope to our friends and to our neighbors, to anyone who is fearful and feels enslaved by Pharaoh’s of this world, anyone who is lacking the freedom of living in Christ.
And yet, we are often afraid, aren't we?
And we doubt whether we can speak well enough, or say the right things.

That’s when we need to remember what God told Moses:
“I will be with you.” 

We are not alone.  We are never just speaking our own words.
God has promised to live in our hearts through faith.
And Jesus said, “Faith can move mountains.”

Isn’t it amazing what God can do, when we do even the smallest thing, in faith,
trusting that God is at work?

I’ve had times in my life when something seemed impossible, when I felt completely defeated.
And yet, I heard God whispering to me, to not give up hope…to have faith 
and to trust that God was hearing my prayers, and would act.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience?

I heard a pastor once spell out the word FREE.
and each letter, had a special phrase to go with it.

I think this is worth sharing with you this morning.

F stood for    Find out what is enslaving you.

If something is holding you back from answering God’s call, whether it’s fear, or an addiction, or some other Pharaoh in your life, find out what is enslaving you. 

R stood for   Realize that it is God who can set you free.

            So if you are bound up and you feel like nothing will ever change, and maybe         you’ve started to despair, realize that it is God who can set you free.

E stood for  Experience God’s love and forgiveness

            So you realize that God sets you free, and then just open your hands and        experience God’s love and forgiveness.

and the last E stood for Expect that God has already won the battle.

            That’s where that seed of faith comes from.  You know, not only that God is            with you, but Jesus has already won that battle.

When Pharaoh, in his pride, tried to resist God, God was patient, and again and again tried to get his attention.  But, each time he refused to repent.

And sometimes our hearts are like that, our hearts are hardened in our own sinful ways.
Like Adam and Eve, we think we know best, and we try to take the place of God.
We want control.
We want to keep God at arm’s length.

So, God in his patience, time and time again shows us what is enslaving us.
And time and time again, God shows us that Jesus alone can set us free.

Finally, it took a new Passover, it took the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” 
When John the Baptism saw Jesus coming toward him he said,
 “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Jesus, is the one who, once and for all interceded for us:
and proclaims to the Pharaoh’s in our lives:  “Let my people go!”

For the people of Israel, 
the Exodus became the defining event of their identity.

The crossing the Red Sea and coming out of Egypt was a defining moment.
And the Passover, to this day, is a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness.

And so this morning when we take the bread and the wine,
I want you to remember the reality of God’s covenant faithfulness coming to us in Jesus’ body and His blood. 

And he sets us free, through the new Passover, through Jesus, the Lamb of God.  Amen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Joseph:The Forgiving Prince

The Story: Chapter 3

This morning I want to tell you that I've been hearing some really good things from many of you about this new series we've started, called The Story.

This week someone told me that she really has enjoyed reading the Bible right from the  beginning with all the stories in the sequence they happened.  A pastor I know, who has also used this series, shared how one of his high school students yelled his name in the stands at a football game, and came up to him and said,
“Pastor, I’m reading The Story, and I've never read my Bible before.”
“And I’m understanding it.”   “For the first time, I’m understanding how God’s story and my story fit together.”

I hope you feel the same way.

Another person told me this week, that after Sunday School, her daughter brought home the “Parent Page” and not only did she bring it home, when she got home, she didn't throw the page down and forget about it, she showed it to her parents,  and said, “let’s talk about this.”
And they went through the questions together, and had a great conversation.

I think that’s great!!

If you are in one of our classes that receive this Parent Page bring it home and show your parents the “Trading Card” with the picture on the front of the day’s story,
and the Bible verse on the back.

And for our 7-12th graders. I don’t know if you know this, but they named their class, “The Breakfast Club.”  And if they keep serving Breakfast on Sunday mornings, I think they are going to have a few adults putting on baseball caps trying to sneak into the Youth Room

Seriously though, I have a challenge for our middle schoolers and high school students
This week, I want you to be the one in your family to initiate a conversation about the story of Joseph. Because today, God’s story continues with Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph.

And out of all the stories in the Old Testament, this is probably my favorite.
I remember from when I was a kid, we had a series of Bible story books called Arch books… like this one. Did any of you grow up reading these Arch books?

Well, the story of Joseph didn't fit into just one Arch book.
There was “Joseph: Jacob’s Favorite Son” and “Joseph the Dreamer” and “Joseph Forgives His Brothers” because the story of Joseph is a monumental story.
It stretches from Genesis 37 all the way to chapter 50.
It’s a story filled with plots and sub-plots, and enough drama, for even Broadway and Donnie Osmond.

Just like the story of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, and Jacob and Esau there is plenty of family dysfunction in this story. It doesn't get off to a very good start and it goes downhill quickly.

Joseph was the 11th of 12 sons, so he had little to expect as family fortunes were passed down.

And yet, he was his father’s favorite. And so Jacob gave him a beautiful coat,
which was a sign to rest of the brothers, that Jacob had chosen Joseph as his heir,
which of course, filled his brothers with jealousy. 

It says in Genesis 37,
When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Here he was the youngest, until Benjamin was born,
he was the baby in the family and according to his brothers, he was getting spoiled rotten.
They did all the work, they watched the flocks,
while Joseph sat home on the couch and played video games or whatever couch potatoes did in those days.

Now I hesitate to stir up any bad memories, but just out of curiosity, how many of you are the oldest child in your family? Do you ever remember feeling jealous of a younger brother or sister?

Now multiply that jealousy by about a hundred or a thousand times,
because Joseph had a dream one night which he rather unwisely, shared with his brothers.
Listen to this dream he said to them: 
“We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

Can you see why his brothers were inflamed with hatred?

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers.
 “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”  When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 

So one day, when his father sent him out to the fields to check up on his brothers,
they saw him at a distance, and even before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
His brother Reuben, tries to rescue him, and pleads for his life, but they throw Joseph down into a dry well, and sell him off to some slave traders, traveling to Egypt.

Again, all of this is happening on the human level of the story, the story we call the Lower story,
where we only see the world only through our own eyes.

But right at this point, in the story, we get the first clue, that God is in control, that Joseph is not alone, and that God has plans for Joseph.

In Genesis 39, verse 2, it says:
“The Lord was with Joseph… so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.”

That’s a key phrase in this story. “The Lord was with Joseph.”

And it comes back again, after Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him of sexual assault.
Potiphar throws him into the Pharaoh’s jail, and for most prisoners that would be the end of the story.  Just like being thrown into jail in a third world country, there would be no lawyers, no trial, no due process.  You’d be guilty, until proven innocent.

But again, the story takes a turn we don’t expect.
In verse 20, it says:  
But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 

The warden put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners, and trusted him,
because as the writer says,  “The Lord was with Joseph! “

When I was a Confirmation student, my youth pastor, Craig Carlson, asked us all to select a Confirmation verse. Sometimes you hear people call it a “Life Verse” a verse you not only to underline, and read on Confirmation Sunday, but a verse that you can come back to again and again, a verse that speaks to you personally.

And the verse I ended up choosing is Deuteronomy 31, verse 8.
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; 
he will never leave you nor forsake you. 
So, do not lose courage or be afraid.”               

In a way, that’s my “Joseph” verse.
I've never been thrown in jail, (thankfully)
but I've had some times when I felt like I was being thrown down into a pit,
and abandoned.

And I've come back to that Confirmation verse, time and time again.
The Lord himself goes before me and will be with me; 
he will never leave me nor forsake me. 
So, do not lose courage; or be afraid.”

Have you ever felt like you needed to hear those words?
Have you ever felt like nothing in your life is going well?

Like you've come to the end of yourself,  
and you know that the only thing left to do is to throw up your hands and say, “Lord I need you.”  “I can’t do this by myself.
“I need to trust, somehow, that you hear me, and that you are with me.

And that somehow, someway,   what others have meant for harm,
you Lord, can use for good.”

As you may know, that’s how Joseph’s story ends.
Even with all the evil that was done to him.
Joseph trusted God, and didn't try to take matters into his own hands.

When Potiphar’s wife, tried to seduce him,
Joseph didn't abandon his moral compass. He said to her,
“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Even with all the evil done to him by his brothers,
when they come to him later in the story,
and he’s 2nd in command to the Pharaoh in Egypt,
and instead of taking his revenge, he shows mercy.

Instead of being filled with bitterness, and a desire to get even,
he shows kindness, and forgives his brothers.

Joseph saw the Upper Story, the big picture.
He declared to his brothers,
            “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
            “What you intended for evil, God used for good.”

Who says you can’t find grace in the Old Testament?

Jesus would not come for centuries, yet God’s storytelling had already begun.
Joseph’s life is a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus.
reminding us that God takes our sin,  and redeems our lives for good.

Beauty for ashes.
Life from death.

In Christ, we are a new Creation.   
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; 
he will never leave you nor forsake you. 
So, do not lose courage or be afraid.”               Amen