Be a Peacemaker

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18th Sunday after Pentecost
James 3:13-18

Upset equilibrium:

James was not there the day that the disciples quarreled and argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest.  He wasn’t there that day to hear Jesus step in as peace maker and say, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The author of our epistle reading for today was not one of the 12.  The James who wrote the words of this letter was James, the son of Joseph, that is Jesus half-brother.  He identifies himself as James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Although he was not an active follower of Jesus during the three years of Jesus’ ministry.  It was only later, after Jesus death and resurrection, when Jesus appeared to many that he became a servant of the Gospel in the manner of St. Paul.

Now while he was not there on that particular day, I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t present on different occasion.  A time early on in his brother’s ministry where there were huge crowds gathered around to hear the message of this new Rabbi Jesus.  I wonder if he wasn’t there to hear his half-brother’s words when he preached the sermon on the mount.  Because the words of James epistle, that I just read, bear some striking similarities to great to ignore.

In that sermon from the hillside Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

I wonder if James wasn’t there to hear those words, of his half-brother who claimed to be the Christ, the messiah the savior of Israel.  I wonder if they didn’t strike him as they must have struck many Jewish people who heard them that day. I wonder if these words of Jesus were a reason for James NOT to follow Jesus.  Meek? No, I am a Jew and proud of it!  Merciful? Jesus you want me to be merciful to others who don’t deserve my mercy!  These Romans and their governors and their legions have brought untold pain on our country and to our people! Pure in heart?  The only thing that is pure in my heart is my desire to get rid of these invaders!  A peacemaker?  I want peace through strength! I will only have peace when the romans are gone.  You claim to be the messiah, Jesus?  Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do?    I am none of those things!  Nor do I want to be!  I want to be the master of my own destiny!  I want to be empowered to live the life I want to live to do the things I want to do.

Those feelings would have been common to any Jewish person living under roman rule.  They saw the Romans as dogs to be driven away from where they were not wanted.  This was certainly common to the disciples, who argued amongst themselves as to who would be greatest in the “New Kingdom of Jerusalem,” on earth!

But for James, these words must have resonated in his mind, in order for him to eventually write, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

It must have taken some serious soul searching to be able to write that.  It must have taken a change of heart that only the Savior, his half brother Jesus could have brought about in him.  Beacause James is no mere moralizer, telling everyone how they should live.  It’s evident from his words that he has thought deeply about the human condition, the natural inclination of the heart – because they were the natural inclinations of his own heart!

Expose the problem:

This is what James is talking about when he says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”  People are no different now than they were back then.

We realize with James that the conventional wisdom of the world says that it isn’t wise to be a peace maker.  Conflict is profitable and empowering.  Will not selfish ambition and jealousy reap tangible rewards? Isn’t this how we get ahead in life?  Isn’t this how we make a buck? Isn’t this how I improve myself? Today we hear these words thrown around like empowerment – becoming stronger in one’s own right, claiming your rights, being the master of your own destiny.  Who doesn’t want to hear that?  Who doesn’t want to be empowered to do the things they want to do to be the person that they want to be.  This is attractive to us.  By all that we can see and touch in the world around us this is indeed wisdom!  The obvious problem is that this love of self, selfish ambition or envy, is an ingrown love.  It’s one that only ever points inward.  And like an ingrown nail, in the end it becomes destructive and painful.

As James says, 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”   For example, world of business or the world of politics is dog eat dog.  A peace maker in the world of politics?  No way!  It’s a realm fueled by envy and selfish ambition.  Where the mentality is to turn the opponent into nothing more than a face and a name?  Because it’s far too difficult to humanize your enemy. Is this one where a Christian feels comfortable?  A brother of mine in the ministry said this the other day, “Your soul is not healthy if your politics don’t allow you to feel empathy for your opponent!”  Because, at the end of the day the opponent, “the enemy” is a real person just like we are.  A person who has a family, and interests, hobbies, cares and worries.  A person who has a heart, and a soul, someone who draws breath just like us.

And most importantly, a person that God loves!  They are not just a face and a name or a caricature to be made fun of or attacked.  They are a person who God has called us to make peace with, just as he has made peace with us.

As I said before, James is no mere moralizer commanding the way that people live.  He is not advocating for a virtuous lifestyle for the sake of virtue alone!  He is saying look at who my brother was!  Look at what he came to do!  Look how he made peace with me – a man who thought he was crazy for saying he was the messiah, the savior of Israel.


James, the servant of his brother and his Lord Jesus, wants believers to emulate our savior, because his love was anything but self-centered or ingrown! He was the polar opposite of selfishness, or enviousness.  He had the wisdom from heaven because he was from heaven!  Truly the love of Jesus was – first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Even so much so that he, one so selfless identified with the selfish as he hung with two thieves on the cross.  Jesus who lacked envy of any kind, died for envious.  He took on himself the punishment for our own ingrown love, selfish pride, vain ambition and hatred of our enemies.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us!  He took those sins of Jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition and nailed it to the cross with him.

And in so doing, Jesus made peace with us.  We who are by nature his enemies, and hostile to him.  Jesus made peace between a holy, just and righteous God and sinners like you and me.  As Isaiah says, the punishment that brought us peace was on him!  Christ is the ultimate peace maker.


Anticipate consequences:

And so this has a profound effect on who we are in this world.  It effects how believers view the world and the people around them.  It affects how we act and think about who we are in life.  As James says in the first verse for today.   Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wise and understanding person that James is talking about is one who sees what their savior Jesus has done for them.  That just as he saw that our greatest need was him, the only way we would have peace is through him. Christians have been called to be sowers of peace – not to convert people to our political views whether republican or democrat or green party or socialist or whatever – but to see that their highest and greatest need – the only way that they will really have peace, is through seeing the peace that their savior Jesus bought them – the peace of sins forgiven the peace in the hope of heaven.

There is a prayer in the front of our hymnal that sums all this up nicely – that peace makers who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Be a peacemaker. Amen.

Be Imitators of God

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12th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 4:30—5:2

It’s been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. That when we imitate someone we pay them a higher honor than if we were to just do so verbally. So, what does Paul mean then when he says, “be imitators of God?” We all have a sinful natures that think they know what that means. Many people in the world around us today, Christian or not, think that they know what it means to be an imitator of God. I can think of no clearer example of this than our wonderful world of Politics. Bitterness arises in hearts, that bitterness develops into a rage, and wrath, which spills out into a public clamor and that bears out all sorts of slander and abusive speech.
This happens when people elevate themselves over others, place their ideals first and act as judge over their fellowman. Trying to imitate God as judge causes man no end of wickedness and malice.

Expose the Problem
In Ephesians 4 Paul is advocating for a gut check on the part of that congregation, when he says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Remember that was a congregation divided between former Jews and new gentile Christians. Paul says in v. 32 to be kind to one another. The word Paul uses there in Greek for “kind” is an interesting one. It literally means, “be refined” to one another. That is grow together, cause no discomfort to one another, realizing that you all share the same experience of being humans and being sinners. Beyond that, he was writing to the believers in Ephesus, a city known for anger, brawling, slander and various forms of malice. In Acts, we read how when Paul stood up and preach about how the true God was one not made of wood or stone, silver or gold like the pagan God Artemis a riot broke out in the street and for 2 hours the people chanted, “GREAT IS ARTEMIS OF THE EPHESIANS!” Paul writes this to them as a reminder that if the Christians are bitter, bickering, slanderous, or malicious and the pagan sees that what might they think? They might think it’s ok to behave that way. They might ask, “You claim to preach a message of forgiveness? Well I certainly don’t see it! So, what in the world is the point of being a Christian then?”
Christians realize that the eyes of the world are on us. While we don’t have the “exact” same situation with Jews and Gentiles, these words of Paul call us to that same gut check. It drives us to think on this point – Who does God love more? Me or my neighbor? The American? The Arab? The Native American? The conservative, the liberal?
Who does he love more? Your enemy or you? When we’ve had an argument, a dispute, a disagreement – what is our first instinct? Is it not to stand on the outside and look down and judging the sin of others, asking that they might be forgiven or that someone would forgive them? “Oh, God might be able to forgive them, but I don’t know that I can!” Instead of realizing that we really stand shoulder to shoulder, my sinfulness next to theirs asking that we both might be forgiven.
But St. Paul isn’t being ignorant or naïve here, via the Holy Spirit, he’s not giving us pie in the sky philosophies or ideas. As sinners, this is incredibly hard to do, if not in some cases seemingly impossible! There are real people who’ve hurt us. People with whom there is a “history” and a past that gets dredged up, people who’ve hurt us in ways that others can’t understand. Someone who’s slandered us and destroyed our reputation, a person who’s cheated us or stolen from us, a person whose addictions have driven families apart. Don’t they deserve some of our wrath?
Paul says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Yes, there is a degree of righteous anger that we can feel at those situations, but how far does that GO? How quickly that changes to bitterness, wrath slander and malice – acting as a Judge over those people WE are not to imitate God in that way!
St. James writes in his epistle, “take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go”
And later he continues, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
James’ point is simply that, the tongue, just like a rudder of a ship, though it be small, it can be hard to manage and if it is mishandled, it can cause a great deal of damage!
Ever heard the phrase that you are the only Bible that someone might ever read? I realize the saying limps on some level, but the concept is sound. Mother Theresa actually had a good one too, she said, “Preach the Gospel – use words when necessary.” The Holy Spirit does his work through you and me. He works through the Word and the faith that he’s planted in our hearts. It is he who sanctifies, and gathers, and builds up. How important then it is for us to abandon, depart from, get rid of – all bitterness, rage, wrath and all malice! A Christian who holds on to those things, not only puts their own faith at risk, but endangers the faith of others.

Paul implores the Ephesian congregation saying, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Become imitators of God, as beloved Children.” No matter our differences, cultural backgrounds, whatever, we all share that same human experience. That it was not that we loved God. But that he loved us.
He didn’t love us because we were so good, so righteous on our own. Oh, there was a history there, in our relationship with God. We had hurt him in ways that we can’t even begin to understand. We were hostile and rotten toward him. But it was then that he loved us! As Paul says in Romans, “When we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In the depths of sin he sought us like a ray of light shining in the darkness he found us. At our worst moments he brings us back to him.

Paul says, So then, become imitators of God, as beloved Children. I can’t help but think of my son Otto, who tries to be like me in every way. How he will mimic my activities. He goes into my office with a piece of scrap paper and a marker, sits at my desk and “writes” his sermon. Which is a scary thought because I don’t know that any of us would want a sermon from Otto…
Anyway, Paul is advocating for a similar thing here when he advocates for compassion and forgiveness. Do as your father has done for you! Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Can we do this perfectly? Will we stumble about like a 3-year-old trying to mimic our Father? Yes. But look at what our Heavenly Father has given us in Jesus! He’s said you don’t know how to love, look to my Son and let me show you. You don’t know how to forgive, look to my Son and let me show you. You don’t know how to have compassion, look to my Son and let me show you.
This is what sustains us as a body of believers, this is what sustains a marriage, this is what sustains the relationship between parent and child. Seeing how Christ gave himself as a fragrant sacrifice for us. Christians are coated in the scent of that sacrifice. It clings to us like a perfume. And we can readily recognize that scent when we are in and amongst Christians. We all realize that we share that same experience, that we are all sinners but saved by Grace in Christ. Instead of looking down on others, we stand shoulder to shoulder with them – sinners together – asking that we might both be forgiven. In fact we just did that this morning when we confessed our sins at the opening of service!
What’s really amazing is when you recognize the scent of that fragrant offering clinging to Christians even from half way around the world. I heard of a story not to long ago about some Christians in Egypt, perhaps you heard of it too. That on Palm Sunday one of their churches was attacked and these unarmed Christians were slaughtered by a suicide bomber. People lost their husbands and wives and kids in the massacre. Not only was that church attacked but also many of their homes were sought out and destroyed. In the aftermath of that horrible event, the wife of one of the Christian men who died that day came forward to the Egyptian media and publicly forgave the terrorist organization who was behind the bombing. She essentially said the same thing that Jesus said as they drove the nails into his hands, the same thing that Stephen said as the crowed threw stones at him. “God forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” How could they? They don’t know the peace of the Gospel, they don’t know what Jesus did for them!
The news anchor, a Muslim man, who was listening to this woman was just dumb struck. How could she forgive? That sin, that atrocity is impossible to forgive! After hearing her message of forgiveness, after he saw her mimicking her Savior, he sat there silent with tears in his eyes, with dead air for about 20 seconds. Then he choked out the words, “Egyptian Christians are made of Steel.”

This is what it means to be an imitator, a mimicker of God. And only Christians really know what that means! That both our brothers and sisters in Jesus and the World would see his forgiveness for us, in us, his mercy for us, in us and his compassion for us in us. As Peter says in his 1st letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
Be imitators of God, be imitators of your Savior Jesus. He invites us to let go any bitterness and anger even if it seems impossible to let go of – but when we take in Jesus Word, the Word of forgiveness, that bread of life – we can overcome the impossible. Amen.

Mediator of a New Covenant

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Maundy Thursday 2018
Hebrews 8:6-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, what is a “covenant”? That term is used all over Scripture, but it’s not something that we use a whole lot in our day to day lives, right? Perhaps we could think of a covenant as being something like a two sided contract that determines a relationship between two parties. We do have contracts in our society. If you contract someone to build a house for you, what you are saying is that you will pay a certain amount of money and the contractor will purchase the materials and hire the workers to build your home. So, in the end you get a home and they get money. It’s a two sided covenant. What about a one-sided covenant? Perhaps the closest thing in our world to a one-sided covenant is an infant child and his or her parents. The mom goes through a lot of pain to give the child birth, feed the child, nourish the child, protect the child, take care of the child and often at a lot of work and expense. What does the child offer the parent? The child isn’t going to offer emotional support, financial support, physical support. In a way it’s a one-sided covenant because even in our society it’s still viewed as a deplorable crime for a parent to neglect or abandon an infant child.

Now, in Scripture there’s all kinds of “covenants.” There are covenants between two parties of people, there are two sided covenants between people and God – where both have a responsibility, and there’s unilateral or one-sided covenant where God promises something despite the action or non-action of people. It’s such a new covenant that God promised in Jeremiah- which our text this evening quotes. But first we have to understand the old covenant.

One of the most important covenants was the covenant God made at Mt. Sinai with the Israelites- this covenant described how God was going to interact with his old covenant people. After God had wondrously led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt they assembled at Mt. Sinai and God made a covenant with them. It was a 2 sided, conditional covenant – He would be their God, their Protector, He would guarantee a great future for them- the condition was that the Israelites would remain faithful and totally consecrated to Him and live by all His commands. And to ratify this Sinai covenant Moses took blood from young bulls and half of it he sprinkled on the altar offering it to God, the other half he sprinkled onto the bodies of the people (Exodus 24) saying, “This is the blood of the covenant”. That ratified this old covenant.

But this conditional Old Covenant was always meant to be temporary. They had to repeat all these offerings and sacrifices over and over again. It was also meant to keep the OT people separate and distinct from all other nations until the promised Savior would come. It also, in a way, showed that it was impossible to earn God’s love by obedience. There was just almost this impossible list of rules, regulations, laws, and commands. Imagine living as an Old Testament believer- almost every aspect of your life was regulated from the food you ate to contact with dead bodies to how to clean mold or mildew!

Now, we have to keep in mind that the way of salvation, however, is exactly the same in both the old covenant and the new. In the OT a person was saved exactly like a person is saved today: through faith in Christ. It’s just that the OT person looked ahead to the Savior, while the NT person looks back to the Savior who has come. But God understood the human weaknesses and tendencies to sin, so in the old covenant, in the old way that God interacted with people, He provided a ton of pictures for people of what forgiveness looks like. They had all these sacrifices and offerings which pointed ahead to a future sacrifice and offering and assured repentant sinners that they were forgiven by God.

So, the Old Covenant was: obey me, keep my commands and laws, and God will protect you and you’ll live long in the land. But the people broke God’s covenant with them. Instead of sacrificing to God, they sacrificed to idols and false gods, they abandoned God, didn’t keep His commands. That’s what was happening at the time of Jeremiah –and because they broke the Old conditional covenant- the people were on the verge of experiencing the most severe covenant curse – their land was about to be destroyed and they were about to be hauled into captivity in Babylon.

So, in the midst of all of this, God promises a “new covenant.” A different covenant, a new way He is going to interact with His people. It is not conditional, it is unconditional and unilateral. It is an unconditional promise of God to the unfaithful Israelites.

We live in the new covenant. But do we sometimes think that church, religion, the Bible is all about following rules and laws? There are two pitfalls we can fall into. On the one side we could view God’s moral laws as burdensome- “Ugh, all this stuff about sexual immorality, coveting, honoring God by hearing His Word – it’s burdensome! Why can’t I just do what I want?” Or, on the other hand we could view keeping God’s moral laws as a way to deserve God’s blessings, like “As long as I do this, as long as I go to church, as long as I’m good, God will have to reward me and give me the things in life I really want.” But both are wrong.

You see, the new covenant is totally different. He’s going to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. What does that mean? This is a different covenant. It’s not about outward obedience but heart transformation. There are no rules, or laws, or commands that have to be kept. It’s about the heart, trust, believing. The center of this new covenant is “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  When did that happen? It happened when Christ offered the one sacrifice that really matters. He offered the once-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes sin and guilt. His blood shed on the cross removes sin forever. The new covenant announces salvation that is complete, finished, and above all, free through Christ. The new covenant is forgiveness of sins.

In baptism God seals this new covenant to us because in it He gives us the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins and the faith to believe it. In baptism we hear this promise of God, “I forgive your wickedness and remember your sins no more.” But that’s not it! In further grace God shares the meal of the new covenant with us in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies, seals this covenant of forgiveness with us. In the old covenant blood of bulls was sprinkled as an offering on the altar of God, in the new covenant Jesus sheds his blood on the altar of the cross, in the old covenant blood was sprinkled on the bodies of the people, in the new covenant God gives us his own body and blood personally in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies this new covenant, He removes any doubts about His love for us, He comes to each of us personally to touch it, taste it, hear it, see it that we belong to him, we are one with him, all that is his is ours. When we receive the Lord’s Supper it’s a special assurance that we are the recipients of this new covenant- In the Lord’s Supper you receive the blessings of the New Covenant- the forgiveness of your sins. His lifeblood is our life.

In the new covenant God deals with us differently than in the old. Now God doesn’t have to beat you and tell you- now here are all the rules and laws you have to follow. Rather, God tells you what He’s done to save you and rescue you, so eternal life is yours. You know what that does? It sinks deep inside of you, in the Supper He gives you His own body and blood in a supernatural way with the bread the wine, and you literally cannot help but live a new life, a life of love! The new “law” is to live a life of love. And you want to! It’s not from a heart that’s enslaved but a heart that’s been set free, a heart that’s been forgiven.

So as you receive the Lord’s Supper this evening, receive forgiveness, receive the blood of the covenant, Jesus’ body and blood together with bread and wine that unites you with Jesus and transforms your heart to a live a life of love and service to God and others.

Love Your Enemies!

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7th Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:38-48

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, Imagine that you’re walking with a guide in a dark building. You’re walking down a hallway and at the end of this hallway is a room that’s full of pictures. The pictures are ugly- covered with tears, dirt, and blood. On every picture is a person. Standing there in front of every picture is a person. The two are enemies. In this room everyone is given the opportunity to act out against that picture in front of them. Each is driven by either hate or love. As you’re walking through this room you come to a certain picture, you stop, you recognize the person… it’s your enemy.

It’s that person in your life who has hurt you time and again with their words- maybe even physically. It’s that person who cares nothing about you, hates you, hates the way you look, the way you act, hates everything about you. It’s the person who takes and never gives. Every time you see this person, every time you think of this person you’re filled with an amazing amount of hurt and an amazing amount of hate. It’s this person who has made your life a living hell.

There in front of this person’s picture you find a box filled with darts. You pick one up- it feels so good, so wonderful. Your mind fills with thoughts about hurling those darts at the picture in front of you. Your guide is standing next to you and your guide says, “Turn the other cheek.” What?? Turn the cheek? You look around and see that most everyone in the room is hurling their darts at the pictures. Every time a dart strikes a picture the whole room shakes and begins to crumble. Your head fills with all the hurt and pain that this person caused you, you take that dart and hurl it as hard as you can at the picture of your enemy. A piece of the picture tears away and the whole room shakes.

Your guide, clearly saddened, says, “Even though your enemy has caused you so much hurt, don’t give into getting even.” Hatred makes your blood boil as you look at the picture. You pick up another dart and hurl it at the picture, “Surely I’m going to get back what’s mine,” you think. But strangely, it just doesn’t seem to satisfy, the revenge doesn’t make the hurt get any less. The dart tears another piece of the picture away and something shiny lies underneath.

Your guide is still standing at your side and says, “Please do the right thing, even though this person doesn’t deserve it.” You stare into the eyes of the picture of your enemy- you’re just galled at their arrogance, you’re angered by the pain they’ve caused you, enraged by all the ways they’ve made you miserable. “They deserve to feel the pain they’ve caused me.” You pick up another dart and hurl it and it hits the person right between the eyes, the picture tears away and there’s something shiny underneath.

It’s a mirror. There in the hall of enemy pictures, you stand right in front of the worst enemy of all- you! As you stare at the mirror, you see off to your side, the guide you were ignoring. It’s God. He was trying to help you but you were so blinded by your intense desire to be right, to get even, to get revenge, that being kind to your enemy sounded absolutely ridiculous. But all the while you never realized what you were becoming in God’s eyes- what you are: His enemy! So focused on your enemy you never realized what picture was forming before God- a picture of you – you’re now in the hall of enemies.

God places his hand on your shoulder. He says, “You saw your enemy in this picture, this is how you treated him. But now as I look at that same picture, I see you. What would you have me do?” You suddenly realize that because of your hate, your desire for revenge, to get even the only thing that you deserve is for God to take every dart he has and hurl them right at you. “What have I done?? Why didn’t I listen?” No matter what you do, you can’t undo the damage.

But right at that moment, God moves you out of the way and steps into your place in front of the mirror. “What are you doing?” You say. With absolute determination, with tears in his eyes, he takes a dart and hurls it at himself, smashing the mirror. The whole room violently shakes. What did God do for you? What did he do for his enemy? He loved you and took the dart that you deserved.

You see, when Jesus’ enemies came to arrest Him, He didn’t run and hide. When His enemies beat Him and mocked Him and made fun of Him, He didn’t retaliate or get revenge. When His enemies led Him out to a cross, when they nailed His hands and feet, he prayed for those who persecuted Him, he prayed for you and me, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” And God did exactly that. He made Himself His own worst enemy so that you could be brought out of that room. He threw the dart that killed His own Son so that you would never, ever know what a dart from God’s hand would feel like. And when He did, the door out of the hall of enemies opened.

God explains to you, “The room is this world. It’s a place full of hatred, malice, anger, getting even, and revenge. The day is coming when this world will come to end. On that day, everyone who doesn’t have their picture in my palace will be destroyed and they will feel my darts of judgment forever. I don’t want this for them. I don’t want this for you. I had to carry out my punishment over sin because I am just. And you’ve seen what I did for you because I don’t want this for you. Now follow me, I want to show something to you.” God then took your picture, put it under his arm- he washed all the dirt and blood off it in the water of your Baptism. He carried it out of the room of enemies into the realms of heaven. Then He hung it in your room that He’s preparing for you. And He said to you, “See, now no one can touch you. This is where you belong. But for now I want you to go back into that room- not to throw darts at your enemies, but to love them- you see I want you to show them the same love that I showed you so that they too might be brought to me.”

But you say, “No! I want to stay here!” And God responds, “My son, my daughter, you’ll be here for all eternity. This is your home. To reassure you of that fact, I will give you peaks into your room here in heaven. Every time you taste my body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, I’m giving you a taste of the eternal feast that awaits you in heaven. Every time you are reminded of my love in my Word, you will see a beautiful preview of the heaven that awaits you. But now you have work to do- be perfect because in my eyes, that’s exactly what I’ve made you to be. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you so that they too might be here.

Suddenly you find yourself back in the hall of enemies- in the real world and it’s time to get to work.

There was a news story some time ago about a lady named Jennifer Thompson. She was a 22 year old college student in North Carolina- good student, daughter, homecoming queen. But one night her entire life was changed when a stranger broke into her home, held a knife to her throat and took away her innocence. She was determined to remember every detail about this assailant so that if she survived she could make sure her enemy would spend his life in prison. She helped the police develop a drawing and she picked a man out of the line-up, Ronald Cotton. Although he insisted on his innocence it was her eyewitness testimony that put him away for life. She never had a doubt.

A year after his conviction, Ronald Cotton met another inmate in prison named Bobby Poole. He look eerily similar to Cotton and was in prison for similar crimes. Apparently, Bobby had bragged that Ronald Cotton was serving time for a crime that he had committed. Another trial was opened for Ronald Cotton. This time the jury saw both men, but again Jennifer identified Ronald as the assailant and again Ronald Cotton was sentenced to serve out his life sentence.

11 years went by and technology improved. Jennifer had gone on with her life, married, children and prayed every day that Ronald Cotton would die. But then a police investigator came to her house and said, “Jennifer, you were wrong.” DNA testing proved that Bobby Poole was her assailant, not Ronald Cotton. Jennifer was destroyed. She had stolen 11 years from another man’s life. She went from being the victim of the enemy to being the enemy. She was devastated.

She had to meet him, tell him how sorry she was. They met at a church. Jennifer could barely stand and said, “If I spent every minute of every hour of every day for the rest of my life, I couldn’t begin to express how sorry I am.” Calmly, quietly Ronald responded, “I’m not mad at you. I forgive you. I just want you to be happy and move on with your life.” Jennifer later said, “It was as if I was staring in the face of grace and mercy.” A few days later, she met her real assailant, and you know what she did? She forgave him. Not only did God’s forgiveness move Ronald to forgive his false accuser, but Ronald’s forgiveness led Jennifer to forgive her real assailant. She said, “I wanted the same peace that Ronald had, I didn’t want to live in hate and anger any longer.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Your picture hangs in the paradise of heaven. You’re perfect because Jesus loved you and me- nothing can separate you from His love. Now show that powerful, life-transforming love to everyone. Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect because he has made you perfect with his own Son’s blood and rescued you from this world. Do what he did for you – love your enemies! Amen.

Christian Love Goes to Work for Jesus

16th Sunday after Pentecost
Philemon 1:1, 10-21

Editor’s Note: This Sunday’s sermon was given by a guest pastor, Pastor Dean Gunn.  we generally do not get the written text from guest pastors, but please enjoy the audio. The passages are given below; we hope you will read and reflect on them.

The Book of Philemon

1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer
4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


Love One Another


5th Sunday of Easter
John 13:31-35

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, what is your definition of love? If you were to define what love is, how would you do it? Is love what you see at a wedding where a husband and wife stare longingly into each other’s eyes? Is love when a mom stays up all night caring for her sick daughter? Is love when a boyfriend and girlfriend walk hand in hand wherever they go? Is love when a husband or wife tends to every need of his or her chronically ill spouse? What is love? I would submit to you that we live in a “love” dominated world, but a world that has very little conception or idea of what love really means. I would also submit to you that even though we live in a “love” dominated society, the people in our world are starved and thirsting for true love.
What is the idea most people have of “love”? For many, when you think of “love” does your mind immediately go to emotions and feelings? As if love is primarily a gooey, gushy, sentimental feeling? “Look at those love birds!” or “I love ice cream!” or “I love your hair cut!” or the politician or the celebrity or the talk show host will tell you, “I love you!” But go ask them for $20 and see how much you get .
Today we are going to look at this concept of love. Love- the way God defines it – is a continuing result of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead enables, empowers, and motivates us to love from the heart. What I want to look at with you this morning are three things we see from this text: the meaning of love, the power of love, and the promise of love.
First, the meaning of love. In our day, “love” is often focused on emotions and feeling. But the love that Jesus demonstrated was not just a feeling but action. The time of this text is Maundy Thursday evening. The next morning he would be led out to die on a cross. At the beginning of this chapter we’re told that Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him, He knew He had all power, and what does He do? He got down on His hands and knees and washed His disciples feet. His love for His disciples wasn’t found in just words and feelings, but in action. He even washed the feet of Judas the one who would betray Him. Then Jesus demonstrated the greatest love the next day when He laid down His life for His friends. The word “love” used here in the original language is “Agape.”
What I want to do now is give you a quick Greek lesson. In the Greek language there are essentially 4 words that are used for “love” Our English word “love” covers aspects of each one of them, but doesn’t fully define anyone of them. First, is storge love. This is the love of comfortability. This is the word for that old pair of blue jeans you have that have stains and holes in them, but you just love them, it’s comfortable. Next, is phileo love. This is the love of friends. It’s reciprocal. You do things with your friends, you hang out with your friends, it has a give and take aspect to it. Then is eros love. This is the word we get our English word “erotic” from. It is essentially the love of opposites, it’s the sensual, sexual love, which is reserved for marriage only. Finally, there’s agape love. This is a love that is in a whole class by itself. Agape love is a love of the will of the one doing the loving which says, “I choose to love you apart from any loveable characteristic in you.” It’s a totally unconditional, totally selfless, totally unilateral love. It is a love that is giving, it is a love that is willing to endure pain for its object, it is a love of action. It is a love that says, “I love you because I love you.” It is the love that is defined in 1 Corinthians 13.
And so, when Jesus says, “A new command I give you: love on another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He is using the word “agape.” That is the kind of love that God asks not just of every married couple, but of every Christian toward every person. Are you filled with that kind of love toward others? Do you think first about the needs of others or your own needs? Do you first think about how your actions will help you or how they will help someone else? We all struggle to love others unselfishly and unconditionally. Why? Why are we so often self-seeking? Is it not because of a fear? I’m afraid that if I don’t look out for myself, no one will! “Who’s going to look out for me, if I don’t?” But what’s the answer to that? Look at the one who doesn’t just teach us love, but who is love Himself. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Why can we think first of others? Why can we be more concerned about others than ourselves? Because Jesus has already taken care of us, He’s already given us all we need for life eternal, He’s already sacrificed Himself for our sins and risen from the dead for our forgiveness. You couldn’t possibly be loved any more than you already are by God. In Him you already have all you need and all the love you need forever! You can’t force someone to love from the heart, but a heart that’s changed by God’s love and grace can’t help but love others.
And it’s when we’re filled with God’s agape love for us in Christ that our love becomes incredibly powerful. What is the power of love? Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” There is an evangelistic power of love. Someone once said that love is the “final apologetic.” In other words, the love of Christians is a visible verification of the gospel. People will see it, recognize it, and be attracted to it. It is recorded that unbelievers in the 2nd Century AD said, “Behold, how these Christians love each other! How ready they are to die for each other!” How much do you love the people sitting in the pews with you? Are you ready to die for them? Most associations in our world are marked by a common interest or outlook, right? Democrats generally like other democrats, republicans like other republicans, because they share the same ideals and viewpoints. But the love of a Christian is a love for anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter what race, background, culture, age, social status, influence, religious background, moral history someone has. A Christian has a unique perspective to life – a Christian looks at anyone and looks past every outward difference that individual has and sees a soul, a soul for whom Jesus died, a soul who will spend eternity in hell unless they are brought to faith by the gospel of Jesus. You see, a Christian’s love stands out in a hurting world because it’s a love for people – not just people like him or her – but a love for all souls. There’s a power in displaying Christ’s love to a world thirsting for true love.
And finally the promise of love. The setting of this text is important. Jesus is about to leave. Soon His visible and tangible presence is going to be gone, but Jesus’ followers are going to become visible reflections of the love that Jesus showed them by loving others. 1 John 4:12 tells us, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” You see, not only are we the face of love, the face of Jesus Himself when we love and serve those around us, but we are to see in the hurting eyes of the lonely, in the pained eyes of the sick, and in the searching eyes of the lost, in them we are to see Jesus’ face, and then serve them as we would serve Jesus Himself.
Jesus isn’t with us tangibly and visibly, but He’s still with us. And we see that He is in us when we serve others as if we’re serving Jesus Himself. And other people who might not yet know the love of Jesus can see in us the effect of Jesus’ saving love when we seek not to be served, but to serve, not to be understood, but to understand, not to be loved, but to love.
Do we do it perfectly? Do we love perfectly? Do we serve perfectly? No. We’ve failed. So we continually go back to the love of God, a love that sent His own Son to love us first, to die for our sins, to rise to show us without a doubt that we are forgiven. Then empowered and inspired by His love we strive to know it more and more and to show it in our lives. Imagine if we showed that kind of love to our fellow Christians, imagine if we showed that love to people outside of our church, then all people will know that we are Jesus’ disciples, if we love one another.

He wanted to see Jesus


4th Wednesday of Lent
Luke 23:6-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what the second largest U.S. export is? Now it kind of depends on your source, but it could be argued that the 2nd largest export of our nation is entertainment: movies, music, sports. You could go to any part of the world and you’ll probably find some kind of US entertainment there. Isn’t that interesting? In our nation we are arguably at a time throughout history of unprecedented freedom and wealth like no other civilization before us. And yet, who would ever have imagined that a people with as much freedom and money as we have would spend so much time watching TV, watching sports, surfing the internet. It’s ironic how important entertainment has become to us. But that’s really nothing new. People with power and money have always struggled to fill their time. Tonight we’re looking at Herod Antipas, a man of great power and wealth and a great desire to be entertained.

We’re told that when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he thought he could get rid of this problem he had on his hands easily. The Roman law permitted someone to be tried in any of three places: his birthplace, his hometown, or the place where the crime was committed. But just before this Pilate had said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” By sending him then to Herod, Pilate disregarded his verdict, nullified it, and ended up throwing the whole case wide open again. He sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time, Herod had no jurisdiction in Jerusalem, so he was probably there to celebrate the Passover as a nominal Jew that he was.

Who was this Herod? This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had all the Bethlehem baby boys murdered around the time of Jesus’ birth. But after Herod the Great died, Herod Antipas was given a part of his kingdom to rule, that part included Galilee, which was a place where a great amount of Jesus’ ministry had taken place- healed sick, taught large amounts of people, led sinners to repent, etc. He would have known about Jesus, but he certainly wasn’t a nice guy. He committed adultery with his brother’s wife, was publicly rebuked by John the Baptist, and then not only imprisoned John the Baptist but also had him beheaded.

Now he wanted to see Jesus. But why? It wasn’t because he wanted forgiveness, it wasn’t because he wanted to find out if Jesus was really the Messiah, it wasn’t because he wanted to listen to what Jesus had to say, rather, he had been waiting a long time to see Jesus and hoped that Jesus would perform some miracle for him. In other words, he wanted to see Jesus do some magic trick for him. What an incredible waste!! The one person who could have made an eternity of difference in this power-hungry, blood-thirsty man actually came to him and all Herod wanted to see was a magic trick.

That shouldn’t really surprise us. People with freedom and money get bored very easily. Why do you think TV and sports and video games and internet sites are billion-dollar industries? How much do they really add to life? But it’s the nature of us sinful people to be restless and discontent. Here, the newest and best thing that would ever come into the world was standing before Herod. Never before in all the history of the world had God come in human flesh. God was standing before Herod veiled in human flesh, veiled in humility, veiled in blood and bruises and Herod completely missed it.

Entertainment blinded Herod to the reality that stood before him. Now we don’t know for sure, but it’s quite likely Herod died an unbeliever. Part of his eternal suffering is knowing that the greatest person ever stood before him and he totally missed it because his sinful heart was focused on entertainment. He put entertainment before the gift God gave the world.

Do we do that? Now entertainment in and of itself isn’t bad, but do we let entertainment drown out the important things of life? Do we spend more time with our TV or with our computer or with our smart phone than we do with the most important things of life? I just heard today that the average working person in America spends on average less than 2 ½ minutes per day in meaningful conversation with their spouse and that the average working person spends less than 30 seconds per day with their children. Is that you? Is that me? Do we let entertainment crowd out the most meaningful relationships that we have in life? But even more important than our relationship with our spouse or our relationship with our children is our relationship with God. Does entertainment rate higher on your priority list than God? Do you spend more time watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, than listening to your God in His Word, than spending intimate time praying to your heavenly Father?

Are we like Herod? Are we like spoiled children who want to be wowed and awed by entertainment? It takes discipline to be a disciple of Jesus. It takes commitment and work to maintain relationships. It takes determination to grow and study and understand God’s Word. We live in a culture saturated with wealth, free time, and entertainment, a culture that prizes entertainment above all else. Does that have an effect on us? Are we becoming like Herod? Missing the most important things in life?

Herod plied Jesus with questions, but like a lamb before the slaughter is silent, so Jesus did not open his mouth. They dressed Jesus in an elegant robe, they ridiculed and mocked him, and sent him back to Pilate. What irony! This petty little king thought he had power over Jesus, thought he could be entertained by Jesus, but in reality Jesus had all the power of the Son of God and could have stopped this at any moment, but he didn’t. Why not? Jesus let all this happen because Jesus came for a purpose – not entertainment – but he came to ascend a cross to die for Herod’s sins, to die for your sins and my sins. He remained silent so he could be nailed to the cross for all our wrong priorities, for all our love of entertainment more than him, for all our sins.

The answer to our misplaced priorities isn’t rearranging our priorities, it isn’t trying harder and working harder at our relationships. The answer lies in looking at who is standing before us. The only way our priorities are really changed is seeing our God for who He is, seeing Jesus for what He’s done for us. It’s only when we really see Jesus – our Savior- who made us and our salvation his first priority that our hearts are changed. Jesus stood before Herod for you. Don’t you want to grow closer to this Savior? Don’t you want to treasure the relationships with others He has given you?

We Americans have more freedom, more wealth than any nation in history. But there’s a greater freedom than political freedom, there’s greater wealth than money. We’re free from the power of sin and the devil, we’re rich with the promise of eternal life, we have the forgiveness of sins, meaning and purpose for life, and it comes through Jesus. Don’t let entertainment distract you from what is most important in all of life and eternity: your relationship with Jesus through His Word and Sacraments. Don’t let entertainment get in the way of your second most important relationships: with your spouse and your children. Treasure these true gifts of God’s grace. Amen.

The Determination of Love

Jesus Triptych

2nd Sunday in Lent
Luke 13:31-35

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus our Savior dear friends in Christ: “Love hurts” was a song written in the early 60s and released by a couple song artists but gained its most popularity when it was sung by the Scottish hard rock band Nazareth and released in 1975. Perhaps you’ve heard the song before, this is the first verse, “Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars, any heart not tough or strong enough to take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, love is like a cloud holds a lot of rain, love hurts…ooh, ooh love hurts.” If you like classic rock, you’ve probably heard the song before. Is it true? Does love hurt? C.S. Lewis a well-known Christian theologian and writer once wrote: “Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.”

Is that true? Ask anyone who has lost a “loved one” if love hurts. Ask anyone who has lost a job that they loved, lost a pet that they loved, lost a friendship they loved. You see, grief is the price we pay for having loved. But the alternative, not loving is having a cold, stony, unbreakable heart. You see, love means sacrifice, love means allowing myself to be hurt, love means changing and adjusting myself for someone else. And the only alternative to loving is having a stone, cold, unbreakable heart.

Here in our text we get to see into the heart of Jesus, which is the heart of God Himself. And what we see is the ultimate determination of love. This is about 3 months before Jesus’ final ride into Jerusalem. And we’re told that some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Leave this place and go somewhere else; Herod wants to kill you.” Now, let’s think about this. How many times do the Gospels tell us that the Pharisees are concerned about Jesus’ safety? Are they really warning Jesus? Not likely. This is probably Herod’s sly way of trying to get rid of Jesus. Jesus was considered a rebel, he didn’t conform to the false ideas of the Pharisees and religious teachers, Herod didn’t want to repeat the fiasco he had with John the Baptist. Where he had John the Baptist put to death and a bunch of people became really upset with him because they knew it was terribly unjust and an abuse of his power. He wanted Jesus gone, so it seems that either he sent the Pharisees with this message or the Pharisees came by themselves with this ruse in order to get Jesus to go elsewhere so he would be someone else’s problem.

But Jesus knows. “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” In other words, Jesus says, “I’m going to keep on doing exactly what I came to do, the work of the Messiah, until my work is done.” Then Jesus went on, “In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day –for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”

Do you see the determination in what Jesus is saying here? He knows exactly what awaits him in Jerusalem. He knows the spit, the insults, the beating with the staff on the head, the blindfold, the mocking, the ridicule, the flogging, the crown of thorns, the chanting of ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ the nails that are going to pierce his hands and feet, and worst of all the soul torment of having the crushing weight of the sins of mankind heaped upon his soul so that he might become the lightning rod of all the wrath and righteous anger of God against the sin of humankind! He knows it! And he says, “I MUST keep going.”

And here God pours out his very heart. Do you want to know what God is like? Philip one of Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus once, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And this is how Jesus responded, “Don’t you know me Philip? Even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In other words, Jesus is our window to God the Father. We want to know God, we look to Jesus. Here Jesus’ pours out His heart, God pours out His heart for all to see. “I must go to Jerusalem to…die.” This is determination to death for those he loves.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” That’s what the people did to God. God sent prophet after prophet to them – one of them was Jeremiah and we saw what they wanted to do to him – they wanted to kill them. But what did God desperately want? He longed for them, He longed to gather them like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Who would dream of this? God likens himself to a mother hen. He says, “That’s what I’m like, a mother hen, who wants to gather her little chicks under the protection of her wings.” God is love, God sincerely wants ALL to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. God does not desire the death of the wicked but that they turn from their wicked ways and live – why will you die, O house of Israel? God says. But what’s the problem? Why did a majority of the Israelites reject Jesus? Why will the majority of people in our world end up going to hell? “But you were not willing.” The Bible is absolutely clear that the reason people go to hell is not because of God, but because we humans have the capacity to shut Jesus out of our lives, to turn away from Him, to reject him, to harden our hearts into stone against Him. But the result in doing so is death and hell. The Bible is just as absolutely clear that if we’re going to heaven, WE had NOTHING to do with it! God gets ALL the credit. But if we go to hell it’s NOT God’s fault, it’s our fault.

Jesus’ love, God’s love, led Him to the ultimate pain – to die, to suffer God’s eternal wrath against the sin of every human being who has ever lived – even of those who harden their hearts against him and miss out on the blessings of it. That’s the determination of the love of God, a love determined to be hurt for those He desperately loves.

So, the question for us is, how determined is your love? God wants us to love others with the kind of love that He has loved us. What was God’s love? It involved pain, it involved sacrifice, it involved loving his enemies, it involved loving people not like him, people in a different situation than he. How determined are you in your love for him? How determined are you in your love to God? Do you love him even if it involves pain? Do you love him more than other things? Do you love him even if he asks you to give up something or someone whom you really love? How determined is your love for God? Do you do whatever it takes to love Him not matter what happens in life? What about your love for other people? Are you determined to set aside your own interests for the benefit of your marriage? Are you determined to love your parents even when you disagree with what they tell you? Are you determined to love people who are not like you? Are you determined to love little children even when they make noise during the worship service? Are you determined to love people with developmental disabilities even when they act differently from you? Are you determined to love someone who comes from a different race, ethnicity, tribe, or language than you do?

You see, love involves pain, it involves self-sacrifice, it involves giving, it involves adjusting and changing. Could Jesus say to us, “O people, how I’ve longed to gather you like a hen gather her chicks, but YOU were not willing. You took the alternative to love- hardening your heart to stone. You loved yourself more than God, you loved yourself more than others.” He could. None of us have any right to God’s love, we can’t say, “God owes me, I deserve His favor.” We don’t. On our own, we’re lost.

But Jesus is determined to love us. God’s determination to love us led him to adjust to us in the most radical way. In Jesus, God became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross Jesus took on our condition of sinfulness and died in our place to forgive us. In Jesus, God has said to us, “I will adjust to you, I will change for you. I’ll love you and serve you even though it means hurt and pain and sacrifice for me.” And if Jesus has done that for us, if Jesus has such a determined love for us, then won’t we want to have a determined love to love Him back? Won’t we want to have a determined love for others – all others – a love like Jesus that led Him to die for His enemies and friends alike?

But did He do it grudgingly? Like, “Ugh, I guess I have to do this.” You see, when you’re in love with someone, what do you want to do? You want to do things for them, you want to please your beloved, you don’t even wait for them to do something for you first, you eagerly search for ways to delight her, to make her face smile, you get it for her even though it might cost you a lot of money or inconvenience. On the outside someone might say, “She’s got him wrapped around her finger.” But ask him, does it feel oppressive, burdening or imprisoning? His answer, “No, it feels like heaven, I’m enjoying every bit of it.”

That’s what the love of Christ does for us. His determined love to go to the cross and pay for our sins no matter the cost moves us to a determined love that wants to serve Him and wants to serve others with our lives no matter the cost. Amen.