Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pastor Kurt Loescher's 25th Anniversary in the Ministry

The kingdom of heaven is all about giving up yourself and your interests, and gaining much, much more.  God gives many more good things than you ever could have earned for yourself.  Today being Father’s Day, we have a ready example of what that might look like.  Fathers give themselves up for their children, because those are God’s little children, and God has charged them with caring for those children.  You fathers out there have given up hobbies to spend more time with your children.  You have spent less time with the guys, you have held yourself back from buying more man-toys—all those boats and snowmobiles and jeeps that you would have if you were not spending your time and money on your children.  Your pastors give themselves up for their congregation, because you are God’s people and God has charged them with caring for you.  They often do what is best for you instead of what they might have liked to do for themselves and their families.  But pastors aren’t the only ones who have to give up everything in God’s kingdom.  God actually calls all of us to give up ourselves for him.  He wants us to surrender every selfish thought and set aside every self-interest because we have a treasure in him.
Jesus told two parables to help us understand that giving ourselves up for him is actually a joyful thing.  The cost is everything, but we get even more, though it might not seem like it now.  On a day when Jesus seemed to be giving up everything and gaining nothing, he told a parable about a treasure and a parable about a pearl. 
That day, he had healed a demon-possessed man, and the Pharisees said that he was driving out demons by the devil’s power.  By the prince of demons this fellow drives out demons.”  Then they asked him for a sign to prove his authority, as if he had not performed enough miraculous signs already.  Mark tells us that even Jesus’ family thought he was out of his mind, and they came to take charge of him.
Jesus had given up the glory of sitting on his throne in heaven.  He gave up the comfortable life that could have been his on earth too—instead of making a living and buying a house to settle down and have a family, he traveled from one city to the next constantly preaching, teaching, and healing; and knowing all along that it would end with a gruesome death on the cross.  He did all of this willingly and gladly, to bring us the treasure of heaven, but most people didn’t understand.  Even the disciples don’t seem to get it.  Even his own family didn’t get it.  They didn’t see the benefit.  All they saw was the loss.
Jesus said,
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  
                                                                        Matthew 13:44-46
Dear friends in Christ, Pastor Loescher, Dad, all of you who have gathered here today to celebrate this ministry of grace—on this Anniversary Day, noticing the overwhelming profit and the astounding price, and considering the astonishing guarantee, we celebrate 25 years of giving up everything.

“Celebrating 25 years of giving up everything”
1.      An overwhelming profit
2.      An astounding price
3.      An astonishing guarantee

1. Notice the overwhelming profit.
It’s a cure for cancer, a cure for arthritis, even a cure for old age itself.  It restores lost limbs and fading eyesight.  It’s a fix for depression, poverty, and conflict.  And yes, it even removes the toughest stains—the stains of guilt on your conscience.  What fixes all of that?  Baptism does.  The water promises an end to your sinful life and a resurrection to blessed eternal life with Christ.  The Lord’s Supper promises it, by uniting you to the sacrifice of Christ, and uniting you to the forgiveness and life that he purchased for you.  The Word of God fixes all of that, because God has promised that you will all be raised from this sorrowful, painful life to an eternal life where there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain.   The treasure that is hidden is God’s promise that you will go to heaven through faith in Christ Jesus.  That treasure is hidden now; people can’t see what you have.  They only see you joyfully giving up everything that the world treasures—but you know you have a treasure.  In fact, it’s like a pearl of great value, because it’s worth more than anything else you could spend your life on.
Dad, Pastor Loescher, you have that treasure.  Even as you serve, you are served.  You are immersed in the healing water of Baptism, you feast on Jesus, and his Word permeates you.  God is giving you the treasures of heaven.  Your people show what a priceless treasure that is—because they are here celebrating 25 years of service which look like wasted time to the outside world.  But you yourself would be the first to say that the treasure is your joy, and we celebrate because it is your greater joy to bring that treasure to God’s people under your care. 
People of God, give thanks because this pastor has brought you treasure for 25 years. 
Though you may feel no value in yourself, and even if no one else sees any value in you, your pastor tells you that God has loved you and made himself your best friend forever.  God has loved you more deeply and known you better than any boyfriend or girlfriend would, even better than any husband or wife could—and this God does even though he knows everything about you.  Even if you have no other love, no other relationship; you have this treasure, this one great pearl!
Your pastor has been bringing this treasure to you—That even though you may be old and wasting away to nothing, you have never been more alive.  Paul wrote to the Colossians, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, we too will appear with him in glory.”  That is very close for you!  But it’s hidden—some may look at your life and say you have nothing to show for it, or you may sometimes wish that you had spent it better, but your pastor is here to tell you that you could not have gained more—you have gained eternal life.
Pastor Loescher, Dad, thank you for 25 years of bringing an overwhelming treasure. 

2. Notice the astounding price.
Just as it would be wrong to celebrate Easter without remembering also Christ’s suffering and death through Lent and Holy Week, we also recognize the price you have paid to bring us this treasure.  The treasure costs everything you have.  Jesus said the man sold everything he had for this treasure, and the pearl merchant sold everything he had for this pearl.  Jesus also said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
It would have been easy to go to college and get a degree and a job that makes a lot of money, buy a nice house and settle down with your family, then retire someday to enjoy your later years in leisure.  You’ve given up those goals.  You gave yourself for the treasure and you’ve done it joyfully because of its great worth.  The greatness of the treasure overwhelms the price you have paid.
You have given up the American dream of early retirement, and instead have fathered 10 children in the kingdom of God.  Any of you who have children enrolled in one of our Lutheran grade schools or Kettle Moraine know that sending 10 children through those schools is not a good retirement plan.   Dad, I recognize the sacrifice you have made for the Kingdom of God.  I don’t feel sorry for you though, and don’t any of you feel sorry for him.  He does it out of pure joy for the treasure.  Give thanks for the overwhelming treasure.
For 25 years this pastor has been on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, including his days off, including holidays, including his vacations.  He will get up in the middle of the night and go to the hospital for you.  Don’t feel sorry for him, though.  He does it out of pure joy for the treasure.  Give thanks for the overwhelming treasure.
But he is not the only one who must give up himself for the treasure.  There is nothing in these parables—or in the whole Bible—that limits self-sacrifice to pastors.  Jesus meant everybody.  If you want to thank your pastor for giving himself to you, give yourself to him.  Have you ever told your children, or have you ever heard from your parents, “All I want for my birthday is a little obedience and cooperation?”  Don’t ask me how I know that parents say that.  If you want to thank your pastor, give yourself to him.  Give up your Sunday morning to take the treasure he brings to you in worship and Bible Class.  Give up a little to help him by serving on committees, by helping to teach Sunday School, or wherever else he may ask for your time.
But is that really giving everything for the treasure?  It’s really a pretty small chunk of yourself.  Even you, Dad, Pastor Loescher—can you really say that you have given up everything you are and everything you want for the treasure?  If I know you, you were probably feeling like you were going to lose your lunch a minute ago when I was talking about all that you’ve given up.  I know you see your faults.  I know that you know you should be giving yourself up in pure joy for the treasure, and you want to.  I also know that you know you have fallen short, just like all of us do.
It’s a good thing that God has not asked any of us to give everything. It’s a good thing because none of us would be willing, unless God give us strength to be willing.  None of us believe in the treasure enough to completely overcome our selfishness.  If the cost of this treasure is everything, then we have not paid enough to get it. 

3. Celebrate because of Christ’s astonishing guarantee.
Christ has given us a guarantee that the treasure is ours, even though our self-sacrificing is stained with selfish resistance.  Christ sold everything he had for the treasure, so that he could give it to us freely.  He gave it all up—his place in heaven to be homeless on earth.  He gave up the praises of angels to be despised by sinful men.  He gave up his unity with his Father to be forsaken by him.  He gave up all, even his life, to purchase this treasure for us.  Now, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” and Christ’s perfect self-sacrifice has been wrapped around our imperfect self-sacrifice, so that the treasure is guaranteed to be ours.
We celebrate today, because this pastor wears Christ’s righteousness.   For 25 years his service has been covered by the Good Shepherd, who gave himself, gave up everything that was comfortable for him, even giving his very life for the sheep.  For 25 years the Good Shepherd’s perfect self-sacrifice has been covering this pastor’s imperfect self-sacrifice, and God in his grace has been exalting the sacrifices he does make for the sake of the kingdom.  He is guaranteed a reward.
Dad, I wasn’t sweet-talking when I spoke of the wonderful self-sacrifice you have made for the kingdom of God.  That’s actually how God sees your service.  Christ’s perfection covers your imperfection.  The blood of Christ washes the selfishness off of your service, and in his grace he lifts up the sacrifices you have made of yourself for him and for his people. 
God does that for all of us, as we imperfectly sacrifice ourselves for the treasure that he has given us.  Christ’s perfection covers us.  His blood washes the selfish stains from our deeds.  In his grace he exalts what we do well.  He guarantees our reward in heaven.

We have every reason to celebrate 25 years of your self-sacrificing service, because of the treasure that is given to us.  God celebrates it.  The apostle John heard a voice from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” And the Spirit answered, “Yes, for their deeds will follow them.  God graciously exalts your deeds so that they are remembered in heaven, not only now but also in eternity. As God’s people, we celebrate with him. Today we celebrate, because for 25 years you have been spending yourself for an overwhelming treasure.  We celebrate because of the astounding price you have paid, because you have been given the treasure, and in pure joy you sacrifice everything to bring it to us.  But even more than that, we celebrate because Jesus sacrificed himself, totally and perfectly, to guarantee that the treasure is ours, and these 25 years will not have been a loss.  Because of this overwhelming treasure, the astounding price that has been paid, and the astonishing guarantee Christ has given, we celebrate.   Yes, we celebrate 25 years of giving up everything.  Our celebration is not so much for you, dad, but for what God has done through you.  In the words of the psalmist,
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name be glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” 
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pentecost 2 Mark 2:23-28

 Don’t be a legalist!  Be a Christian.  No arguments there, right?  Everybody hates a legalist.  But what’s a legalist?  It’s a person who lives in such fear of breaking the law that that he doesn’t actually know what is right and wrong anymore.  Because he is so afraid that he might break the law in some small way, he might sometimes do some really foolish things.
Student drivers are often legalists –either that or reckless lawbreakers.  They are constantly afraid that they might break some traffic law in some way, they get nervous every time they see a police officer, they let everyone else at the intersection go first, they stop 30 feet behind the line, they drive 5 under all the time.  They drive in fear of breaking the law, and its unnatural, unwise, and unsafe.  That’s legalism.
Christians can also be legalists.  Christians sometimes live in such fear of sinning that they have to dissect and examine every action they take.  They will find themselves in a horrible conundrum when God hasn’t said anything in the Bible about it, and they don’t know which way is right and which way is wrong.  Many of the things they decide are wrong are not wrong at all—in fact God hasn’t said anything about it.  They agonize over questions like,  “Is it a sin to speed or not?  Or how fast can you go before it becomes sin?  Is it a sin to say words that sound like God?  Which words can you say and which words can’t you say?  Is it a sin to drink, or how much can you drink before it’s a sin?  Is it a sin to smoke, or how much can you smoke before it becomes sin?  How much stuff can you have before it becomes greed?  Can you watch this movie or that movie?  Can you kiss while you’re dating?  Can you dance while you’re dating? Or dance with someone you aren’t even dating?  Can you use an updated version of the Lord’s Prayer?  Can you use a Bible translation that was written in natural English style rather than a word for word literalistic translation?  As Christians we make it our goal to live holy lives, but sometimes fall into the trap of living a life characterized by the law.  We are, by nature, legalists.
But being a Christian and being a legalist are really two opposite things.  A legalist lives in fear of messing up.  A legalist is always unsure of what he should do, because God has not given direct instructions for everything.  A legalist is always suspicious and judgmental of other sincere Christians whom he thinks aren’t working so hard to be holy.  On the other hand, the characteristics of Christian life are peace, love, and patience.  In peace the Christian lives confident that God is pleased with him, and that God has given him everything he needs to make God-pleasing decisions in the pages of Scripture and in his heart.  A Christian lives in love, joyful love, because he is confident that God loves him.  A Christian has patience with other Christians, understanding that God is patiently working to instruct all of us in his ways.  So, are you a Christian, or are you a legalist?  The answer, of course, is yes.  I am a Christian, and, sad to say, I can also be a legalist.
Legalism is the innocent-looking enemy of your faith in Christ, always present inside of you.  It always works against your faith in Christ.   Look how the legalists attacked Christ in the Gospel today:  they saw the disciples picking some grain, they interpreted that as “working on the Sabbath,” and so they accused the Son of God of sinning by allowing his disciples to work on the Sabbath.  They were legalists.  Today, from Christ and his disciples, we learn to recognize legalism as an enemy within us and defeat it.  At that moment, at least, the disciples were free from any legalistic ideas as they followed Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, and they used the Law to their benefit as God intended it—
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”  He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he was hungry and in need?  In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.  And he also gave some to his companions.”  Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Don’t Be a Legalist; Be a Christian!
1.  Follow the Lord of the Sabbath
As I read about the disciples walking with Jesus, I don’t notice them living in fear of God.  Fear of God’s wrath did not seize their minds and drive them to such absurd lengths as those Pharisees.  Actually they were walking and talking with God, completely carefree.  We might think that they would have been constantly nervous about committing some sin accidentally right under Jesus’ nose!  But actually, that is the very reason why they were so carefree.
The disciples picked those heads of grain on the Sabbath without worrying that it might be sin because Jesus was with them.  It’s very simple—If God is with you, then he must not be angry with you.  There was Jesus, the Son of God, walking and talking with them.  How could God not be pleased with them, if he sent them his Son!  As long as Jesus was there, the disciples were assured of God’s love.
On the other hand, consider the Pharisees.  They did not walk with Jesus and listen to him, and so they could not know that God was pleased with them.  They had to find their own reasons why God should be pleased, and so they were very concerned about keeping the Law perfectly in every little thing they did.   They were critical of those pious believers who put their faith in God but didn’t follow such a strict set of man-made rules.  In fact, their criticism even extended to accusing the Son of God himself of sin.  They were so afraid of sinning that they no longer truly knew what sin was.  Their fear had made them into foolish, judgmental legalists.
Don’t be a Legalist.  Be a Christian.  Be with Jesus, like the disciples.  The teachings of Jesus are here for you in the Bible.  It says he lived perfectly according to God’s law, and then exchanged that life for the sins of the world.  Paul wrote that Jesus has become our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption.  And you also have been clothed with Christ in baptism—you wear his holiness like clothes; and not a tank top, but a robe that covers everything!   You have been given his body and blood in his holy Supper, so that just as much as that bread and wine have been digested and become a part of you, Jesus is in you and part of you.   What else do you need to be assured of God’s favor?  You have Jesus with you. 
Do not live in fear as a legalist, constantly worrying that your actions might turn God against you.  Live in confidence that God is pleased with you because Jesus is with you—you are a Christian.

2.  Use the Law to your benefit
As I read Jesus’ words, I see that God never intended his Law to be a constant burden that would weigh us down with fear.  It is actually supposed to be a blessing, and a tool that is supposed to help us.  Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Because God has decided that you must be with him, he has given you this law.  Consider why God commanded that the Old Testament Israelites do no work on the Sabbath.  They had already done more than enough to make God want to reject them and destroy them.  They worshiped a Golden Calf!  But God decided to stick with them, because he is faithful and he is forgiving.  He would not go back on his promise to bring a Savior from Abraham’s children, and he would not fail to finish what he had started in bringing Israel out of Egypt and into the land where the Savior would be born.  God had made up his mind to forgive and to save.  The only danger was that his people might forget and reject him.  God commanded them to set aside the 7th day of the week, when they would do none of their regular work and spend the day remembering his great acts and promises to them. 
The Sabbath was never meant to stop hungry people from getting food!  David and his men ate the consecrated bread on the Sabbath, and Jesus’ disciples picked grain, and in both cases there was no sin.  The Sabbath was meant to keep out all of the normal daily work that would stop God’s people from remembering him.  It was a tool for their benefit.
Now, since we have Jesus with us, and you know that God must be pleased with you, wouldn’t you like to do everything you can to make sure you don’t forget that?  The Law is a tool to help you.  Take your cue from what God told the Old Testament Israelites to do.  Set aside regular time every week, and don’t let work get in the way.  Use that time to remember the great things that God has done for you.  He is your Creator.  He is your Savior.  He died for you so that you could live with him.  In his Word and in the Sacraments he is with you, and he is pleased with you. 
There is no need to obsess over every little thing that you do, trying to make sure that there is no sin involved.  You’re already going to heaven!  You are free to worry about the big things that would attack your faith—the things that the 10 Commandments talk about.  Beyond that, if the Bible doesn’t speak directly to it, do what the Law has taught you to do.  Avoid things that hurt your faith.

If you honestly look at every action in your life and try to eliminate everything sinful, you will find that every choice presents a sin or an opportunity for sin.  In everything, you must choose between this opportunity for sin and that opportunity for sin.  You would have to be dead to avoid sinning. You could watch the R rated movie and sin by your violent or lustful thoughts about the movie.  Or, you could not watch the movie and sin in your pride thinking that you are better than those people who did watch the movie.  Our sinful nature puts its mark on everything we do.  If God has not given you a clear direction, the best thing, once again, is to understand that God is already pleased with you.  Then avoid things that will harm your faith, and make the best decisions you can, knowing that Jesus’ blood covers what is sinful and God graciously remembers what you do well.
Don’t be a legalist living in fear of God. Use the Law as a tool for your benefit, not a burden.  It shows you why Jesus needed to die to save you, and teaches you to avoid the things that hurt your faith.  Follow the Lord of the Sabbath, in confidence that Jesus is with you and so God is pleased with you.  Don’t be a Legalist; be a Christian!  Amen.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Holy Trinity Isaiah 6:1-8

Holy Trinity Sunday                                                               June 3rd, 2012
Isaiah 6:1-8

You are going to meet God, but are you ready?  Last week we heard God’s promise that he would make our dry bones live.  You are going to rise from the dead and be in heaven with God one day.  Are you ready for that?  Today in our lesson we hear that Isaiah suddenly found himself in the presence of God.  Seldom does God let human beings see him like Isaiah did—in fact, so seldom that we can scarcely imagine what it would be like for someone to actually see God during this life on earth.  Nonetheless, we will see him one day.
To help us understand what it would be like to be in the presence of God’s greatness, let’s first think about being in the presence of human greatness.  How would you prepare, if you were going to have dinner with General Norman Schwartzkopf—Stormin’ Norman, the Commander of the Coalition Forces during Desert Storm in the early 90’s.  As you put on your best suit, you think of everything you want to ask him about.  You arrive at a 5-star restaurant, and the waitress brings you to your table.  There is the general, sitting at the table with all his regalia.  You’re staring at the medals and bars pinned to his jacket.  This guy has more metal on his jacket than a high school track star!  The waitress says, “General Schwartzkopf, what would you like to drink?”  And he says, “I’ll have a martini, extra dry, with Bombay sapphire gin, shaken, not stirred.”  Then she turns to you, and what are you going to say?  I can’t think.  I’m too busy staring at the medals.  I say, “I’ll have a water.”  That’s what happens when you are in the presence of someone great.
Isaiah suddenly found himself in the presence of greatness infinitely greater than that of any human being.  Here was God, the commander of the angel armies of heaven, sitting on a throne high and exalted above all. 

Isaiah was not ready for what he saw.
Hear it in his words:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings:  With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
Do you understand what Isaiah was seeing?  That’s an impossible question, though—I doubt that Isaiah understood what he was seeing.  What amazing creatures he saw, and they were only seraphim who served the Lord.  And there was the Lord, the one and only true God who rules over all things in absolute authority.  Isaiah didn’t even bother trying to describe him.  Any description would fall short.  We have bits and pieces revealed to us that both confound our understanding and excite our faith.  He is God, the Father of all creation.  He is the Son, who was born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is both true God and also prayed to God his Father in heaven.  God is the Holy Spirit, who gave the Word of God to the prophets and continues to work through the Word of God among God’s people.  All three persons are powerful and present at all times, and they are your one God and Lord.  Isaiah saw him sitting on his throne.
We have a creed—the Athanasian Creed—where we confess very precisely everything that the Bible tells us about the person of God.  It gets so complicated that it makes your head spin to recite it though, so we hardly ever use it.  We just are not able to describe God precisely in a way that we can understand.  But Isaiah saw him— the Lord, the triune God.  How would you react?
Isaiah said, “Woe is me!  I am ruined!” Basically, its all over and I’m as good as dead.  “For,” Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”  He stood there in the presence of the eternal, God, who commands all the angel armies of heaven, and he had an emotional meltdown. “Woe is me!  I am ruined!”

You would not be ready to see God right now either.
There are times in life when we understand pretty well why Isaiah had this emotional meltdown.   We might sometimes suffer a meltdown without even seeing God’s face like Isaiah did!—but it happens for the same reason.  It happens when we feel God’s wrath against sin.  The miseries and tragedies of our sinful lives on this sinful earth preach to us that this is not heaven, and God is not pleased with sin.  When it happens, your heart may ask “what did I do to deserve this?” or you may know something that you did to deserve this.  The Bible tells us that we deserve any trouble we get.  Your sins have separated you from your God,” Isaiah wrote later in his book.  Because of that we should expect nothing more or less than miserable fruitless hard work, pain, sorrow, and finally death.  Ever since God put that curse on sinful human flesh and the earth where we live, pain and misery is what we get.  When we feel too much of that curse, we have a meltdown.   So, are you ready to meet God, in all his holiness?
Maybe you feel like you are.  More likely than not, your life is pretty good right now, and you can feel pretty good about yourself too.  You know that God has made you his own child through the waters of baptism, and he has given you forgiveness for your sins by his Word and in the Lord’s Supper.  Maybe you have been able to curb your sinful heart and live a pretty decent life.  People think of you as a good person.  In your heart you know that you are a sinner, but it’s not too difficult to believe that God’s grace covers all your sins.  After all, they are the same sins that everyone else commits too.  Your sins are understandable, and even expected.  Anyone in your situation would do and think the same sinful things.  Life is generally good, and as long as you don’t do something horrible its easy for you to believe that God has forgiven you for everything.
I suppose that Isaiah would have thought the same things in that year when King Uzziah died.  Life was good.  It was a time of peace and prosperity in Israel.  Isaiah had faith in God, and he understood that his sins were all forgiven because God had promised a Savior.  He was probably a pretty decent person, too, with mostly “small sins” and only occasional “big sins.”
When Isaiah saw God, none of the excuses he had for his sins held up.  In an instant none of his sins were small and understandable anymore.  In that moment of truth even his faith failed.  His forgiveness was no comfort to him.  It seems that it did not cross his mind that God might perhaps forgive him.  Woe is me!” He cried.  I am ruined!”  Isaiah had a meltdown, just like anyone who feels God’s wrath against sin in their life.
Now do you think that you have what it takes to meet God?

God reached out to Isaiah. 
Isaiah would have been ruined and as good as dead if God had not reached out to him with a personal touch of forgiveness.  God sent one of his angels called seraphs to touch Isaiah with a coal, and it changed Isaiah’s mood entirely.  He went from being a wreck to volunteering himself for service.  “Here I am, send me!” he said.  What a change!
It was the burning coal God sent to touch his lips.  We can understand that fire has a certain cleansing power—if you want to purify metal, you heat it up in the fire.  If you want to sterilize a pin or a knife, you might heat it up in a flame.  Fire can even be used to cauterize a wound as a way of fighting infection.  This fire, though, had an even greater cleansing power, because it came from God’s altar.
That altar in the temple was the place where all the Old Testament sacrifices were offered, and all of those sacrifices were connected to the sacrifice God would offer, his own Son on the cross.  God took the fire of his sacrifice and extended it to Isaiah, and he said that it removed Isaiah’s guilt, and it covered his sins.  God’s sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, removes guilt and covers sins.
Just think what Isaiah experienced.  The holy, triune God whose presence had shattered his confidence and terrified him to the point of death—this holy, powerful, three persons-in-one God reached out to take Isaiah’s guilt away and put it behind him.  He reached out to cover Isaiah’s sin with the sacrifice of Jesus.  His infinite power in an instant became infinite love and mercy to Isaiah.
The only thing I can compare it to is when my fiancĂ©e first told me that she loved me, and I can say this because she is not here.  She would die of embarrassment.  Here was this woman so beautiful and wonderful that I would scarcely dare to speak to her much less ask her for a date—she is so far out of my league—but she fell in love with me.
God is much farther above and beyond us, and yet he reached out with this personal forgiveness for Isaiah.  That’s incredible.

God also reaches out to you.
God has a personal message of forgiveness for you.  He has told Christians to speak forgiveness to each other on his behalf.  “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven,” Jesus told us.  He extends it also in the water of Baptism, because when that water touches you, you know that God’s promises about that water are given to you.  The water has touched you, so you know that your sins are washed away, and you are saved.  God reaches out again in Holy Communion with a personal touch.  You eat the bread, you drink the wine, and you know that the sacrifice of Jesus has touched your lips.  Your guilt has been removed.  Your sins have been covered in God’s sight.
This is why coming to church is so important.  Where else will God reach out with a personal touch to forgive your sins?  You can read your Bible at home and hear God’s promises extended to all people, so that anyone who hears it can believe forgiveness is given to him or her.  But in the moment of truth, when your heart tells you that you’re a horrible sinner, its very difficult to apply that Word of God to yourself.  You’re going to think that you are excluded, ruined, and lost.  You need God to reach out to you, personally, and touch your lips.  He does that through the Church, as often as you need it, through the words of forgiveness that Christians can speak to you, through the water of Baptism that touches your head, and through body and blood of Christ that touch your lips.
Conclusion: But even still, if God appeared now, I am not too confident that my faith would hold up.  I might have a meltdown just like Isaiah did.  How will we ever be ready to meet God?  The answer, as we have seen, is that God reaches out to us, and makes us ready.  He gives you now the personal assurance that you are clean and holy in his sight.  But because the sinful desires of our sinful nature still cling to us in this life, God hides himself from our eyes for the time being— otherwise the sight of his holiness would constantly terrify us.  But this is not to last forever.  After we die and our sinful flesh is buried in the ground, God will raise our bodies from the dead to be perfect like him again.  Now you are holy in his eyes; then you will be holy in your own eyes also.  God has set your guilt aside.  He has covered your sin.  He will raise you to be holy and perfect like him, and you will stand in his presence, unashamed, because God has reached out to you.  Amen.