Sunday, March 31, 2013

Luke 24:1-12 Easter

This morning is the happiest day in the Church’s year, but only in hindsight.  The first Easter began as the saddest funeral procession ever.  After Jesus died, they had taken his body down from the cross and placed him in the tomb, but there wasn’t any time left to put the traditional spices on his body before the Sabbath.  They had to hurry home that Friday afternoon.  The next day, the Saturday after he died, has been called the saddest Sabbath ever.  The Sabbath was supposed to be a joy and delight as the Jewish families remembered God’s great acts of creation and the Exodus from Egypt.  It was a day of looking forward to a greater rescue and a greater day of rest when the Messiah would come.  That Saturday after Jesus died was the saddest Sabbath ever because it looked like God had failed.  The Messiah was dead.

When the women were walking to the tomb, it was the saddest funeral procession ever, because they had no hope.  Jesus had been their hope.  He had even raised the dead, but now he himself was dead.   They had no hope of finding anything different.  They brought the spices, expecting to find a Jesus’ dead body.  They were surprised to find the stone rolled away and the grave empty.  They wondered about this, and the word Luke actually used shows that they were afraid and confused about the whole thing.  When the disciples heard the story, it sounded like nonsense to them.  The possibility that Jesus might actually have risen from the dead was the furthest thing from their minds.

You can hardly blame them.  Dead people aren’t supposed to come to life again.  It’s unnatural.  If someone told me that Elvis was alive, I’d say you’re crazy.  Even though Jesus had told them many times that he would die and rise again, it’s very understandable that they wouldn’t actually expect it to happen.

Thank God that our morning has been better than theirs.  Even our Good Friday wasn’t all that bad, because we knew that this whole Holy week experience would end up with a happy Resurrection.  Jesus is alive.

Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time when it was happening it was harder to see what God was going to do.  You know what that’s like.  The blessing of looking back on their experience is not only that we see that Jesus is alive, but we also get advice for what we should do when it seems like he is dead.  As I read the account, think about the advice that the angels gave.  Think about how it helped the women, and how it will help us.  Their advice:

Jesus is alive.  Remember what he said.

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Luke 24:1-12
Jesus is alive.  Remember what he said.

1.  This was good advice for the women.

When an angel says that Jesus is alive, and that’s why is body wasn’t there, that changes everything.  All of the sudden it becomes very believable.  Everything that Jesus said mattered again, and remembering his words about rising from the dead on the third day, all their worst fears were gone.

If only they had remembered Jesus’ words a little sooner, they wouldn’t have had such a bad weekend.  Friday would have been painful and sad, but not as bad.  They would still have felt the pain, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to see how God was going to work it all out, but at least they could have found comfort in the thought that they would see the power of God again.  Saturday would have been a lot more hopeful, and Sunday morning they would have run joyfully to the tomb, without spices, to see what God had done!

It would have greatly eased their pain, if they had only remembered Jesus’ words earlier.

Let’s not make the same mistake.  It doesn’t matter how dead Jesus looks, you can’t count him out of the fight.  Remember his words.  Now that he has kept his word even to rise from the dead, it’s all the more true.  Don’t ever count Jesus out.  Jesus is alive.  Remember what he said.  The angels’ advice was good for the women, and it is good advice for us too.

2.  This is good advice for us.

You know what it’s like think that Jesus is dead.  You wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s basically what it means when you think that Jesus can’t help you with your particular problem.  The angels’ advice works for you too.  Jesus is alive.  Remember what he said.  Even though you can’t always see how Jesus can help you now, you will see his power again.  Don’t forget that he is alive, and coming back to raise all the dead.  That solves everything.

Let me show you:

The most obvious application is death.  When someone dies, take this advice.  Jesus is alive.  Remember his words.  You don’t see his power now, that person is very dead and looks like he will always be that way.  In fact, it would scare you to death if that dead person suddenly sat up.  You will see the power of God again, though.  Jesus is alive, remember what he said, “Because I live, you also will live.”  He will come back and raise that dead person to life again.

Sometimes when a person comes into my office with a personal problem, the answer is easy.  I know exactly what to say.  That rarely happens.  Usually I have no idea how it can be fixed.  “Pastor, I have fits of anger that take over.  I can’t stop it.”  “Pastor, I’m controlled by my desires.  I know what God wants and I pray for him to help me, but I keep wanting other things.”  “Pastor, I can’t get rid of my guilt.  I know what Jesus has done, and I believe it, but I can’t shake the memory.”  I can usually give some sort of practical advice to help you keep fighting the good fight, but when the problem keeps on coming up again and again, it gets hard to see how Jesus can really be helping.  Sometimes the only thing left to do is to keep on fighting, and the only hope of ever being “right” is in the angels’ advice:  Jesus is alive, and you will see his power again just like the women did.  Remember what he said; he will come back, and raise you from the dead too.

There are also those situations where I have no advice at all, and the angels’ advice is the only thing I can give you.  This is actually the thing that happens most often.  When the conversation turns to the aches and pains of getting old, and all the disappointment and loss that go with it, there isn’t much that I can say.  It may look and feel like Jesus can’t help you with that. The angels’ advice works.  Jesus is alive, and you will see his power again too.  Remember what he said.  He is coming back to raise the dead.

It looked like a disaster when he died on the cross, but Jesus proved himself very capable of keeping his word.  That third day the tomb was empty, and the women and disciples saw Jesus alive.  When he was dead, nothing that he said seemed to matter anymore.  Now that he is alive again, everything that he said is suddenly very relavant and powerful.  If he can raise himself from the dead, he can do anything.  He can even keep his word to come back and raise us from the dead.  May we take this lesson to heart.  No matter how powerless Jesus seems, you will see his power again.  Jesus is alive.  This is very good reason to remember everything that he has said, and continue to do what he has taught us.  For starters, come back to church again.  It’s worth it, because Jesus is alive.  For the more advanced, search out the words of Scripture that speak to your problems, and see how every problem is solved by the resurrection.  Let those words carry you through the dark days of life.  Rely on your 20/20 hindsight.  You’ve seen how good the angels’ advice was, take it for yourself.  Jesus is alive.  Remember his words.  Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Philippians 2:5-11 Palm Sunday

A pastor sits at his desk, studying and preparing his sermon, and writing the very best classes.  When someone walks in he waves his hand and says not right now, I don’t have time.  Maybe he doesn’t say that, but he makes you feel it when he doesn’t even look away from his screen, and he makes you wait before he will talk.  What is wrong with that picture?  He doesn’t care about you.  He isn’t there to serve you.  He is too busy trying to be a great pastor.
Wouldn’t you rather have the pastor who is busy but drops it all at a moment’s notice for any little thing that you need to talk about.  It is really hard to be that kind of pastor!  Why?  I’m trying to make myself important!  I’m tempted to use my job for my own benefit, to make myself look good, not for you like I should!
Jesus is that kind of Savior, who dropped everything to help us.  It says that he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”  It’s a really strange word that’s used here –a word for seizing the golden opportunity.  It’s what you do when you see something you can use to your advantage, and you can’t pass it up—like a big promotion.  Big business people are good at it.  It’s that nasty tendency to use power to take advantage of others.  It’s the thing that you don’t like about your boss.  The word is harpagmon.  Christ didn’t act that way.  He did the opposite.

Theme:  God wants us to be like Christ.

 Listen to what he said…
5” Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11

“Your attitude should be the same as that as Christ Jesus.”

He rode into Jerusalem to do the Father’s will.  He knew what was coming, and he rode in like a King, in awesome majesty on his way to die, because it was more important for him to do the Father’s will and to offer his life for us.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

1.  Is it even possible? 
It isn’t going to happen, when we are so busy trying to make ourselves look good.
Being like Christ means that we will have to stop thinking about ourselves so much, --if he would have been concerned about himself he never would have ridden into Jerusalem.  No, he made himself nothing.  He became obedient to death—because he was doing the Father’s will as the perfect servant of God.
We are supposed to be like Christ, but we wouldn’t want to ride into Jerusalem like he did.  Who would want what he got from the Jews and Pilate? We want to be loved.  We need respect.  We need to have a feeling of control over our lives.  These are basic human needs.  If we are going to make sure that those needs are met, we can’t be like Christ.
Essentially, the mind of Christ is self-sacrifice.  It’s being willing to give up yourself for others.  But Jesus was a true human being with needs too…

2.  How did Jesus do it? 
It says, “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant.”  Basically, he has always been God—the Almighty Awesome God—but at that particular time he decided not to use his power to get out of trouble or to make the Jews and Romans worship him.  Because it was the Father’s will that he offer his life on the cross for us, he rode into Jerusalem as a servant.  He was not worried about those basic human needs of being loved and feeling important.  He had the Father’s eternal love, and the praise of angels.  Besides that, those who crucified him would one day see his glory and bow to him.   He just didn’t have to worry about himself.  He didn’t have to use his power to make himself look good at that time.  He was free to let it all go and be the perfect servant of God, riding into Jerusalem to die for us.  We are supposed to have that self-sacrificing attitude, but we can’t have the attitude Jesus had.  Not as long as we have our needs to worry about.

Let me illustrate. 
Career is a driving force.  When a promotion comes along, or overtime is offered, the servant of God might have to pass that up in order to spend enough time with spouse and family.  But you like the idea of making more money, and having a more important job.  If you pass on the promotion, you might not get another opportunity.  You might even lose your job on the next round of budget cuts, if they get the idea that you aren’t dedicated enough.  But it will mean more time at work and less time at home.  Can you do that, and still be the father and husband that God wants you to be?  It’s hard to pass up the promotion, isn’t it?
Love and respect are driving forces.  We have to be loved and have to be respected.  When we don’t get that love and respect from people, the servant of God just has to suffer, and keep on being the loving, respectful person that God wants us to be, even though people aren’t giving it back.   That’s hard, and you might find yourself so busy trying to be loved and demanding respect, and so upset that you aren’t getting it, and you aren’t much of a servant at all. 
To underscore this point that we are too worried about ourselves to be servants of God, ask yourself, “What would I do if I had divine power, like Jesus did?”  I think we would use it to make ourselves more important.  Yes, you might be able to snap your fingers and get your wife a 6K diamond, but what if she doesn’t show you the respect you deserve?  That’s not the way a servant acts.  That’s a tyrant.  There have been a few movies that explored this idea—I didn’t see any of them, but maybe you did.  One was Bruce Almighty, where a guy is given the power of God for a little while, and he uses it all for himself.  He uses the power to manipulate, and people end up hating him.  The movie works because we can see ourselves doing that.
We are too worried about ourselves.  We need to feel loved.  We need to be respected.  We need to feel important, and we use everything we have to make it happen.  How are we supposed to be like Christ?  Service to God means suffering, and sacrifice. 

3.  God has made a way for us.
It says in our text, “God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, etc.”  You actually don’t need to worry about making yourself look good.  You can forget yourself, and be a servant like Jesus, because your Lord has been exalted.  Let me explain…
Do you understand what it means that your Lord Jesus has been exalted?  You know what it means to be a part of a great country.  You are proud to be an American, but you can forget about that right now—we are talking about something better.  You are part of Jesus’ kingdom.
If you like to drop names, my dad used to play basketball with Tony Romo.  When I see Kenny Wiggins wearing that 49ers jersey on TV, I am proud to say that he is my member’s grandson.  That doesn’t matter though.  Your Jesus has a name above every name.
Just how great is our Jesus who rode into Jerusalem for us?  Well…
On the Last Day, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord, many will do it grudgingly, because they never would have believed in him.  But when the see him alive and in the flesh in all his awesome glory, they will have no choice but to acknowledge that our Jesus is Lord. 
The Jews wanted him crucified and the soldiers mocked him.  No one has ever been hated and disrespected more, even to this day when certain cults claim that Jesus is not Yahweh, the true God.  They will see our Jesus as the true God yet.  Isaiah 45 says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the LORD, Yahweh.  This says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that the LORD, Yahweh, is Jesus Christ.  There will be no more escape, and no more rebellion.  The day of reckoning will come for all who have not taken him seriously.  Jesus is the LORD.  On that day, there is no way you can imagine how much it will mean to be able to say, “Jesus is my Lord.”  He even died for me.  He has power to judge, but he used his power to pardon me.  He has power to destroy, but he uses his power to rescue me from every evil, even from death.  You can say all of that!  You have been baptized into his kingdom, and he died for you!  He is your Lord.
Just like Jesus, you don’t actually have to worry about making yourself look good.  You don’t need the power.  You don’t need the money.  You don’t need to make people love you and respect you.  Jesus is your Lord, and you will be exalted with him.
You truly have nothing to worry about.  How much more love do you need than the eternal love of the Heavenly Father, who sent his Son for you, and also the love of Jesus his Son, who offered his life for yours on the cross?  How much more respect do you need than the respect that comes with standing by Jesus your Lord, who has been given a name above every name and will be worshiped by all?  If people don’t respect you now, they will in the end when every knee bows to Christ and they see you with him.  You can forget worrying about yourself.
Now it still isn’t going to be easy, but God has made a way for you to serve him.  You’re going to need to take God at his Word, though, and believe that you have something with Christ that you don’t see.  Look to Christ who went before us, and you will find confidence.   As you hear his story of suffering and death this Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, note how he humbled himself, being willing to suffer so much, all the while knowing that he would be exalted again.  See what God did when he raised Christ from the dead, and hear his promise that he will raise you to be with him.  Seeing how Christ went before you to secure your salvation will give you confidence to have the same mind.
There is an illustration in rock climbing.  The best climber goes up first, and sets anchors into the crevices in the rock.  The other climbers follow, using ropes that are secured to those anchors.  If they slip, the anchor will catch them.  If I went rock climbing, I would never get to the top—I would be too afraid of falling—unless someone went ahead of me to set the anchors.  Then I could follow.
Christ has gone ahead of us as the perfect servant of God.  His service, by offering his life, has anchored our salvation.  The eternal love of God, and the glory of being with Christ in his kingdom are a sure thing for us.  Now, anchored by Christ, we can forget ourselves and be better servants.

This week, as we descend with Christ to the depths of his humility, and we see him in his agony and death, don’t lose sight of the fact that he is the awesome Son of God.  May God open our eyes to see him setting aside all of his glory to help us.  May God open our eyes to see the glory that we already have as part of his kingdom.  When we see the glory we have from Christ, may we be able to let go of ourselves and be more concerned about others.  Follow Christ, the perfect servant of God.   Amen.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Exodus 3:1-15 Third Sunday of Lent

It would be easy to believe that God isn’t listening when you and your people have been praying for 430 years.  That’s how long God’s Old Testament people were slaves in Egypt.  That’s how long God waited before he came to help.
When Moses was 40 years old he saw a golden opportunity for God to answer their prayers for help.  He had grown up in Pharaoh’s court.  He was an Egyptian official, and also an Israelite.   A natural leader, he was born to set the Israelites free.  One day he saw an Egyptian slave driver beating one of the Israelite slaves, and he killed that Egyptian.  Moses had to flee for his life.  Apparently, God wasn’t going to take that golden opportunity to set his people free.  It would have been easy to believe that God no longer planned to help his people.
Then, 40 years later, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told Moses that he was sending him to set the Israelite people free.  After Moses had been tending sheep for 40 years, growing old and thinking that God wasn’t going to use him, we can see how that would have seemed like a job that he couldn’t do.
Jesus presented us with a hard job too.  In the Gospel he commanded us to produce fruit.  Do good works.  Live the life that God wants.  If we don’t, he said that we would be cut down and thrown into the fire…we would go to hell.   Living a God-pleasing life is as big a job as any, and we are going to need to pray for help.  But when we don’t see the temptations becoming any lighter, it’s going to feel like God isn’t listening.  When you suddenly come to the realization that, in spite of all your best efforts, you haven’t really become any better, it is going to look like God hasn’t been helping.
The lesson from the book of Exodus tells us that things are not always what they seem.  God’s love for us is reliable.  He is still there, listening to our prayers and caring.  His promises for our future also are reliable.  He is never going to change his mind.  With reliable love and reliable promises, God is still with us.  See this in the lesson from Exodus 3:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
Exodus 3:1-8a, 10-15
1.  God is still with us, with his reliable love.
We see that even after 430 years of silence, he was still with his Israelite people, still listening to their prayers.  He had not become discouraged with them.  He had not lost interest.  He had not stopped loving.  He listened, and he saw their misery.  He was only waiting until the time was right, and then he came down to help.
God was still there for Moses too, even though Moses had failed to deliver the people before, and probably had given up on the idea of God ever doing anything great through him.  God came to him when he was 80 years old and said, “I will be with you,” and “I am sending you.”
During those 430 years, God didn’t change.  He never changes.  Even today, he is still with us.  He sees our struggles, and he intends to help.
Jesus said that we must repent, or we will perish.  He told a story of a tree that did not produce fruit, and it was cut down.  His meaning was that we will go to hell if we don not turn away from our sins and live the good life that pleases God.  He wasn’t denying his promises that anyone who believes in him will be forgiven and go to heaven.  He was saying that anyone who doesn’t turn away from their sin and live the life that pleases God will lose their faith, and perish.
Jesus’ call to produce good fruit is as big a job as what Moses had.  We are supposed to be free from the slavery to sin, but that desire to do and say bad things remains as strong as any Egyptian slave driver.  We get discouraged with ourselves because of our failures, and it is easy to imagine that God will not listen anymore, and that he no longer plans to help.  At least, not until we do better.
At that point, it can’t really be said anymore with 100% certainty that a person still has faith.  Faith is loving and trusting in God as your Savior.  At that point, the person has given up on God.  Jesus’ words ring true.  That person who has not repented, but continued in his sins, has lost his faith and will perish.  The tree that does not produce fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
It is easy for us to imagine that the Israelite slaves would have lost their faith in God to listen to their prayers and rescue them, because we are the same.  It’s a good thing that God hasn’t actually stopped listening or stopped caring.  He is still there with his reliable love, and he steps in to do what he always does.  He told Moses that he had heard and he was coming to help.  He identified himself as the God of their fathers, who still intended to bless them just as he promised to their fathers.  He was still going to bless their nation, give them a land, and give them a descendant who would bless all nations—the Savior.  Nothing had changed.  When they sinned against him, he did not change his mind.  When they became discouraged and gave up on them because it seemed like he wasn’t listening, he did not change his mind.  He still came to rescue them.
God is still with us with his reliable love, and he steps in to remind us that he has already come to set us free from our sins, when Jesus came and paid that price, the death penalty we deserve for a life of sin.  We are actually already free from the sins that seem to enslave us.  In the book of Galatians, God says we are no longer slaves, but “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  Because of that, he is never going to give up on us or stop listening to our prayers for help as we struggle with our temptations.

God was there for Abraham, 4000 years ago, Isaac, and Jacob.  He was still there for the Hebrews and Moses 3500 years ago.  2000 years ago Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  God never changes.  But even as long as God has been doing this, it still isn’t enough.  We want to see some evidence now.  Give me strength to overcome my temptations now.  Make it easier for me to be in church, and have a solid daily prayer life with you.  It’s no different than Moses, wanting some sort of assurance that God really was with him.  God stepped in to help again, he was there for Moses with a sign, but not a sign as we would think of it.  God was there for him with a reliable promise.  He said, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

2.  God is still there with his reliable promises.
God actually said that was a sign, but what kind of a sign is it?  It was nothing that Moses could see at the present time.  It was something that God could see, though.  It was the future.  For God, the future was so certain that he could give it as a sign. 
Now if the promise of the future was going to be reliable enough to serve as proof that God was sending Moses, God would have to be with them all the way, no matter what, to make sure that it would happen.  If it depended on Moses’ strength or the Israelite’s faithfulness, there would be no way.  Pharaoh would be too strong for Moses, and the Israelites would find some way to anger God and make him want to leave them in the desert.  They would never succeed on their own.  God would have to be with them to deliver them out of Egypt.  God would have to be with them to care for them and guide them to the mountain.  God would have to stay with them, no matter what, in spite of their sins against him—and he was.  When they sinned against him, he disciplined them, and forgave them.  He never left them.
We have a similar promise for the future.  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, “ Jesus said.  Now there is no way he can make that promise if it depends on us.  What if God were to say, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, if you faithfully attend church, and if you are always kind and patient from here on out?”  There is no way that God could promise that you would be there.  And yet, that is God’s promise.  You who are baptized into his name and believe that he is your Savior—you will be in heaven.
God’s promise is reliable because he will always be with us.  When we sin, he rebukes us and disciplines us.  When we are afraid that there is no way we can ever be free from our sins the way we are supposed to be, he reminds us that he has already set us free.  Time and again, when we sin against him and come back for forgiveness, we find the same God who never changes and never leaves us. 
People say that they believe in God but don’t need church.  I don’t know how they can say that.  There is no other way to get the personal assurance that God has not changed his mind about you.  Time and again, when you come to church after a week of struggling with sin and often failing, you find the same personal assurance that God has forgiven your sins.  Where can you find that, except in the words spoken to you, the baptism given to you, and the body and blood of the Supper given to you?  God is still with us, so his promise is sure.  We will be in heaven.
After God brought his people out of Egypt and back to the mountain, they worshiped him there.  That is where the book of Exodus ends.  But the story doesn’t end—the Israelites sinned against him many times after that, complaining about the jobs he gave them, complaining about their food, and complaining about the land he was going to give them.  But God never left them.  It was never really about brining them back to the mountain.  It was always about staying with them through their whole life, and finally seeing them safely through the gates of heaven.  That’s what he was doing then.  That’s what he is doing now.  That’s what he will always be doing.  God’s promise is still reliable, he is always with us.

There really is no question of whether or not God will be there for you.  The only possibility is that you might leave him.  Many look for God in places where he will not be found.  They think he isn’t with them, or isn’t listening.  If Moses would have looked for God somewhere other than in the burning bush, he wouldn’t have found him.  If the Israelites would have looked for salvation through someone other than Moses, and at any other time, they wouldn’t have found God’s help.  God is always with us, and he is always there to help and save, but we may not be looking for him in the right places.  If you aren’t in church, aren’t in your Bible, don’t complain that he isn’t with you or isn’t answering your prayers.  The problem in that case would be that you are ignoring him.  Wake up and see God where he comes to you in his Word and Sacrament with patient, forgiving love.  He is always there.  When you sin, come back to him, because God is still with you, with his reliable love and his reliable promises.  Amen.