Sunday, June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:17-24 God Gives Life to the Dead

A young child dies, and people wonder how a good God could have let that happen.  Elijah put his question a bit more strongly.  In his question you have to see the history of God’s goodness to the poor boy’s mother.  You have to know about how God was afflicting so many other mothers at the time, because of their horrible sins.  In that context, when tragedy came on this woman also, it looked like cruelty.  It was unbelievable that God could really have done such a thing.  Elijah took the dead boy in his arms and in anguish asked God, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this woman I am staying with by causing her son to die?

The Story
This story really begins earlier, at a time in Israel when most people worshiped idols instead of the true God, the LORD.  It was a time when God was giving them what they deserved; he kept it from raining for several years, so that there was little water and no food in the whole area.  This widow of Zarephath was the woman whom God was using to take care of his prophet.  When God sent Elijah to her, he found her out collecting a few sticks to bake one last loaf of bread for herself and their child, and then, since they were out of food, they were preparing to die.  Elijah told this woman, “First bake me a cake, and then some for yourself and your boy, because God is going to make sure that your little bit of flour and your little bit of oil will never run out.”  The woman believed Elijah, and sure enough, they never ran out of flour and oil.  God was taking care of them.  Here was a prophet who believed in him and preached his Word, and here was a woman who listened and believed, and God was not giving them what they deserved like he was the rest of the land.  He was merciful to them, and he blessed them. 
Just think how this woman had enjoyed God’s blessings—the prophet came to her and told her about the true God.  As long as the prophet stayed, she not only got to hear Elijah talk about God, but God also miraculously provided them with enough food every day. 
Then suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the child became very sick and died.  Was God all of the sudden treating them like the rest of those sinful people who didn’t care a bit about the true God?  There were plenty of widows in Israel, and I’m sure many of their children died in that famine, but they deserved it.  They worshiped idols.  But this woman who fed Elijah every day and listened to him talk about the true God—what had she done to deserve this?
Apparently there were things that came to her mind.  As she carried her dead boy to Elijah, she said to him, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Have you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”  It must be my sins, she thought.  We know what that’s like.  When God brings trouble into our lives, we can always think of a few reasons why we deserve it.  Its usually the sin that we live with and struggle with, the sins that come from our passions.  It’s the hot temper that we can’t control, the nasty critical nature that never seems to be able to find anything good in other people.  Those sins of having sexual desires for anyone other than your husband or wife, even the sin of having homosexual desires and actions may come to mind.  When trouble comes, your heart should tell you why God should be angry with you. What the woman said is quite true, and good.  When trouble comes, we should remember our sins.  God isn’t the one who is being bad, we are, and trouble is what we deserve.
It’s when we are so used to God not giving us the trouble we deserve that he seems to be so cruel when he brings trouble.  This is why Elijah was so upset.  There were plenty of widows in Israel whose boys died, but they deserved it.  They didn’t listen to God’s prophets.  They didn’t worship God anymore.  But this woman listened and believed.  She fed God’s prophet when she didn’t even have enough for herself and her son.  Elijah couldn’t believe that God would be so cruel as to show this widow his mercy like he had, and then turn on her and kill her son.  God isn’t cruel.  He is good.  He would much rather bless people rather than give them the trouble they deserve.
Elijah stubbornly believed in God’s mercy, so he took the boy and prayed, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Then he stretched himself out on top of the boy three times and prayed, O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” 
Look and see what happened.  God is merciful, and he isn’t cruel.  He heard Elijah, and boy came alive again.  Elijah brought him to his mother, and the mother said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”  God wasn’t being cruel.  He was showing them just how far they could believe in him.  Even if all hope was cut off— even at the point of death!—he would hear their prayers and help them.  God gives life to the dead.

The Lesson
God gives hope to the hopeless.  He gives life to the dead.
When trouble comes, whether you’ve done something especially horrible or not, remember your sins.  Listen to that little voice inside that speaks up and says “God is angry with you, you deserved that.”  That little voice is a blessing from God; use it.  Take the opportunity to remember your sins and remember why they are so horrible that you deserve such trouble.  Humble yourself, and confess your sins to God.
But also, when trouble comes, remember God’s mercy.  He isn’t cruel.  He gives hope to the hopeless.  He gives life to the dead.  Maybe your trouble isn’t that someone has died, but it seems hopeless nonetheless.  Remember that if God can raise the dead, he can work out any hopeless situation.  If someone you love has died, or you yourself are dying, remember that God raises the dead.  You haven’t seen anyone rise from the dead like what happened in this story, but God has promised that everyone who believes in Jesus will rise from the dead.  If the one you love who died did not believe, God can give life to that hopeless situation too.  He gives strength now, and he will raise you above all this sorrow to be with him in heaven.
When we are getting the trouble that our sins deserve, remember that no one whose faith is in Jesus will truly get what he deserves.  The widow put her faith in God’s prophet, and God blessed her, even giving life to her dead son.  We put our faith in the greatest of the prophets, Jesus, the Son of God.  We will not get the death we deserve, and God will rescue us from all our troubles.  There is forgiveness for our sins, and the promise, as it says in the Psalms, that for everyone who trusts in Jesus “God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.  Weeping may last for a night, but rejoicing comes with the morning.” God gives hope to the hopeless, and life to the dead.

There is something to be said for stubbornly trusting in God’s mercy.  That’s what Elijah did.  When all hope looked lost, and every indication was that God had cruelly taken this son away from his mother, Elijah trusted that God would still be good to her.  Even in death, God would mercifully help.  The interesting thing is that I don’t know of any time that God brought a dead person back to life before this.  Elijah just believed that God could not be that cruel.  All the more so now, when we have seen God give this boy his life again, and many other times after that where God rescued his people out of hopeless situations, even raising them from the dead.  Our Lord himself rose from the dead.  There is never any reason to believe that God is being cruel.  Troubles come because we deserve them, and when they come we have all these reasons to believe that God will rescue us from them.  When it happens that God rescues us from our troubles, we can look back and see from experience that he really is good, and he really does help.  That’s what the widow said when Elijah brought her son back to life, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”  Trust stubbornly that God is good and he will help, and you will see the truth of what you have believed.  God helps the helpless; he gives life to the dead.  Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Acts 2:1-21 Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

An Urgent Message from the Holy Spirit:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
If I started my sermon by shooting off some fireworks I would definitely have your attention.  You would be wondering what is going on, and waiting to see what I would do next.  The Holy Spirit had a better way to wake the people up when Peter and the other disciples preached in the temple on Pentecost.
Think how it would be if you had been in the crowd at the Temple on Pentecost.  It was one of the three great Jewish festivals, a celebration of the wheat harvest.  Jews had come from all over to celebrate.  Just for a moment, imagine yourself as one of those Jews who had grown up in a foreign country, maybe Egypt.  Now you are living back in Jerusalem, and you have come to the Temple to worship.  You’ve learned Aramaic just like the other Jews, and you’re pretty comfortable conversing with them.  But Egyptian is still your native tongue.  That’s what you speak when you talk to your children.  Suddenly, in the temple, you hear someone speaking Egyptian.  You walk over there, and you recognize the speaker as one of the disciples who had been with Jesus.  He is a Galilean.  He shouldn’t know Egyptian.  He has never studied.  Something very strange is going on here.  Now he definitely has your attention!  You listen, and you hear him preaching about Jesus.
There were some there who said it was nothing important.  They heard and ridiculed the disciples.  They said, “These men have had too much wine.”  That’s the reaction that sinful people often have to the Word of God.  This isn’t worth their time.  It isn’t worth listening too.  It isn’t worth the effort of understanding how it applies to your life today.  It won’t help anyway.
Peter said no, this isn’t just a bunch of nonsense.  “These men are not drunk, as you suppose,” he said—and you have to catch the irony here—“it’s only 9 in the morning”—in other words, too early to be drunk.  No, what was happening there was from the Holy Spirit, because God had an important message he wanted them to pay attention to.  In fact, it was something God had been telling them for a long time.  God gave this message to the prophet Joel hundreds of years earlier, and now he was doing it. 
Peter quoted the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
This is what they were seeing that day in the temple on Pentecost.  There were lots of prophets.  It wasn’t like God used to do, when he gave a dream or a vision to one person or another—maybe Isaiah, or Elijah, or Moses— and that person went to the people and said, “I have a message from God.”  Peter was saying that we are in the last days now, and we are seeing what the prophet Joel was talking about: lots of prophets.  Look what has been happening ever since then too!  People have gone out throughout the world bringing this message from God.  We see lots of prophets, in a sense—look at all the pastors; look at all the ordinary people who have a message from God for their friends and family!  And here is the Word of God brought to you in your own language; not miraculously as at Pentecost, but nonetheless!  It hasn’t always been this way.  In the Old Testament, if you wanted to know what God had to say, you needed to learn Hebrew.  Not so today!  Here it is for you in English!
What’s so important that God has sent out all the prophets and he has given his Word to us in our language?  We are in the last days, and there are signs of the judgment that is coming!  Peter continued with the prophecy from Joel, “[God says] I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”  It sounds to me like a city is burning.  The people of Jerusalem would soon see their city destroyed by the Roman army, and they may have thought of these words.  They needed to be saved, but not just from the burning city of Jerusalem.  That was only a sign of what was coming. Peter explained that they were in big trouble, because they had crucified their Savior.  They needed to be rescued from the Judgment that is coming.  He told them repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  3000 of them paid attention and were baptized, they called on the name of the LORD, and they were saved.
We may hear those words from the prophet Joel and think of different things—blood, fire, and billows of smoke.  That may remind you of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any number of other battles.  It may remind you of something horrible that you’ve seen in the news—9/11 for instance.  Some hear the words about the sun turning to darkness and the moon into blood and they think that there will be a war on the moon.  Personally I don’t really think that’s what God meant, but I do know that if there is ever a war on the moon I will be looking at this prophecy and thinking this is a sign that the Judgment is coming!
Now some will dismiss what the Scripture says, thinking its only for religious fanatics, religious drunks! —and that these words aren’t worth the effort.  No!  As Peter said, “These men are not drunk.”  The words are meant for you, so pay attention. 
The prophets have gone out into all the world.  The Word of God has been brought to you in your own language.  The signs, the blood, fire, and billows of smoke are in your life.  You know that you need to be rescued from the horrible things that happen in life, but you need to pay attention to what God is really saying to you.  All those horrible things are only signs of the Judgment that is coming.
Pay attention, and ask yourself how these words are meant for you.  How is your house burning down?  Where are the blood, fire, and billows of smoke in your life?  What do you need to be rescued from?  Then remember that those things are just signs of the destruction that is coming—we need to be rescued from the Judgment. 
Today, we see all the prophets.  Today we see the signs of the Judgment.  And today, the good news that God really wants us to hear is in the last part of the prophecy that Peter quoted, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  We, who see the signs of the Judgment that is coming, we can call on the Lord to save us.  That just means that we hear that God has promised to rescue and we say “Yes!  Have mercy, LORD!  Rescue me!”  Then, since he has told us that he wants to use Baptism, the preaching of the Word, and Holy Communion to save us, we run to those things.  We, who call on the name of the Lord, will be saved.
There is a picture in my mind of God coming to you like a fireman searching through a burning house.  He finds you sleeping on your bed.  He says, “Wake up!  Your house is burning down.  You need to get out!  Come with me!  Now is not the time to roll over and go back to sleep.  This would be a bad time to think, “This fireman is crazy.  He must be drunk.”  If you say, “Hm, my house is on fire, that’s an interesting theory.  I think I’ll ponder that for a while”—you are going to die.  Take the time and effort to listen to what the Word is saying.  I am telling you that your world, your life is burning down.  You need to ask yourself how that’s true.  See the signs and know that you need to be rescued.  Your house is burning down, and you need to get out.   Take God’s invitation—call on him to save you.  Not just once, but every day.  I’m talking about a lifestyle of following him out of the burning house. Come to hear what he says in his Word.  Call on his name, and you will be saved.  Amen.

God Answers Prayer. 1 Kings 8:41-43

Introduction:  Cell phones, Text messages, and Email—some of you don’t know what any of that is, but you’ve probably noticed that everyone wants instant response.  Someone will send a text message, and if the reply doesn’t come within 30 seconds, panic ensues.  Did he get the message?  Is he ignoring me?  Is he just busy?  As much as you may laugh at the teenager who does that, this is the way we all tend to treat God.  Where is he?  Did he hear?  Is he listening?  Is he busy?
When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed that God would hear their prayers, care, listen, and answer.  We will see that God has answered his prayer, but we will also have to ask ourselves what is wrong when God doesn’t do what Solomon prayed for.

Sermon Text:
1 Kings 8:41–43 (NIV84)
41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

Theme:  God answers prayer.

Solomon’s Prayer:  The big deal with this temple was that it was a place where you could count on your prayers being heard.  God had promised to dwell there.  When Solomon finished building, God appeared in a dark cloud and filled the temple.  What an impressive sight that must have been, on that day of dedication, to see this cloud fill the temple, a cloud so thick and dark that the priests had to leave for a while.  As they saw this cloud fill the temple, they that it was God.  They knew that at this temple, you could bring your prayers directly to God, and know that he would hear you.
King Solomon saw all of that, and praised God.  As magnificent as the temple was—the inside was all covered in gold, the stone work and wood work was the best of the best; Solomon’s temple is considered one of the 7 great wonders of the ancient world—as magnificent as that temple was, it was nothing to compare with the palace where God really dwells in heaven.  How amazing and wonderful that God would come down to dwell in this temple, so that they could see that he was with them, and know that their prayers were being heard when they came to that place.
King Solomon prayed that other people would get to share this awesome blessing too.  He asked that God would bless Israel, so that other nations would see the great things he was doing for Israel and want to be a part of it.  They would get tired of their false gods who didn’t care and couldn’t help, and come to the temple and pray to Israel’s God, the true God, who does care and does help.  Their prayers would be heard too.  This is what God wanted too, and he answered Solomon’s prayer.  He helps everyone who prays to him.

God answered Solomon’s prayer:
It wasn’t long after Solomon’s prayer that the Queen of Sheba heard about the great things God had done for Israel and King Solomon, and she came to hear more about this.
Another classic example came later, when Naaman, a Syrian general, came down with leprosy.  He had a servant girl who happened to be an Israelite, and that girl told Naaman that he should go to Israel, because there was a prophet of God there who would heal him.  Naaman heard about the great things God would do, and he went to see the prophet.  Elisha, the prophet, told him to go and wash in the Jordan river seven times.  When Naaman did that, God healed him.  Naaman saw the great things God had done for him, and he wanted to keep on praying to God.  He had to go back to Syria, though.  Before he left, he packed as much dirt as two mules could carry so that he could build an altar out of that Israelite dirt where he could bring his prayers and offerings to the true God. 
God answers all kinds of people who pray to him.  We have another example in the Gospel for today.  The Centurion was a Roman soldier, not a Jew, but he lived in Israel.  He had heard about the great things God did for his people, and he heard about Jesus.  He put his faith in God, and he sent messengers to Jesus to say to him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof…Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  Jesus heard the centurion’s prayer, and the servant was healed.  God answers prayers.
Do you realize that the reason why we are here is that God answered Solomon’s prayer?  We are the foreigners he was praying for too—I don’t think any of us are Jewish.  But we have heard about the great things God has done—with his mighty hand and outstretched arm he rescues his people, and nowhere has he done that more than in Jesus’ life and death for us.  We have come to worship and pray because this God hears and helps.  While we don’t have a temple to pray toward, we do have Jesus, who is God and has called us members of his family.  He promised that if we pray to him or pray in his name we will be heard, and we will be helped.

We have a problem:
What should we think, when God doesn’t seem to be helping?  We know that he would rather bless than punish.  His Old Testament plan for evangelism was to make Israel great, so that other nations would see that he is the true God.  Today too, he would rather bless than hurt, and he wants others to see how good he is.
When God isn’t helping, it’s a good time to ask yourself what is wrong.  It isn’t God; God is never in the wrong.  We are the sinners, and we are wrong.  
When you have trouble and God isn’t helping, its always a good time to ask if you are really praying sincerely.  Of course you really want to be helped, but are you coming to God as someone who really cares about what he thinks and does, and what he wants you to do?  
I said that God answers prayer; I didn’t say that God answers hypocrites.  I don’t like to help people when they come to me with a lie, no matter how much they need help.  You may think that you’re slipping one past me, but God isn’t fooled.  I may not know about your sexual sins, your greed, or your anger issues, but God does.  He sees if you are confessing your sins to him without any real intention to change.  One area where I do see it is in your attitude towards God.  I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they need to start coming to church more or praying more or reading their Bibles, but there is no lifestyle change, and no real effort.  Just empty words.  God isn’t fooled.  Don’t expect him to help.
We have to understand that God isn’t always going to treat us like foreigners who know nothing about him, and so he isn’t always going to give us whatever we ask for whenever we demand it.  When Solomon prayed that God would give the foreigner whatever he asked for, he was asking God help this foreigner who had only previously heard of God’s goodness, so that the foreigner would see and believe.  We aren’t foreigners anymore.  We need to have a more mature understanding of our relationship with God.  When he doesn’t help, it isn’t because he is not good.  It’s because we are not good.  Any time we have trouble, it’s always a good time to reflect on our sinfulness and come to him with an honest confession, sincere desire to change, and plead for his mercy.—not for him to treat us better, but to stop giving us what we deserve.

God has the answer:  As I said before, we don’t have a temple to pray toward anymore, but we do have Jesus.  In him, we see God living among us, and in fact even closer than that—he became one of us.  When we are with him, hearing his Word, confessing our sins sincerely, and praying in his name, we are heard.  Our sins are forgiven, and God listens, cares, and helps.   I don’t know when his answer will come; today, tomorrow, or in the resurrection.  I do know that God is good, and he will help.  He wants us to be patient, to clean up our hearts, and know that he will come to the rescue.  We see how God answered Solomon’s prayer, and how he wants to hear all our prayers and help us.  He wants to be known as a God who listens and helps.  Remember that God answers prayer.  Amen.