Sunday, February 26, 2012

“A Letter of Encouragement” (James 1:16-18) 1st of sermon series “Letters For Lent”

S-1298 1SIL S/3B 2/26/12 Hymns: (O) #418; (S) #440; LS. #633; #550; #620; (C) #433 LSB

Text: Genesis 22:1-18; James 1:12-18; Mark 9:1-15

Theme: “A Letter of Encouragement” (James 1:16-18) 1st of sermon series “Letters For Lent”

Question: Two questions: 1. What is an Epistle? and 2. “Are you an encourager?” Armour, SD.

In the name Jesus, Amen! The text for the 1st Sunday in Lent is the Epistle Lesson. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:16-18).

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Church at Corinth, wrote these endearing words to encourage the Christians to walk in the walk of faith and to live in such a way, that they make someone’s life a little better. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God” (2 C or. 3:2‑4).

With these words, Paul reminds us of our role as the baptized and redeemed followers of Jesus. And on this First Sunday in Lent, as we gather in this place, we want to listen closely to St. James, the brother of our Lord who wrote a letter of encouragement to the first century Christians, and ask the important question: How does this letter affect me personally?

Therefore, we pray, that the Holy Spirit, will open our hearts, ears and hands to assist us in learning what is our role and purpose in this life; and what we should and shouldn’t do as we hear and heed the Word of God in making a difference in the lives of those we know. PAUSE.

Beautiful people of God, all of us enjoy and cherish receiving letters. Letters are a gift from the sender telling us they are thinking of us. I have personally witnessed people at the post office having just picked up their mail head back to their cars, sit there and open the mail and go through it. I have seen them laugh and cry as they open the letters. What a delight when we get a letter from a loved one—a soldier on the front, a child, a family member, or a friend. We read these letters because we want to know what these family and friends wrote.

If we enjoy and appreciate receiving letters from family and friends, how much more should we be joyful and thankful at the letters we have from God Himself? In the letter today, St. James encourages us to be men and women who stand firm and fight the fight of faith. In this letter we are encouraged to be a firstfruit to those around us. By these words, we are encouraged to a make a difference in the lives of others.

A letter is nothing fancy, but a piece of paper with individual letters that forms words. But oh, how precious these words are to us and what a difference they make in our lives. Some of the letters are more valuable than others depending on the sender and the content.

Ask my wife about the letters in her treasure chest. When we were engaged, I attended college and lived in Huron, SD; while she attended college and lived in Watertown. Every week, I would send her a letter and always conclude it by saying, “I love you very mush” Instead of much (at that time, I didn’t know English well).

These letters were something special for her, because I sent them. They meant something to her then and they still do today. Every once in a while she will get these letters out and reads them as a reminder of our love. These letters became a source of encouragement for her.

We all need to be encouraged because the world we live in is harsh and mean. We, daily are tempted to sin. We, daily are attacked by Satan. Daily we fight against the desires of the flesh. And in this text James reminds us and encourages us to be strong as we fight the enemy of our souls. PAUSE

This past Friday morning (3-24), when my wife and I got the mail and headed for coffee (as is our custom) there was a box addressed to me. She asked me, “What was in it?” I said, “I don’t know.” But when I opened it, I had to smile and thank God for its content and the timing. Indeed, God has a Divine sense of humor. Here is what I got, a beautiful letter and this cup (show the cup). What caught my eyes what was written on the box: “Pastor you are an encouragement to me. This cup is the definition of who you are.”

I had to smile in amazement at our Awesome and Amazing God. Here I’m, about to write the sermon on encouragement and I get a letter of encouragement and a cup to remind me of how I have encouraged this saint.

Today, as you and I assemble in this holy tabernacle, we hear the words of St. James and take them to heart. Listen again to the text please: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (1:16).

This text is a letter of encouragement to each and every one of us here. With these words our eyes are focused on the “Good and perfect GIFT that came down from above.” Not a cup, but the Savior of the world. This gift of the Savior, which was given us from the Father of Lights is not a gift to encourage us. No, it is much more than that. Jesus came down from above and lived among us to be our Savior. He came to take away our sins and overcome our temptations, because we can’t and we don’t. He came to be the instrument of our salvation through His death and resurrection.

By going to the cross, He encouraged those who denied Him, persecuted Him, mocked Him and crucified Him. By His resurrection from the dead on the third day, He guaranteed their destiny and eternity. By His love He moves us to be like Him and encourage others to follow Him, serve Him and worship Him. PAUSE.

The Lord’s brother, James, has given us a letter of encouragement because we often fail to live as Christians and encourage others. We often fail to keep the Law. We often fail to be truly holy and faithful to the Lord. We deny Him, we persecute Him, we crucify Him and we run away from Him because of our sins, and because we don’t appreciate ALL the time what He has accomplished for us. Yet, with these words, we are encouraged to be steadfast and unmovable. We are encouraged to call upon Him to help us fight the enemy of our souls. We are encouraged to be in His house often, hear His Word and dine with Him at His table.

Saints in Christ, when you entered the Lord’s house today, the members of the Board of Evangelism handed you an envelope. Kindly take the content of the letter out. On the outside it states: LETTERS FOR LENT. On the inside, there are the titles of all of the upcoming Sunday’s Sermon Series.

I would like you to place that in a very special place to remind you of God’s letter for you. But, I also want to remind you, that today, you are the Letter of encouragement. Yes, as Paul reminds us saying: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God” Yes, that is what you are to me and others.

Therefore, I encourage you, to place a name or two people, right next to the title of each sermon. I want you, by the Spirit of God that dwells within you to lift them up before the Throne of Grace in prayers and be that letter of encouragement to them.

Oh, my beloved saints, thank God with me for the atoning sacrifice our Savior has accomplished for us on the cross, earned our salvation, and forgiven all of our sins. Because we are the recipients of such abundant grace and mercy, we are moved, by the Spirit’s power, to go out with the message of the Gospel and encourage others to live for Christ. Go my children and be a Letter of Encouragement to others for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now the peace of God…


Friday, February 24, 2012

THE BLESSING OF BEING A HELPER 2 Timothy 4:11 March 2012


"Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11).

Faithful workers in the Kingdom of Christ. As your Pastor, I am often privileged to visit many of you in your humble homes. But my favorite day of the month, is when I get to take the church to the aged saints and feed them the heavenly manna since they are no longer able to be with us in the Divine Service.

I recall on one of those blessed visits to one of these aged saints, something special happened.  This dear sister and daughter of Christ apologized that, due to her age and infirmities, she was not able to do very much at the church. She emphatically said, "Pastor, all I can do anymore is pray." As I held her hands in mine, I smiled at her and attempted to console her saying: "There is no such thing as ‘insignificant service' in the kingdom of Christ!" Everything that we do for Him, is precious in His sight.

In the Book of Acts we read these words that will help us think more clearly about the blessing of being a helper: "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark" (12:25) and "When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to HELP {emphasis mine} them" (13:5). By these words, Luke informs us that John, also known as John Mark, traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their mission trip as a "helper." Scripture never identifies the type of "help" Mark gave;  but he may have been along as a porter to help carry their bags or aid them in some other fashion.

Now that may not seem like much. But think about it for a moment. The less Paul and Barnabas had to concern themselves with, the more time and energy they could devote to telling lost sinners the Good News of the Gospel; more time would be devoted to teaching and preaching and equipping the saints in the service of the Lord. Years later Paul would write to his spiritual son, Timothy, that John Mark had been helpful to him in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:ll). Paul certainly didn't think John's help was insignificant.

Think about this: How can carrying bags be significant in the kingdom of God?
The same way eating and drinking can be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). It is significant when it is done in thanks and praise to the God who sent Jesus to be our Savior. That is how seemingly insignificant actions become laden with meaning. That is why Paul said to the Corinthians: "Your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

In connection to this, we often think about the words of this hymn: "If you cannot be a watch-man, standing high on Zion's wall, pointing out the path to heaven, offering life and peace to all, with your prayers and with your offerings you can do what God demands; you can be like faithful Aaron, holding up the prophet's hands" (LSB 826:3).

Aaron holding up his brother's hands, Joshua helping Moses, Elisha helping Elijah,  Gehazi helping Elisha, John Mark carrying Paul's bags, an aged saint praying in the solitude of her apartment. And You? Bringing your little one to the Font, teaching Bible class, assisting in VBS, folding bulletins, sending out the GOEL to our college students and others, shoveling the walk, watering the plants, quilting—ALL of it significant, not because of the number of people who noticed and admired the action; but because it was offered in grateful service to God by His redeemed.

Please remember this truth. There is no such thing as insignificant service in the kingdom of God. Whatever you do, whether people know it or not, whether your Pastor sees it or not, whether you get the credit for it or not; God does. After all, that is the joy and blessing of being a HELPER in His kingdom.

Heavenly Father, forgive me for despising "little things." Help me, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to find joy in serving, helping, caring and sharing Your Gospel with my neighbor, even doing the little things. For Jesus' sake. Amen.

God bless you as you continue to be a HELPER to the Lord and one another.

In Christ's love and in His service,


Rev. Nabil S. Nour Pastor and Foot Washer Phil. 1:6

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“Passing the Baton” (2 Kings 2:1, 9-12)

S-1296 Transfiguration S/3B 2/19/12 Hymns: (O) #590; (S) #682; (C) #414 LSB

Text: 2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13; 4:1-6; Mark 9:2-945

Theme: “Passing the Baton” (2 Kings 2:1, 9-12)

Question: “Are you in a race now?” Armour, SD.

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for the Transfiguration Sunday is from the O. T. Lesson: Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal… When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’ And he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.’ And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:1, 9-12).

You, who are Loved by God the Father, Served by Christ the Savior and Sanctified by the working of the Holy Spirit, know that you are precious in His sight; adored, wanted and cherished. Every good writer and author, almost always keeps the hearer on the edge of their seat, or holds them captive till the end, before they reveal the point of the story. But not in today’s text! The narrator reveals the main point of the story right off the bat: “Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind…” (v. 1) we are told exactly what God is going to do—take Elijah up to heaven. There are no surprises. There are no secrets. No hidden agenda.

When I was in Israel, there was primarily one sport that I and many others participated in—soccer. However, when I became a father, my sons participated in many sports. One athletic event that I enjoyed watching is the relay race; that is where several men or women run stages of a race but where the baton always has to be correctly passed on to the next runner in order for the next phase of the race to continue.

But I’m sure we have all seen some relay races where one of the teams has dropped the baton - disaster! Maybe that team even had a good lead but everything is lost because a baton was fumbled or dropped on one of the changeovers. That meant that all the running skills of that team were rendered useless! And as a spectator, you feel badly for the person who dropped the baton as well as the team.

Did you ever think that the life of the Christian is like an athlete in a relay race?

In today’s text, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the events about Elijah’s last moments on earth before the Lord took him to heaven by a Chariot and horses of fire. PAUSE.

As the tale unfolds, everywhere Elijah goes there are people who already know what is going to happen. First, he goes to Bethel where he finds a company of prophets. These prophets take Elisha aside and say to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” In the second scene, they go to Jericho and the same thing happens. The prophets take Elisha aside and say, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” and in the third scene, they go to the Jordan and this time 50 seminarians repeat the same words. Each time, Elisha responds by saying, “Yes, I know; don’t rub it in. Hush be silent!”

But what do these places visited by Elijah and Elisha mentioned in our text mean and how do they affect us personally?

Gilgal: is the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan over to the Promised Land and Joshua asked them to place 12 stones, for a remembrance at God’s leading. Joshua 4:14-24.

Bethel: is the name the Patriarch Jacob gave this location as he was running away from his brother to his uncle Laban. “Surely, God is in this place and I didn’t know it” Genesis 28:10-19. Jericho: the site of the great battle that God fought on behalf of the Israelites as they walked by faith and not by sight. Joshua 6.

These places are used by the Holy Spirit to teach us a mighty lesson—that God didn’t come to be on our side or help us fight the battles of life, but to take over and be our Lord and God. So Gilgal speaks of being separateBethel speaks of the presence of God… Jericho teaches about the walk of faith. And the Jordan: Is where the Israelites crossed; and Elijah and Elisha did too. The Jordan, like the Israelite’s Red Sea experience, speaks to us of baptism – death and resurrection. The practical outworking of this is how God takes us from one place to the next. He puts us to death to lift us up.

We saw the mighty work of drowning in the Jordan today and rising to new life of Molly Krull. The Lord, God Almighty permitted Dana and Jen to bring Molly to receive the blessings of the baptismal grace and to ground her in her walk of faith—this too, is passing on the baton of faith. PAUSE.

This story is about the passing of authority from one prophet to another. Elijah has been a mighty prophet performing miracles while Elisha has been the apprentice. Here we have the transition from Elijah to Elisha. In the verse after the text, we see Elisha picking up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him… and splitting the Jordan. Scripture is clear that Elisha did mighty miracles after he became the prophet in Israel.

Throughout all of Holy Scriptures we see the passing of the baton from one person to the next. Moses passed it on to Joshua, Elijah passed it on to Elisha, Jesus passed it on the disciples, Paul passed it on Timothy and Titus; and Peter, passed it on to Mark.

The baton of faith has been passed on throughout the Christians’ history. And it is important for us to pass it on; because it is the power that changes lives and brings healing to broken and bruised hearts. That is why we have seminaries to train pastors. That is why we have churches that teach the truth of what Christ has come to do—win our salvation. That is why we teach Bible studies, VBS, Confirmation and the likes.

Passing the baton is the privilege you and I have to freely share our spiritual wealth with others. Any time, anyway, and in any form the thing God has taught you, encouraged you, or allowed you to learn from others—share it with people for their spiritual growth—living the life of faith—you are baton passing. You pass on the baton that makes a difference in the lives of others—one life at a time.

We do this, because God calls us to point others to Jesus “You Can Make An Impact, One Life At A Time”). We’re not the answer, But Jesus IS! Jesus is the One who came down from heaven and passed on to us the love of the Father. Jesus is the One who went to the cross and taught us to forgive as He forgave us our sins. Jesus is the One who died our death and rose on the third day to guarantee that we will rise with Him.

On this Transfiguration day, we remember that just as Elijah at the end of his ministry, was taken up into heaven with Elisha watching, so Jesus, at the end of His earthly ministry, ascends to heaven while His disciples watch. As we await Christ’s return, we take the mantle (Jesus Christ) and His Gospel and proclaim the glorious Good News of our salvation.

Therefore, today, we thank God for those who have gone before us—every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve who have picked up the Mantle and shared it with us. And we, too, in like measure pick up the Mantle of Jesus Christ and wear it as our baptismal garment as Molly did today and leave here to share it with others; so that they too, may know the Savior of the world who comes to us now and always. Amen.

Now the peace…


Monday, February 13, 2012

“I Will!” (Mark 1:40-42)

S-1295 6SAE/3B 2/12/12 Hymns: (O) #508; (S) #134; LS #307; #310; #399; (C) #54

Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

Theme: “I Will!” (Mark 1:40-42)

Question: “Which is easier to say, “I Will! Or to do what you said you would?” Armour, SD.

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany is from the Gospel Lesson: “And a leper came to Him, imploring Him, and kneeling said to Him, ‘If You will, You can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand and touched Him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40-42).

Saints in Christ, I wish to thank you for calling me to be your pastor and giving me the privilege of being and studying the Word daily. I truly love spending time reading the Scriptures because it just opens so many facets of God’s exceeding mercy towards us the sinners.

And Today’s text is no exception. This text is a jewel. It shows the exceeding mercy of the Son of God as He comes in contact with one of the son’s of Adam and Eve who has been shunned and cast out from his family, church and society.

St. Mark paints a very touching scene of a man who has gotten a death sentence because of his illness—leprosy. This man had to leave his home (we don’t know if he had a wife or family). But if he did, he would never be able to be in the presence or touch his mother or father. If married he would never be able to kiss his wife or lift up his children to embrace them. Instead, he would live in isolation and loneliness as an outcast.

This outcast and shunned person must have heard of Jesus who is able to heal various diseases. Therefore, he defies the Levitical law and comes out seeking help from the One who could and would. This unknown and unnamed leper comes to Jesus, kneels before Him and begs Him saying: “If You are willing, You have the power to make me clean.” These words must have pulled on the strings of Jesus’ heart. These words must have touched Jesus in a very special way. These words caused Jesus’ emotions to be stirred. These words moved Jesus with the highest passion, higher than the Himalayan Mountains; so that He responds with two tender, gentle and compassionate words that are life-changingI WILL!”

Jesus not only had the power to do it, but was willing to make Him well. And Mark tells us that Christ was exceedingly merciful and moved with profound passion and Messianic compassion towards Him. He, who would one day have His hands stretched upon the cross to fulfill the Law, stretches His hands in defiance of the Law’s requirement—touching Him saying, I Will. Be Clean!” How odd what the Son of God does.

Think of the medical profession today. Any nurse when working with any bodily fluid puts on a pair of plastic gloves for protection. Any EMT as they are called to the aid of someone puts on a pair of plastic gloves so they don’t contract the disease. With the influx of Aids, we know that disease is very contagious, we know better than to touch the sick person, lest we get sick too!

But not Jesus! Jesus the Creator of the Universe, the Holy One, the One who holds all powers in His hand does the odd thing and touches Him saying: I Will. Be Clean!”And immediately, the largest organ of the human body—the skin; over 100, 000.000 cells of this man’s skin came to life from death. The sores, the puss, and pain, all disappear, and brand new skin appears.

Right there and then, Jesus does the impossible and forbidden by the Law—to touch a leper because the disease is so contagious and deadly. But Jesus, in exceeding mercy, doesn’t allow even leprosy to get in the way of one who needs help and mercy.

With great compassion and mercy Jesus heals this man and gives him a new lease on life. Now this man is rejoicing. Now this man is dancing. Now this man is overflowing with hope and laughter. This man can (if he has a family) head home, touch his parents, kiss his wife and lift up his children to his bosom. Can you see this man now? PAUSE.

By this miracle you see the loving heart of Jesus. He is touched. He is moved. He is stirred and acts to bring about new life from death. How odd of God to touch a leper. Indeed God does the odd thing to bring about that which we can’t. This loving, caring and passionate God offers us divine mercy.

Divine mercy that changes lives. Divine mercy that demonstrate the will of God. Divine mercy that reaches beyond the scope of humanity. This divine mercy reveals G od’s will for man—that He might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Man’s will on the other hand is different.

Man’s will is to seek and please himself. It’s self-serving, self-seeking, and self-gratifying to get the most out of life. My wife would be a millionaire if she got a $1 for every time I said, “I will!” But I never came through. Even when we want something from God, we don’t go to Him first, but only after everything else has failed; then we seek His advice and will, and hopefully He would be compassionate enough to heal us.

We should be more like this leper, who in faith comes to Jesus kneeling before Him and begging Him to make Him clean. This leper didn’t get healed because He did the right thing by coming to Jesus. No, He got healed because Christ was exceedingly merciful to Him—touching Him and making him pure again. The physical healing Jesus offered became the introduction to the spiritual healing. Not only was this man cleansed from the disease of leprosy, but from the leprosy of sin. PAUSE.

Today, as you and I are privileged to be in the presence of the Great Physician Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us to dig deeper into this gold mine of His Word. Here, we see with eyes of faith; here, we hear with ears of faith; and here, we are touched by the caring, compassionate and loving hands of the God who showers us with His is exceeding Divine Mercy.

This is the Mercy that Jesus shows to humanity in our moments of weakness. There is no greater example of this than when we see Jesus for who He really is. That moment when we see Jesus for who He really has come to be for us is when He is hanging dead on the tree of the cross! There is the greatest example of divine mercy, Jesus offers Himself, once for all. There He becomes the perfect offering, the perfect sacrifice to cover EVERY sin, even the sin of the leper, you and me!

No wonder Isaiah said of Him: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

By this act of mercy, Jesus shows Himself to be the very promised Messiah that will be the perfect fulfillment to the Law and promises of God. There He grants ultimate healing to humanity. There He forgives sins. There He opens the door that leads out of unbelief and despair and into the wonderful certainty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

It is the cross then, placed on our forehead and on our hearts in Holy Baptism, which turns our prayers from pious wishes into certain requests that we can make for the Lord, confident that He will hear and answer! Now, we have the advantage over the Leper. He didn’t have the cross and empty tomb to look to. We do. We flee to the Old Rugged Cross, knowing that it is not only an instrument of horrific torture and death, but also the gateway to life and certainty in prayer.

Here in this place at this time, the Lord Jesus Christ in divine mercy says to us beggars and lepers: “I Will. Be Clean!” He reaches out to us with those pierced hands and touches us with His exceeding mercy. He touches us with His Word. He cleanses us from the leprosy of sin and makes us new and whole again. He offers us His body and blood—the food that will sustain us for the journey ahead. And He promises us that He will be our God and Lord.

Here and now, Jesus the Holy, Righteous, Son of God and Son of Man reaches down to you and heals you not only physically, but more importantly spiritually so that you can tell the world about Your Lord and Savior.

Oh, the blessings we have in knowing this Jesus, who is exceedingly merciful touching us even when rejected by church, family and society. He NEVER does. He welcomes us with outstretched arms to His bosom, because He is the God of exceeding mercy saying: I WILL! I CAN! BE CLEAN!”AMEN

Now the peace of God…


Sunday, February 5, 2012

“I Didn’t Get It!” (Mark 1:35-39)

S-1294 5SAE/3B 2/05/12 Hymns: (O) #398; (S) #731; (C) #852 LSB

Text: Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Theme: “I Didn’t Get It!” (Mark 1:35-39)

Question: “How easy is it for you get things?” Armour, SD. This sermon will be done in first person Narrative. The preacher is Peter. {Peter enters silently and looks at the people sitting in the pews}

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany is from the Gospel Lesson: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ And He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:35-39).

I was one of Jesus’ first disci­ples. Many say I was the leader of the disciples. I suppose that’s true. I was out front, saying things that so often got me in trouble. I was a leader in doing things that needed to be corrected. You know me as Simon, Peter. I know more is written about me than the other disciples, but I often didn’t get things right. There were times I was clueless as to what the Teacher, Jesus was doing.

An event happened early on Jesus’ ministry that I didn’t get. My brother Andrew and I, along with our fishermen’s partners, James and John, had just started to follow Jesus. It was the Sabbath Day, and Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. You almost had to be there to understand what was going on. You see, He taught with authority. We had never heard anyone teach like that before. And then He did something incredible. A man was demon-possessed. That demon started to challenge Jesus, and the next thing we knew, the demon was silenced and thrown out of the man, out of the synagogue. We were amazed at what we witnessed the power He had over demons.

We left the synagogue and went to my house. I’m not sure all of you know this, but I was married, and my mother–in-law who lived with us was very sick—with a fever. Now that may not sound like much to you, but we didn’t have many doctors or medicines back then. When you got a fever, it was serious. You could die from whatever was causing that fever. We were worried.

When Jesus was told about my mother-in-law, He took her hand and lifted her up. She was healed! She got busy serving us. What a fine meal we ate that evening! Sure, I was thankful, but, even more, we were beginning to see just what power Jesus had. And sure enough, the crowds came. People heard about Jesus—that He could heal the sick and was stronger than the demonic powers that haunted them. They lined up at the door and kept bringing and kept bringing and kept bringing people to Him. Finally, we had to stop them so we could shut the door and get some sleep.

The next morning, it was the same thing all over. People started coming again; but He was nowhere to be found. We searched for Him and found Him in the strangest place. He was in a desolate place, a secluded, wild area most people avoided. He was praying. I really didn’t get it.

You can imagine what I was thinking. Jesus has just started His ministry. He’s got the crowds coming to see Him. People are excited about Him. A few more miracles like this, and we’ll have it made and a small army to work with. No one will be able to resist Jesus. He’ll keep us healthy. He’ll keep away the evil powers that make us afraid. He’ll take charge and get rid of anyone who opposes us. He’ll make life our life easier and more wonderful.

So why was He in a desolate place instead of doing more miracles, instead of building His popularity and fame when He had this chance? We told Him that people were looking for Him. The whole world was coming to Him. And what does He do? He wants to go to other places and preach. He wants to go and tell people to repent of whatever sin is leading them away from God and to believe in Him. He said: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” I didn’t get it. We didn’t understand, at least not back then. Now I do. He was in a desolate place because that’s where Jesus confronted His temptations. He was tempted to give up His mission of bringing salvation to a world of sin and demonic evils. He had been sent not to build an army and overthrow governments, but to over­come Satan. He had been sent not to carve out a few square miles of ancient Israel and set up a new Garden of Eden, but to open heaven’s gates to us. His mission was not to become a miracle worker who would satisfy the desires of those who stood in line to see Him, but to do His Father’s will and bring eternal life to all people (Jn 3:16).

That was the temptation facing my Rabbi Jesus. He could have stayed in Capernaum and built His own little empire for a select few. But that would have meant abandoning the Father’s will. Perhaps, you remember that it was in the wilderness, that Satan tempted Him with this very temptation—if Jesus would just wor­ship Him. Jesus would have none of that! Three years later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night I saw Him betrayed, the night they beat and sentenced Him to die. He was tempted to walk away from His mission of bringing for­giveness, eternal life, and salvation to the whole world.

But Jesus would not give in to the temptation. No, He goes to the most desolate place of all. It is a cross. It is a place teeming with all our sins. It is a place where all our burdens and hurts are gathered together. It is place of punishment, my punishment as a denier and your punishment as liars, deceivers and cheaters. It is a place of agony and suffering. It is a place of death. It is a place where even God the Father in heaven abandons Him to the evils of hell. {move to another place}

Yet out of these lonely, desolate and hated places comes our eter­nal destiny. His mission was to bring forgiveness, to bear our griefs and sins. His mission was to open up heaven’s gate to us. His mission was to bring eternal life. And on Easter morning, He did just that. Out of the tomb, a place of death, Jesus rises from the dead. Satan defeated. Evil cast aside. Death undone. Sin no longer holding Him down. Mission accomplished. Salvation is won.

Now I GET IT and believe all this. Back at the beginning I didn’t. Back then I was impressed with the crowds and what I wanted Jesus to do. Back then I was thinking too small, too selfishly. But not Jesus. He would not give in to the temptation of pleasing the crowds. No, Jesus kept His eyes on the mission of reaching out to all people everywhere—calling them to repentance. He was on His way to the cross. He was on His way to the grave. But Easter morning proclaims loud and clear that Jesus brings our eternal destiny.

(Take off the headdress but leave on the rest of the garb. Pause and then address the people directly, as their pastor.} I can understand how Peter didn’t get it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He hadn’t yet seen Jesus die. He hadn’t yet walked with the risen Lord. But what about us? I’m afraid we don’t always get it either. Sometimes we’re more like Peter at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. According to a survey, the congregations that are suffering loss of membership are those that are challenging their members to repent, to do what’s right in life, to share in the suffering of others, to do personal devotions and outreach ministry. The pastors whose sermons make the comfortable uneasy are not well received. People want their church to confirm their pre­ferred political positions or say it’s okay to spend so much money on what they want. The pressure is for short sermons that tell amusing stories and make people feel good about themselves (G. Jeffrey MacDonald, “Congregations Gone Wild,” The New York Times, August 7, 2010).

Peter thought Jesus should be doing those same things that appeal to and draw crowds and make Him popular. Everyone was look­ing for another miracle. But what do we see instead? Jesus quietly, withdrawing to new places, where He could preach the Word and avoid the “show” (Mk 1:36-38). PAUSE.

Consider our prayer life for a moment. Certainly, we are to pray to our Lord about anything. He wants us to bring our requests to Him. (Invite the congregation to look at the bulletin). Almost all of them are asking for healing, for blessings, for protections, for jobs and more money. There is nothing wrong with asking these things from the Father of grace. But should we not be asking about the Mission of the Church, the growth of the Church, for sinners to repent, more devotional life and more service in His kingdom. YES, we don’t get it either. We think of what will make me feel good and satisfy me, instead of caring for my neighbor and sharing the Good News with them.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Back at Peter’s house, Jesus healed many of the sick and cast out demons. And today our Lord does bless us with good health. He gives us medical facili­ties to alleviate our pain and suffering. We live in a country with much wealth and comfort. Jesus is our shield and protection as we live day-by-day. He has answered our prayers, and we, need to thank Him for these blessings.

But don’t stop there. Jesus’ mission was bigger, much bigger. When you get right down to it, we need to become more like Peter after he got it. And we have so many ways to do that. We have two thousand years of Church history and teachings to help us see what Jesus came to do. We have the Bible to read and study as it does over and over again pointing us to the cross and Jesus’ res­urrection. We have Sunday School and Bible classes to teach us why Jesus gave His life for us. We have artwork and jewelry that take us to the cross. Look around. See how the stained glass windows and altar cross or designs on the paraments focus on Jesus. Our worship services lead us to repent of our sins and confess our faith in Him.

Why do want to do that? Out of thankgiving for what Jesus has blessed us—giving us forgiveness and eternal life through His cross and empty tomb. Amen.

Now the peace of God…