Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“Making a Difference” (Isaiah 58:3-6)

S-1411 5SAE/3A 2/09/2014 Hymns: (O) #7; (S) #412; L.S. #310; #377; (C) #48

Texts: Isaiah 58:3-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:12-20

Theme: “Making a Difference” (Isaiah 58:3-6)

Question: “What gifts are you using to make a difference?” Armour, SD

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 O.T. lesson “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I Am’” (Isaiah 58:3-6).


Beloved in Christ, we live in a world where it seems that almost everyone does something to get noticed. It happens at home all the time. The husdand or the kids on one occasion want to score points with mom so they make sure the dishes are done, the beds are made, the laundry is washed, dried and put away and the house is generally set in order when mom is at work, or away at the store. I know when this happens at my house, my dear wife’s response falls into one of three categories. 1). What did you buy? 2) What did you break? Or 3) what do you want? If it isn’t actually said, it is most likely thought because this is not the normal program. Mom is often stuck doing the work almost all the time. But on the few occasions when dad or the kids pitch in, it is often to manipulate something to their advantage.

And this just doesn’t happen at the home. It happens in the workplace when the employees work extra hard when the boss is watching because they might want that pat on the back that could lead to the big promotion and the big raise. It happens in school too when the kids are extra well behaved when they think the teacher is looking but when they think the teacher isn’t, they are plotting their next caper. It even happens in the Church. People make sure they are seen in worship and in serving in the hopes of making an impression on people rather than on falling on their knees in confession before the Lord, seeking forgiveness for all their sins and experiencing that sweet forgiveness in the Divine Service.

Why does this happen? Well, ever since the fall into sin our human nature only seeks to serve ourselves, our appetites and our desires. We look out for ourselves. Being selfless doesn’t achieve those goals. Other people cease to be people and are simply a means to an end. There is great truth in a saying that is going around that goes like this. “God made us to love people and use things. In our world today, we use people and love things.” That is how backward the sinful life is.

This even relates to our relationship with God. Reflect on your prayer life. How often do we use our prayers in a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate God into doing the things that we want when we want them done, rather than praying as Jesus did “Thy will be done.” This is what was happening in the Old Testament lesson for today. Israel trusted in their fast days as a means of motivating God to answer their prayers and petitions. But while they sought God’s favor, what they actually received was a bust in the chops! God is not too pleased and He responds, “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the lord?” (v 5c), and of course the answer is absolutely NO! God labels Israel’s “days of fasting” as unacceptable to Him.

Why doesn’t Yahweh accept these contrived acts of fasting? It is because they are manipulative and fake! They did all the right things in all the right ways. They made a really good show of it. You could say the music was catchy and the liturgy was perfect! But the problem was it was not the kind of worship that the Lord was seeking. In fact, according to the Laws of God there was only one required day of fasting—the Day of Atonement. But these people tried to outdo God by fasting more and covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes—all for show. However, God was not impressed.

God sees through the false worship, the false motivation and even the false piety. So He bursts their bubble in complete fashion! He sends Isaiah to tell them all of these externals means nothing to Him. What God desires is that we make a difference in the lives of those around us—being little Christ’s to the world—sharing the Gospel, caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, reaching out to the needy and inviting the homeless to our homes.

God does not call His people to put on a show of repentance. God calls His people to do something much more meaningful, much more selfless, and much less manipulative. He calls His people to bring light and healing. The Hebrew word that is used to bring relief to those in need and let them see the light of day can be translated as “a long bandage” such as applied by surgeons to heal a wound. This ministry is carried out to make a difference in someone’s life by restoring them and bringing about healing. PAUSE.

Beloved in the Lord, at John Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore, Maryland) is a man by the name of Benjamin Carson. He is the renowned Pediatric Neurosurgeon. Someone made a difference in His life that turned this poor financially and academically young man to be the best in his field—his mother. Though undereducated, she pushed her sons to read and to believe in themselves. Carson went from being a poor student to receiving honor and he eventually attended medical school. As a doctor, he became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 33, and became famous for his ground-breaking work separating conjoined twins.

This man is not only a doctor but He is a believer in Jesus Christ. Dr. Carson has made a difference in many families and brought hope and help when it seemed impossible. He made a difference because he applied the gifts the Lord has given him for the Lord’s glory and help of others.

Today, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can relate that story of one Benjamin that is Dr. Carson, to another Benjamin. Well He isn’t really named Benjamin, but He is One who comes to work out the meaning of the word. Benjamin in Hebrew means “son of my right hand.” This One Who acts as a Benjamin didn’t go to an Ivy League school. Instead He was educated in a carpenter’s shop. He became a healer of both body and soul. This Son of the Right Hand and great Physician is none other than Jesus who makes the greatest difference in our lives!

The Son of God—who is seated at the right hand made a difference in the lives of many by willingly going the way of the cross without retribution or revenge, He offered up to our heavenly Father the different Day—acceptable in God’s sight—the Day He would be crucified on Calvary’s brutal block of wood and become our righteousness. He makes a difference in us that we don’t rely on our self-righteousness or good works, but on Him alone. For on the cross is all the difference in the world. We become healed. Our eyes are opened, our hearts are cleansed and our souls filled with faith.

Jesus makes a GREAT Difference through His redemptive work and also through the Body of Christ. Again it was Christ’s love that gave birth to the technology of science to advance medicine and His love that inspired the modern day hospital movement. Look at the names of the hospitals in the past: St. Luke, Lutheran Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and on and on.

And now, this local hospital known as Redeemer Lutheran Church (Armour, SD) is called upon to make a difference. Yes, you heard me right. God by grace has called us to be like His Son the Divine Physician and reach out to others in His name. It is not easy. At times it is not pleasant, but God calls us to make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Look around to those you can touch with the power of the Gospel of Christ. Look around to those you can restore with a Word of hope from Scripture. Look around to those you can restore with the grace of God. And you will see them. Then ask the Divine Physician to use you in a special way to make a difference in the lives of those around you. To make a difference is indeed an honor and a privilege. PAUSE.

A woman was enthusiastically telling some friends about the value of a first-aid class she had recently completed. “Just yesterday,” she said, “I was driving down 52nd Street when I heard this awful crash. I jammed on the brakes, ran back, and found a car wrapped around a telephone pole. When I got to the injured driver, I saw a horrible sight. My knees went limp, and I didn’t know what to do. But all at once I remembered something from my first-aid training. Immediately I bent down and put my head between my knees, and it worked! I didn’t faint!”

That’s not the conclusion you expected, is it? In a similar way, the Israelites had failed to grasp the wider implications of their spiritual training. The prophet Isaiah charged them with looking after their own interests but disregarding the needs of others. Their enthusiasm for God was nothing more than hollow ritual. The condemning evidence of their sinful neglect was the poor, hungry, and afflicted among them who remained oppressed and unassisted.

True religion doesn’t end with a love for Sound Doctrine and proper worship. It DOES BEGIN THERE, but is doesn’t end there. It moves beyond this place and out into the world. It includes first aid to our neighbor. That’s the strongest evidence that our spiritual training is not being misapplied. To that end, we call on the Divine Physician, Benjamin to use us for our neighbors benefit and for His glory. Because this Divine Physician has never stopped healing us from the deadly disease of SIN and He will continue to do so always. Amen.

Now the peace…


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