The Lutheran Hour: September 8, 2013

Try as hard as you can to come to worship tomorrow, but if you can't make it, enjoy this sermon from the Lutheran Hour. 

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Sermon Text for September 8, 2013

God Says, "Come Home!" #81-01
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 8, 2013
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Are Church People Mean?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed, hallelujah, and He offers you and me today a life that is eternal, full of blessing by grace through faith in Him alone. Amen. 

Sometimes life, good life, can seem just beyond our grasp, beyond our control. Today, Moses calls people to "Choose the life that God has made available to them." It sounds so easy, sounds so wonderful, but it always seems just beyond our grasp, doesn't it?

Sounds like Meghan's life. Meghan was a beautiful little girl, the youngest of four children. She didn't get a whole lot of attention at home. Life was busy and there were times when she got lost in the frantic pace of everybody's schedule. Her dad worked long hours. When he came home, he tended to relax by drinking too much. Meghan's mom was tired, angry. There wasn't a lot of time for demonstrations of love.

Meghan grew up, slightly overweight with some acne, and of course, she never had the latest clothes. So, as you might imagine, other kids weren't always very kind to her. They called her names. They didn't invite her to outings and birthday parties. She endured what too many children endure. And it made her very sad, very lonely.

She just didn't seem to fit in. And you know what the world does, what we even do with people who don't seem to fit in. We keep them out. In fact, these days, it's easier and easier to keep people out. We live in the most socially connected era with instant communication and lists of friends on social networking sites, but those things are being used more and more to isolate us, to keep us alone. In fact, a modern reality, with so many means of getting connected, we're actually very good at being alone.

Why? Well, we're too busy. We have too much stress. It's easier and easier to navigate our days without even having to talk with a human being. We have drive-thrus, pay at the pump, and online shopping. We can order a pizza on our phone, pay for it, pick it up, and hardly say a word to the person in the store. We're really good at keeping people out.

But, we were created to live in harmony with God and with each other, but sinfully, we're very good at keeping people out, keeping people at a distance, and convincing ourselves that God wants it exactly the way we do.

But God never wanted it that way.

In fact, today, in Deuteronomy chapter 30 we hear God plead with His people: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.....Choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days" (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20). 

"Choose life," God pleads with Israel, and, yes, with us. He knows what's at stake. He wants to welcome people back to Himself, to eternal life in His Name, to overcome our rebellious tendency to go our sinful way. He wants to embrace us again as His people. In fact, He has made that possible over and over and over again. In this text, He was speaking to the people He had already rescued from slavery. He had already chosen them first, rescued them first so that they might live by His grace, in His love, obediently for the sake of others! In view of His grace, God now sets before them a way of life made possible for them by grace.

That's God's attitude. That's His invitation to them. That's God's attitude, His invitation toward you and me today too. Yes, God's abundant life may be beyond our grasp, but that doesn't mean He can't grab hold of you with His grace and make His way of life possible for you, too. He has made a gracious way home possible for the world to be His people again. He truly values your life. How do I know? He gave His Son Jesus to die for you and rise again so that death, and darkness, and sin can no longer have a hold on you. God says, "Come in! Come home! I have made it possible for you to be my son, my daughter again!"

Can you hear God's invitation to you today? Because He is calling out to you and to me, dear friend. How would life be different if we could be sure of God's love for us?

If only Meghan could know the love of God, right? But she, like so many today, grew up in the middle of sadness and doubt. With her family issues often in turmoil, her grades plummeted. She got involved with the wrong crowd. She bounced from job to job. By the time she reached her late twenties she wondered daily if she had any reason to go on.

Then she happened to stop in to visit her older brother at his church. It was her nephew's baptism, so she arrived late and sat in the back of the church. She didn't feel like God wanted much to do with her, but she didn't want to disappoint her brother either.

As she sat in the back of church, she heard these words from Ephesians 5 read later in the church service: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-28 NIV).

The sermon was about what it meant to be at home with God and have a home filled with God's love. The talk of being home stirred Meghan's soul. She heard about how Jesus loved her--how He gave Himself up for her. She heard about her new identity in Jesus Christ: washed, radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any blemish, holy and blameless. She heard about the loving embrace of Jesus Christ. She heard that because of His life and death for her, she was beautiful to Him, welcomed with open arms to the Father. She heard that she was loved, even by God.

This simple but powerful Word from God changed Meghan's life. She began to know a joy she had never known. Instead of being kept out, God embraced her and invited her, welcomed her home. Even as she struggled with wounds, and scars, and depression from previous hurts and sin, she discovered that God had made a choice for life, for her. She knew she had a refuge and a strength in Jesus. Jesus made it through all kinds of suffering, and He overcame it. Come in; come home to your Savior. She knew that she could trust Him with her very life!

Meghan found a Bible verse that became a theme for her life; it's one of my favorites too. It was in Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).
How about you my friend? That Word to Meghan is God's Word to you too. I know that our lives have much in common with Meghan's. I'm mean, after all, who doesn't feel rejection and experience pain in this life? This world is a rough place, right? Life can be an arduous journey. And when things get difficult, it's so easy to be taken captive by brokenness or to give in to despair.

Our lives are much like the people's lives in our text for today. In Deuteronomy chapter 30, Moses was speaking to the people before they entered the Promised Land. Finally, they had arrived. Finally, the wandering in the wilderness would be over. But Moses warned the people:
"But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish" (Deuteronomy 30:17-18).

Moses was warning them not to be led away from God's faithful love and ongoing strength by serving other gods. For God had chosen them by grace, rescued them from slavery, but even at this glorious moment of further blessings, it was easy for them, even as forgiven sinners to choose darkness, not God's light, to choose sinful selfishness, rather than sacrificial faithfulness and service. It's always easy for us as sinners to give in to our sinfulness, our selfishness. But the long-term ramifications are eternally deadly. Our anger becomes our master. Our self-doubt makes us captive to fear. With our confidence in ourselves shattered, worry and fear dominate our thoughts. Our own failures and sinful desires seem so insurmountable, sending us spinning into guilt and self-loathing. 

That's why God calls us to repentance. That's why God calls us home! God pleads with us to love Him, as He has loved us, to trust Him and walk in His ways because He has already chosen us by His grace through His Son Jesus and His work on the cross. Today, no matter where you've been, no matter how far you have fallen; today God calls you to come home. Come home to a life He has already made possible for you. A life you can live abundantly by His grace, in His love forever. 

God offered words of hope to the people of Israel, but He makes those same promises to you and to me today. 

In Ephesians 1, Paul says .....For God chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. You see, God has made this possible with a plan from eternity!

Or listen to Ephesians chapter 2 where Paul shares with us God's Word of hope saying: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he has loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, he made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-" (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Do you need to hear God's Word of love today? Do you hear it as God's Word to you, for you? If you do, God says to you today, "Come in. Welcome home." And know that I have an abundant life for you to live, now and forever!

Moses says: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.....Choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and your length of days" (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, 19-20). 

In our text Moses is leading his people one last time in his life. He is telling them that God has been faithful and will continue to be faithful to His promises. He chose for them a purpose, not only to bless them personally, but to make them a testimony to the world of God's love, and care, and grace.

But God has done that and so much more for us! Through the waters of Baptism, God literally connects us to the work of Christ's cross and the power to live a new life by His grace. Moses would have rejoiced to read Romans 6, which declares: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

God is offering you a challenge, an opportunity. In Christ, He has chosen you as His own! So, choose the life He has made possible for you by grace. By the power of His Spirit, through His Word and sacraments, accept His invitation to come home, to be at home with Him! Choose life on His terms and live it!

That's exactly what happened in Meghan's life. She suddenly knew how God had chosen her by grace because of Jesus. She thanked God for that new life given her by grace through His Word. She thanked God for the new life in Him, a life she got to live for others. But, she was especially ready to be a dedicated servant to others in Jesus' Name. Now her passion was to serve children, to work as a babysitter and a nanny for a number of years; so that's what she did! 

Life couldn't have changed more dramatically for the good with her new view of things. She was ready to serve, and it just so happened that a family was truly in need. She started to take care of three young children for a kind man whose wife died suddenly from an illness. The youngest child was only a year old. They needed help, so Meghan jumped in with her joyful smile and her loving heart. Even more incredibly, over time, Meghan became a part of the family. She had hoped someday to meet a Christian man, and now at the age of 40, she would be blessed again. Not only did the children love Meghan and she the children, but the father fell in love with her too. Their wedding was a new beginning, through years of pain, now blessing, one that both could never have imagined. That's what life can be for those who put their trust in God. 

Choose life; the life that God can give, the life that He is offering to you and me today. Your life, my life, can be transformed just by trusting in God's promises for us each and every day and living for others in His Name!

Just look at how Meghan's life changed, how it was transformed. Look at how Moses' life was changed, transformed, just because He trusted in the promises of God. Look at Joshua in the Old Testament or any of the disciples in the New; how life changed when their life was the Lord's. God had plans for them; He has plans for you and me too! 

Now, I'd love to say that faith in Christ, receiving the life that only He can give, means that all of your struggles this side of heaven will then just fade away. But you know that's not the way it is. Even Jesus prepares us for that. He holds us this side of heaven. His forgiveness and grace allows us to live in this vale of tears until the new heavens and the new earth of His coming kingdom is something we can see with our eyes, not just know by faith! But, that's why coming home to God by faith is so important for you and me today! It's the power of faith to live life now and to receive eternal life that only God can make possible through Jesus Christ. 

That was Meghan's joy, right to the end. You see, she knew God's blessing even in the middle of struggle. Several years after her marriage, with her new family, even with their new son, Joshua, Meghan began to experience painful headaches. A visit to the doctor revealed the worst news; it was a brain tumor, a cancerous brain tumor.

Meghan and her husband prayed. But, it was here that Meghan's testimony was the most powerful of all. Even during this time of uncertainty and shock, Meghan told her friends: "I am thankful." She knew that Jesus' arms were still wide open, and He was still walking with her, and that God still called out, "Choose life!" and nothing would stand in the way of Him fulfilling all His promises to her and to her family. Instead of allowing worry, fear, and despair to take hold, they let God's promise prevail. They believed what the Bible says in Romans 8:"What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, danger, or sword? ... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us....NOTHING in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

You see, dear friends, life here and now doesn't always go the way you want it to. But even then, especially then, your risen Savior Christ is your Strength, your Help, your Hope forever.

That was Moses' charge to his people as God was about to bring them into the Promised Land. Their journey was merely to be a prelude to the main event of Jesus, God's ultimate Word of life to the world. Come in; come home, hear those precious promises for life and salvation as your own. You see, Moses knew that hope; now he knows it completely. The disciples of Jesus knew that hope, now they know it completely. Meghan knew that hope, she now knows it completely. You and I are invited today by the God of hope, the Savior Jesus, whose cross and resurrection means that life is here for you today to receive, to believe, and to share. He's saying, "Come in; come home by faith; choose life." Amen. 

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 8, 2013
Topic: Are Church People Mean?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, this is one that I don't enjoy sharing with you. It's a hard one to hear. Someone writes: "Somebody at church really hurt my feelings. It was my second time there at that church. I don't feel like going back. Why are church people so mean?" 

SELTZ: That one really stings, doesn't it, Mark? 

ANNOUNCER: It's sad to hear that this listener was hurt attending church. What can we say to help?

SELTZ: Well, first, I want to say that I'm sorry this happened, but I also still want to encourage our listener not to give up on going to church. It's so important to be blessed with God's life-changing gifts personally, to hear the Word of God that's unlike any other word in the world and yes, even to be connected with a community that can support your walk of faith, although at times we all can still hurt one another. 

ANNOUNCER: Churches are often known for their loving service and care, but there is still this reputation out there that churches can also be places where you've got conflict, you've got stubbornness and narrow-mindedness.

SELTZ: But that is because the church, all churches are full of imperfect people, but it doesn't give us license to be mean or uncaring. But it actually challenges us to be more long-suffering and tolerant. So, if people think that they have a right to be mean or critical, Jesus Himself warns them: stop. And then, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, he was talking about what kind of people we should be as graced, forgiven people. He says this: "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view..... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and He gave us the ministry, (the service) of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:16-18 NIV).

ANNOUNCER: So, because of God's gift of new life to us in Jesus Christ, our attitude towards others is also transformed and we then can strive to be reconcilers.

SELTZ: And Paul later reminds us in Philippians 2, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from His love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy. And, of course, he's saying: There is, there is...And he says, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV). What he's saying is what we receive from Christ, on His terms, we're to share with others on His terms! So that's the Biblical paradigm of being church people.

ANNOUNCER: Now, what if someone says they're just being aggressive because they want to defend the truth of the Word of God? 

SELTZ: The apostle Paul even talked about "how" to do that too...He urged believers to put away our old way of thinking and speaking by, and here it comes: "Speaking the truth in love...grow(ing) up in every way into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). 

ANNOUNCER: So in matters of truth, believers are called to say everything in that spirit of love.

SELTZ: Right, there is absolutely no excuse for meanness or an uncaring spirit in the church that is defined by grace. So, everything, that's from admonition, to truth telling, to discipline, to expressing opinions, to even running the organization, it can be done with the truth of Christ and the love of Christ prevailing. And there's a divine purpose for all this too. Jesus says, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35 ESV). So, the way we conduct ourselves will show the world that we have a remarkable, loving Savior, one we follow both in word and in deed.

ANNOUNCER: And, what happens when people eventually mess up and meanness shows its face?

SELTZ: Well, first of all, let the Holy Spirit lead you to repentance. As I said, people in the church, are sinners in need of God's grace. In fact, we really know we're broken and flawed. We mess up and we hate that. But, thank God we can fall at the feet of our Savior and ask for His forgiveness, and then try to make amends to those we may have hurt. 

ANNOUNCER: Because forgiven sinners forgive others and try to make amends when they've hurt others.

SELTZ: That's right; the church is the place to learn and to practice this. Think about it, we get to try to overcome hurts with a mercy that is beyond compare! That might be apologizing to people we've offended, or gently approaching people who have been mean to us in order to reconcile. It's not easy, it's our calling. That's the miracle of the church, sinful people actually learning the power of Christ's forgiveness in their lives.

ANNOUNCER: And with that repentance and the grace of Christ, we pray that kindness would become known as the hallmark of us all. Thank you Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Thomas A. Dorsey, arr. Henry Gerike. (© 1938 

Unichappell Music, Inc. assigned to Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corporation)

"O Blessed Spring" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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