Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 16, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Germany, A Pilgrimage?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
Christ is risen; He is risen, indeed, and in Him there is real help for time of need. Amen!
Have you heard the harrowing story of Charlotte and Eric Kaufman and their children? Last spring, the Kaufmans set out in March on a dream voyage to circumnavigate the globe in their own small boat. And this was no idle journey. The family had been preparing for the trip for several years. They had already lived in their boat for seven years off the western coast of Mexico, using that time for detailed preparations. Eric, too, was especially qualified for the challenge, himself being a former U.S. Navy man, holding a 50-ton masters license with the Coast Guard. So, off they went, with confidence and joyful anticipation of a trip of a lifetime.
But, they met trouble almost immediately. The first leg of their journey would have taken them to New Zealand, but they didn't make it. They were nine hundred miles out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and their youngest daughter became sick. A rash appeared on her skin and defying the medicines they had packed with them, the rash spread all over her body. Seeing her condition worsen they knew that it was time to get her to the hospital, but their situation soon became impossibly desperate when their boat suffered mechanical failure. Now all their lives were in danger, and their youngest daughter especially needed help, fast!
Fortunately, even so far away from land and civilization, there was hope. With their boat crippled at sea and a young life on the line, Eric activated a distress beacon that sent out a digital S.O.S., "Save Our Ship" and it set into motion a combined rescue effort by the U.S. Navy, California Air National Guard, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Then the family waited, hoping that help arrive in time to save them. Before long rescuers arrived, parachuting down to the boat with medicine, provisions, and encouraging news that they would soon be safe at home in California.
A month later, safe at home, with their daughter healing well, with deep gratitude, Eric wrote in his blog, "We lost our home, nearly all of our belongings, and (temporarily) our dream. But we're alive, we're safe, and in large part we owe that to the men and women who choose to dedicate their lives to rescuing others."
In all of our lives, there are times we realize that our own preparation, abilities, and strength are inadequate to keep us on track as we pursue our hopes and dreams. Sometimes our own decisions lead us into disaster and pain, and other times the brokenness of the world, uncontrollable events, and people around us send us searching for rescue. When you find your life really floundering, overwhelmed by an ocean of trouble and hurt, there is only one place to go, one Person upon whom you can rely, the One who dedicated His eternal life to save you, Jesus Christ. In the midst of trouble, that's especially the time to call out to Him. It's an S.O.S. with eternal consequences because Jesus is the only One who can S.O.S.: Save Our Souls.
In fact, just page through the Bible and you will see many examples of people just like you and me crying out to God for help in time of need. In the Old Testament, King David, while he faced many enemies, he very often proved to be his own worst enemy. In the lowest, most painful moments of his life just as in his times of joy and victory, he trusted in the Lord for what mattered most. When he wrote Psalm eighty-six, one used by people for comfort for centuries, he prayed, "Be gracious to me...Gladden my soul... For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. ... In the day of my trouble I call upon you," says David, "for you answer me..."
Like David, we face danger, disappointment, and loss in this sinful world. We also face the consequences of our own failures. Our dreams and hopes can begin to sink into an ocean of anxiety and sorrow as business realities turn for the worst, as family relationships falter, and especially when our bodies and minds begin to fail us, suffering from illness or injury. All of those things are symptoms of a broken world that has fallen far from the perfect place and perfect people God created it to be.
And, if we're being honest with ourselves today, the direction humanity has gone, turning away from God's good will and good ways, and trusting in ourselves over God's intended design. How ironic, so few see any personal blame for the brokenness all around us. In fact, if we're honest, we shouldn't be shocked if God were disappointed and angry with us too, leaving us alone in our mistakes and failures and the ever growing ripple effects of sin. What should shock us is that when we cry out S.O.S. to God who could leave us cold with an "I told you so," we get exactly the opposite, as Paul writes!
St. Paul lays out God's design for all repentant sinners who trust in the Lord. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter five, he says, "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that ... we might live with him (1 Thess. 5:9-10).
Wow! Life and salvation, hope and joy for sinful people who don't deserve it. Grace and mercy for those who are broken because God took it upon Himself to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion and to offer His gift of life to all who would believe.
We may not have electronic satellite-linked rescue beacons to press and send out our S.O.S. when our situations turn dark and hopeless, but we have something better. We have God's promise of salvation, earned by Jesus on the cross and guaranteed by His resurrection. We have God's church offering the gift of His grace through the preaching of the Word, through Baptism, through the Holy Supper of Jesus. For the believer, our confidence, our hope, our joy is that we, by the power of the Spirit, we have Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Now, amidst our S.O.S, our save our souls cry; there's God's S.O.S., real, lasting hope and healing, an S.O.S. that shows us our Savior, and showers us with His salvation; and, as Paul says, that eternal perspective offers real encouragement to people right now. And, boy do we need that today, right?
You don't have to go far to hear from people who wish things were better in their life. Age and injury leave many people saying, "My mind is better than ever, but my body just won't do what it used to do. I hobble around with this hurting back. I get so tired." I was talking to someone who was fighting cancer and feeling the fatigue of chemotherapy, and she said this: "I used to walk to the store without any problems at all. Now I can hardly leave my house. I just hope that when this is over I will be like I was before and have more energy."
There's the reality of brokenness in this world, and there's the reality of the promise of eternal restoration and life to all who believe in Jesus. That's the comfort that Paul is offering us all today. That's the encouragement that we have to share with one another!
Paul reminds the believers at Thessalonica, people who were struggling with the reality of the death of their loved ones, who were unsure of their own fate at the judgment and who were probably as concerned about the world of their day as we are of ours. He reminds them of God's action in the world not just for them but for all. He reminds them of the fact above all things that God, in Christ, cares for people, and He Himself is not content that we suffer and perish. He wants us to trust in Him and comfort each other with that truth.
Just take a look at the Bible. From beginning to end, it is filled with one story, "God at work to save a sinful, broken humanity." Whether it's the promise given to Adam and Eve, the covenant to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or to the disciples in the New Testament who saw clearly that Jesus was the answer to all the S.O.S. stories in the world from the beginning of time to its end, it's all there for you, for you to see that you might know that God loves you in Christ the same!
But, here's an even more wonderful blessing to all of those who are already believers in Christ. This message has real, encouraging power. It's the reassuring power of that sure promise of grace and mercy. No wonder that Paul challenges us to encourage one another with this. In Christ, he says, we can empathize with each other. We can cry together. We can mourn together. We can say, "Yes, this mess is horrible! That chemotherapy is miserable! What happened to you is terrible," but we can also proclaim right then and there that God cares. We can shout our feelings out to God because Jesus Himself showed the greatest empathy for us all when He made real, eternal healing possible, coming in the flesh, born into poverty and persecution, living righteously but in the end treated with scorn, innocent yet sentenced for execution, mocked, robbed, killed, and abandoned all for us that we might have His life!
In Christ, through Christ, God knows your suffering and loss, even more than you do, because He took its eternal consequences on Himself in order to break its strangle hold on your life and mine. That's not just a hang in there, it will be ok message. That's a promise from God who is greater than life or death itself, who's telling you that in Him your life is secure no matter what's facing you at the moment.
Jesus' life, death, and resurrection are God's answer to our greatest, deepest S.O.S. needs. And when He declares, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (John 11:25-26), He's offering a real, eternal comfort for all of us, all of us in need.
I don't know what you're up against today, dear friend, but I know this, when we shout out our S.O.S., save us, to God amidst the darkness of sin and death in our bodies, we receive God's S.O.S. answer, His shower of salvation, His Savior of our souls, His sure overpowering symphony of rescue in the Person and work of Jesus our Savior.
We live in a world that has a bravado that keeps promising that we together, even without God, can overcome illness, disease, poverty, loneliness, and brokenness; but amidst all our great technological advances, I see us being less and less the human beings that God meant for us to be. Why not put your faith today in a new and certain place, faith in the Lord Jesus, who has already overcome death and the grave as the resurrected One, who promises you and me that as the apostle John describes in Revelation, chapter 21, there is a time coming when, "[God] will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21).
That's God's offer in Jesus Christ; that's a reality that holds now and forever, dear friend, because that's God's answer, that's God's promise, that's God's doing. The people of Thessalonica were worried about death, about judgment, about eternal things and Paul points them to Jesus, His life and resurrection as God's promissory note of grace for all. Amidst the trials and temptations of this world, that's our sure and certain hope too.
My brother, Peter, told me of a story of encouragement that reflects Paul's words today. He was watching some tributes to Stuart Scott and Jimmy V, Jim Valvano, and their very courageous battles against cancer. And, while compelling and heartwarming, he couldn't help but think that they still missed the point, the eternal encouragement that comes by faith in Christ alone. He then shared with me the story of his good friend, Matt Kell.
Matt died in 2005. As Peter told it, "To me, Matt was my Great Gatzby (in the best sense of that comparison), in that he was one of the most positive people that I've ever met and that positivity had everything to do with his faith in his life. He was a good family man, an athlete, but one who in all things was focused on the things of God and serving others. I came in and out of his life, but every time we saw each other it was like we had seen each other yesterday. Suddenly, before his 40th birthday, I had learned that Matt was dying of a rare form of cancer.
"It shook me to my core," my brother said. "Why would God take him from his family? Why did he take someone so positive about life and his love for the Lord? He was doing his best to expand his kingdom even at his work at the NBC affiliate in Detroit.
"Then a year or two later, the pieces of God's plan came more clear to me. I saw a profile on Matt's wife Gina on the 11:00 p.m. news report. It was a story of how one of Matt's lifetime friends, just weeks after attending his funeral she went into the hospital with a headache. She died tragically 17 days later. But, earlier, she had told her husband to contact Gina, who was grieving with her two boys without a father, to make sure that he taught Gina's boys to play basketball because their dad, Matt, loved the game so much. In the midst of grief, in the midst of incredible tragedy, in Christ, these families both healed together. Later, Gina and Michael, two complete strangers who were linked by the lifelong friends in faith, they grew to love one another and not only to heal but become healers of those who experience the pain of cancer.
"You see, Michael and Gina Spehn, became testimonies of God's grace amidst trial. The couple was encouraged to write their story. They wrote a book called, "The Color of Rain" and it tells the story of the experience of losing two loving spouses but healing in Christ. Hallmark made a movie out of it, but more importantly, the couple is using the proceeds from all of this to help families fighting cancer, not just with the encouragement that comes with fighting with a human spirit, but with the healing power that comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. To me, Greg, that's the most important thing of it all. I think that's the encouragement we've been put on this earth to share. To me, Matt's encouragement is still touching the lives of so many through Gina and Michael.
"It made me think of Matt again, because even in his suffering, it was so clear for all to see that God's grace and love mattered most of all in his life; and now too in his legacy to others." Well, to my brother Peter and to any of you listening today who would be my brothers and sisters in faith; Matt's story is more than a testimony, more than a heartwarming tale, it's another example of how God's love for you in Christ makes life worth living, and suffering worth enduring, and people worth loving now and forever.
When life overwhelms you to the point where all you can pray is S.O.S., the Bible, the church of Jesus Christ offers you Jesus, God's S.O.S., God's Son, our Savior, showering you with His salvation and grace.
Be encouraged with these words and know that in Christ God will keep His eternal promise with you. Count on it. And trusting in Him, "by the power of His Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13). Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 16, 2014 Topic: Germany, A Pilgrimage?
ANNOUNCER: Stay with us now for reflections on a recent trip to Germany. I'm Mark Eischer, here in the studio with Pastor Gregory Seltz and Debra Cochran, our senior marketing specialist here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. We're going to be talking about their recent trip to Germany. And let me say, "Welcome back."
SELTZ: Thanks Mark, it was great to be there, but it sure is great to be back.
COCHRAN: Good morning, Mark. Yes, Germany was wonderful, but I agree, it is great to be back.
ANNOUNCER: For many people a trip to Germany would be the trip of a lifetime. You're also calling it a pilgrimage; what's that all about?
SELTZ: Well, Mark, first of all, it was both, that's for sure. It was a trip to Germany in the midst of the 500 year celebration of the person and work of Martin Luther; but he's also the spiritual father of our own Lutheran church. So it was more than a tourist experience, that's for sure.
COCHRAN: I'd agree, for many of the people that I photographed, it was more than just sightseeing. It was a moving, very spiritual experience, especially when we had the worship service in the Augustinian Monastery and then our final service in Berlin.
ANNOUNCER: Debra, you had a special mission on the trip.
COCHRAN: I did.
ANNOUNCER: You put together a blog of the events and the people, and we were able to follow it along. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
COCHRAN: Sure. It was more than really just a picture trail of our time in Germany; it was a reflection of where we were all going and the experiences that we were sharing together. With Pastor Seltz, I tried to help give a context to the pilgrimage that we were all experiencing together.
ANNOUNCER: Pilgrimage, that word keeps coming up again; in what sense was this trip a pilgrimage?
SELTZ: Mark, I think that it is important for our listeners really to know this and understand. We're committed here at Lutheran Hour to journey to the places where Jesus walked, where Paul walked, and where Luther walked to help the Bible and the message of the Gospel come alive for people. Pilgrimage, so that they might be better able to appreciate their faith in Jesus and grow in their ability to share that faith with others.
COCHRAN: Really, just being there was great. It was awesome to see the struggles and challenges that Martin Luther faced and to be such a faithful witness of the Gospel during that time. He really endured such incredible hardships that, personally, I'm not sure if I could have lived in Wartburg Castle. It was beautiful. It was amazing to see the simple, austere desk where he sat and worked to translate the New Testament for the German people.
SELTZ: Well, Debra, that's one of my favorites too. In fact, I think that I got in trouble when you were trying to get a photograph of me with our folks by that desk. Thank goodness Debra got me and all of us out of there fast!
ANNOUNCER: Okay, so this was a spiritual journey. I suppose that's a good reason to call it a pilgrimage as well as the journey of a lifetime.
SELTZ: Indeed, that's the main reason why we're willing to do these things. They are work for us. There isn't much time to rest. My wife and I, and all of our staff, we were trying to get to know everyone on the trip....
ANNOUNCER: but there were like 200 people.
SELTZ: Yes, there were a lot of folks. And, not only are we trying to enjoy the travel with them together, we were doing devotional work together as well as visiting those places that have great meaning to us as spiritual heirs of the Reformation. Just like the "Footsteps of Paul" sermon series that we just experienced on the radio show, the Luther/Germany trip was a journey of faith, to help strengthen our faith.
COCHRAN: And that's why I thought the blog was so important. It really was a running experience of the faith journey that we had together. In the future, I know that we'll have more time for reflection with Pastor Seltz as well as commentary, but it was a wonderful experience just to see the history of our faith through the eyes of everyone that was there.
ANNOUNCER: I know many people enjoyed the blog. It was like we were there experiencing the trip right along with you.
SELTZ: And let me tell you, that wasn't as easy to do as you might think. Debra had to not only try to get the best pictures of all the places, but uploading the pictures and the content of the day wasn't always possible in Luther Land. Wifi isn't always a sure thing in some of the most beautiful places in the world.
COCHRAN: Yeah, we did manage though, and it was a wonderful time.
SELTZ: And we all were blessed!
ANNOUNCER: And all of us along with you. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. Thank you, Debra. We look forward again to these yearly journeys, these pilgrimages that seek to deepen our faith and sharpen our witness in sharing that Gospel with others. Next year, it's the Lands of the Bible tour and that sounds exciting.
SELTZ/COCHRAN: And we'll be ready to go!
ANNOUNCER: Once again, thank you to you both. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"I Walk in Danger All the Way" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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