"The Walls, the Moats" #81-25 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on February 23, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (God Is A Failure) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 28:20
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Jesus lived and died in loneliness so the walls and moats which separate sinners from their heavenly Father might be torn down and filled in. Today the risen Redeemer continues to dispel our loneliness as He keeps His promise, "Behold, I am with you always." God grant we be given faith to believe in Immanuel. Amen.
In 1937, the Nazis arrested, tried, and imprisoned the Lutheran Pastor, Reverend Martin Niemoller. The Pastor was permitted to take into captivity only the clothing he was wearing and his small New Testament. As the heavy iron gates slammed shut behind him, the world-renowned Christian leader reached his hand into that pocket where God's Holy Word was being carried. Facing an unknown future and even the possibility of no future at all, Niemoller ran his fingers over the edges of that precious book. As he did so, he whispered to himself, "Even here I am not alone, for the Lord is with me."
Compare that story with the one which was carried some time ago by the United Press. The story told of an old man from New York City. Although the neighbors didn't visit with him that much, they still, very slowly, became aware they hadn't seen him come and go from his apartment during the last few weeks. After a few more days of watching, the neighbors called the police. An officer knocked at the man's door, no answer. Finally the apartment's custodian used his key and let the policeman in. The aged widower was in a coma, close to death. An ambulance raced him to the hospital where the doctors did a thorough examination. They reported their most unusual findings. The old man was starving. That caused some speculation for both the officer and the emergency personnel who agreed the man was hardly penniless. Moreover, there was food in the refrigerator and on the cabinet shelves. No amount of reviewing or rehashing could explain the mystery man's condition. Indeed, an answer had to wait until, a few days later, the man regained consciousness. His physicians asked, "Why? Why have you not eaten? Why have you been doing this to yourself?" His reply was simple, short, succinct. He said, "I didn't eat because I didn't have anyone to eat with."
This Lutheran Hour message deals with loneliness. For ten years I have been answering emails and letters from listeners. While those letters have come from young and old, married and single, men and women, loneliness has been the thread which has run through much of that correspondence. Now you may not be able to understand the loneliness of the man I've just described. It's difficult to comprehend the level of distress and depression a person can endure. Still, you may accept my pledge that this man is hardly an isolated incident. Loneliness comes as a dark plague upon people in every generation, in every financial situation. Loneliness is the wall we build to keep ourselves safe and it is the moat others dig around us to keep us confined.
Now those of you younger members of the Lutheran Hour audience may be inclined to think loneliness is an occupational hazard of growing older. You may believe that loneliness naturally happens when a person ages and outlives his family, friends, and contemporaries. Of course, you are right in feeling this way. But I could produce many millions who would agree that loneliness is not limited to nursing homes and prisons. Yes, there are lonely residents in a nursing home, but there are also staff people working there who daily live with loneliness. There is loneliness among those who are shut away in prison, but that same loneliness can also burden the guards and workers at that facility. In truth, loneliness has little to do with a person's chronology or the presence of other people. Loneliness is a state of mind, it is a wall which is built by us and at the same time it is a moat which others dig around us.
Here is an example. A few weeks ago I went out and spoke at a very nice church. The congregation had gone to some lengths to assure a crowd would be present. They had no idea how large a crowd there would be. The planners of the event were shocked to see people show up an hour early. A half-hour before the service began there was no room left in the pews. Fifteen minutes before service, with many people standing in the back of the church, the planners asked me to make a request of those who were already seated. I said this, "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. There are many more in the back of the building who also want to be here. For that reason I am going to ask you to do a very unLutheran thing. I would like you to squish together. That's right, I would like you to slide closer to the person who is sitting next to you."
You would have thought I was asking them to share a used toothbrush. Most of the folks started looking at their hymnal or worship folder or counting the pipes in the organ. To them I was talking to someone else. Seeing this mini-rebellion I got particular and began to point. " Let's see," I said, "we've got some room right here in the fourth pew on the left, the sixth and eighth pew on the right. Pews ten and twelve on both sides If you are in one of those pews, please squoosh." Realizing they couldn't escape, the people moved... but they didn't like it and they didn't move any more than they absolutely had to. And the event planners? Well, they had a Goldilocks moment. They had wanted a crowd which wasn't TOO big and wasn't TOO small. No, they wanted a crowd which was JUST RIGHT.
It's not the first time I've seen church people behave in such a way. Look at the way most folks act when they go to Communion, an event which is, by definition, a fellowship thing. When we step up to the Communion rail, we squirm and contort ourselves to avoid touching anybody else. We don't want to invade somebody's personal space. When the minister suggests the worshippers move out of our pews to greet each other in the Name of the Lord, for some it is a painful experience. The best those guys can do is turn to their spouse or children and mumble, "Good morning." It's so sad. We're afraid to be together and we are afraid to be alone. You see, loneliness is a wall which we build around ourselves, a moat which others dig around us.
And if you're not a church person, don't get yourself all smug and self-satisfied. You're not off the hook. Watch what happens when people get on an elevator. The first person goes to the back; when he's joined by a second, they immediately go to separate corners. Individuals three and four also get their very own corner. But anyone who gets on the elevator after that is in a fix. Next time watch what they do. They step on the elevator, their eyes quickly scan the passengers who are already there and they evaluate which of those passengers appears to be most acceptable and least threatening.
Loneliness is a wall we build, a moat which others dig around us. Loneliness is there for the child on the playground who is always picked last to be on a team. Loneliness is the junior-high kid who is forced to get a "practical haircut" for the summer. See if he doesn't look all alone. Observe the 8th grade girl who is not allowed to do, or wear, or have the things "everyone else has." She may be surrounded by other 8th grade girls, but she feels alone. Sit with a teen who is being bullied by classmates on Facebook. The onslaught can be so demoralizing, so unrelenting, so overwhelming that some young folks embrace suicide rather than dealing another day with such devastating loneliness. Watch the married man who is disappointed with his spouse. He was hitched to the most lovely woman in the county, but he has been saddened to find she is not the woman of his dreams. After a few years the only thing they have in common is the electric blanket which keeps them warm at night. Which is okay with her because, quite frankly, she long ago discovered her groom wasn't any Prince Charming.
No matter our race, creed, color, or political disposition loneliness can reach out and throttle us. Watch the face of the mother after the last of her kids have headed off for kindergarten. You stand by her side after she shuts the door and with tears in her eyes wanders around the house which is quiet for the first time in years. Sure, there were times when she had prayed for a little "me" time, for a little peace and quiet, but at that moment the silence is deafening. Stand with a man or woman by the side of an open grave which has been dug to receive the remains of a beloved and life-long helpmeet. That is loneliness. Loneliness is all around. Which explains why many social functions serve liquor. The alcohol flows at parties so revelers might, for a while, knock down the walls of isolation which they have built so others might manage to cross the moat of separation which they have dug around others.
It is to our deep, debilitating, destructive loneliness that Jesus came. Before His birth the Lord instructed that humanity should "call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us) (Matthew 1:23b). God's Son was with us and dedicated His life to saving us. It was a painful process which meant He was, in ways we cannot begin to understand, permanently isolated and perpetually alone. His family, those who should have been a solid source of support, sometimes thought He was unbalanced. The people of His hometown, His Boyhood friends and neighbors tried to murder Him. His disciples, the ones who walked with Him, heard His teachings, and observed His mighty miracles misunderstood His mission; misinterpreted His words, and then they betrayed, deserted, and denied Him. The crowds which followed Jesus tried to reshape Him into an earthly King rather than letting Him be their soul's Redeemer.
Herod, the ruler of Jesus' nation, tried to get Him to perform like a Las Vegas magician and the priests and scribes, those who were best acquainted with the prophecies concerning the promised Messiah, refused to embrace Him and at the end they were responsible for pushing Him to the cross on Calvary. As Jesus carried our sins to His cross, as He was dying for you and me, the people who passed by His place of execution laughed at Him; the spectators who stayed to watch Him die made mockery of Him and one of the thieves who was crucified next to Him managed to throw out a few taunts of his own. Jesus' loneliness was a terrible thing and hard to bear, but when His Father in heaven turned away, Jesus was truly alone. It was a loneliness He endured so you, and anyone who is brought to faith in Him as Savior, might be forgiven, might be guaranteed eternal life and would know they could never, really, truly be alone.
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, carried our sins and after hours of incredible physical suffering and dark, depressing loneliness, He died. A Roman spear thrust into His heart confirmed what they had observed: Jesus, God's Son, was dead. Quickly, hastily His corpse was placed into a borrowed tomb. So there would be no question that Jesus was dead and was going to stay dead, a guard was placed at that tomb and the entryway was sealed shut. For any other person this would have been the end of the story. But Jesus is not any other Person. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is our Savior, and as our Savior, He did that which only God's Son could do. Three days after He had been buried, Jesus became unburied. That is to say Jesus, a living Jesus, emerged from that grave and, in numerous appearances showed Himself to hundreds of His people.
Then, when there could no longer be a question that He had conquered death, Jesus ascended into heaven. The apostles told how Jesus, Immanuel, was lifted up in front of their eyes and taken from them, taken from us. You know, I'll bet almost every Christian who has ever lived has had a day, a week, a lifetime when He wished Jesus was still physically with him, still around to visibly listen to our problems, our prayers, our petitions. Here to heal our diseases, give us direction in our uncertainty and put His arm around us when we are lonely.
Now this is where the story gets wonderful. Jesus is with us. Not just with one person, one country, one race. He is here with all of us. I know that because He said it was going to be that way. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the last thing Jesus said before He ascended was: "I am with you always, even until the end of the world." Believers should know that even when every friend has forsaken and deserted them, Jesus has not. When a person is tired of going to the cemetery and weary of saying earthly farewells, he can still be confident Jesus will never leave nor forsake him. When all of life seems to have turned sour, believers can be confident, Jesus remains. When death comes to take us on that last, lonely trip from this earth, believers can be confident, even then Jesus will be with us. "I am with you always" are the risen Redeemer's words which knock down the walls of isolation we have built. "I am with you always" is His promise which fills in the moat which others have dug around us to make us isolated and insecure. Because Christ is risen and has promised to be with us always, believers can be assured they will not make death's journey alone. As David assured: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Immanuel is with me." It is an amazing promise.
And it is at this point I need to stop and speak to some of you believers who are thinking, "Pastor, all you say may be true, but I don't feel Jesus' presence. I still feel lonely." I understand. That's because, far too often, we believers measure God's love and presence by how we are feeling. If we are feeling fine, things are going well and the bills are paid, then God loves us and is with us. But when we're feeling lousy, things are falling apart, and the wolves are howling outside the door, we wonder, "Where has God gone?" My friends, do not assume Jesus has deserted you because You don't feel Him. Do not assume He has stopped loving you because everyone else has. Do not think Jesus has banished you because your employer has fired you. Jesus is with you and you will see Him if you look at Him with eyes of faith.
In World War I, a soldier asked his officer if he might go into "No man's land" that separated the trenches of the warring armies. The private's purpose was to bring in one of his comrades who had been grievously wounded. "You can go," said the officer, "but it's not going to be worth it. Your friend is probably dead, and in going you will be throwing your own life away." The private went. Somehow he managed to get to his comrade, hoist him onto his shoulders, and stagger back to his own line. He just managed to make it back and stumble into the trench with his friend. The officer looked at the private with compassion and then he commented. "I'm sorry, I told you it wasn't going to be worth it. Your friend is dead and you going south yourself." "But, sir, it was worth it," the private whispered. "I know he's dead, but when I got to him, he was still alive and he managed to gasp out: 'I knew you'd come.'"
That story, my friends, is Jesus' story. As we lay lonely, deserted, dying in our sins, Jesus came and gave His life for us. He came so we might be cleansed of our sins and given heaven for all eternity. But He also came so the walls of loneliness we have built around ourselves might be torn down, so the moats which sin, Satan, and the world have dug to keep us from God and each other might be filled in. Such a Savior is Someone you ought to know and trust.
To that end, if we can be of assistance, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for February 23, 2014 Topic: God Is A Failure
ANNOUNCER: I'm Mark Eischer, here once again with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus.
KLAUS: Good to be here.
ANNOUNCER: Pastor, today for our Q and A segment we have a rather interesting challenge. It certainly represents a different point of view from what we might be used to.
KLAUS: Assuming that most of our questions come from Christians, I would assume that this one, then, does not.
ANNOUNCER: That would be correct; although I'm not exactly sure our listener is even looking for an answer. I think it's more along the lines of, "Here's my point of view. You deal with it!"
KLAUS: Then maybe we had better begin!
ANNOUNCER: All right. Our listener says, "Why do Christians worship a God who is such an apparent failure? If you read the Bible, you will see the Lord run up a string of impressive failures. Of course, He doesn't admit they're failures. Instead, He blames everything on someone else."
KLAUS: I'd say that person is throwing down the gauntlet. Does he do us the favor of listing some of those failures he claims God has made?
ANNOUNCER: He does. For example, God failed when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and then had to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. God failed, our listener claims, when sin kept on increasing and God, then, had to destroy the entire world in a flood. God even failed after the flood when humanity got together to build a big tower, deciding they didn't need the Lord and He had to then confuse them by giving them all different languages so they couldn't work together and understand each other."
KLAUS: Our listener is on a roll.
ANNOUNCER: Then, of course, there were the lesser failures, such as when God turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt; or when He punished the Children of Israel for being afraid to go into the Land of Promise. That was a failure; and then when they wandered off and worshiped other gods, another failure.
KLAUS: Was he done with his list yet?
ANNOUNCER: Almost. Our listener concludes by saying, "In all of these things, the Lord should have known what was going to happen. Then, when it did happen, He became angry at the people and not Himself. Why didn't He just set things up so that these folks wouldn't be tempted to do the wrong thing? If they weren't tempted, they wouldn't sin. If they didn't sin, God wouldn't have gotten angry. And if He hadn't gotten angry, He wouldn't have needed to punish them and everybody could have lived happily ever after."
KLAUS: Wow! This guy has thought it all through.
ANNOUNCER: And what will you say in reply?
KLAUS: I would say he's wrong.
ANNOUNCER: Well, we do have time left. Would you care to amplify?
KLAUS: Surely. He is wrong because he starts out with a wrong assumption. Our listener believes that God's chief purpose in creating the world, in selecting the people of promise is to make and keep things perfect. If that were the case, humanity's rebellion and error could be laid at His feet and God did fail.
ANNOUNCER: So, if God's real purpose was not to keep us perfect, what was He shooting for?
KLAUS: Very simple. Again and again He tells us: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind." That's what the Lord wanted.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, explain further.
KLAUS: Okay. When the Lord set Adam and Eve up in the Garden, He wanted them to listen to Him, follow His single instruction; that is not to eat of the forbidden fruit, and love Him as much as He loved them.
ANNOUNCER: And couldn't He have made sure that would happen by not putting the forbidden fruit in the Garden in the first place?
KLAUS: Well, yes and no. Yes, He could have removed all temptation and forced people to respond to His love.
ANNOUNCER: That wouldn't have been good.
KLAUS: Not good at all. Mark, do you remember the man from Cleveland who kidnapped three women and kept them locked away in his house for ten years?
ANNOUNCER: Ariel Castro.
KLAUS: Yeah, that's the guy. Ariel Castro tried to force those women to love him. He did that by keeping them under lock and key and chain. Would you say that that was a healthy relationship?
ANNOUNCER: Absolutely not. Forcing love like that really isn't love at all. It's more like slavery.
KLAUS: Good. If God had forced people to love Him, it would not have been love. Instead the Lord kept trying to win us over; kept giving us choices; kept giving us opportunities.
ANNOUNCER: But we were the ones who failed to respond.
KLAUS: Yeah, we failed; which is precisely why we needed a Savior to succeed where we had messed up. Jesus did this for us by living, suffering, dying and rising so that all who believe on Him might be saved.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And we thank you, the listener, for making this program part of your day. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"My Soul, Now Praise Your Maker" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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