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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Sep 24, 2017  SERMON TEXT

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The sermon text for our meditation today is two verses of the Old Testament Reading for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Isaiah 55:6-7. Please listen to those two verses:

"Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

We begin in the name of Jesus, Amen.

As we begin, I would like to go back in time and quote a passage from 1 Kings 19: And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a still small voice.

Come back with me now to the 21st century. Picture a man, or a woman, or a young person, or a child emerging from a home, a building, standing on this earth somewhere and scanning the world before him or her.

And suddenly, there was a great fire sending forth flame and smoke as the Twin Towers shuddered and fell following the terrorist attacks, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire an earthquake under the ocean that heaved the sea bottom, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a tsunami that roared ashore in rolling death, but the LORD was not in the killer waves.

And after the tsunami a great and strong wind – a hurricane named Harvey, or Irma, or Marie – rent the lands and breached the dikes in pieces, but the LORD was not in the hurricane. And after the hurricane a flood that drowned man and beast, and plagued those who survived, but the LORD was not in the flood or in the disease.

Where was God in all of this? And that is on a global scale.

Then, ponder what this means to the individual. How is the tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands any more awful than the person who is dying from cancer, or the child who has been sold into slavery, or the mother driven to insanity because her daughter has been kidnapped? People search for some meaning and sanity in all of this, but the LORD was not in the cancer or in the slavery or in the kidnapping, either.

So where is God? The answer the world comes up with is to keep searching, or to re-image God according to your likeness, or simply to forget about it.

As the prophet Job was told by his wife, Curse God and die. But that is not what God wants.

So, through the Prophet Isaiah, God says, "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Notice the desire of God here. He desires repentance, which consists of two parts – namely, sorrow for sin and looking to the LORD for forgiveness. He desires to have mercy, which is to not give what each one deserves, and He wants to pardon, which is to free from all that which separates man from God, namely unbelief.

And the LORD God wants this to take place now, today, because today is the day of grace and forgiveness and mercy and pardon. Where in the world can the people find this gracious God?

In Isaiah’s day, the LORD was found where He promised to be, not only in His holiness, righteousness and justice, but also in His grace, mercy and peace, namely; in that good and wonderful place called the Temple. Isaiah had experienced this and wrote of it:

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him Who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts!’ Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven" (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Good for Isaiah and the congregation of his day! But alas, what about you today? The Temple is gone. Where is the LORD? What has happened? Let’s go back a few yesterdays in time to discover where God is today and tomorrow.

One day, way back then, ordinary people were in an ordinary house when suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them, and they were able to tell a message in foreign languages. And God the Holy Spirit Who is everywhere was with them in this mighty wind. Why? Because the Holy Spirit had been sent by Jesus.

Forty days earlier, there had been an earthquake as the belly of the earth could not hold the One inside. A still small voice spoke to a grieving, hurting woman who wept outside a cave of death. The voice said, "Mary," and the Son of God Who is everywhere was with her in that blossoming cemetery and shaken garden. Why? Because Jesus rose again from the dead and left the tomb and its stone behind.

Three days earlier, in the darkness of mid-day another earthquake shook the earth as hell was rocked and heaven opened. Jesus the Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, died.

The LORD, Who is everywhere, hung there on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth. And before that, Jesus had said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and "It is finished."

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Good for Mary and John and the congregation of that day! But alas, what about us? The Temple is gone. Christ is risen and ascended. Where is the LORD? What has happened? Let’s go back a few more yesterdays in time to discover where God is today and tomorrow.

Do you not remember that Jesus had promised that, "where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20)? Do you not recall that Jesus gave His Word concerning the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that not only binds, but when met with faith in Him, bestows His forgiveness, "and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19)?

Listen to His promise to be with you in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper . . . "Take and eat; this is My Body. Take and drink; this is My Blood – given and shed for you for the remission of sins."

Do you not remember the risen Savior’s promise, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age?"

Here, dear friends, here is where you can find, and indeed have found the God Who is everywhere. Here is God’s promise and the fulfillment of such Word of God. Luther writes:

"It is of utmost importance that we highly esteem, honor, and rely upon the holy sacraments, which contain nothing but God’s words, promises, and signs. This means that we have no doubts about the sacraments or the things of which they are certain signs, for if we doubt these we lose everything. Christ says that it will happen to us as we believe. What will it profit you to assume and to believe that sin, death, and hell are overcome in Christ for others, but not to believe that your sin, your death, and your hell are also vanquished and wiped out and that you are thus redeemed?

Under those circumstances the sacraments will be completely fruitless, since you do not believe the things which are indicated, given, and promised there to you. That is the vilest sin that can be committed, for God himself is looked upon as a liar in his Word, signs, and works, as one who speaks, shows, and promises something which he neither means nor intends to keep. Therefore we dare not trifle with the sacraments. Faith must be present for a firm reliance and cheerful venturing on such signs and promises of God. What sort of a God or Savior would he be who could not or would not save us from sin, death, and hell? Whatever the true God promises and effects must be something big."

So, there is no doubt that in several places, it happened, that in a Florida basement two or three gathered together in the Name of the LORD as the winds of the hurricane bore down upon them. And then, as the flood waters rose, this little congregation ascended to the attic, still gathered together in the Name of the LORD. God was with them as promised.

Did they make it out? God knows. Either way He was with them and they were His.

"Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

Christ Is Risen.

Luther Rose
Christ Is Risen
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