Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
November 12, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I learned three things this week. Number one – If a two year-old wants marshmallows for breakfast a good grandpa gives her as much as she wants!! Our son, David, and his wife Heather, and their kids, our grandkids, were with us from Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning. I was in charge of breakfast. On Tuesday I gave them their choice of bagels or cold cereal. As I announced the full menu of what they could have, making each bite seem irresistible, I offered Lydia, the two year-old, one more option that I thought she would refuse and then tell me that I was just a silly grandpa. “You can have all this, or some marshmallows.” She insisted on a bowl of marshmallows. Facebook captured me feeding my granddaughter marshmallows and a chocolate donut for breakfast. I’m sure it sustained her all the way back to Minneapolis!!
Number two – A person who gets paid by each word they speak should not lose their voice. For a number of days this week a cold took most of my voice away. Because I couldn’t speak very much, it meant I could go broke, or, the congregation might enjoy the silence.
The third thing I learned is this – Evil just doesn’t die.
Last Sunday at a Baptist Church in Texas a sick or evil man murdered dozens of folks while they worshiped God in their church. When will this end? Will this ever end? I noticed the American Flag flying at half-mask this past week. Was it for Las Vegas? Was it for Sutherland Springs? We’ve gotten to the point that it seems to be lowered more than raised with senseless tragedy after senseless tragedy. Evil just doesn’t die.
I am sent Time Magazine and after the Las Vegas shooting the cover listed the cities where mass murders have happened over the past few years. Some of the cities and events I had forgotten until I read the account and I realized I should never have forgotten that – they were horrid.
In an essay from Susanna Schrobsdorff in that issue she writes, “The magnitude of the suffering over the past few months is unfathomable by those who haven’t spent time in a war zone or in countries where nature’s most brutal assaults are even more frequent. Houston and Florida are still reeling from sequential hurricanes. Puerto Rico hasn’t gotten to its feet in the wake of Maria. The people of Charlottesville, VA., watched hate march into its town and take one of their own – an event from which they’re still recovering. Now a man has hauled a cache of weapons into a hotel room in Las Vegas and unleashed a hailstorm of death on concertgoers below, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.”
“We have run out of adjectives for these kind of events. Last year’s deadliest mass shooting in American history has been overtaken by this year’s deadliest shooting in America’s history. The last set of catastrophic hurricanes has been eclipsed by this year’s set of catastrophic hurricanes.” (Time, October 16, 2017, Pg. 59)
Of all of this Jesus makes a comparison between His work and the work of the devil. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
I base my sermon this morning on a verse from Ecclesiastes, a section that I have used at a number of weddings. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
After the tragedy in Sutherland Springs the pastor was interviewed. He spoke with determination that that community and his congregation would survive. One person told me he said, “We’ll get through this together.” This is the cord of two strands. You and others. “Pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” This weekend is Veteran’s Day Weekend. Consider what we have as individuals and as a society due to the sacrifice of others. Others have defended you and me. Others made sure that we have safety and freedom. We aren’t a cord of one weak strand but of two. “His friend can help him up.”
The book of Genesis speaks about God’s genius in creating the relationship of husband and wife. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) A cord of two strands.
We acknowledge our need for others by confessing what we receive from others within the Christian Church and in our own congregation. We use the word, “Fellowship”, or “The Communion of Saints”, to describe the bond that we have. We stand stronger when we hold each other up. In I Corinthians 12 Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” Just before this he said, “If one part suffers, each part suffers with it; if one part is honored, each part rejoices with it.” (I Corinthians 12:27, 26) Then in Romans 12 (Verse 15) we read, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” In Galatians Paul directs us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
God doesn’t intend for us to go through this life alone. “We’ll get through this together.”
But the strength of that cord is not in two strands, but in three. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” You. Them. Him. God. A cord of three strands must include God.
In that article in Time, the writer says, “If I were religious, I’d know where to find guidance on how not to lose touch with the feeling of connection I had with all those families whose suffering we’ve seen so intimately”. “If I were religious…” Most, if not all of us, are religious. We actually know where to go in the midst of a world that is filled with too much evil. We go to our God. We seek Him. We pray to Him. We ask for great things from Him especially in times when evil is knocking at our door and we find ourselves in most difficult times. The cord of three strands is not quickly broken. You. Others. Him.
And our confidence doesn’t find itself in the fact that we seek His face, but in the truth that He seeks our face. Within a month, or so, we’ll be celebrating the joy of Christmas. This is a verse that we will read, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23) God sought us. God came to us. God sent Jesus to be the answer that we were seeking. God took the step that brought our Savior to us. It is as John says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His One and Only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:9-10) God is the one who brings the strand and then He wraps us and others to Him.
Dr. Matthew Harrison is the President of our church body (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). A sermon was preached four years ago when he, and others, were placed into service. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church-Canada was the preacher. Toward the end of his sermon he said, “Dear brother President Matthew, I am sure that others in this place today have shared the same experience I’ve had on occasion the past several years, that of getting an e-mail from you. Time and again, when you sign off at the end, you don’t bother with conventional stuff like ‘Sincerely yours’ or ’See you around.’ But it’s usually ‘Sub cruce…Matt H.’ For those whose Latin is a little rusty, your president signs off by writing ‘Under the cross…Matt H.’”
“Under the cross is the place to be if you hope to be saved. Under the cross is the place to be, leaders of the Synod and district presidents, when you’re trying to stay clear about what sort of message we have to take to the needy people of North America whom God loves and aches to have. Under the cross is the place to be when you’re wading through tough times so you don’t get engulfed and embittered by them.” (Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 4, Page 51)
The cord of three strands is always connected to the cross. With great strength we stand under the cross where our Savior died for the evil in our lives and for the evil in the world.
I learned three things this week. I can spoil my granddaughter however I want, a preacher without a voice is a blessing to their congregation, and evil just doesn’t die. One day the devil, with his lies and murders and deceptions will die. In the Revelation it says, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown.” (Revelation 20:10a) When Jesus returns that day will be the end of the devil.
Evil won’t die…until the end. But it doesn’t win. Christ won. Christ wins. And so do we. We are people who have Immanuel – God with us. We are people who are sub cruce – under the cross.
God has made you His own child. He has given you others to love and support, and for others to love and support you. And He is the third strand that makes life strong and hopeful. In this fallen world it is true – a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Amen!!