(The text of the sermon follows the readings below)
Sermon read by Elder Curt Mueller
Introit Ps. 71:20–24; antiphon: v. 3
Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
You will increase my greatness
and comfort me again.
I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.
And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.
Collect of the day
O God, You have prepared for those who love You such good things as surpass our understanding. Cast out all sins and evil desires from us, and pour into our hearts Your Holy Spirit to guide us into all blessedness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
First Reading/Old Testament Isaiah 65:1–9
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here am I, here am I,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and making offerings on bricks;
who sit in tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all the day.
Behold, it is written before me:
“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their bosom
both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together,
says the LORD;
because they made offerings on the mountains
and insulted me on the hills,
I will measure into their bosom
payment for their former deeds.”
Thus says the LORD:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, ‘Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,’
so I will do for my servants’ sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
and from Judah possessors of my mountains;
my chosen shall possess it,
and my servants shall dwell there.”
O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people!
Second Reading/Epistle Galatians 3:23—4:7
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Holy Gospel Reading Luke 8:26–39
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Have you ever asked someone a big question, knowing the answer you receive will either break your heart or unleash wild joy? Love hangs in the balance.
Standing there in the front door, dripping mud head to toe, the eight-year-old boy can’t look Mom in the eye. “I told you not to do that,” Mom scolds. Then she pauses. “You know I love you, right?”
A young man whispers, “I love you,” as he opens the little box, the diamond’s glinting catching the young woman’s eye. “Will you marry me?”
Jack confesses to Jim. “I lied about you, but I’m sorry. I still want to be your friend. Will you forgive me?”
The old woman’s gnarled fingers grasp her son’s hand. “This time, they tell me I’m going to die. Will you promise to never let go of Jesus?”
Such questions change lives. The answer will be either a heartbreaker or elated joy.
In today’s Old Testament, God calls out with love’s urgency. Make or break! Will you hear God and be made whole? Or, turning from Him, stay broken and break God’s heart?
Through his prophet Isaiah, God cries out: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name.” Do you hear God’s passion? God wants to be asked, sought, found. Again and again, he actively calls to those who did not ask or seek him. “Here I am, here I am,” God shouts out.
Who is this nation God so graciously invites? Already 1,300 years before Isaiah, God promised Abraham, “Your people will be called by my name.” God chose as His own nation Abraham’s descendants, Israel. Yet in Abraham’s day and Isaiah’s day and still today, God lovingly calls out beyond Abraham’s tribe. Who is the nation that was not called by God’s name? My own roots stretch back to Germanic tribes. Those Germans centuries ago worshiped trees and thunder. My blood people did not know God. The people who had not sought God—could it be each of us? In America today we believe in freedom, progress, and prosperity. These are good things. Can they be our god? When trouble comes, I turn to family and friends. I believe in my own hard work. Can these give to me all the help I need?
I was not asking for God, seeking God, when God first called to me. I was a helpless baby when God so generously adopted me. But there in Baptism God did give to me and you his name. God christened us, called us Christians. We Christians are his new nation. Most of us come from peoples who had never been called by God’s name.
In his Letter to Rome’s Christians, Paul marvels at God’s grace. Would God really call out to pagan Gentile nations? Would God love those who had never known him? For proof, Paul quotes this promise from seven hundred years before Paul, the words God gave Isaiah: “Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’ But of Israel God says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’ ”
God’s Word through Isaiah turns just that quickly, from the Gentile nations to ancient Israel, from grace to justice, from invitation to threat. Can you imagine Isaiah’s heartbreak speaking God’s hard Word? These were his own compatriots! Ever since Abraham, through Moses and David, these people had been God’s prized nation. Now God accused them of being “disobedient and contrary.”
Isaiah was desperate to invite his people back to God. Can you see him acting out God’s heartfelt cry? “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices.” There lies the single “root” problem with Isaiah’s people: their rebellious heart! God in justice threatens these people because they rebel against him. They walk not in God’s good way. They follow their own foolish devices. Apart from God, they will be lost. Should they die, damned without him? This breaks God’s heart!
Isaiah lists some specific “fruit,” evidence of their single “root” problem. His people’s rebellious heart can be seen plainly in their provocative sins. Waving their wickedness in God’s face? Have they no shame? Worshiping nature, they practice the pagan fertility cults, “sacrificing in gardens” rather than at God’s house. God’s altar was to be constructed of raw, natural stone. But his people made offerings on bricks, crafted and carved like the idols’ altars. Would God’s own people actually sit in tombs, seeking oracles from the dead? They spend the night in those secret places, as if their dreams will bring news from beyond! They eat the flesh of pigs. Not kosher! Cackling over their cauldrons, mixing in tainted meat. Would they stir magic brews? cast crooked spells? Yet these people imagine themselves, as the King James Version translates, “holier than thou”! What a stench.
I love the smell of barbecue cooking on the grill, don’t you? When his people worshiped him with sacrifice, God himself delighted in that aroma. But now they worshiped idols. All day, every day, their rebellious hearts wickedly acted out. They stank like a burning garbage dump, the gagging smoke nauseating God’s nostrils.
Judgment may not be immediate, but it is certain. God warns Isaiah’s people, “The wrongs you’ve done I have written down. The books against you remind me. Justice demands that I pay back your hatred against me. You follow your parents’ wicked ways, thinking they got away with it. But you’ll have hell to pay. You try to buy the good life from gods you made up. You insult me. Get your lap ready. I will repay.”
We could say, “Isaiah’s people were so messed up! I’m glad we’re not like them.” Shouldn’t we rather wonder: “Does the rebellion lurk in my heart? Are my sins so different from theirs?” Many of Isaiah’s people still worshiped the true God. They only added others. The things they loved they believed in. Do you smell something fishy rotting here?
Truth be told, today we are the people of God. Jew and Greek, poor and rich, male and female, we are all one in Christ Jesus. God has called us by his name, christened us to be Christians! Do our lives show the world that “we are worthy of Christ’s name”? Or do our lives betray our heart? Do we provoke God?
The story of Isaiah’s people is our story. God in justice threatens his people when we get comfortable in our cozy sin. For God is desperate to call us back to himself. We can live only in his forgiveness. We thrive in his grace!
Once upon a time, a wealthy landowner came to his beautiful vineyard. Quite the romantic, he had invested himself in this gorgeous property. He had built protective walls up and down the hillsides. He cleared and turned the soil. He planted the choicest vines. He patiently fertilized and watered every root. He painstakingly pruned each branch. Now he filled the fruitful field with workers. The harvesters’ joyful songs echoed across the vineyard. At last they were bringing home the luscious fruit.
Suddenly a terrible cry stabbed the owner’s heart. One harvester screamed, “This cluster has gone sour. All is spoiled!” But then a whole chorus sang back, “Do not destroy it. The master himself put his blessing in those grapes. Let us salvage still the good fruit. Do not destroy it! Such a harvest remains, we will yet celebrate with delicious new wine!” Then the owner’s joy overflowed!
God promises, “Yes, my people have turned rotten and sour. Yet I will not destroy them all. My servants have worked that vineyard. The harvest is mine! To my people I will give faithful children. They will see what I do on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. They will see the sacrifice I give right there on Mount Calvary. All who remain faithful will possess all my mercy.” God in mercy has chosen us to be his people! He will preserve us, that we remain faithful to him. This is the Good News we own. God has made us his servants. In this grace we dwell. Despite our sour grapes, in his undeserved forgiveness we thrive. In his love alone we live. Arms outstretched, God lovingly calls us to himself!
This text’s one picture remains burned in my mind. God keeps calling out, “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people.” The early Christians here saw “the power of the cross.” Irenaeus of Lyons marvels at our God: “As a weak and inglorious man . . . he should stretch forth his hands the whole day long. . . . By his passion and crucifixion he endured all.” In Jesus’ arms outstretched, God lovingly calls us to Himself! Amen.
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