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Quad Circuit Pastors Devotion Sermon

Philippians 1:20-23

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Tues. after the Transfiguration
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Tue, Jan 26, 2021 

Life is not always pleasant.  What an understatement!  Nevertheless, sometimes people get very comfortable in this world to the point that they are surprised if life turns harsh, full of pain, or tragically cut short.  This vale of tears is not the tiptoe through the tulips that people may be lulled into thinking that it is.

I don’t need to emphasize this too much.  You know it.  You have seen the pain of your sheep.  You have felt trials and tribulations yourself.  Whom does that prowling lion, satan, desire to strike more than the sheep of God and their shepherd?  That lion also could not resist striking the Great Shepherd, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

At times, life may turn especially bitter for you, or for some of your sheep.  We can hear and perhaps sympathize with the words of Jeremiah or Job who cursed the days of their birth.  Probably you have sat at the sickbed of a saint who wished to be taken home to be with the Lord.  “Why am I still here?  What purpose does my life serve?”

These words may remind us of the words of Saint Paul.  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. … I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” Paul is not expressing a sinful desire.  We, also, want to see our Lord Christ face to face.  We want to leave behind this vale of tears and all the troubles that come with it.

Although this is not a sinful desire, we often mix sinfulness into most any desire in our heart.  Do we think our vocation is useless or repulsive, and want to leave it behind?  Then we forget that our Lord gave us that vocation for His good purpose.  Yes, there are crosses that you must bear.  But you must not call evil what Christ has called good.  In our hearts, we sometimes do that very thing.

For pastors, this can take different forms.  Perhaps you question whether you are doing any good.  Feeling a lack of purpose in your life can be extremely painful and embittering.  Paul says, “If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor.” But you may feel that your labor is fruitless.  Perhaps, like Elijah, you have been very zelous for the Lord God of hosts, but you think that too many people have forsaken the covenant of grace.  But feelings that your ministry is fruitless are one of satan’s attacks against us shepherds.  He wants you to think that your preaching is useless.  He wants you to think that no one is listening.  He wants you to think that he can pick off any of your sheep at any time, and surely everyone will turn their back on their shepherd, sooner or later.

Resist satan’s lies.  Remind yourself that the Word is living and active, whatever your feelings say.  Remind yourself that God’s Word will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish that which He pleases.  Your work in the Gospel will not be fruitless, even if you see none of that fruit.  Even if some are unfaithful, God will most certainly preserve His elect.

So you be faithful in your calling.  In this way, you hold out the hope of the Gospel to your sheep.  They are hurting and fearful.  They are often confused and scattered by the lion that prowls after them.  The Great Shepherd is much stronger than the lion, no matter how fearsome he seems.  The threats of this world are temporary, and the Lord has made us safe forever.  Whatever we endure for this life will only display the image of Christ in us.  “For me to live is Christ.” Christ who suffered, who patiently accepted His Father’s will, Christ who therefore sympathizes with your pain; you are privileged to live in His image, including carrying a cross.

Lord, give us patience and peace to accept our Father’s will as well.

“But MY pain is worse than I can bear!” someone may say.  Perhaps it is you who say it, if only in your secret heart.  Some wounds are deeper than others.  Sometimes the devil shoots his arrows so deep that they cannot be pulled out in this lifetime.  Sometimes wounds cripple, and only the resurrection can heal.  Perhaps you have been tempted to think of suicide, God forbid.  Perhaps the devil has isolated you from others, thus making you more vulnerable.

The Lord both comfort us in distress, and also harden us for the long path we are on.  The cross Christ gives us is not a pleasant one.  Again, understatement.  But the comforts of the Spirit as He shows you the bloody wounds of your Redeemer are eternally beneficial.  If your emotions do not respond to the promise of the open Grave of Easter, then ignore your emotions.  Keep shoving your Redeemer’s death and resurrection before your own eyes.  Do not let up, for in so doing you also learn to comfort others by putting the same things before your sheep who dearly need them.

Paul was doing the same.  “To live is Christ” - Yes!  What an honor that Christ chooses us unworthy schmucks to be His preachers, to suffer for Him and for the sheep.  “To die is gain” - Yes!  Even if the worst should happen to me here below, I will gain rest and relief from my labors.  Amen!

Comfort and strengthen yourself with such things when the devil comes babbling in your ears to make you afraid or cause you to despair.

Obviously, your emotions will not always be worthy of the hope that you have received.  Remember that those sins of the heart, also, are atoned for in the holy Blood.

Lately we are much threatened by the enemy called Death.  That hideous beast is certainly scary.  We may try to get over our fear by saying that Death is no longer an enemy, but a friend.  Tempting as that view is, it is simply not true.  Death is still evil.  The hideous tearing apart of body and soul should never have existed, least of all among God’s saints.  When you pass from this vale of tears, the event will be a bad thing.  The last enemy, the Grave, has not yet been destroyed.

But to die is still gain.  To leave behind this sinful and corrupt life is better.  We need not fear death, since its sting is gone.  It will hurt us.  It will do something to us that is not right.  Yet we are safe, even then.  Our Lord will be with us when we travel through that dark tunnel.

In death, Christ will be magnified in your body.  Even in that evil event, He will gain the glory.  You, as one of His saints, will complete your journey, faithful to the end by His grace and Spirit.  Your body, laid to rest in the ground, will be the image of our Lord, who laid Himself down voluntarily for you.  Your grave, sanctified by His, is not your defeat, but sleep.

Then the awakening, and what a day that shall be!  Bodies that cannot catch a disease, hearts that cannot fear or despair, and best of all, our Savior before our eyes in His glory.  All put right.  All enemies under His feet.

Too long, many Christians have been fed a diet of empty cliches and pithy, watered-down comforts.  The gospels they have lived on are weak, and no real reassurance against the fearsome enemies that threaten us in this life.  “Your best life now!” is no comfort when you are in a hospital bed.  “I’m spiritual, not religious!” will not strengthen you when your own heart turns against you.

We Lutherans usually do better.  Usually.  But even the best of us can falter.  Even the lion-hearted can be discouraged by satan.

So keep your words rich in the Gospel of Christ.  Let the words penetrate your own heart as well.  In these words is encouragement and hope.  Any words less than the powerful reality of Christ and Him crucified are not enough.  Only the hope of redemption and resurrection keeps us in the courage that sees us through to the end of this life.  Your sheep need no less, and are worthy of no less, since they are Christ’s.

Amen.



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