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That's the Way (Uh huh, uh huh) I Like It (uh huh, uh huh)

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Sun, May 1, 2011 

You are supposed to read that title with the music of the song running in your head.  That is the way it was written.  It expresses the very human desire for things to make sense, and (when possible) work out in a manner that is pleasing to us.  We like it when life makes sense, and things go according to plan, and we end up happy and successful and so forth.

Life doesn't work that way most of the time for many of us.  God seems to have an entirely different agenda than we do, and His approach to accomplishing the things He does is typically quite different from that which we would choose.  That is at the heart of the Christian message - the Gospel.  When we reflect on it with all our thoughts subject to the Word of God, we have to admit that what God does, and did, is wonderful, and we win!  But even then, God does things in ways that we find difficult to come to grips with.

We just celebrated Easter, for example.  If one of us had been in charge of planning it, we would have tried to come up with something less bloody and grisly for the way to work out the forgiveness of sins.  Who knows?  Maybe God tried to come up with something nicer and neater too.  But He sent His own Son to be made human just like one of us, and then do what we would and could not - be perfectly holy and earn eternal life.  Then He put Him to death in our stead, bearing our sins and guilt and facing the justice of God in our place and bearing the wrath of God against all sin, and against the very concept (and reality) of sin.  The payment had to be bloody and extreme and tremendously awful and painful.  And it was!!

God figured out how to do what some men are still trying to say is not possible.  He took on human flesh and human nature and became true God and true man in one unified whole person.  He figured out how to make one death pay for all sin.  He figured out how to make it possible for God - who cannot die - to die!  In working out the Gospel, God proved the truth and substance of the Word He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."  God just doesn't deal with things the way we would.  It is good, better than what we can do, but different.

The result of His own way of dealing with things is that we have full and free forgiveness of sins and the promise of rising from our graves, just as Jesus rose from His, and living eternally with joy and peace and glory!  These are all His gifts on the foundation of the work of Jesus Christ in His life and in His Passion, and on the cross, and in rising again from the tomb on Easter morning.  He pours these treasures out on us all to be received by faith, so that "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."

Of course, there are those who say none of that is possible either, but Jesus proved that it is both possible and true by His own resurrection.  Then He sent out His disciples (making them Apostles, i.e., "sent ones") to proclaim this good news.  Naturally, men have made a mess of things.  Because God did things in a way they would not, they have twisted the message and proclaimed false things.  They proclaimed their own ideas about who God is and what He is like.  They included their own rational (and irrational) ideas about what was possible and what simply could not be true because it didn't make sense to them.  They turned the simple proclamation of the good news of the gifts of God into a sales presentation, assuming that men had to "buy" the story, or make a decision, or shape up and live right first before what God had accomplished could possibly apply to them.  Some turned the gift of forgiveness and salvation into a prize to be earned - or bought!

You see, that is where it would seem that there had to be a better way!  Next month (on June 2), for example, we will celebrate the Ascension.  It would seem that if Jesus had stuck around, visibly, He could have set people straight when they got off base doctrinally.  Besides, there are so many questions I would like to ask Him!  But God had to go and do things His way!  His ways are always different.  God works in mysterious ways, they say.  But when I think about it, God does seem to know what He is doing.  He always gets results - in fact, He always gets the results He is aiming at, and I tend to mess things up now and then.

Okay, so it is an article of faith that God is right and I am wrong.  Paul seems to say as much in Romans 3, May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "THAT THOU MIGHTEST BE JUSTIFIED IN THY WORDS, AND MIGHTEST PREVAIL WHEN THOU ART JUDGED."  I realize that if Jesus were around, people would not necessarily agree with Him when they get off-track doctrinally unless He used His divine power to change their minds, and that doesn't seem to be His way of working.  Besides, if the Word of God was all that it took to straighten out the false teachers, the Bible would do the trick every time.

In fact, the plan of God was to leave His Word, and call men into the work of proclaiming the good news, and place His power in the Word, His Word.  So He caused it to be written down - just as He had done in the Old Testament.  In spite of mankind's proclivity toward twisting and falsifying the great good news of God's Gospel, God has made it work so well that we can still find His Word, and it is still preached publicly by men throughout the world.  If you want to find the truth, it is still out there, and being taught purely by some.  He put the power in His Word!  Who'da thunk?

Then He took Jesus away, sort of.  He removed the visible presence of Jesus from the world so that we could walk by faith.  Jesus promised that He would be with us always, so He is not really gone.  We just cannot see Him or touch Him, or hear His natural voice.  We have to listen to the voice He has chosen, and called into His service from place to place.  We need to find Him where He has promised to be and receive Him in the ways He has instructed us to receive Him: by Word and Sacrament.

You know, if we could see Jesus as His disciples did while Jesus was teaching them, we would be crippled by the desire to see and touch and hear Him.  We couldn't be sure we were hearing Jesus' word unless we could see Him speaking it.  We would struggle with whether or not He was listening to our prayers, unless we could see Him listening and hear His answer.  Jesus took His physical, visible presence from us so that we could actually walk by faith and not demand to see always and at every moment.  Since the Ascension, we have to trust His Word, and believe Him rather than trust ourselves and our own senses.

You can observe the validity of what I write here by noticing how often people invent miracles and such because they refuse to take God at His Word and demand to see a sign instead.  In Luther's day, it was relics.  Luther wrote that 22 of the twelve Apostles were buried in Germany alone, and that there were enough pieces of the "true cross" floating about to build a cathedral with the wood.  Obviously, some of their relics were not genuine.  Today, we have holy places, and weeping statues, and people who claim to be in possession of special gifts that enable them to heal others, and do other things that serve to take advantage of the desire of the flesh to see and touch rather than trust and believe the plain Word of God.

Faith is an active expectation that what is believed is true and real.  Hebrews 11:1 says that it is the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen".  Those words have been translated a number of different ways, mostly to satisfy the uncertainty of the flesh, but the Greek words used here indicate that faith is a reality of sorts, almost tangible, and it is, for us, proof of the things about which we believe.  It is certainly powerful, because it is the power behind lasting hope and the patient endurance of things that simply don't line up with how we would do things.  By faith we understand things, and by faith we do things, and by faith - that is, under the power of faith - we please God, by grace through faith.  The Ascension activates faith, or requires it and removes many of the stumbling blocks of the flesh from the path of faith in us.

We need that sort of faith a lot today.  This is not the kind of faith that people often prattle about, the kind that is a mere feeling, or an opinion with no power, not even the power to motivate the one who claims such "faith".  We need the Hebrews 11 kind of faith because we face lives of real substance and real pain, and real frustrations, at times.  They are the sort of lives that challenge you to wonder why God can't do things your way, because His way is difficult and sometimes unpleasant.  Jesus even promised us that as His followers, it would be a difficult life; "If any man would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross (Luke includes the word "daily") and follow Me."

See, once again, God is doing things differently than we would!  I mean, if you want to sell something or convince people to join your cause, you don't tell them it is going to be a burden and a pain every day!  That would seem to be counter-intuitive!  But God tends to like counter-intuitive.  Besides, He is not actually "selling" anything.  He is giving it away.  It is the gift of grace.  And those who follow Jesus don't actually choose to do so - Jesus chooses them!  "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit."  He was just explaining to those who followed Him that they were not called to a life of ease and comfort.  It is precisely that reality about the life to which we are called in Christ, that requires that sturdy faith.  Thank God that it is His work and His gift in us.

But, being the unpredictable sort He is, God doesn't just give it and let us ride along triumphantly.  He gives it to us, and makes us work with it in such a way that it feels as though we are making it happen and requires us to focus on it and do things which are helpful for it, like be in the Word, and attend to the preaching of the Word - preachers attending to doing the preaching, and hearers attending to hearing the preaching - and sharing in the fellowship of the congregation, which is to say, attending to the Lord's Supper.  You cannot make yourself a Christian, or keep yourself a Christian by your own efforts, but you must pay attention to being a Christian.

I imagine that God could just give us faith and make us believe and leave us completely passive in the operation, but I suspect He knows that it would work out like those parents who give their offspring everything.  Their children often have no sense of the value of anything they don't work for, and they tend to misuse or waste so much of the wonderful things that they are given precisely because it cost them nothing.  God intends for us to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the treasures He gives us because the come at such a tremendous price to Him.  So, we suffer, we wrestle with the flesh, we do battle with the devil, and we learn very quickly how little power we have in these battles.  We learn to call on Him, and give thanks for the gifts and blessings because we can measure how completely dependent on Him we are.  If we begin to think we are something, when we are, of course not all that to begin with, He allows us to stumble and frighten ourselves quite completely.  But He never leaves us alone, and is always there to catch us and bring us through.

Human parents often try something of that sort, too, but they never have the nerve to really let go because they do not know, as God always does, how much we can bear and they don't always have the power to rescue and save from the extremes to which we can put ourselves.  So, sometimes parents don't let their children learn the lessons, and sometimes they allow their children to destroy themselves, because they don't have the power to save them when they need it.  God can always save, and He does, regularly. 

He also uses our misadventures and mistakes at different times to proclaim His grace in ways that others around us can see, or to do some work that He wanted done, but doing it in a way we would never even dare to think about.  Great blessings come out of very difficult times in the hands of God.  But we would not think of doing things God's ways.  Sometimes they are too scarey, and sometimes we just don't want to put ourselves out like that, and so God works in those "mysterious ways" and allows us to face trials and temptations and sorrows that we cannot understand until much later.  Sometimes we never understand, at least in this life.  We simply have to fall back on trusting that God knows what He is doing, and what we are doing too.

God is unexpected.  That is, in part, because He is God and we are not.  The Gospel is unexpected, but delightful!  Looking forward, God is doing things in ways I cannot imagine in advance.  Looking back, I could sing, "That's the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it (uh huh, uh huh)" - but, I'll spare you.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish



These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.



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