Historic Series Gospel
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for all Your benefits. that You have given us life and graciously sustained us to this day: We beseech You, do not take Your blessing from us; preserve us from covetousness, that we may serve You only, love and abide in You, and not defile ourselves by idolatrous love of wealth, but hope and trust only in Your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Theme: What if You are Above the Fire?
There are certain events in our lives that change us, each of us. These events change the way we react to things, people, ideas, information. There’s the weight of responsibility with the love of becoming married and having children. There is the loss of closely love family and friends.
Nine years ago, just after I got to work, my wife called me and told me to check the news.
What I saw changed my life permanently. At that time I worked at the Helen C. White College Undergraduate Library at the University of Wisconsin. My coworkers, David and Bruce, and I were in charge of the UW-Madison’s largest computer and multi-media labs. As soon as we saw what was going on in New York we started streaming the news to any and all the computers the students wanted to use. We switched the two multi-media theater screens to constant streaming of the news. Several thousand students came into those labs to watch.
When we hooked up the large screens we saw people jumping from the building.
It was so terrible that everyone was glued to the 200+ screens and two large screens.
There was no joy, no happiness.
A man falling, falling. It took maybe 10 seconds. But it was seared into our eyes.
What would you do? What would I do in that situation--driven by the intense heat and vile smoke of the fire to get to any clear and breathable air?
Christ said, “30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
That was a day of trouble.
One of the audio reports that day was of Mayor Giuliani saying that the police and fire departments would do their best. They thought they could get everyone out who was below the fire.
They could do nothing for those above the fire.
According to the reports I remember from later the fire department and police officers who gave their lives that day were able to save 98% of the people below the fire before the buildings came down.
“NIST(National Institute for Standards and Technology) estimated that about 17,400 civilians were in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks, while turnstile counts from the Port Authority suggest that 14,154 people were typically in the Twin Towers by 8:45 a.m. The vast majority of people below the impact zone safely evacuated the buildings, along with 18 people who were in the impact zone in the south tower and a number above the impact zone who evidently used the one intact stairwell in the south tower. At least 1,366 people died who were at or above the floors of impact in the North Tower and at least 618 in the South Tower, where evacuation had begun before the second impact. Thus over 90% of the workers and visitors who died in the Towers had been at or above impact.” Wikipediea.
But there were people above the fire. If that were you, me, one of our children, our spouse, parent, or friends, what would we think? What would we wish?
Christ’s promise is that God the Father knows all we need, loves us enough to send His Son into this world to die that we might have eternal life, and will do only what is best for us and our salvation.
What if we were above the fire? What would we think about?
How did we really react that day?
Only a few of us could honestly say that if we were above the fire our first thought would be a joyful, “I’m going home today to be with my heavenly Father.” Or, “My child is going to be with Christ.”
There are some Christians who are blessed to have that steady and joyful nature. But for most of us we react like the rest of the sinners in the world.
In our sinful hearts our prayer is not for us to seek God and His righteousness. Our prayer is for ourselves, and ... our things, and ... for those who we love and want to be with around us.
When something life changing like this attack happens, disturbing our lives, the true nature of our sinful flesh comes out in our thoughts, and words, and sometimes in our actions. And we, as weak as we are, can only pour out our hearts with what corruption rests in them. Most of us thought the words or worse, and some of us said these or worse with the construction worker. It was not a prayer of thanksgiving for heaven, but the plight of a desperate human with the words, “Oh Shit...”
That’s what is really in our hearts. That is what our own nature and self can honestly confess. We are weak and enemies of God by nature. And by our sinful natures there is nothing good in us. Even what we consider righteousness in ourselves is as “filthy Rags” (Is. 64:4)
Now, probably some children and a few who weren’t really paying attention to what is being said here will only remember that the Pastor said this word from the pulpit. And that’s too bad. Parents, you will need to explain why the word is appropriate to describe our natural state. It is a vulgar word, but not sinful. And sometimes we are too self-righteous to bear the most appropriate words to describe our own vulgar natures.
What if we are above the fire? Or one of our kids?
Do we have that confidence that God the Father does love us so much that He did not withhold His only-begotten Son? Do we have the confidence that Christ came into this world under the Law to redeem us who were under the law by suffering the punishment of Hell in our place and giving us credit for His righteous life?
Maybe you or I don’t feel this confidence. But we have it. We have it because Christ has given us faith through His means of grace in Baptism, Word, and Sacrament. The Father has borne witness, testifying that He has saved us by His grace to us in Jesus Christ.
And that is why our Old Testament Lesson is so important, especially on this day we start our Sunday School year.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says: “ 4"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Out of the 2000 or so people above the fire, there were probably some Christians. People who are our brothers and sisters in Christ who faced that time of waiting above the fire with no hope of earthly rescue. With all the emotions and fears, and all the regrets for people they would never see again in this life, all the things they left undone; they realized that they would be in heaven in a short time. Because they were normal sinful humans they probably did not have as their first thought the joy that they would be going home to Christ in a short while.
But the teaching of God’s Word; the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the faith God gave them through Word and Sacrament kept them safe for the resurrection.
This is why we teach our children. This is why we talk about and read God’s Word. This is why we gather for worship. This is why we have Sunday School and Wednesday School. It is so that we do not mourn like those who have no hope. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
What if you were above the fire?
Great tragedy will fall on most of us in this life. We may linger before we die, but know that we have just a little time where no one can do anything to save our earthly life. Do we fill those moments with guilt and regret over what we think we are loosing in this world?
Christ said: ““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
He didn’t promise earthly riches, health, or peace. He promised the resurrection and eternal life and peace with God. He warned us that because of our faith in Christ, the world would hate us, persecute us, and try to destroy our faith through the deceptions of earthly comfort and physical and emotional terror.
When we first find out that we have only moments left the weakness of our flesh may cause us to think or utter the only confession our sinful flesh can make, the words of that construction worker or words like them. But Christ is greater than our flesh and has overcome our sin and doubt with His own suffering and death for them on our behalf.
God doesn’t base our salvation on what we left undone or what we hoped we could do. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. And after our moment of doubt and regret the Holy Spirit builds in us the confidence of the Resurrection because Christ has implanted His Gospel in us.
We can actually say with joy, “I get to go home now!” And leave all else in this world in God’s hands.
But some will take this event to turn it inside out and use it against God by saying, “If God is so loving how could He let such a terrible thing happen?” It was not God that crashed those planes into those buildings. It was a small number sinful men who specifically hated Christianity and the prosperity that God has granted to the United States.
God did not cause Adam and Eve to sin. He did not cause these men to sin. And He certainly didn’t cause those people to die. Rather “God so loved the world that He gave His onlybegotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
God’s Word, His Law, and His Gospel are all about our sinful state and the resurrection He gives to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us.
What if it was your child who was above the fire?
We teach these words diligently to our children.
We are blessed by the Father’s gracious providence to live in a country and time when we have antibiotics, surgery, medicines, and medical imaging. In our times most children outlive their parents. It wasn’t always so. Very often mothers would die young in childbirth. Many, many children would die of all kinds of disease. Plagues would cover cities and countries taking with them the young, the feeble, and be indiscriminate killers of the rest. This worldly comfort can lure us into the false idea that we are entitled to good times, good health, prosperity, and good long days.
The truth is that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment here--now, and also for eternity. It is by God’s gracious providence that in this life any of us have any creature comforts. We don’t deserve our home, our food, our family, our children...They all belong first to God.
So we teach these words of God diligently to our children.
We teach them, because sometimes they are caught above the fire, and there is nothing we can do in this world to rescue them. But we can have the confidence that they will be going home soon. And we can know that we will see them again in the resurrection.
One of my co-workers at the UW-Madison, a woman named Rachel, got a phone call from her daughter right after the first plane hit. Rachel’s daughter was in the World Trade Center and was being evacuated. Rachel and her daughter talked, but were cut off when the first tower went down.
Cellular phone systems were routed through the towers on the WTC. Ham radio operators had to take over until the towers were up again. When they came up Rachel’s daughter called her. Rachel said, “At that moment I almost believe there is a God.”
How hard does God have to slap us across the face to show us he is there? Her child was lost! And God returned her.
In her place, God gave His onlybegotten Son. Believe in Him. He is the righteousness of God. Christ said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
9-11 is not the only day of trouble. There will be more for each of us in the future. But that day showed us something profound about our own human nature, we are filthy sinners who wish to blame God for the evil that we humans do. That day showed us the selfless sacrifice of hundreds of firemen and police officers to rescue people they didn’t know.
Is it so difficult to understand, then, that the Son of God might want to give His life to save humans? Yes it is difficult. It is impossible without faith in Christ.
The truth is that we are above the fire. All of us always have been.
We have taken God's providential grace for granted.
Our days are numbered. Really, they are. Just because we might not know how many days we have left doesn’t mean that it is a very short time. What do we do? Live lives of regret? No! We cast our cares upon the one who gave His life for us and thank Him that we will soon be home.
We look forward to the Resurrection, the reunion of God and man bought by the God-Man Jesus Christ.
We are going home.