Preached: July 7, 2013
Dear friends in Christ,
The Lord had blessed the people of Israel. He had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, bringing them safely through the waters of the Red Sea. Those same waters that had parted for his people came crashing down to drown Pharaoh's army. The Lord continued to feed and care for them during their journey through the desert.
What grace he showed them! For often they had turned away from him. They complained that life was better back in Egypt. They grumbled that the manna the Lord had given was boring. They quickly gave up on the Lord when he seemed to take too long or life seemed to be too hard.
But the Lord was faithful to the gracious promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He brought their descendants into the promised land.
As they prepared to enter, Moses gives them parting instructions not to forget the Lord. When they had settled into new homes with family gathered around, when their fields and flocks bountifully provided for their tables, when enemies were far away and peace and prosperity close at hand, they were not to forget the Lord.
How the Lord our God has blessed us! And how undeserving we are! Like ancient Israel, how apt we are to complain about life and criticize our lot as if our God were stingy. Sometimes it seems that the best we can say is, “I suppose things could be worse." As true as that may be, that's rather shallow praise for our God who is so good and gracious and generous. How tempting to run after the promises of security or safety, the promises of fun or entertainment, the promises of health or wealth that this world offers and get back to God later on! And when life does go well, so many other things occupy our time and attention. How easy to let God slip into the background! How undeserving of his blessings we are! We, too, have earned his punishment.
But how gracious our God is! He has delivered us from slavery to sin, setting us free through the water and word of Baptism. Each day we can drown our sinful nature with its evil desires because of the power of our God working in us by the strength of his Spirit through his word of promise.
How gracious our God is! He leads us through the dreary desert of this life. Look at how bountifully he has blessed our native land. Consider, for example, the abundance of food. Back in 1919 the average yield/acre of corn in Stevens County was 28.8 bushels (1922 Soil Survey, p. 13). It was down year. Using the latest techniques of crop rotation and fertilization, they could get the yield up to almost 42 bushels per acre in a good year back then (1922 Soil Survey, p. 13). How the Lord has blessed us in our day with harvests quadrupled or more from the days of our grandparents! And if you want to say that science, technology, and hard work improved the harvest, who gave us all those skills and insights?
How gracious our God is! What other blessings of peace and prosperity has he given to you and your family? What blessings has he has provided for you through our country and the times we live in? What blessings do you enjoy which we would not have if we had lived a hundred years ago or in a different country? It is the Lord our God who has placed you here and now. He has blessed you through our country. Don't forget him.
Dear friends in Christ,
Pray for your country. Pray for our service men and women. Pray for our leaders. I think we all recognize the importance of prayer for our country and those who serve it.
But why do we want to pray for our country and it's leaders? Is it so we can live a carefree life? Is it so that our retirement accounts grow? Is it so we can have a better tomorrow for our children?
As the Apostle Paul urges us in the next reading to pray for our leaders, he reminds us that through these leaders God can bless us with peaceful and quiet lives. But a peaceful, quiet, good life isn't an end in itself. Rather the Apostle writes, "That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:2-4 NIV).
Do you see that the pursuit of happiness isn't an end in itself? When God blesses us with earthly peace and prosperity, he wants us to enjoy those blessings in all godliness and holiness, not indulging our sinful desires. And he wants us to use those blessings to bring others to know the truth. He wants all to be saved through his Son, Jesus Christ. He blesses us so that we can share his saving truth by using the opportunities that peace and prosperity give us. For only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ do others come to the knowledge of the truth What truth? That Jesus Christ, the God-man, reconciled us to God. For he alone is the Go-between, the Mediator. For he alone gave himself as the ransom for all.
What purpose this gives us! You see, earthly peace and prosperity are only a means to an end. If we spend our life pursuing that kind of happiness, we end frustrated because earthly peace and prosperity don't make us as happy as we thought. We can't take it with us. Even in this life, what we have brings with it its own share of worries and fears. But those who come to the knowledge of the truth, trusting in Jesus as their Ransom, they will spend eternity with us in the happiness of heaven -- the peace that knows no end.
So pray for your country and your leaders. Pray that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Pray for those things so that we can use the Lord's blessings to spread his word of truth, the only word that saves.
Dear friends in Christ,
You've heard that reading many times. Maybe you even recall the King James wording: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." And in those words we clearly see Jesus' answer to the question about paying taxes.
But Jesus says so much more here. The Pharisees and Herodians go away not only because their trap didn't work but also because Jesus words rub their conscience. Let's just expand the thoughts here. "You are so concerned about taxes and the tyranny of the Roman government over you. But look, the very coins you use to pay the tax come from the government in the first place. No, the real matter here is your relation to God. Not only this coin, but all you have, in fact your very body, soul, and life, are gifts from him. Give to God what is God's.
Yes, dear friends, following Jesus calls for total commitment. All we have, even our very selves, belong to him. Matthew often repeats that theme of commitment. For example in chapter 10, he records these words of Jesus: "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39 NIV84). A soldier places all he has on the line for his country. What a debt we owe them for our earthly freedoms! Are you, as a soldier of the cross, willing to put all on the line for the one who suffered hell in your place? Are you ready to give to God what is God's, in other words, everything including yourself?
This total commitment shows itself as we place our Savior first in our lives. That too brings to mind another passage from Matthew when Jesus says: "Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33 NIV84). Jesus had just finished describing how our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. How much more won't he do so for us, his children? So seek first his kingdom and his righteousness without worrying about those other things. He'll take care of them. Give to God what is God's. Be willing to put all on the line. For in our Savior we have the righteousness that stands before God, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus we are citizens of his kingdom as he reigns in our hearts through his word.
So as we celebrate God's blessings of peace, prosperity, and liberty, which we have as citizens of our country, be ready to use them all for your Savior. Give to God what is God's. For he gave you his Son. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.