Seeing the Empty Sack in our Sorrow

“Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack!”  That was the theme of President Matthew Harrison’s sermon to the 25,000 youth and youth leaders gathered for the 2013 National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas last month.  (In a nutshell: We come to church with an empty sack and throughout the Divine Service, God fills it – with Holy Absolution, with the declaration of his Word, and with the Holy Sacrament… only for us to leave church and use it up, give it away… all the way down to the bottom.  So when we come to church again, we have an empty sack.  Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack.  You have promised to fill it, fill it now.)

The empty sack that we come to church with – empty and expecting to be filled by our loving and merciful God – isn’t something that we knit together in our depravity.  Yet it is in our depravity and the depth of our sorrow that Jesus has given us that sack.  The question of our day isn’t about whether a loving God would let us suffer, but that we have a God that suffered who loves us and came to us in our depravity and washed us in the blood he shed while being sacrificed for our evil.  God, this Jesus, came from heaven down into our very existence to suffer for us and with us.

From the depth of your sorrow and your hurt Jesus knows your pain and listens to your cry.  The view from our eyes can get blurry through the tears, but God has sent forth preachers to let you know that you have a God that has put a sack in your hand.  It will not tear or rip like paper or plastic; it is yours in your baptism and God promises to fill it up.  He keeps putting his good grace and mercy in it.  He knows your pain.  He has suffered your tears.  Jesus wept in love for you.  He has died to pay your debt.  He lives and reigns to bring you life.

Dear ones, God loves you – this way: he sends Jesus to you.  This Jesus takes your sin from you.  He wants it, he takes it, he has it.  In its place he gives his forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is the one that has taken the eternal sting out of death.  He knows that you are victorious with him.  He knows that you need a savior and he is the one for you.  The only one to save you and to carry you to his eternal peace is Jesus.  Take your empty sack to his throne.  Speak to him all your sorrows.  He wants to hear your voice.  Even through all the tears, you have a God that gives ear to your prayers.  Even in pain and sorrow you have have a God that thinks on you.  Even in the face of death and certain earthly destruction, you have a God – this Jesus – that loves you and intercedes for you and prepares a place for you at his side.  You are loved.  You are his.

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Free to be faithful

The Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison has posted a new video on YouTube about the ongoing attacks upon our religious freedom in America.  Check it out here.  Our God has called us to be faithful.  It doesn’t always mean that we will be popular.  Indeed, Christ says that being a Christian will in fact mean pain and persecution.  Being made cross shaped is part of the game…indeed God is creating in us a new heart.  He’s taking out the one that runs from God and instead renewing a right spirit (Psalm 51).  With the Holy Spirit, God is keeping us in the faith, making us little Christs, and sustaining us in the warfare of life.  Pain will come, splinters will be driven deep into our skin, but Christ sustains us.  Christ, who died upon the cross and rose for our justification, makes all things new even in the face of a real world/new world disaster.  When they differ, we must obey God rather than men, for it is by the Word of God that we have life.  Check out the video.  Pray for our country, pray for your fellow Christians, bear the crosses of your neighbors, and know that Christ has redeemed you and you are forgiven and alive to God.

Joy

This past weekend I got my hands on a new book by Rev. Matthew Harrison.  The book is called, “A Little Book on Joy.”  It is published by Lutheran Legacy.  “‘So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today,’ my friend observed. ‘These are difficult times.'”  I’ve only read the first chapter so far… but it is a great read.  You can pick up the book at http://www.logia.org.  It doesn’t cost that much and it will be a pleasure for you.  Are these difficult times?  Is the joy gone?  Yesterday’s gospel reading, Luke 11:14-28, showed how good the devil is at making the joy evaporate.  The finger of God had just cast out a demon.  The finger of God forgave the sins of 40+ people at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Houston yesterday morning.  It was a miracle.  They were all freed.  Yet someone said of Jesus that he was casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.  The joy evaporated from that scene when Beelzebul’s name was mentioned.  And yet, Jesus made sure that it wasn’t really gone.  It was the same yesterday at my church.  There was great joy because Satan was defeated and he was cast out.  The Lord of life came and visited his people.  He touched them, he fed them, and he blessed them.  They are living today, basking in the glow of the joy they received in the Cross.  Go get the book.  Read it and tell me what you think.