O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Joshua 20:7-9
Preached on April 17, 2014
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The text for the sermon this evening comes from Joshua 20:7-9.
So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fellow baptized saints, the text is a list! Now, preaching from a list can be sermonic suicide ... a certain sleeper. It’s best to avoid lists, shun lists, never preach on lists.
But if you were on the run in ancient Israel ... this list meant ... why, it meant ... everything! Let me explain ... in Israelite culture if someone in your family was killed, your relatives would call a meeting and somebody would be appointed as a "blood avenger." This blood avenger was a representative from the family who was to find the killer and release his neck from the burden of having to carry a head.
Admittedly, it was a bit crude, but it kept law and order. Of course, the major problem with such a system was an accidental death. Here’s an example from Deuteronomy. A man goes into a forest with his neighbor to cut wood. As he swings his axe to chop down a tree, the axe’s head flies off, hits his neighbor, and kills him. Now what happens? The dead man’s family calls a meeting, and they appoint a blood avenger ... and they don’t choose rotund Uncle Earl. No, it’s fleet-footed Cousin Nick. And Nick’s orders are clear, "Chase the guy with the loose axe head until you catch him, then kill him!"
Now, I bet you’re saying, "Well, that’s not fair. He didn’t mean to kill his neighbor. He just had a loose axe-head!" And you’re right. But no one knew what else to do. No one, that is, except Yahweh, the God of Israel. He is the one who provides cities of refuge all over the land so that they function as an ever-present help in trouble! An ever-present help in trouble.
Have you ever felt like you are on the run? Like there is someone coming after you, trying to catch up to you? Sure you have, and so have I. For there is a blood avenger on your heels. He comes to kill and steal and destroy. And he knows what you have done – and where you’re weak. You can see him in the rear-view mirror ... feel his hot breath on your neck ... you know what it’s like to run and run and run for your very life!!!
And this blood avenger coming after you is ancient. He’s been doing this for millennia. He is faster than you, more powerful than you –yes, with craft and dreadful might he arms himself to fight – on earth he has no equal. He is the tempter, the deceiver, the accuser – and he comes for you.
As tempter you hear him whispering behind you, "Whatever it is you want to do, just do it. Have some anger? Act on it. Have some sexual fantasies? Go for it. Have some juicy gossip? Let it fly." You know where he pulls you.
Then, as deceiver he continues with these words, "There are no limits, no consequences, no responsibilities ...You will not surely die… Try it and see!"
And then, when we give in to these temptations and deceptions he becomes the accuser, he slows us down enough to sink his hands into us saying, "Ah ha – see! You’ve said this, thought this, done this, drunk this, smoked this, seen this - God is finished with you!"
Now our text speaks of a refuge for those who kill accidentally, unintentionally, without pre-meditation. And that leaves us out, for countless times we have sinned intentionally, with premedita-tion, with malicious forethought ... which makes us easy prey for that lion seeking to devour us. His strategy is clear, "I’ll chase ... until I kill you!" And the corpses of failed Christians are all around to see.
No one knows what to do ... except Yahweh, the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has provided one final city of refuge that is our ever-present help in trouble! One last place you can run to that is not of this world. Jesus Christ is the final expression of Yahweh’s heart for a safe-place, an asylum, a sanctuary, a harbor, a mighty fortress, a refuge, an ever-present help in trouble! "For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb!"
So do not run aimlessly. Do not run hopelessly. Do not run desperately, but today, run to your Refuge. Run to your ever-present help in trouble. Run to the blood of the Lamb. For the mercy, love and forgiveness that He gave at Calvary is now present for you here under bread and wine. Your Saviour prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemy. Your blood avenger can chase you right up to the altar, but he is hurled down by the blood of the Lamb! You are declared innocent. Set free. Forgiven before all the congregation by the blood that crosses your tongue. And you can stroll home peacefully, knowing no one is after you.
Now it may be, that to the casual observer ... this real present help in trouble, this sacrament of the altar with preface, sanctus, verba, agnus dei, and nunc dimitis is a just list like Shechem, Hebron, Bezer and Golan.
But to the baptized, to the instructed, to the repentant, those of us who know what it’s like be tempted, deceived, accused, chased, harassed, slam-dunked, to those of us who know what it is to run... this refuge, this gift, this list, means ... why, it means ... everything! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr