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Only What You Can Do - By Pastor Thomas Engel

Admittedly, I’m beginning with some illustrations that are well-worn.

I’ve read them in various places over the years, and I’m sure that I’ve used them before in sermons.

They are well-worn because they are good at helping to find a clearer understanding to complex subjects.

Today, we have a deep subject to address. It’s a tough one, so we need all the help that we can get.


The first illustration is imagining that you are on a plane.

There is some strong turbulence that makes the oxygen masks come down.

You have a young child sitting next to you.

Who do you put the mask on first, yourself or the child?

The answer is yourself because you need the oxygen, so you can help others. If you pass out, what good are you to the young child sitting next to you?

The other illustration is about two men walking on the beach, and the tide has washed many starfish onto the beach.

In the hot sun, they are drying up. One man bend downs, picks up a starfish, and throws it back into the ocean.

The other man asks, “What good is throwing one starfish back, for there are so many? What difference can you make?”

The man picks up another starfish and throws it back. “I made a difference to that one?”

With no doubt, we are living in crucial times.

We need answers, solutions, and courses of actions, but nothing is coming up of any real substance that will make all things perfectly right.

Not to be critical, the reason that there is not anything of real substance is because the world has some deep stuff going on.

Things are so deep that are no quick fixes, no silver bullets, and no sure fired plans.

To be sure, there are some talks, some plans, and some actions, but all needs to be measured as we wait and see what comes next.

As we talk, plan, and act, it begs the question, “What will be coming next?”

We have inspiring speeches by leaders, acts of courage by ordinary citizens, and the support of people around the world coming together who want better for all people and their places.

But, the world still has deep stuff going on, and it seems to be getting worse.

So, it begs another question, “How much worse can it get?”

And, doesn’t it seem that things need to be done soon, for things are escalating quickly to things that we might not ever recover from?

Going back to the illustrations, and I’m almost embarrassed to try to give such a simple way to get through all this stuff that is happening in the world.

This way is for each person to take care of himself or herself, and from there, to help as he or she can, although knowing that help will not make everything perfectly right.

Maybe not perfect, but at least better, any kind of better would be helpful about now.

Any kind of turn to the better would give us some hope.

We need to keep trying. Don’t we?

In saying that about always trying, I don’t know about you, but I’m not having much optimism about overall humanity right now.

This past week, I saw a documentary on how WWII started. I saw it thinking that it’s a good time to get caught up on history.

The start of that war was complicated as it had many unresolved issues from the First World War. The start of the Second World War was devastating on many fronts and continued for years.

I learned that the term for victory at any cost is called “Total War.”

For me to have some confidence in humanity, I have to keep reminding myself that it all did come to an end.

I’m still not ready to give so much credit to the good for overall humanity. As we have seen and gotten out of “bad” times before, yet it’s seeming that we are going into another “Total War.”

Before we talk any further about what we are to be doing, I think we need to understand more about how our world does get in its “bad” times.

The reality of it all is that the world got off to a good start, a perfectly good start.

Talking about making things perfectly right, God created a world that was good in every way.

God made a good creation, from the smallest creepy crawling thing to His most beloved creatures, humans.

God gave this world a good start. The first humans had everything they needed to live good lives.

But, at some point during that actual true paradise of a beginning, all that goodness got disrupted.

There was rebellion, deception, and disobedience, and for those things, there were consequences.

God didn’t want it this way, but “bad” choices have to meet some kind of “bad” outcome.

At this point, it’s important to ask ourselves, “How am I understanding how choices should have consequences?”

After the rebellion, deception, and disobedience, should have God let things slide?

Should have there been no justice, no punishment, and no intention to right the wrongs?

How about just a slap on the wrist?

Judgment, punishment, and righting of wrongs sound necessary, but it also sounds “hard,” especially when its applied to me.

Here is another place where it begs a question, “If God is nothing but good, where did evil come from that it would cause such problems in the first place?” To be honest, we don’t know so much about how evil came about.

If God is only good, it makes sense that we ask, “How did evil come into play?”

We don’t have a concrete answer. It’s mostly a mystery.

We do know that God didn’t want humans to know about evil as He did.

God does give us choices.

Though, you know us humans. We want to know it all, and the first humans wanted to know as God knew. So, they got to know evil, and from every generation back then at the beginning to this present one, humans know evil, and as good has good outcomes, evil has its “bad” outcomes.

When any human goes to the side of evil, it’s called sin.

Sadly, humans have a history of times like we are having now.

The first humans disobey, and they have to leave their good home and meet a hard existence.

The first siblings have conflict. The conflict is so deep, one kills the other.

The first community is so corrupt that they are literally washed away. Good thing one family was good enough to be spared.

God gives his enslaved people a good leader, but his opposition is a most hard hearted man, who stubbornly won’t let the people go, even after facing many plagues.

And, when the people are free, God gives His own nation a land flowing with milk and honey, but they are not all that obedient to His good will for them, so God lets their enemies overtake them.

From there in the early beginnings until now, we see human suffering, pain, chaos, destruction, and death.

We have to admit that going to the side of evil makes for a serious matter.

Sin can only have “bad” consequences. Nothing good ever comes from sin.

God sees sin and its consequences as a most serious matter.

The punishment for sin is death, eternal death, forever separated from God.

It can’t get any more serious than that.

You know that question so many people ask, “Why do “bad” things happen to good people?”

Or, “If God is so good, so mighty, and so full of love, why does He let suffering go on in the world?”

As we see so much evil, and it’s consequences of chaos, destruction, pain, suffering, and death as we see in the world now, so many questions are just begging to be asked.

As I said, I’m doing a lot of questioning myself these days.

“What will be coming next?” “How much worse will it get?” “What can I be doing?”

Well, consequences are hard, but to be fair and right, remembering that sin is going to the side of evil, even just a brush with evil deserves consequences.

It’s difficult to understand because we don’t want to admit that we are sinners, and it’s a sinful world.

As difficult it is to get that about sin, we do get it.

Yet, one of the questions that I keep having is, “Why are innocent people like infants suffering and even dying because of others’ evil acts?”

I’m far from the first to ask that question. This is an old question. In the Gospel reading, we get a glimpse into the current events of Jesus’ day.

A tower collapsed and killed people.

People came to ask Jesus if their deaths were a result of their sin. Jesus explains that is was not of anyone’s particular sin.

God is not a tit for tat God.

One good act deserves another, and one evil act deserves another.

It all should be fair and balanced. Right?

God is fair and balanced but not from a human viewpoint.

A few bullet points we need to keep remembering as we see “bad” things happening in the world:

  • God created this world to be good.

  • God so loves this world in Christ Jesus.

  • God judges this world of its sin letting the consequences of sin happen.

  • God does not want anyone to die and be separated from Him, so He forgives this world of its sin in Christ Jesus.

  • God blesses this world for from Him only blessings flow.

  • God will bring this world to an end on some day soon.

  • God will judge the world separating evil from good.

  • God will take all those who are in Christ Jesus to Himself forever.

Notice that each point begins with God. God has got this world in His hands.

Until that Last Day of final judgment

when Jesus comes again, we go back to those illustrations at the start of the sermon.

We take care of ourselves, which we have done today by coming to worship.

Here are some more bullet points for each one of us that each of can do for ourselves:

  • I come here as God’s beloved child.

  • I come here to confess my sins.

  • I come here to receive forgiveness for every sin.

  • I come here to hear Christ’s body and blood given and shed for me.

  • I come here to confess my God-given faith in the creed, “I believe...”.

  • I come hear to God’s Word for direction for my life, so I can be good for myself and to others.

  • I come hear to God’s blessings for my life.

Notice those points begin with “I,” but its still God doing the work for us.

God always loves the world, cares for it, and wants every person to be saved from the consequences of sin.

Earlier, I said I was almost embarrassed by how we should be focused on taking care of ourselves in such times with so many people in world of such immediate need.

I also talked about having a solution of real substance.

The world tries to solve it conflicts by war, an horrific way to get to an outcome.

Jesus did say there would be times like this, and, yes, it could get worse.

Imagine if a world leader stood up before a body of people like a Congress of a country or a Parliament of some nation, and that leader gave the bullet points that we have for today.

I say almost embarrassed because those points would not come across as real solution by many.

Jesus gave that solution in his ministry, and he was accepted by few but mocked by many.

Although some will mock, we must be bold in our coming here today to do what we have to do for ourselves.

We must believe that what we do here and after we leave here is about making a difference.

Granted, the world will never be perfectly right because of evil.