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My Sermon on Westboro Baptist Church; January 9, 2011; Luke 13.1-5

Introduction: Good morning. Children can be dismissed at this time for Children’s church. ILL—Last Sunday, I preached on how hearing and doing the Word of God will a rock solid foundation in our lives. We never know what the day or the week will turn out. For example, all last week, I had computer issues. Thus, on Friday evening, I went back to my office at church so I could work on my Sunday sermon on the computer in the church office.

When I pulled out of our driveway, I pushed the remote for the garage door to close and the automatic garage door opener broke. But computer issues and a broken garage door opener are minor compared to what happened last Wednesday at Millard South High School. I was in my office working on this sermon about prayer when Stacy, the church office administrator came into my office and told me that there was a shooting at Millard South High School.

Though I had computer issues, I still could get on the web. So I immediately checked out a couple of local news sites. There was a shooting but very few details were known at that time. As the day, unfolded, we all learned that a seventeen year old Millard South student, Robert Butler, Jr. shot the vice principal, Vicki Kasper and the principal Curtis Case. The shooter then drove three blocks away and took his own life. Vicki passed away later that day.[1]

Right after I found out about the shooting, I posted a message of Facebook that a shooting had taken place at Millard South and that we must in pray about this. I am a graduate of Millard South. Numerous Facebook messages and comments were posted and exchanged throughout the day. Many of them, if not most of them referred to the fact that they were praying over the situation.

And there was prayer. Last Wednesday evening, I attended a special prayer service at Christ Community Church. Principle Curtis Case is a member of that church. Many Millard South students and teachers were there. The following day at noon, I went to Millard South High school for a prayer vigil. Many people came out to that. Then later that evening, hundreds showed up at Millard South for a candlelight vigil.

Prayer was lifted up for the family of Vicki Kasper. Then later on Thursday, I found out that Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing the funeral of Dr. Kasper. That is the last thing our community needs right now. I went to the gym to work-out. And I listened to praise music as I worked out. In doing so, I believe the Lord wanted to address the coming of Westboro Baptist Church to Omaha. Therefore, I will preach on the foundation of prayer next Sunday. Today,

I want to try to bring some sort of response from God’s Word to the antics of Westboro Baptist Chruch. Please turn to Luke chapter 13, beginning in verse 1. Please stand in honor of God as I read:

13:1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What is the deal with Westboro Baptist Church? Let me say for the record that I am ashamed they refer to themselves as Baptists. There are a bunch of religious “nuts.” My good friend, Dana Olson who is a Baptist pastor in Sioux Falls refers to the church as the “Westboro Cult because it is a not church by biblical standards.

When do a web search for “Westboro Baptist Church” and your search engine to the home page of the church, you will see the web address[2] That gives us a pretty good idea of where the church is coming from.

Their church web page will claim they are Bible believing Christian Church.[3] The pastor of the church is Fred Phelps and the church is located on the west side of Topeka, KS. The church has traveled to 812 different cities and has demonstrated 44,881 times.[4] Why does this small congregation do this? Here is why, according to the web site:

WBC engages in daily peaceful sidewalk demonstrations opposing the homosexual lifestyle of soul-damning, nation-destroying filth. We display large, colorful signs containing Bible words and sentiments, including: GOD HATES FAGS, FAGS HATE GOD, AIDS CURES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR AIDS, FAGS BURN IN HELL, GOD IS NOT MOCKED, FAGS ARE NATURE FREAKS, GOD GAVE FAGS UP, NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS, FAGS DOOM NATIONS, THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, FAG TROOPS, GOD BLEW UP THE TROOPS, GOD HATES AMERICA, AMERICA IS DOOMED, THE WORLD IS DOOMED, etc.[5]

They believe the sin of homosexuality will be the downfall of our nation. Thus, the church will protest the funeral of fallen soldiers because they see their deaths as divine punishment and judgment against our nation.[6] As long as we tolerate gays, God will continue to punish this nation.[7]

Last Thursday, they picketed a church in Illinois because in the church was a funeral for a fallen Marine.[8] On the church web page, you can read that the church actually thanks God for every dead soldier. I do want to be theologically correct in this message. With that said, homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible. And the homosexual agenda is being promoted in the media, educational system, some church denominations and in the government. It is a sinful behavior.

Do we respond to homosexuals and lesbians by waving a sign that says: “God Hates Gays!” Would Jesus do that? Of course not! As followers of Jesus, we are to love the person. We can show kindness and gentleness and the love of Jesus to people without accepting their sin. Jesus certainly did that with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. She had been married five times and the man she was living with was not her husband.

That is adultery! Jesus gently revealed her sin.[9] And in the entire conversation, Jesus showed compassion towards her.[10] Jesus and his disciples did not picket her home or town with a sign that said, “God Hates Adultery!” Westboro Baptist Church can learn from the example of Jesus. Westboro Baptist Church can also learn from the rest of the New Testament. Homosexuality in the first century Roman world was like having a cup of coffee.[11]

We do not find any teaching in the New Testament that that gave the early church license to wave signs with hateful statements on them. It appears that the mission of Westoboro Baptist Church is to spread message of God’s judgment on certain individuals the church considers “wicked” and on an evil society.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus and his followers spreading to good news of redemption through the proclamation of the gospel and through deeds of love and kindness. Jesus taught us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to patiently love and pray for those who are trapped in the sin of homosexuality. And we are to mourn with those who mourn.

The Kasper family is mourning. The Robert Butler Jr. family is mourning. I cannot imagine the pain of both these families. As Christians, we are called to minister to such people and their family. We are not called to let them know that they deserved what happened to them.

The web page for the Westboro Baptist Church also stated this about their intended picket of Dr. Kasper’s funeral: “WBC to picket memorial for Omaha Vice Principal Vicki Kasper, cut-off by an angry God for teaching the youth of this nation rebellion.”[12]

Members of Westboro Baptist Church have been in Omaha on other occasions, and because they were not welcomed as God’s appointed servants and messengers, they believe that Omaha is ripe for the judgment of God because the city rejected these so-called “servants of God” from Westboro Baptist Church. So when teachers and principals get killed, to Westboro Baptist Church, it is all part of God’s wrath on the city of Omaha.

This past Friday, the church web site gave specific information about their planned picket of Dr. Kasper’s funeral on Tuesday. It included this statement: “WBC will picket the memorial of Millard South Vice Principal Vicki Kasper to remind Omaha that her death is recompense for their treatment of the saints of God and raising their children to the devil.”[13]

I did not know Vicki Kasper. But I have gathered since last Wednesday that she was a person who invested much into the lives the students on the Millard South campus. At the prayer gathering last Thursday at Millard South, several people went to the loud speaker, including a student who shared how Dr. Kasper instilled in him the value of a good education. She was an encourager. Here is the question: “Did Vicki Kasper die because God was angry at the city of Omaha and at her?…angry at her teaching teenagers to rebel?” No!

Let’s take a closer look at our passage of God’s Word for this morning. In Luke chapter 13, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus was teaching when some in the crowd said to him in verse 1 that Pilate put some Galileans to death: There were some present at that very time who told them about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Pontus Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea.

Those Galileans were offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem; and Pilate sent Roman soldiers into the temple area and slaughtered them. Pilate was fully capable of doing something like that.[14] He was known for his cruelty.[15] Thus, the blood of the slain Galileans was mixed with the blood of the animals they sacrificed.

This was a tragic event. Notice please the response of Jesus in verse 2: Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? It was a common belief back then that disasters and sudden death were the result of personal sin.[16] Surely, these Galileans died because they deserved it?[17] We can see how people would feel morally superior.[18]

People could say, ‘It obvious that those Galileans had it coming to them…!” Jesus picked up on the superior attitude.[19] That is why verse 2 was a rhetorical question.[20] Jesus refuted the popular notion that the disaster fits the sin. In other words, these Galileans were not singled out by God because they were worse sinners.[21] Westboro Baptist Church does just that.

The church singles out certain individuals, like soldiers and teachers and say, “You see! You brought this disaster and death on yourself.” The church members say to military people who died: “You didn’t die for your country! You died because you serve a country that is evil, and thus, God punished you.”

And on Tuesday, they will try to say to family and friends of Vicki Kasper, “You died because of God’s payback on an evil city and on an evil school system!” The fact that they picket near funerals is just mind-blowing. My family recently experienced the passing of my brother. It is hard enough to have the funeral, but then it is worse to have people protesting at the funeral. These people from Westboro Baptist Church are supposed to be followers of Jesus!

The statement of Jesus in verse 3 is significant: No, I tell you; unless you all repent, you will all likewise perish. Again, I want to be biblical correct in this message. There may be a connection between a personal catastrophe and the evil in the world or in our lives.[22] We live in a sinful fallen world. Thus, there will be consequences. There will injuries and diseases and accidents even death will occur.

We live in a broken world. There will be hurt and brokenness. However, the point of Jesus here is that all people, even the ones who were not killed by Pilate needed to repent. All people are guilty before a holy God, and unless we repent, that is turn to Christ, we will all perish.

Perishing refers to physical and spiritual death.[23] If people do not repent of their sins and trust Christ for salvation, then be warned, there will be a final judgment where every unrepentant sinner will be punished forever and ever.[24] This is everyone’s predicament, even for the “servant’s of Westboro Baptist Church.

Jesus went and gave another example in verse 4: Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the other who lived in Jerusalem? This tower in Jerusalem collapsed and killed eighteen people. This was a horrible accident. Again, there were people who believed that the eighteen who died had it coming for some reason or another.

Jesus made it clear that those eighteen were not worse sinners than everyone else who lived. In verse 5, Jesus repeats his statement from 3: No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish! These words probably had a double meaning. First, they were prophetic of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[25] Thousands in the city were killed by the Romans.[26] The second meaning points to the final judgment. The parable of the barren fig tree is verses 6 to 9 is a parable about judgment.[27]

Thus, Westboro Baptist Church should teach that all people deserve the wrath and judgment of God. Their mission to point the finger at certain individuals they believe are more likely candidates of God’s wrath is very disturbing and misleading and contradicts the teachings of Jesus.

As you can see there is no outline to this message.

We all should focus on promoting the love of Christ in the midst of disasters and tragedies (repeat). As ambassadors for Jesus, we are also ambassadors of comfort. The apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 1.3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When we suffer, the God of all comfort will comfort us; and with that same comfort from God, we have a ministry of comfort…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction… There are many people connected to last week’s shooting who are suffering. They don’t need picketers. They need the love and peace and comfort of Jesus.

If we are Christians, then let us allow God to comfort us through his word, through others and through the Holy Spirit. Then with that same comfort, let minister to others by listening to them, praying for them, through a touch or hug, through support of some kind. This approach will is far more powerful than what Westboro Baptist Church brings to the table.

ILL—A few weeks ago, I found out that a man named Jason turned to Jesus and was baptized in his unit in the army. Jason is from Dannebrog, the small town where I was a pastor in from 1985 to 1993. One of my first funerals in Dannebrog was for Jason’s cousin, Jim (Jimmy). They were both teenagers.

One night, Jim was out with some of his friends drinking when Jim and a buddy of them decided to play chicken on the motorcycles. It was on a dark rural highway. Jim lost. His body was not even close to his motorcycle. The funeral director told me on the day of the funeral that every bone in his body was broken except for one in his hand. It was a heart-wrenching, tragic death in a small community.

The students in the local high school were allowed to leave school and attend the funeral. Hundreds of students and adults were there. Up to that point, it was the largest crowd I ever addressed. I was a 27, 28 year old pastor. When I gave my message, I did not say“Jim is dead because he was drunk and playing chicken on his motorcycle! He had it coming”

I also did not say“What is wrong with today’s youth. They have no moral bearings. They deserve God’s wrath!” Can you imagine the ramifications if did that. I would have been run out of town. I stood before hundreds of Jim’s family and friends. I saw many tears. I talked about my friendship with Jim. I told the story when Jim and Jason and I were out one evening running.

And Jim was chewing. I look over and he running and spitting. I laughed and said, “How can you chew and run at the same time?” Jim just laughed and said that you get use to it. I also shared about the reality of death. The coffin was right there…everyone could see it. Then I shared the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins through Jesus.

I invited everyone there to consider turning to Jesus for salvation. A few years later, I had the privilege of leading Jim and Jason’s grandmother to Jesus. I also presented the gospel at her funeral. And now some twenty years later, I find out that Jason has turned to Jesus. I don’t have the details. Perhaps a chaplain or another soldier led him to Jesus.

But I do know that at his cousin’s funeral back in the 1980’s, he heard about the love of Jesus. He also heard the gospel at his grandmother’s funeral in the early 1990’s. Gospel seeds were planted. In the midst of a tragedy and suffering, the responsibility of the church is to bring the love and comfort of Jesus.

Here are my closing words:

The real message of Westboro Baptist Church should be that the tragedy of the Millard South shooting should point us all to God. Such tragedies are warnings from heaven that we too need to turn to Christ. Repentance is the only way to avoid the wrath of God. Such events should cause us to love Christ more than sin.

Thus, instead of pickets, we are to mourn with those who mourn….

Instead of pickets, there should be much prayer…

Instead of pickets, we should come up with creative ways to love and comfort those who are hurting…

And the ultimate answer is knowing and loving Jesus!

[1] Omaha World Herald, 01/06/2011, 1

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[9] ESV Study Bible, 2028.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jim Cymbala Sermon

[14] MacArthur Study Bible, 1541.

[15] Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, 1671.

[16] MacArthur Study Bible, 1541.

[17] Michael Wilcock, BST: The Message of Luke, 138.

[18] MacArthur Study Bible, 1541.

[19] Wilcock, 137.

[20] ESV Study Bible, 1984.

[21] Leon Morris, TNTC: Luke, 221.

[22] MacArthur Study Bible, 1541

[23] Robert H. Stein, TNAC: Luke, 370.

[24] ESV Study Bible, 1984.

[25] MacArthur Study Bible, 1541.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Stein, 370.


January 2011