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Archives - June 2021

There May Yet Be Hope

June 27, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. … Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly.”

These are the words with which the prophet Jeremiah begins his prophetic book of Lamentations. While some perceive it as dreariest of all Holy writ, this book nevertheless gives an inside view into what was going through the minds of, not only the prophet himself, but also the residents of Jerusalem. In the wake of the destruction of the city of peace, as the people sit in ashes, desolation, devastation, and utter ruin … they can only speak the truth.

And the truth is this: they deserved it. Jeremiah records, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away. Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future, therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter. ‘O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!’” Their decades, centuries of faithlessness, trusting in created things instead of the Creator, trampling upon the needy and hopeless, abusing and killing the prophets whom YHWH Himself sent to warn them, call them to repentance … has led to a devastating outpouring of His vast and hot anger.

He used the rod of His divine wrath and punishment, Babylon, to punish the people of Judah for their wickedness, and all in Judah (even the few that remained faithful to YHWH their God) suffered for it. Jerusalem cries out, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word; but hear, all you peoples, and see my suffering; my young women and my young men have gone into captivity. I called to my lovers, but they deceived me; my priests and elders perished in the city, while they sought food to revive their strength. Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious.” Oh, yes, Judah was fully deserving of everything that YHWH poured out through His agent of wrath. The murder, pillage, rape, plunder, starvation, cannibalism … all of it was well deserved, and the people knew that. They were reaping as they had sown, feeling the weight of what their blatant arrogance and sin had wrought.

Thus, what Jeremiah writes: “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”

Lamentations is certainly a book rife with sorrow, filled with heart-breaking images … and yet … in spite of all of this, even in the midst of all this well-deserved pain and suffering, death and misery, when YHWH Himself has turned His hand against them … there is still reason to hope. Jeremiah puts it this way: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”

Knowing their sin, and in the midst of their just and righteous punishment, the people of Judah yet confess the goodness of YHWH their God. They yet had hope. How? Certainly not in their own strength and grit. Not by whistling past the graveyard. Not in anything in and of themselves, but only through YHWH their God did they find reason to hope. The very One who was punishing … is the One who would ease their burdens and sorrows. They knew His promises to them, they remembered His faithfulness, in spite of the faithlessness. They remembered His chesed, His steadfast, enduring lovingkindness shown to them and promised to them through Abraham. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”

According to His timing, YHWH would, indeed, ease the suffering of Jerusalem’s inhabitants. The remnant would return from Babylon, thanks to the salvation God wrought through Cyrus of Persia, His agent of redemption. More than this, in the fullness of time, YHWH would Himself submit to the authority of such wicked men. He would suffer indignities and sufferings and sorrows that would make the pitiful residents of exilic Jerusalem pity Him. The Son made Himself the target for the Father’s arrows of wrath … His prayer was shut out, as He became the incarnation of sin … the wormwood and the gall of the injustice done to Him, as He died on the cross, bowed His soul down as He cried out, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my Spirit.” And yet, even then … there was hope! It was good that He awaited quietly in His tomb the salvation the Lord would bring to all through His resurrection. It was good that He had put His mouth in the dust of death, winning for us the forgiveness of sins … and conquering death! He showed Himself to be the hope of all mankind as He walked out of His tomb on Easter morn! YHWH showed His love for us poor, miserable sinners by bringing grief upon His Son and having compassion upon Him – and us – by resurrecting Him three days later!

Yes, Lamentations is a book filled with grief and sorrow, horrific images of a people enduring the punishments they well deserved. In those pages, we see the punishment we rightly deserve, as well, and it may often feel as though the hand of YHWH is turned against us, that He is a lion or bear lying in wait for us. There may be times when our endurance has perished, and all hope seems lost; and yes, as sinners, it’s nothing we don’t deserve. However, in such times, we fly to the cross of Christ Jesus, our crucified and resurrected Lord! We flee and cleave to the place where our sin was atoned for and forgiven, holding tightly to the promises our heavenly Father has given to us in our Lord Jesus. That’s the place where Jesus says, “I took your punishment, and though you may suffer here and now, there is an eternity of joy awaiting you!” There, and only there, do we remember clearly and happily: there may yet be hope.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Who Is This?

June 20, 2021
By Rev, David French

Today’s Gospel reading is not just a nice story about Jesus the Miracle Worker saving His followers from a watery grave. It’s also God teaching us about the nature of Jesus as the Christ and the nature of sinners. Today’s examples are the ones with Him in the boat.

It’s been a long day of teaching for Jesus, and as is often the case after a busy time of ministry, Jesus decided it was time to get away with His disciples for some much-needed rest and relaxation. In this case, He elected to take a cruise to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is about eight miles across from east to west at its widest point. Under normal circumstances the crossing would only take a few hours, but on this crossing, a storm comes up. Even though several of the disciples were experienced fishermen, we’re told that they were frightened. Now to those who make a living from the sea, that means something. This wasn’t just a passing storm. There was more to it than that.

And yet we find Jesus asleep in the front of the boat. He apparently fell into a sleep so deep that even the storm didn’t wake Him. Now other than His actual death, there is no better demonstration of the humanity of Jesus than the sleep of exhaustion. Every human being on the planet knows what it is to grow tired and fall asleep. Yes, like the rest of us, even the great miracle worker can become exhausted after a long day with the crowds and just need to sleep like every other human being ever born.

But then the disciples wake Jesus and ask for help. We don’t really know why they woke Jesus. There was fear, of course, perhaps as simple as another set of hands to help bail the water out of the boat. Whatever the reason, they woke Jesus and asked for help, but their reaction shows they certainly did not expect what happened next. Jesus woke up and has a word with the elements. The word “rebuke” in the text means that Jesus scolded the wind and the water rather harshly. The wind and the water became calm.

Now, you and I could yell, scold, rebuke, beg, cajole, or even reason with the weather until we’re blue in the face, and nothing will change. Jesus, on the other hand, scolded the weather, and the weather reacted. It reacted, of course, because Jesus is not just your regular tired human being. He is also the God of all creation. Jesus’s control of the wind and the waves with just a word reminds us that He is truly God. And so by the time they’re halfway across the sea, Jesus has reminded His disciples that He is both true man and true God.

The disciples, on the other hand, were terrified. The original Greek says that they feared a great fear. No wonder, they were in a boat being swamped with someone who just spoke to the wind and the waves and they obeyed. Then He turns to them, forcing them to think about their faith and what they believe. And they began to look at Jesus differently, asking themselves in a deeper way, “Who is this guy?”

That’s actually one of the constants in Jesus’s life. People often ask who Jesus is. Today, we see that the wind and the waves know who Jesus is. In other parts of the Gospel, we learn that diseases, birth defects, and injuries know who Jesus is. Even demons and death know who Jesus is. But, when it comes to humanity, Jesus is a great mystery. But that’s what sin does, as Isaiah reveals: “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3).

And that goes back to the beginning, back to Eden. Remember Adam saying, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Adam had sinned, and the presence of the holy and almighty God terrified him. It’s the same for all people who, in the holy presence of Almighty God for the first time, clearly see their sin.

That’s why Jesus had to be both man and God. If Jesus were only God, He could not take our place under the law and live a holy life for us. He could not suffer the penalty we have earned for our sin. If Jesus were a man, and nothing more, then His perfect life and sacrificial death would earn the salvation of one and only one person, Himself. The rest of the world would be lost. It is essential for our salvation that Jesus be both God and man because while man owes the debt, only God can afford the price.

We need the salvation that Jesus provides because the storm on the Sea of Galilee is just one instance of the many disasters that the sin of humanity has brought into this world. The destruction that storms bring is an expression of the curse that came when sin entered the world. Our sin not only brings sickness and death to us, but even the world is cursed. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to the Romans: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, lightening, earthquakes, and all the other natural disasters are the result of the curse that sin brought into the world.

These so called natural disasters are not the only storms that our sin has brought into the world. There are other storms in our lives as well. There are the medical storms of infections, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer, and so forth. There are the relational storms of broken families and friendships. There are the financial storms of plant closings and layoffs. Ultimately, there is the storm of death that comes to all of us sooner or later. We may try to deny the existence of sin in our lives, but these storms, both private and public, say otherwise.

It is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature – that we see God’s loving plan to deal with sin. In Jesus Christ, God assumed human nature to save humans from their nature – their sinful nature. For our own sin doomed us to perish – not just from this earth, but also from the blessings of God’s presence with us. “But the blood of Jesus his [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Christ’s human nature allowed Him to be the target of God’s wrath as He hung on the cross. Christ’s divine nature allowed Him to endure that wrath for all people in all times and places. So it is that God took on human flesh and saved us from our sins.

We have complete confidence in that salvation that Jesus earned for us because death was unable to hold Him. For Christ did not remain in the grave, but after He conquered death, He rose from death never to die again. After He rose, He showed Himself to His disciples. He encouraged them to examine the marks of the cross in His body. He talked with them and ate with them. He interacted with them in very human ways. At the same time, locked doors and windows were no barrier to Him as He appeared and disappeared at will. In His resurrection, He demonstrated that He lives forever as both God and man in one person. And so it is in the person of Jesus Christ who slept through a storm and calmed the sea that we put our faith, believing and receiving through Him our heavenly Father’s promised gift of eternal life.

In His name, Amen

Tags: Mark 4:35-41

New Creations?

June 13, 2021
By Rev, Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this third Sunday in Pentecost comes from our epistle text, especially where Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Really, a lot of what we hear in our text sounds wonderful … but if you’re anything like me, it may sometimes ring a little hollow. It sounds disjointed, perhaps even a bit naïve. There’s some cognitive dissonance between what Paul writes … and what we live and experience.

“[W]e are always of good courage?” Does that describe you? Are you always confident, of good cheer, courageous? Can you say confidently that, because Christ died for you, you absolutely no longer live for yourself but for Him? How about that last part, where Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”?

A new creation. Sounds very nice. But is it true? Because I’ll be honest; I still feel the same. I came up out of the waters of baptism as a wee bitty baby, washed clean of all iniquity … and yet I still sin. I hear the words of absolution every single week … and I don’t notice much difference in myself. Inevitably I wind up saying something careless or doing something harmful or thinking something impure not long after. I partake of Christ’s true body and blood in, under, and with the bread and wine, swallowing that blessed food and drink … and there doesn’t seem to be much change within me.

It’s possible for one to read what Paul writes here and become disheartened, even disillusioned. Paul says that those who are in Christ are a new creature, but I don’t see it. I don’t feel it. Yesterday, I slipped back into that old, nasty habit. I’m not as good to my spouse as I should be. I get angry, arrogant, greedy, and envious. I intentionally hurt people because they hurt me first. I’m a lazy slob who puts myself before others, much less Christ. There’s no way that Paul could possibly be talking about me … so am I actually in Christ? Am I a new creation? Am I saved? Because I sure don’t see it.”

All those flaws and sins mentioned … are accurate. Each and every one of us is a sinner rife with imperfections, flaws, and issues. We’ve all got grudges and resentments, guilty pleasures and secret sins. Even without all our iniquitous inclinations and habits – you know yours, and I know mine – James writes, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” One lie, one hurt, one thought – that’s all it takes, and the façade crumbles.

And that’s not even mentioning the original sin that we’re all born with, inherited from Adam and Eve. They caved to the temptation and beguilement of the serpent, and now all human beings are conceived and born infected with this disease. It’s intrinsic to our nature, something that we cannot simply shake off. All people are born spiritually blind, dead, and ENEMIES of God.

We still see sin in ourselves, so it is sometimes hard to hear Paul say that we are “new creations.” His words may be difficult to believe, once we look within and see the sin … but his words are nevertheless true. We affirm that, like every other word of Scripture, Paul’s writing is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. He’s not flattering the Corinthians; he’s not mocking them or dismissing the harsh reality of their status as sinners. He’s simply reminding them of the greater reality that took hold the moment they were born again of water and the Spirit.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” To the Galatians, he wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This is the greater reality: despite what we may feel or see within ourselves, by virtue of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, we now belong to the Father. We are His children, claimed as His own, given the identity of our Lord Jesus, having “put Him on” as the robe of righteousness, covered in His holy blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s the reality that God declares about us: in Christ Jesus, we are new creations. We were nothing, but in the waters of Holy Baptism, God made us into something new.

But, what about my sin? What about all the lousy, rotten, no-good thoughts, words, and deeds for which I am rightly ashamed? Well, it’s true, that won’t go away on this side of eternity. We are still sinners, living in a broken world. But as Paul wrote earlier in our text, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” What we see is the sin. By faith, we trust God’s promise that He has nevertheless declared us to be His forgiven, justified children for the sake of our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus.

Yes, I’m still a sinner, despite the fact that I am baptized. Yes, I still sin even after the word of absolution is spoken by Pastor French. Yes, I may not see change in myself after partaking of the Holy Supper … but I am nevertheless a new creation. And so are you. Though we don’t see it, by faith, we trust that we have been changed. By faith, we are of good courage. By faith, we do not live for ourselves, but rather for Christ who, for our sake, died and was raised. By faith, even as our bodies waste away outwardly; inwardly, we trust that we are being renewed day by day. Not by anything we’ve done, but by God’s creative, performative Word, we are new creatures in Christ our Lord. And we yearn for the Day when faith will become sight, and what God has declared about us, His new creations, all along … will be plain to see.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Three Views of Jesus

June 07, 2021
By Rev. David French

During the time Jesus was teaching the gospel, He also drove out demons; cleansed lepers; healed the blind, the deaf, the paralytics; fed the hungry; and so much more. And as you might imagine, His teaching and miracles had made Jesus very popular with the people. Not surprisingly, that popularity followed Him back to His headquarters in Capernaum, where we find Him today. Most of the people who showed up at the house wanted Jesus’s help in some way.  But, there were others who were there who were concerned about Jesus.

Jesus’s family was concerned that He was getting overworked. Remember, at this point, even His family didn’t understand what it meant that He was the Messiah. They thought He was having some kind of breakdown or was “out of his mind.”  They just wanted to get Him out of the public eye and someplace safe.

Then, there were the scribes from Jerusalem.  Jesus’s popularity had drawn the attention of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. They sent this delegation to investigate Jesus. They quickly saw Jesus as a threat and began a campaign to embarrass Him publicly so that they could diminish His influence.  They began saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

So, today’s Gospel reading gives us three views of Jesus. The crowds who thought He was the savior even though they had no idea what that meant. His family who thought He was having some sort of mental breakdown. And the scribes from Jerusalem who claimed He was working with Satan.

Not only that, but in addition to the three views of Jesus that were shown in today’s Gospel, there is also a clear connection between the scribes and today’s Old Testament reading. I mean, remember that when God cursed the serpent for his part in the fall, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” Jesus is the seed of the woman and the scribes are the seed of the serpent.

We know that the scribes are the seed of the Satan because this isn’t the first time that they challenged Jesus. Another time, recorded by John, Jesus was teaching about our slavery to sin, and we hear the teachers of the law claim God as their Father, and Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” So Jesus Himself identifies Satan as the father of the Pharisees and scribes.

So, what we’re seeing is Satan working through the scribes, a very subtle tactic for deceiving people. The scribes, whether they know it or not, are actually in league with Satan by trying to embarrass Jesus by accusing Him of being in league with Satan. That is, they condemn Jesus of doing what they themselves are guilty of. This tactic, as you well know, is still around today.  I mean, how often have we heard public figures condemn those who are unfaithful to the vows of marriage only to learn that they themselves either are or have been unfaithful to their marriage vows?

And, what about us? How often do we use this tactic when God’s Word challenges us?  When God’s Word convicts us of our sin, do we repent or do we accuse or accuse others of being worse? How often do we complain that we are not being fed when it is we who refuse to take in the bread of life that is in the Word of God more than one day a week?  

How often do we accuse others of arrogance when it is we who want our way rather than what God's Word clearly teaches? If we’re honest, we will confess that we have often been exactly like the scribes in today’s Gospel. When God’s Word convicts us, our instinct is to attack rather than to repent of our sins. That truth, my friends, is proof that our own sinful nature is alive and well. It’s a sign that we love ourselves more than we love God.  It confirms that we are, by nature, enemies of God.

But, if we still sin, can we really be saved?  The answer to that question begins with the promise that God spoke immediately after His curse. He didn’t begin and end with, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring,” but He continued with, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is, God will provide a Savior. God promised a seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, that is, destroy his power to poison and kill. A seed who will restore the original relationship that humanity had with God at the time of creation.

Jesus fulfilled that promise of God. Even though He is God, He humbled Himself and was born the promised seed of the woman. The serpent tempted Jesus in every way possible, but unlike us, Jesus never disobeyed God. That is, our substitute never sinned. Satan finally did bruise the heel of the seed by causing Jesus to be tortured and nailed to a cross. And while on that cross, Jesus endured the punishment and died the death which we deserve for all our sins, including the hypocrisy of condemning others for doing what we do. You see, it was with His blood that Jesus crushed the serpent’s head, clearing the path of salvation for us all to walk by grace through faith with Him. 

Even in today’s Gospel, Jesus repeats the promise, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter ….” Jesus can make this promise because He believed the Father’s Word was trustworthy and that He would crush the serpent’s head.  He believed that He would triumph over sin, death, and the power of the devil. He believed that offering His life would cover the cost of life and salvation for all people.

But then, Jesus went on to issue a warning saying, “… but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” The Bible tells us that God sent the Holy Spirit to do two things: to create and strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, and to deliver forgiveness of sins to us through that faith. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is rejecting what He offers. The Holy Spirit offers faith and forgiveness. The blasphemer rejects those gifts. Jesus went to the cross to crush the serpent’s head so that we could live with the hope forgiveness brings, but God will not force us to take the gift He offers. The reason this sin cannot be forgiven is that the blasphemer chooses to ignore or reject the very forgiveness Christ purchased for us. It is the result of our sinful nature controlling our free will.

Finally, Jesus taught us what it means to be a part of His family. He said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” But the will of God is not what most people think it is because we so often turn to the Law, but John records Jesus saying in chapter 6, “This is the (will) of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So, Jesus teaches that you and all who believe in Him are members of His family. You are the ones whose sins are forgiven and have already received the gift of eternal life.

In His name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 3:20-35
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