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God Comes - Peace and ComfortDecember 10, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin God Comes - Peace and Comfort Isaiah 40:1-11 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...
God Comes - Peace and Comfort
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, especially where YHWH speaks through His prophet Isaiah, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. … Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
It’s that wonderful time of year again, my friends. It’s Advent, that blessed season of the Church Year that anticipates Jesus’ coming -- first in His incarnation when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem, and when He will come again in glory, as Judge and Restorer of all creation. This second weekend in Advent is all about peace -- not in the “peace, man” way seen in the mid- to late-60s, but more in the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, that comfort from God which cannot be understood.
Isaiah certainly is on-board with this idea of peace and comfort. In some of the tenderest words we find in Scripture, we hear YHWH speak through him, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. These words also represent one of the greatest twists and marked shift in Scripture -- so much so, that some scholars (irreverently, I must say) have suggested that it represents a second author, a second Isaiah, an idea which we know to be unmitigated hogwash. It’s a twist because these incredible, sweet words in our text for today follow on the heels of a rather tense (and less than hopeful) interaction between the prophet and King Hezekiah of Judah; in fact, the chapters preceding our text are quite the roller coaster ride.
In chapter 36, we saw the Rabshakeh (a military officer like a colonel or general), the leader of Assyria’s armies standing outside Jerusalem’s walls, proclaiming to all Jerusalem and especially King Hezekiah that Jerusalem’s destruction is assured, since they were on a mission from the LORD. Chapter 37 saw Hezekiah humble himself, pray for deliverance through Isaiah’s prompting, and the overnight destruction of the entire Assyrian army, as well as mention of the assassination of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Then, in chapter 38, Hezekiah caught a disease which Isaiah told him that he would not recover from. Hezekiah again humbled himself before YHWH his God, prayed (no doubt for recovery), and wept bitterly. YHWH heard his prayer, and healed the king of Judah.
Finally, in chapter 39, right before our text, we have, honestly, a rather embarrassing moment. After all that YHWH had done to guard and protect the life of Hezekiah -- indeed, of all Jerusalem, the undoubtedly well-intentioned king commits a grievous faux-pas: Hezekiah entertains envoys from BABYLON, not withholding anything on his tour of all the royal property. Isaiah approaches Hezekiah and asks (probably incredulously) what had transpired. Hezekiah tells him (probably nonchalantly) what happened, not even realizing the floodgates of doom he had opened. Isaiah replies how the days were coming that all his household, all of the wealth of Judah, would be carted off to Babylon, where his offspring would become eunuchs in service to the Babylonian king. And how does this dunce Judahite reply to this horrific prophecy?? The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good, thinking to himself, “Hey, at least it ain’t me! There will be peace and security in my days.” Not exactly words of comfort or peace here -- just a blissfully unaware king who is only concerned with his own comfort and peace.
Here’s where things get interesting. Literally the next sentence in Isaiah’s prophecy is our text for the day, starting with Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. I hope you caught the disconnect. You go from the blissful and damnable ignorance of a Judahite king, whose descendents were destined to be castrated and enslaved in service to a pagan nation … to words which express the peace and comfort that only comes from YHWH of Hosts, the only true God. In this section of his prophecy, Isaiah wrote that YHWH was coming, and in many of the Old Testament prophecies, this would not be a good thing. The Day of YHWH, the Day on which He would come, was usually described as a day of judgment and darkness, of bitterness and destruction and death. It’s usually described as a Day when YHWH would pour out His wrath upon evildoers and wicked nations, and Judah would certainly fall into that category.
Early in his prophetic writings, Isaiah calls Israel (both kingdoms) a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! These are people who long before had abandoned any of the true comfort that came in YHWH’s covenant and promises, and instead chose their own way. They wanted peace and comfort on their own terms. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too - to hold to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but live like Canaan, Moab, and Egypt. They wanted the security of YHWH, but the perceived perks of Baal and Moloch. Make no mistake, folks: Judah deserved the punishment YHWH would visit upon them over a century later. Judah deserved exile into Babylon, the land that Hezekiah thought would bring him peace and security and comfort.
Usually, this is how the Prophets speak about YHWH’s advent, His coming, so why … why is this advent message in our Isaiah text good news?? Why is it a comfort, when Isaiah says, Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ “’Behold your God’?? Last time we did that, we were carted off to Babylon!” you can imagine the former residents of Jerusalem saying. Why is today’s text a proclamation of Gospel, and not a terrifying condemnation of Law?
Because of the God Who is speaking through Isaiah. It’s not Baal or Moloch, who would accept the human sacrifices of first-born sons. No, Isaiah is speaking for YHWH, the true God Who, in the fullness of time, would send His only-begotten Son to take on human flesh and die, bearing the sins of all people! He’s the same God Who had delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, the same Lord Who would use the Persian king Cyrus to liberate His people from exile in Babylon. These are words which are coming from the God Who proclaims, Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. He’s the One Isaiah spoke of when he wrote, Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. This is coming from the just God, who rightly punishes sins … but pours His justified wrath upon His innocent, incarnate Son for our sake. This is the God Who came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, the God of mercy, of love. The same God Who saved us through the waters of holy baptism, Who gave us faith, Who feeds us with His very Body and Blood on a weekly basis! The same God Who is coming again, as Judge and Restorer of creation, the death of death!
Truly, friends, this is a blessed time of year, a time of hope, peace, and comfort, and that comfort comes from the One Who loved us so much, that He did not withhold His Son for our sake. This is why Isaiah, and later John the Baptist, declare, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So, yes, behold your God -- as a newborn Babe in a manger, as your Redeemer hanging upon a cross, and returning as your King. There is peace and comfort in this advent of our God.
+ In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.
Think About ItDecember 3, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Think About It Mark 11:1-10 While last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year and today the first ...
Think About It
While last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year and today the first Sunday of a new church year, the readings for these two Sundays contain a common theme, that is: The Coming of the Christ. Last Sunday, we focused on the final coming of Christ … the day when He will come to re-create a new heaven and a new earth and fully reveal Himself to us for all eternity.
In the Sundays leading up to the end of the church year, we once again heard that not everyone will look at His final coming the same way. Some will see Him and be fill with joy and others with great fear.
As we begin this new church year, we focus on the three-fold coming of our Lord. First of all, we’ll consider how He came to earn forgiveness for us with His holy life and His sacrificial death. Secondly, we’ll consider how He now comes to deliver that forgiveness to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we’ll consider Christ coming to destroying of this sinful world and creating a new heaven and a new earth.
The central theme for all three of Christ comings is forgiveness which should remind us we are sinners in need of forgiveness. You see there is no reason for this three-fold coming of Christ except our sin. I mean if it weren’t for sin God would to this very day still be revealing Himself openly as He did in the days of Adam and Eve.
But the truth is we did and do sin and so in mercy God veiled His presence so that His glory would not destroy us. But at a time God had chosen, He sent His Son who took on our humanity and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus the One who came, who is coming, and who will come again. During this season we focus on our repentance for the sin that caused God to hide His face from us. And so even now our joy is tempered.
Today’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. He’s entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to be the Passover Lamb whose blood would earn salvation for all people. You see it’s part of God’s nature to come and be with His people. We can see the coming of God throughout Holy Scripture. Clear back in Genesis we see God’s desire is to be with us as He was with Adam in Eden in the garden.
And sadly, since that day in Eden when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God … all of humanity has been afraid of and hated God. Since that day the last thing our sinful nature wants is for God to come to us. Even though God has nothing but love for us, our sin and its guilt produce in us fear and hatred of Him who created us.
Throughout the centuries, God continued to come in love to His people, but always in a way that was hidden so that His holy presence wouldn’t overwhelm them. He was there in tabernacle and Ark and eventually in the temple – always with them, but always hidden. Only with sacrifice could God’s people come into His presence and even then, it was one person who went into the Holy of Holies and that just once a year. Finally, when the time had come, God came to His people in a temple was that not made with stone, but was made of human flesh and blood.
In today’s reading, we see God coming that He might fulfill His work and offer Himself up as a sacrifice for all sin. God in His temple of humanness is coming to the temple of His hiddenness. And in His temple of flesh and blood, Christ will die in order to fulfill the promise of the sacrifices made on the altar in the temple of His hidden presence that is the temple of stone.
As the Son of God entered Jerusalem the Passover Pilgrims shouted His praise. Chances are good that few if any understood the full meaning of Christ’s coming. Although their songs spoke of coming in the name of the Lord and the kingdom of David, they did not understand what they were saying. They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant for another week. Because as you know, Jesus had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. His being, lifted up upon the cross, was the culmination of His first coming.
The Son of God had taken on human flesh that He might take our place. He had come to Jerusalem to experience the fullness of our sin and take our punishment. That is He came to take away the guilt that causes our fear at His coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a cross and so atone or pay for the sins of the world.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross changed the temple of stone as well. When Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom and God was no longer hidden from His people.
As God lead St. Paul to write: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? That is with the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, God now makes His temple in you and all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
And now, as only He can, God lives within us even as He continues to come to us. As a pastor speaks the words of absolution, we hear Jesus offering us forgiveness. As a pastor reads the Scriptures and preaches on that Word, Jesus works in our hearts the confidence, comfort, and assurance that all of His promises are true.
As we come to His Table we take and eat the very flesh that Christ sacrificed for us and drink the blood that He shed for us and for all on the cross. But remember this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead but He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He now gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection.
And God will continue to come for all people until that final day when He comes to bring all who trusted in His salvation to be with Him in both body and soul to our heavenly home. On that day He will reveal Himself to all flesh both the living and the dead and He will send away those who refused to listen to Him. And they will experience the wrath of God as they suffer the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. But those who listened to Him will received the gift of His coming with pure joy and will be with and worship Him for all eternity.
So take some time during this Advent season and actually stop and think about God and His comings. Think about the love that He showed by His coming into a world that you well know is filled with the fear and hatred sin brings with it. Think about how He continues to come to you in love through His Means of Grace that is His Word and Sacraments bringing life and salvation. Think about the suffering and death Christ endured in your place and His resurrection that is your justification. Think about the blessings that He gave when He first came into the world … the blessings of forgiveness that He gives now … and the blessing of life as He intended it to be when He comes again.
In His Name, Amen.
Sheep ThingsNovember 26, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Sheep Things Matthew 25:31-46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and ...
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson for this day, specifically where Jesus says, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
It was written over 50 years ago, and even to mention it risks alienating anyone with a birthday any more recent than the 1970s. Still, there’s something timeless about Eleanor Rigby, so I’ll take my chances. Even if you’ve only ever heard it once, the song has the tendency for lodging in your thoughts, being a song that, I think, can be accurately described as “haunting.” People, understandably, assume that the song is about “loneliness,” as McCartney himself in the chorus wonders about “all the lonely people.” For me, though, I think the song is less about loneliness than it is about … futility. “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been…” and what’s the point? Who cares about her thankless work? Who notices? What difference does it make? And Father MacKenzie darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there, and writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear… and what difference does it make anyway? Why does he bother? Futility—empty words, meaningless gestures, inconsequential actions, pointless deeds, wasted lives. Futility.
It’s not a foreign thought, is it, futility? I know this is something I struggled with a bit in seminary, as I sat alone in my dorm room, pouring over books I knew that I would likely not be able to look at again until I retire from ministry, attempting to wrap my head around theological concepts that escape my understanding because of my mortality. Sometimes, I confess, my work felt as futile and as pointless as Eleanor Rigby picking up rice.
That spectre of futility hounded me as a student, and I can promise you that, while I’ve certainly been kept busy in my first year serving here, it’s an issue that hounds pastors all across our synod. It’s an issue, I’m sure, that has hounded you at one point or another in your life. Indeed, there’s a lot in our lives, as Christians living out our vocations, which can begin to feel futile. You work diligently on the paper, pouring yourself and all you think you’d learned into it, fulfilling the task to the best of your ability … only to get it back a few weeks later, marked up in red, and a C+ circled in the upper corner, so what’s the point? You offer wise spiritual counsel to someone who sorely needs it … just to find out later that your advice has been utterly disregarded. You shed blood, sweat, and tears as you prep for the class that you’re going to teach, and you pour yourself into the lecture … and your students stare out the window, or into the endless void of an LCD screen. You baptize, catechize, and confirm your kids … and watch them fall away from the faith the moment they hit high school or college. You spend the time and money putting in a new crop in spring, which does well through the first half of the season … and a freak deluge floods out half your fields, leaving you with no choice but to soldier on and reap from what you didn’t lose. You plan the outreach event, you advertise and publicize it , hoping that people will sense your enthusiasm and thus desire to sign on … but only the usual dozen show up. You try hard to be a good husband, or a good mother, or a good daughter … but does anyone notice? Does anyone appreciate your efforts?? The temptation to go through the motions without regard for the meaning behind the motions hounds us all. The fear of futility looms and grows, regardless of the capacity in which we serve. When all is said and done, what difference does it make? What’s the point? Why bother?
Well, that’s quite the heady question, one which we can find the answer to in our Gospel lesson for today, the parable of the sheep and the goats. A word of warning, though: this is not an easy parable. It’s a difficult text, but the difficulty is not that it is hard to understand; indeed, the meaning seems altogether clear … and that’s the problem! It rubs against the grain of our Lutheran ears because it sounds suspiciously like works righteousness. If this were the only Word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human efforts would be the logical conclusion. Sheep … do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards! Goats … do not, and they get hell. Thankfully, this is not the only red ink in our Bibles; Jesus did say more, and we have been given a complete Word of God that that makes it clear: of course we do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life, and yes, even this parable and its difficult words agree fully with the theology that we are justified before God solely by grace through faith in Christ alone!
Notice what Jesus first says to those sheep: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. The sheep are sheep … because God has made them sheep! They are chosen … predestined … elect! They are not sheep because they made a choice to be a sheep. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness. They are NOT sheep because they worked hard to become a sheep! They are sheep for one reason: God has done it! God makes them sheep! God makes them righteous!
And then these sheep … live like His sheep. They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick, they feed the hungry, they visit the imprisoned, they clothe the naked. They do sheep things! Sheep … act like sheep! And the goats? Well the goats choose what God never planned, never intended: they choose to ignore the call of God to repentance and life, they choose to ignore the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace, and they choose death. In return, our loving God gives them what they choose: they share in the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his horde in the fires of perdition. … But not you. You are a sheep!
In the deluge of Holy Baptism, at the font, God made His claim, and gave you His Name! YHWH is YOUR Shepherd! You are His sheep! You belong to Him! So you, His sheep, live like His sheep! You go out into His world and you do what you have been given to do: you meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do! And when sheep do what God has given them to do … futility … is gone. It’s wiped out completely! That’s the point of the parable!
This is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat! Sheep have no choice anyway; remember, God does the choosing! No, the point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost! There’s no futility! This means that your daily work is transformed! What you do - whatever you do for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocations, whatever you do that God has given you to do is exactly the work that you should be doing, and is never wasted, and is never lost! That’s the criteria! It’s not about what makes a big splash or attracts large numbers of people. It’s not about makes others applaud. It’s not about what earns financial perks or accolades or “A’s.” It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the validity, the value, or the direction of the work that you do. The only thing that matters, in this regard, is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to those who need it.
So you study for that incredibly difficult test, and you sit through another class that doesn’t exactly fire your imagination, and you do so with all the commitment and energy you can because it is holy work! And you prep for another class on an old topic, and you work well into the night grading papers through bleary eyes, and you do it all with all the zeal you can muster because it is holy work! You rub your wife’s ankles after her long day of work, and you massage your husband’s back when he’s under stress, you lift each other up in spite of your own difficulties, not because it is easy, but because it is holy work! You wait for the checks to clear the bank, and you pour over the budgets until your eyes strain from staring at the chart, and you do it because your work is needed, because God has called you to serve in that way and thus it is holy work! You change the day’s 8th diaper, you prepare the day’s 4th bottle, and you wipe the white trickle from your shoulder and back with a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing for the one who needs your service.
You don’t need work that is “more meaningful.” You don’t need a vocation that packs more prestige! You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do … what you have been given to do, to care for those around you who need your service, and when you do that, you are doing incredible holy work just the way that God intended it to be done! That is work that is ALWAYS worthwhile!
See, that’s the way it is with sheep, and you are sheep! Elect, chosen by God, doused in forgiveness at the font … righteous! Righteous before God! You are a sheep! You see the need of those around you, and you step up to meet that need! Parishioners, pastors, professors, students, parents, children, employers, neighbors, strangers—you give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your vocation, and you are righteous! Sheep are righteous twice: righteous before God in your election, entirely passive, and righteous before creation in your vocation, entirely active! You are sheep, my friends—you live without fear of futility because you know … you know that your labor is never in vain! No deed is insignificant, and no act is forgotten! God saves you and your labor; neither is ever lost!
Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie may have lived empty, futile lives and died in meaninglessness … but not you! NOT you! You are sheep, and that changes everything. Everything about you, and everything about what you do forever.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
Eternal ThanksNovember 22, 2017Eternal Thanks Luke 17:11-19 Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the s ...
Since tomorrow is a national holiday and that in only seven countries in the world and not all on the same day and certainly not the commemoration of a specific event or teaching of the Bible, there’s a wide range of readings to choose for this day. Over the years however, the account of the Ten Lepers has become one of the traditional readings for our national day of Thanksgiving.
The facts of the miracle are clear enough. Jesus was still in Galilee, but heading to Jerusalem with His disciples. As they traveled, they encountered ten lepers. Jesus instructed the lepers to present themselves to the priests in Jerusalem according to the Law of Moses. While they were on the way they noticed that the leprosy was gone. One of the lepers returned to worship Jesus in thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to emphasize the fact that the leper who returned was a Samaritan and that Jesus asked about what happened to the other nine who were also healed.
Luke tells us that Jesus and His disciples were traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Although there was a much more direct route straight south through Samaria, Passover Pilgrims would never go that way because well the Samaritans and the Jews hated one another, and the Samaritans simply refused passage to anyone who was headed to Jerusalem. If it weren’t for the Roman occupation, Samaria and Judea would probably be at war, but because of the Romans, the Samaritans had to be satisfied with this token gesture of their hatred.
In practical terms that hatred meant that Passover Pilgrims like Jesus and His disciples had to go around Samaria to get south to Jerusalem. Jesus had traveled south in Galilee until He reached the border with Samaria. Then He would have traveled along the border with Samaria until He arrived at the Jordan River and the eastern border of Samaria. There He would travel south until He arrived at the border of Judea where He would turn back toward the west and head for Jerusalem.
And yet Jesus healed this Samaritan. We see this as a lesson about salvation in Christ being not just for Jews, but for all people. And that show of grace through Christ for all is indeed a wonderful Gospel truth found in this lesson but there is more.
As we listen to Jesus’s response about the other nine who did not return, it’s true He seemed disappointed but He didn’t take back their healing. They were unthankful but Jesus doesn’t take back His gifts just because we’re not as thankful as we should be. This too is a great comfort for Christians because I know I’m not always as thankful as I should be and I’m sure you aren’t either.
The Scriptures don’t tell us what happened to those nine healed lepers. I imagine they went and showed themselves to the priests just like Jesus told them to. We just don’t know … but we do know about the Samaritan.
The Samaritan returned and fell at Jesus feet with his face to the ground. That is, he came and worshipped Him. By returning to glorify God, and thank Jesus we see what he believed that is he confessed that Jesus was the Lord. He confessed that, as he looked at Jesus, he was looking at the Son of God. The one who had been dying not only in his leprosy but more so his sin was by grace made alive in Jesus. The Holy Spirit had worked in him the gift of faith, and as Jesus said … your faith has made you well. (Luke 17:19)
Now there are some scholars who wonder if the Holy Spirit led this Samaritan to go his way by remaining with Jesus and His disciples. And it certainly is possible that the Holy Spirit led this man to join the other Passover Pilgrims walking with the Eternal High Priest. The Scriptures just don’t say. If he did walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, he would have seen a very different high priest than the other nine who were healed.
I mean Jesus is the High Priest who not only offered up the sacrifice, but offered Himself as the sacrifice. The priests in Jerusalem offered lambs, goats, and other animals for the forgiveness of sins as they were commanded. But these were all but shadows that pointed forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that is His Only Begotten Son. If this Samaritan did walk with Jesus, he would have been a witness to his great high priest being lifted up from the earth on a cross and left there to die.
And there, whether the Samaritan understood it or not Jesus performed a miracle far greater than the healing of his leprosy. For on that cross Jesus offered Himself as the cup to be filled with the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. And with the giving up of His Spirit Jesus satisfied God’s justice so that this Samaritan could also be cleansed of his sin.
And not him alone, as we read in 1 John: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) which of course includes you and me.
And you and I do need this cleansing not from leprosy of course, truth is we suffer from a much worse condition, that is we are full of sin. Our bodies may be clean and we all smell nice but still we all do need daily to be cleansed of our sin. One look in the mirror of the law confirms it, we all need the gifts that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death on the cross.
And with His resurrection Jesus in His mercy has promised us a much greater cleansing than the healing of leprosy. He who has conquered death has promised that there will come a day when He will raise all the dead. Some of those who sleep in death will awaken to shame and everlasting condemnation, but you and I and all who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin will awaken to everlasting life.
We are gathered here this evening because the leaders of our nation have declared tomorrow to be a national day of thanksgiving. But the truth is only we, who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can truly be thankful. We can give thanks to God for the physical blessings He has generously poured out upon us who live in this blessed nation, but even more for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that we receive by faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s true, Christians are the only ones who can truly give thanks because only Christians give thanks to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks for life today with all its blessing, and thanks for life eternal from Him who exceeds all our expectations.
In His Name, Amen
Safety (Not) GuaranteedNovember 19, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Safety (Not) Guaranteed Matthew 25:14-30 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...
Safety (Not) Guaranteed
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel reading, the parable of the three servants, but especially the third servant and his sheepish reply to his Master, … ‘I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
“Safety first!” I’m sure we’ve all heard this old adage before – from sweet grandmothers and mothers looking out for the children under their care, to the driver’s ed classes and the reminders of what happens when you’re NOT a safe driver (I’m sure some people here were forced to watch “Red Asphalt” at some point), to the mandatory meetings and videos I’m sure people are required to attend and watch to fulfill the requirements of the human resources department where they work. Perhaps, though, the maxim of “Safety first” is seen in no place better than on playgrounds. I’m sure people my age and older remember playing on equipment that, by today’s standards, would have been condemned as horrific “safety hazards.” The jungle gyms and forts at my elementary school were made of wood and metal, with tire swings and a giant stride (if you even know what that is), and do you know what? It was AMAZING; not surprisingly, all that equipment has been gone for at least a decade now. The classic wood chips that we had to empty from our shoes has been replaced with cushioned mats, the metal slides that baked our backsides on sunny days have been replaced with plastic ones, and the tire swings and giant stride are just … gone. Gone in the name of safety. Safety first.
That seems to have been the attitude of one of the servants mentioned in our Gospel reading. The story goes like this: a Master had three servants and, before leaving on a journey, He entrusted to them His wealth. To one, He gives a small fortune – five talents, equivalent to 5-years’ salary. To the next, He gives two talents, and to the final servant, He gives one talent, and lest you think He’s being unkind in not distributing His wealth equally, this Master is being smart – Jesus says that He gives to them each according to his ability, so that the one who has more financial know-how has more to do with as he sees fit.
The Master goes on His journey, and in His absence, the servants carry on being stewards of what the Master had given them. The first servant is apparently quite savvy, even though he is, undoubtedly, a risk-taker, investing the Master’s five talents and in the process, doubling what he had been given. The one who’s given two talents has a similar idea, with similar results – doubling what he had been given. But that third servant … the one entrusted with only one talent … leans upon the axiom of “Safety first!” and does nothing. Granted, he doesn’t do anything bad – he doesn’t take that one talent, that one year’s salary, and blow it on pleasurable company or gambling. However, neither does he do anything good with it. He doesn’t even place it in a bank, where it could have accrued interest! He plays it safe, burying it in the ground, and as sometimes is the case, “playing it safe” comes back to bite him in the tuchus. The Master returns from His journey, and is delighted to see that the first two servants have done exceedingly well with the riches He entrusted to them. They made Him richer, and for this, He gives them highest praise – Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!
Then … He comes to the third servant. You can imagine the sheepish look on that servant’s face as he fesses up, Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours. He thought he’d taken the safe route; neither did he make anything additional, but at least he didn’t lose it, either! Safety first, right? That should count for something, right?
You can imagine the surprise and, really, the horror that must have fell upon that servant as the Master spoke. You wicked … and slothful … servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? You know that, do you? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest! So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away! And cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Wow. Harsh. Perhaps it sounds uncharacteristically harsh for a parable coming from the lips of our Lord, but here’s the thing: the Master is fully justified in carrying out this sentence on the wicked servant. That guy had one job to do … and because he feared for his safety, because he feared the retribution of what would happen if he failed … he ended up failing. His fear paralyzed him, preventing him from doing what he had been given to do. Safety first? It’s a nice sentiment, but safety is not guaranteed in this parable. Perhaps a better take away here is another well-known adage: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or perhaps a similar one, “No sacrifice, no victory.”
So that’s our parable for today, and obviously, as a parable, it’s not meant to be taken literally; again, the different things, different characters represent something else in order to convey an eternal truth. We should not read this as Jesus giving us financial advice, or Jesus saying that CPA’s and investors are the crème de la crème in the kingdom of God. No, we need to look at who Jesus is speaking with in order to get the full gravity of this parable.
Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of a discourse that began in Matthew 24, where the Gospel-writer records, As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In our parable, Jesus is speaking with – and to – His disciples, those soon-to-be apostles, soon-to-be “sent ones,” who would be going out into the world to proclaim the resurrection of Christ from the dead and the coming of the kingdom of God, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and condemnation for the unrepentant! This parable is meant for them, for all those who are tasked with spreading this Gospel message. Thus, Jesus is also speaking to all who follow in His train, to all Christians throughout time and space. Yes, my friends. He’s speaking to us, and the “talents” that Jesus has entrusted us with is the same good news that was entrusted to the apostles those centuries ago. So, of course, the question becomes, which of the adages have you followed? “No sacrifice, no victory”? Or, “Safety first”? If we’re honest, I think we can all say that we’ve erred on the side of “Safety first” more than we’d care to admit. I know I have.
If you’re like me, there have been moments which were perfect opportunities for witness … and you kept silent, for fear of rejection, or anger. When you had the opportunity to reach out to help someone in body and soul … you stayed put and lifted not even a finger. When you had the opportunity to comfort a nonbelieving neighbor … you played it safe and said nothing. Even the most fervent missionaries among us, I’m sure, have had moments like this where we follow the path of least resistance. And for this, we should be ashamed. We ought well to be ashamed and contrite for our lack of compassion, choosing complacency and comfort over the necessary awkwardness that comes with addressing sin. We should be ashamed of our love of comfort, our reviling of things that make us work harder in service of God and neighbor. “God forbid that we have to actually sacrifice something in our lives for our faith! God forbid we actually have to make time for devotions and prayer! God forbid we give something up, like a pew or parking space, for visitors!” Friends, for this, we should be ashamed. We, like the third servant, have failed. We should be ashamed that we choose safety over mission. Make no mistake, we will not hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” because we stay silent and unmoving! Safety is not guaranteed if we play it safe!
We are, instead, called to be bold, daring even. We are called to be risk-takers with the gift our Lord has given us, to follow the adage, “No sacrifice, no victory!” After all, Christ Himself did not play it safe. He is one Servant, a suffering Servant, who did not take the path of least resistance, but rather walked the Via Dolorosa. He endured the worst suffering imaginable, forgoing any comfort that could have been His. Far from pursuing safety, He died the cruelest death ever conceived, and He did all this … for a people who, by their very nature, hate Him. That is a the more difficult path, to be sure. Safety was not guaranteed by any means for Christ our Lord, but “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “No sacrifice, no victory.”
I say this, not to exhort you to be more like Jesus, as if He’s a mere example to follow. No, I say this to encourage you with the reminder that, because of His risk-taking, because of His boldness in the face of suffering and death, your safety, in one sense, is guaranteed! Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you can rest in security and safety, knowing that you rest safely in His hands, and that nothing in this world can separate you from your Savior! You can rest in the knowledge that, in spite of your flesh which aspires to nothing but complacency, comfort, and safety … in the waters of holy Baptism, you were given the Spirit of the living God who, by no virtue of your own, enables you both to will and to do what you are called to do! We have our moments of weakness, of putting safety first instead of the daring investment we know is required of us, but thanks be to God that the suffering Servant did so in our stead, and for His sake, on the Last Day, we will hear the Master declare to us, Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
Urgency and ComfortNovember 12, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Urgency and Comfort 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to th ...
Urgency and Comfort
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, especially where he wrote, But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. … Therefore encourage one another with these words. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
Sutherland Springs - 26. Las Vegas - 59. Hurricane Maria – 66. Hurricane Irma – 134. Hurricane Harvey – 77. It seems as though death has been running roughshod lately. Obviously, death is literally an everyday occurrence the world over regardless of how it happens, but lately, it seems to be exceedingly prominent in our country, and this is to say nothing of the tragedies experienced on the individual level. A revered grandfather who was supposed to leave the hospital that day … suddenly taking a turn for the worse. A father who had been doing quite well and improving … suddenly being called to rest. A lovely cousin, the last of her family, being called quite unexpectedly to her Savior. A beloved mother whose steady decline finally culminated in her falling asleep in Christ.
With this in mind, to be perfectly frank, these past few weeks and months have been rather odious. They’ve been terrible, gnarly, seeing the wages of sin paraded before our very eyes as people speak their last words, breathe their last breaths, make last final confessions, and close their eyes before soul and body are torn asunder in a way that was never meant to be. Death is the reminder that we are, all of us, sinners, equally worthy of the temporal and eternal judgment of God. We never know when death will come a-knocking; if you’re familiar with the first Thor movie, you’ll remember the god of thunder’s line, “I have no plans to die today,” to which the guardian Heimdall replies, “None do.” There are few things as intrusive, as abrupt, as seemingly final, as death.
After all, there is no reincarnation (thank God!). There are no second chances after death, especially in terms of salvation. One life, one chance, one death, then the judgment, as the writer of Hebrews essentially once wrote. Never knowing when death may take us, never knowing when death may take a loved one, indeed, never knowing at what point in time Christ will return for the final judgment, rightly makes us uneasy, never mind the grief that those of us who are left here are left to deal with. We mourn, rightly so, not only from the physical absence of that loved one, those family members who have gone before us, but it also causes us to mourn because their deaths also tend to give us all pause, to contemplate our own temporal existence, and how fast that time is fleeting.
Death is atrocious; it was not meant to be in creation. It is the natural consequence of sin, both on the individual level, and on the corporate level. We die – we are, even now, dying – because we are sinners. We are dying because of the sins we commit, but more than that, because of our inherited sinful nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. We know this, we confess it, and we mourn when our loved ones pass – but that is not where we stop.
We have a hope. That hope is found in Paul’s words again to the Christians in Thessalonica. Hear those words again: [W]e do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Yes, our loved ones are gone, and rightly so, their physical presence in our lives will be sorely missed, but we know it is not the end. The souls of those who have gone before us in the faith live on in the presence of Christ the King. They rest now – rest from their earthly labors and vocations, rest from pain and rest from wrong. Rest from sin and all of sin’s effects, never again to be tormented by things left unsaid or undone. Never again to be hounded, as Paul was, by the good that we ought to do and do not, and the evil that we ought not to do, and yet persist in doing. There is rest from sorrow, rest from tears. Rest from heresy and wrong teaching – since they are in the very presence of their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, they see Him rightly in a way we cannot imagine but nevertheless greatly anticipate!
Sounds good, right? Sounds blissful and wonderful beyond all compare, right? Well, certainly to those of us who dwell here in this broken world, absolutely. It is little wonder that Paul wrote to the Philippians, I am hard pressed between the two [options]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Some days, rest from … well, all of this, certainly sounds preferable. To be with Christ is preferable; that is why we treasure the Lord’s Supper so highly, since it is literally Jesus coming to us, to give us Himself in bread and wine, body and blood. But eternity is not the ethereal, spiritual floating in bliss and joy. Eternity is not life-after-death, but rather life after life-after-death.
Therein lies our hope, dear friends! We are whole persons, body and soul, and we are not meant to remain simply soul after death. No, our hope lies in the fast-approaching time that Paul goes on to describe in our Epistle lesson: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
It is worth briefly mentioning here that the return of Christ will not be as it is popularly portrayed by dispensational premillennialists, like those who wrote the Left Behind series, with the “secret returns of Jesus” and people being suddenly snatched out of thin air, leaving unbelievers behind to make their decision for Christ. No, the text here actually says, a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. Doesn’t sound very secret or quiet to me! Further, the ones who will be left behind, as told in the text, are Christians who wait their turn, since they’re still alive, for the faithful dead to be raised and caught up into the air to join Christ. Only thereafter will those who are still alive likewise receive the glory and be joined with Jesus, where they will remain eternally!
At times of death, when our loved ones who confessed the faith in life depart to rest with Christ the King, these are the things with which we encourage those who are left behind to grieve! Christ IS coming back! And when He does – whether we are still alive or are at rest with the rest of the Church invisible – life will be made right again! Death, the adversary, will be done away with, swallowed up forever in life! No one knows the hour – not the hour in which the Lord would call us to rest, or the hour in which Christ will return. But we have nothing to fear, my friends! Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again, Christ departed, and Christ is returning soon! I’ll leave you, as a lover of poetry, with the words of John Donne in his holy sonnet, Death, Be Not Proud:Death, be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrowDie not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,And soonest our best men with thee do go,Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,And poppy or charms can make us sleep as wellAnd better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?One short sleep past, we wake eternallyAnd death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.And it is Jesus Who will swing the axe.
+ In His holy and powerful Name. + Amen.
Blessed in HimNovember 5, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Blessed in Him Matthew 5:1-12 Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, ...
Blessed in Him
Have you ever noticed how when things in life are out of focus if you will, problems seem to multiply. Today is one of those days that if a pastor and his hearers aren’t careful, things can get out of focus and go off the theological track pretty quick. I say that because it’s not unusual for the true meaning and joy of All Saints Day to be swallowed up and lost in a flurry of good intentions but bad theology.
For instance, with the very best intentions we can find ourselves focusing on our deceased loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord, which means we’re taking our focus off of Jesus. While I’m sure it’s not meant this way and it’s almost always after the funeral, but I often hear “So-and-so has gone to be with grandma and grandpa or their husband or wife missing the source of true comfort. Sadly, we often end up focusing on our own sentimental wonderings instead of on Jesus who comforts us in all of our sorrows.
Consider the words of our Lord from the Beatitudes and you tell me who these Beatitudes are about? Who they focused on? The popular response is to say, “us”! But…should that be our first response? And notice: I didn’t say it was wrong to see the Beatitudes as speaking to us and our reality in Christ. They are about us! But…are we the primary focus? Think about it: By a show of hands who here has fulfilled even one of these Beatitudes as God intended? Look around, do you see any hands … did you expect to?
My friends the Beatitudes are simply not goals for us to strive after in our quest to be a saint. They are not descriptions of what we need to do or attitudes we need to have. That would put the focus of this text on you and me and what we do, and we all know that just isn’t how God’s plan of salvation works. In God’s plan, all the focus is on Jesus and what He’s done for us with His life, by His death, and through His resurrection.
The Beatitudes are first and foremost about Jesus. These blessed realities can only be understood with a Christ centered faith, that is a faith that holds to Christ alone. I mean, who is the One who was truly poor in spirit; that is, who brought nothing to the table except His trust in God above all things? Who is the One who truly mourns over sins; not just the sins that make life rough for us, but all sin; even the sins we’re not sorry for and will do again if we get the chance? Our sin touched Christ so deeply in His heart that He was willing to offer His blood as payment for each and every one of them. Christ’s desire is that no one would suffer for their sin. Can you honestly say that?
Who is it that has unconditional mercy on others, who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Is it you because I know it’s not me. Isn’t it Christ whose being described with these words? Don’t the Scriptures, at the end of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, say He was hungry? And wasn’t this hunger and the thirst He speaks of from the cross endured for you and your eternal salvation?
You see the Beatitudes are first about what Christ has earned with His life and then about the reality of our sainthood, our holiness and our blessedness in Him. And so we get credit for what Jesus did at the time we are united to or graphed into or what we more commonly call baptized into Christ. This is why Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for My sake.
That is people aren’t attacked by satan, the world and their own flesh for “being good.” Satan isn’t trying to make sure no good deed goes unpunished. That’s man’s idea. God’s children, His holy ones are attacked by satan for one reason … they have a righteousness that is not their own. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5: God made him who had no sin to be sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This, what’s called, “alien righteousness” possessed by His saints is why God calls His saints “blessed,” and it’s why satan continues to fight the way he does.
But please understand there is a difference between being attacked by satan and being reproved, or corrected by God, even though they may feel the same. Certainly, there times that God uses our suffering or allows crosses into our lives to get our attention but that’s only so that by His grace He might lead you back from your selfish, sinful ways to the way of repentance a way made possible by faith in Him alone.
This fallen, sinful world and its evil prince can’t stand those who truly trust in Christ alone. The truth is: If you’re in Christ, the world will hate you. Satan will target you, and your sinful flesh will try to deceive you relentlessly. My friends it’s not a matter of if. It’s not a probability or a possibility or a maybe. It’s a fact. It’s reality.
Being faithful to God while living in this fallen world will mean crosses and tears and heartaches and sorrows. That’s why God invites and we come to Him in the Divine Service; to hear His Word, to receive His absolution for your sins, to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for life and forgiveness, and to be strengthened that you might strive to live fearlessly and faithfully in your Baptismal reality.
And that’s the point that needs to be made. It’s only in Christ, by grace through faith that we are able to live out these Beatitudes in our daily lives and vocations, not trying to somehow earn God’s blessings, but simply living the life He’s already blessed us with. That is; blessed us with His grace, His mercy, His peace. Being in Christ we are by grace able to faithfully bear our crosses trusting His forgiveness and standing firm as the world crumbles around us.
In Christ and because of Christ we can be poor in spirit, that is trusting that God is in charge and working all things for our good. In Christ and because of Christ we can dare to call sin “sin” and publicly mourn over it, letting the world know the truth of its sick and deadly condition before its Maker and Redeemer.
We can dare to be meek and lowly, not seeking vengeance or payback or selfish glory or our own ways. We can dare to bite our tongues, turn our cheeks, and quietly suffer persecution, knowing full-well that God is in charge and we are already blessed by Him because we are in Him. We have already been claimed by Him. We and all who by grace trust His promises are His and nothing or no one can snatch this truth away from us.
So, what are we to do? By the faith He gives, trust God’s word both written and incarnate. That’s what all the faithful saints, of all times and in all places, have always done. No matter what’s happening in the world, the saints of Christ flee to His House where He has promised to be to receive from Him a foretaste of the feast to come; a feast that all the faithful who have gone before us are enjoying right now at the heavenly half of the Lord’s Table, a Table we too will one day sit at. A Table full of the splendor and glory of Him who on this day is also serving His love and forgiveness to you, His precious child.
In His Name, Amen.
Be Still in the FortressOctober 29, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Be Still in the Fortress Psalm 46 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our L ...
Be Still in the Fortress
The text for our meditation for this, the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, is from Psalm 46 (in case you were wondering why we spoke the psalm at a communion service). We’re going to focus on where the Psalmist writes, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. … “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
You may not have known, but this very psalm is the text upon which Luther based that famous hymn which we all just sang, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It is thought that Luther wrote that hymn in 1527, and around the same time that he wrote those now renowned words … a terrible disaster fell upon Wittenberg. The black death, the bubonic plague, had come. You’ve probably heard of the black death before, how this disease wiped out a quarter of Europe’s population during its height, and make no mistake – the moment the people of Wittenberg started to see blackened toes and fingers, they knew that death had come to visit their town.
John, the Elector of Saxony and a personal fan of Luther’s, exhorted the Reformer and all the students and staff at the university to flee to Jena, about 100 miles away. Five days later, the university did do just that, but Luther…remained unmoved. He, his family, and that of Johannes Bugenhagen, close friend and pastor to Luther, all chose to stay behind and suffer alongside those who faced the black death. At one point, the Luther’s turned their house into a makeshift hospital of sorts; you can imagine the suffering that the Luther’s saw, including their eldest son Hans (then only about a year-and-a-half old). People suffering from extreme flu-like symptoms. Mothers, include pregnant mothers, losing the baby and then losing their own lives. Otherwise healthy young men stranded in bed as their eyes sunk deeper into their sockets and developed black rings around them as death approached.
Luther was distraught – understandably so. Writing to a friend, Nicolaus Amsdorf, he finished his letter by writing, “So there are battles without and terrors within, and really grim ones; Christ is punishing us. It is a comfort that we can confront Satan’s fury with the word of God, which we have and which saves souls even if that one should devour our bodies. Commend us to the brethren and yourself to pray for us that we may endure bravely under the hand of the Lord and overcome the power and cunning of Satan, be it through dying or living. Amen.” This was considerable suffering which Luther witnessed, and it was around this time that Luther commentated on our text for this day, Psalm 46. Hear what he wrote:
The 46th psalm is a psalm of thanks, sung by the people of Israel because of the mighty deeds of God. He had protected and saved the city of Jerusalem, in which was His dwelling, against all the rage and the fury of all the kings and the nations and preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons. And, in the manner of the Scriptures, the psalm calls the character of the city a little stream that shall not run dry, as opposed to the great rivers, seas, and oceans of the heathen – their great kingdoms, principalities, and dominions – that shall dry up and disappear.
Luther understood well what the Psalmist was expressing. No doubt, the author had seen his own fair share of atrocity, as Jerusalem was besieged time and again by foreign powers, by heathens who hated YHWH and His people. Nevertheless, rage though the nations would, they could not win. Regardless of how many lives were taken, how much suffering the people had to endure, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not completely abandon His people. He would guard them, vindicate them, and save them. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; [YHWH] utters His voice, the earth melts. Even in their wandering and sin, YHWH still kept His promise that a remnant would remain, and that the Messiah would come. So the people sing their praises for God’s righteousness, as Luther wrote, He “preserved their peace against all warfare and weapons.” He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.
And in the midst of all this violence, in the midst of the blood and the battle, the illness and the dying, the Psalmist writes, Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exhalted among the nations, I will be exhalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. The residents of Jerusalem had nothing to fear! Sure, the Philistines, or the Amorites, or Hittites, or Assyrians would rage and try to break down the walls of that great city, but YHWH would preserve His people. Why worry? The LORD God, our true fortress with walls that CANNOT be breached, is our God, and He is our fortress!
I confess this to be pure speculation, but I could imagine Luther reflecting on the bubonic plague’s three- to four-month stroll through the streets and homes of Wittenberg as he read this psalm. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. It was certainly true for the Israelites, because they were not completely annihilated for their transgressions and Christ was born from the tribe of Judah, just as YHWH had promised. For Luther, God certainly had been a refuge and strength, even as he was hidden behind the walls of Wartburg Castle, protected from the inquisition and bounty hunters who sought his head after he boldly spoke, “Here I stand” at the Diet of Worms. And miraculously, Almighty God preserved Luther and his household through that devastating epidemic; indeed, about a month after the plague had begun to noticeably recede, Katie gave birth to their second child, daughter Elizabeth.
God was, to Martin, a refuge and a fortress throughout all his life. It was how he could be still and know that YHWH is God, even as two of his daughters died at a young age. It’s how he was able to endure the vehemence, the hatred that came from Rome and his other many enemies. It’s how he was able to stand firm to the end, even confessing with his last words, “Wir sind Bettler; Hoc est verum.” It’s little wonder, then, that he wrote the words – again, based on Psalm 46 – Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us. We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us. This world's prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, He's judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him.
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress! That is an eternal truth, my friends. It was the same for Adam and Eve, for Israel, for the early Church. It was the same through the time of the Reformation, for our LCMS forbears when they left Saxony for unknown dangers of the Missouri wilderness, and let me tell you, it’s the same for us, here and now, as we face a world of uncertainties, of new dangers, and insecurity and anxiety. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. For all of human history, God has preserved His people with His promises. He has given them the means by which sins are forgiven, and they are preserved within His flock. Israel had the sacrificial system and the promises of the Messiah, both of which were fulfilled in Christ Jesus, Who was and is the singular sacrifice, once for all. Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross was all-sufficient, to redeem you and me and all of humanity. It’s done! We bear the burden of our sin no more! The walls of YHWH’s fortress is painted in the blood of the Lamb of God, and you are safe within those walls! He has claimed you as His own, and no one will be able to break down those blood-cleansed walls to snatch us away!
It's true, there are many things that distinguish our time and place from that of Luther’s. Still, though, there’s a reason why we hold to the truths Luther rediscovered: it’s because they’re timeless. He finished his commentary on Psalm 46 by writing, “We, on the other hand, sing this psalm to praise God for being with us. He miraculously preserves His Word and Christendom against the gates of hell, against the rage of the devil, the rebellious spirits, the world, the flesh, sin, death. Our little spring is also a living fountain, while their puddles, pools, and ponds become foul, malodorous, and dry.”
It doesn’t matter what the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh tries to do. We are covered in Christ’s blood! Our sins are forgiven! The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth. Whatever this world can throw at us, we can bear because the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. And what a mighty Fortress He is!
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
The False DilemmaOctober 22, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements The False Dilemma Matthew 22:15-22 You’ve heard me say it before and will n ...
The False Dilemma
You’ve heard me say it before and will no doubt hear me say it again but context is always an important factor to consider as we listen to a text. Now to understand just how bizarre the situation is in today’s Gospel, we need to look at the societal context of Jerusalem. In our lesson we heard that some disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians came to Jesus. Since most of us have never met any Herodians or Pharisees, we probably don’t realize how strange that is.
One of the many things that you can say about the Pharisees is that they were extremely nationalistic. They believed that Jerusalem should be ruled by Jews, not by gentiles. After all, the law of Moses states, [Deuteronomy 17:15] One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.
So, the Pharisees hated the Roman occupation. Now they were also realistic enough to understand that Rome had a lot of power and they weren’t in a position to force them out. On the other hand, if someone presented a reasonable plan to get Rome out of Israel, they would certainly help in any way they could.
The Herodians were just the opposite. As you might guess by their name, they supported Herod. Herod was a puppet king of the Roman Empire. The Romans had put his father in power and they kept him in power after his father died. The Herod family was not Jewish. So, if you were a Herodian, you were a fan of Herod, and, since Herod was a puppet of Rome, you were by association a fan of the Roman occupation.
Normally, the Pharisees and the Herodians were at each other’s throats … if not literally, certainly figuratively. The fact that these two groups worked together to attack Jesus tells you something about how much Jesus was hated. But they had a plan.
The idea was to put Jesus between a rock and a hard place. They asked Jesus a question that was designed to get Him into trouble: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? If he answered yes, then all those who hated the Roman occupation would turn against Him. If He answered no, then the Herodians would report Him to the Romans to be arrested. If He didn’t answer, then the crowd would label Him as a coward. The Herodians and the Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped.
Of course, it is not so easy to trap Jesus in His words. Jesus saw the error in their thinking; that is, they were focused on Herod instead of God. So there is a third answer given as Jesus says: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
The Gospels record many plans to trap Jesus by His enemies and we’re no doubt tempted to believe that Jesus won all these debates because well He was such an excellent debater. We’re tempted to believe that it was His superior skill and divine knowledge that won all these debates.
And while Jesus was the perfect human being and had flawless thought, that was not His main advantage. His main advantage was that He knew the truth and He never wavered from it. Making your case based on truth gives anyone a tremendous advantage over those who depend on lies.
You see the opponents of Jesus in today’s Gospel engaged in a logical fallacy known as a false dilemma. The fallacy is that it falsely offers only two possible alternatives even though a wide range of possibilities exist. His opponents offered two possibilities: either you pay your taxes or you don’t. Jesus simply exposed their faulty reasoning by showing that there actually were other answers.
That is we can pay our taxes, give our offerings, and care for our families. God is gracious enough to give us the resources to do all three and maybe even have a little left over for recreation.
But make no mistake there are still many who face false dilemmas to this day. One that involves our very salvation is the dilemma between self-righteousness and despair. It goes something like this. And please remember this is a fallacy.
We read the Bible; that God gives us a lot to do. So do you do what God says, that is are on the road to heaven, or are you not doing what God says and on the road to hell? This false dilemma is all that many unbelievers have every heard about Christianity. They’ve never been taught there is another way. All they’ve heard is good guys go to heaven and bad guys go to hell. So, are you good enough or not?
This is the false dilemma of the law. I can deny the truth of my sin and insist that I am one of the good guys that go to heaven … but this is self-righteousness and directly contradicts God’s word found for example in John’s first epistle: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Or: If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us. Or again Jesus saying to the rich you fool when he calls out good teacher, why do you call me good, there is ono one good but God.
To even think: I hope I’m good enough to go to heaven is a thought born of pride and is nothing but sin. Continuing on that path is lying to yourself and calling God a liar.
The other option according to this false dilemma is total honesty about your sin and believing there is simply no hope for you so what’s the point. This is despair. Here too, there is a strange sort of pride … the belief that my sin is more powerful than Christ blood shed on the cross … for me. That my sin is so great that there is nothing even God can do about it. In the case of Judas, his despair was so great that he took justice into his own hands and hung himself.
What peace there is when first we learn that the two choices offered by the law are a false dilemma. Just as Jesus provided a third answer to the Pharisees and Herodians, He provides a third answer for all to the false dilemma of the law.
In Divine Service 1 immediately after we are directed to our baptism into Christ with the invocation and the sign of the cross, we are reminded of our sin and God’s promise from 1 John as we recite: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. You see God gave us a third answer to our dilemma when He sent Son to be our Savior.
Jesus is the one who makes a third answer possible because Jesus actually did what God gave Him to do. He kept God’s law perfectly. Then He went to the cross to take the punishment we deserve for failing to keep God’s law perfectly. He by His life and death provided the only way that avoids both self-righteousness and despair.
And He did that by earning forgiveness for all and freely offering that blood bought forgiveness to all through His Word and Sacraments. You see in Jesus Christ there is another way, that is Jesus is the way, the way of forgiveness and mercy, the way of peace and hope, the way of truth the way that by God’s grace you and I and all God’s children rare brought to life everlasting.
In His Name, Amen
Gathered Guests and Wedding ClothesOctober 15, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French Matthew 22:1-14 This Gospel present ...
A sermon from Martin Luther read by Pastor David French
This Gospel presents to us the parable of the wedding; therefore, we are compelled to understand it differently than it sounds and appears to the natural ear and eye. Hence, we will give attention to the spiritual meaning of the parable.
First, the King, who prepared the marriage feast, is our heavenly Father. The bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ. The bride is the Christian Church on earth. God first sent out his servants, the Prophets to invite guests to this wedding; they were to bid them by preaching only faith in Christ. But those invited did not come; they were the Jews, to whom the Prophets were sent, they would not hear nor receive those sent to them. At another time he sent other servants, the Apostles and martyrs, to bid us to come saying: Behold, I have made ready my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready; come to the marriage feast.
These words beautifully introduce examples by which the doctrine of the Gospel may be confirmed, so that we may the better, by the aid of such examples meditate upon Christ, and be nourished by and feast upon him as upon fatlings and well-fed oxen. This is the reason he calls them fatlings. Take an example: Paul teaches in Rom. 3, 23f. how the bride is full of sin and must be sprinkled by the blood of Christ alone, or she will continue unclean, that is, she must only believe that the blood of Christ was shed for her sins, and there is no other salvation possible.
Follow now further in this Gospel: “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his merchandise; and the rest laid hold on his servants, and treated them shamefully, and killed them.” These are the three barriers that prevent us from coming to the marriage feast. The first, or the farm, signifies our honor; it is a great hindrance that we do not think of Christ and believe in him; we fear we must suffer shame and become dishonored, and we do not believe that God can protect us from shame and preserve us in honor.
second go to their spheres of business, that is, they fall with their hearts into their worldly affairs when they should cleave to the Word, they worry lest they perish and their stomachs fail them; they do not trust God to sustain them.
The third class are the worst, they are the high, wise and prudent, the exalted spirits, they not only despise but martyr and destroy the servants; in order to retain their own honor and praise, yea, in order to be something. They were the Pharisees and scribes, who put to death both Christ and his Apostles, as their fathers did the Prophets. These are much worse than the first and second, who, although they despised and rejected the invitation, yet then went away and neither condemned nor destroyed the servants.
It now follows: “Then saith he to his servants: The wedding is ready, but they that were bidden were not worthy.” “Then he said to them: Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast.” Hence, they went out into the highways, namely, to us heathen, and gathered us together from the ends of the world into a congregation, in which are good and bad.
Then the King goes in to behold the guests. This will take place on the day of judgment, when the King will let himself be seen. Then he will find one, not only a single person, but a large company not clothed with a wedding garment, that is, with faith. These are pious people the ones who have heard and understood the Gospel, yet they cleaved to certain works. To them the King will say: “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him out into the outer darkness,” that is, he condemns their good works, that they no longer avail anything; for the hands signify their work, the feet, their walk in life, and he will then cast them into the outer darkness.
Now, this outer darkness is in contrast with the inner light, since faith alone must see within the heart. There our light, our reason must be covered and cease, and faith alone lighten us. For if a person will act according to reason, there is nothing but death, hell and sin before his eyes. Reason then considers itself a candidate for death; yet it finds no help in any creature, all is a desert and dark. Therefore, reason must despair and surrender itself as a captive to the light of faith alone. This same light then sees that it is God in heaven who cares for us, upon whom the heart can meditate, who rejects all aid of reason and depends upon no creature; then man will be sustained. Now this is the sense of the words, that those cast thus into outer darkness will be robbed of faith, and thus cast out.
Let us now briefly notice what is taught by this marriage feast. First, this marriage feast is a union of the divine nature with the human. And the great love Christ has for us is presented to us in this picture of the wedding feast. For there are many kinds of love, but none is so fervent as the love a new bride has to her bridegroom, and on the other hand, the bridegroom’s love to the bride. True bridal love has no regard for presents, or riches, or gold rings and the like; but cares only for the bridegroom. And if he even gave her all he had, she would regard none of his presents, but say: I will have only thee. And if on the other hand he has nothing at all, it makes no difference with her, she will in spite of all desire him. That is the true nature of the love of a bride.
This true bridal love God presented to us in Christ, in that he allowed him to become man for us and be united with our human nature that we might thus perceive and appreciate his good will toward us. Now, as the bride loves her betrothed, so also does Christ love us; and we on the other hand will love him, if we believe and are the true bride. And although he gave us even heaven, the wisdom of all the Prophets, the glory of all the saints and angels, yet we would not esteem them unless he gave us himself. The bride can be satisfied by nothing but the bridegroom himself; as she says in the Song of Solomon, 2, 16: “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” She cannot rest until she has her beloved himself.
So also is Christ on the other hand disposed toward us: he will have us only, and besides nothing. And if we gave him even all we could, it would be of no use to him; he would have no regard for it, even if we wore all the hoods of all the monks. He wants our whole heart; for the outward things, as the outward virtues, are only maid servants, he wants the wife herself.
And what do we present to him? An impure bride, a dirty, old, wrinkled outcast. But he is the eternal wisdom, the eternal truth, the eternal light, an exceptionally beautiful youth. What does he give us then? Himself, wholly and completely, the whole fountain of eternal wisdom. If then I am thus his and he mine, I have eternal life, righteousness and all that belongs to him. Therefore I am righteous, saved, and in a sense that neither death, sin, hell, nor Satan can harm me. If he gave me only a part of his wisdom, righteousness and life, I would say: That is of no help to me, I want all of thee, without thee nothing is real and true. When he gives me his servants, his Prophets, he gives me only a part and a morsel; the gifts are only concubines, among whom there is only one who is the true bride.
And, what do we bring to him? Nothing but all our heart-aches, misfortunes, sins, misery and lamentations. He is the eternal light, we the eternal darkness; he is life, we are death; he righteousness, we sin. This is a marriage that is very unequal. But what does the bridegroom do? He is so fastidious that he will not dwell with his bride until he first adorns her in the highest degree. How is that done? The Apostle Paul teaches in Tit. 3, 5-6: “He gave his tender body unto death for them and sprinkled them with his holy blood and cleansed them through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” That washing is baptism, with which he makes her clean. More than this, he has given to her his Word by which she is clothed and through her faith she becomes a bride.
But whoever has not on the wedding garment does not belong to the congregation, is filth, like the slime, pus, and ulcers in the body; it is indeed in the body, but it is no part of the healthy body. Counterfeits are among money, but they are not money; chaff is among the wheat, but it is not wheat; so there are those among Christians, but they are not Christians. This is sufficient on to- day’s Gospel. Let us pray God for grace, that none of us may come to such a precious and glorious marriage feast without a wedding garment. Amen
Counting the CostOctober 8, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Counting the Cost Philippians 3:4b-14 When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle ...
Counting the Cost
When you read these words of St. Paul in our Epistle lesson about loss and gain we tend to think in economic terms and how we come out in the end. Now our context tells us that’s not the case but still in our own sinful hearts we do the math if you will to work out our salvation. Truth is the word Paul uses for gain is better understood in the sense of winning a race. And when he speaks of loss, he’s using a word that carries with it the idea of suffering violence. Clearly, Paul is not talking about economics but a willingness to suffer things that are hazardous to his health and well-being and that all for the sake of Christ.
But still we do all too often show what has top-billing in our hearts by how we use our money. If a problem arises in life, even within the life of the church, we tend to either throw some money at it or complain about not having enough money to throw at it.
But, like I said, this isn’t a lesson about economics, this is a lesson about you. So, I’ll ask the obvious question: What are you willing to lose? What do you count as loss for the sake of knowing Christ as your Savior?” … See how easy it is for the Word of Gospel that Paul speaks here to be turned, with the holiest of intentions, into Law. That is into something that you must do, something that can only condemn you.
See how quickly these words of loss and gain are translated into synergistic terms; that is – you were no doubt already thinking about what you could or perhaps already have given up for your salvation, as though you’ve done some noble deed for God. My friends always keep in mind the words of Luke 17 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”
Honestly, I cringe when I hear questions like: What are you willing to surrender and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Beside the fact that questions like that are not faithful to this text or the doctrines of grace and justification, in general, still I would caution you to be very careful before you answer such questions because your words and actions will betray your good intentions. We may not like to admit it; we may not even be aware of it, but there is a huge disconnect between what we’d like to believe is our reality and what our reality really is. And when I say reality I mean from God’s perspective.
Certainly, we’d all like to think of ourselves as those who would be willing to suffer the same fate as those modern-day Christian martyrs, who’ve literally been be-headed by instruments of satan for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ. And while none of us wants to be martyred, still we’d all like to believe that we also would kneel down and let our blood be spilt for the name of Christ.
But what I see in our culture is that most aren’t willing to give up a few hours’ sleep for their faith. Not many will chance losing even a Facebook friend over something as “subjective” as their faith or the doctrines of the church. Many are afraid to speak the clear truths of Scripture because well, offending someone is the greater sin. Honestly, more often than not it seems to me what we’re willing to lose is the truth.
The thing is - our text is not about what you should be willing to lose for the sake of Christ. To be sure it is often taught that way turning it into nothing more than a sales pitch to getting people to surrender “all” to up-grade their seat at the heavenly banquet. Many Christians today are brow-beaten and shamed into thinking that they haven’t given up enough to gain the heavenly prize, and the result of that is, satan rejoices!
dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Believe it or not this lesson isn’t about you. It’s not a prescription for better Christian living but a description of what Christ has already given up for you! This is about all that our heavenly Father gave up to gain your salvation! Our God completely forsook or gave up His only-begotten Son to pay for your sin so that life eternal could be freely offered to you and to all. That’s reality! Remember you weren’t just lost—you were a spiritually dead and condemned creature.
Jesus humbled Himself and suffered the greatest loss for your eternal gain. Your sins, even the so called “little ones” that many don’t even think of as sin because “everyone does that,” like say not honoring but taking your father and mother for granted, that one sin alone is so great before God that only the blood of Christ could take it
as we grow in our understanding of ourselves and God’s mercy that the words of St. Paul begin to make sense to our ears. That’s why I love Paul’s statement: … that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. You see “… by any means possible is not Paul’s way of saying that he’ll do whatever it takes to get to heaven.
When Paul says: “by any means possible” he actually is making a very profound statement of humble faith and trust in His eternal God and Father. When, whatever this life has to offer is looked at through the lens of the cross he understands how useless it really is, that it’s rubbish, literally dung.
That means that whatever may befall us in this life is truly not worth comparing to what is already ours in Christ. For Paul … by any means possible is another way of saying, “I’m okay with whatever God has in store for me because I know that God is working all things for the good of His church. And if that means that Paul has to suffer before God brings him home, then so be it.
That’s what “trust in God above all things” looks and sounds like in real life. It’s absolutely beautiful, and it’s not something that can be commanded or coerced or taught. This “sanctified trust” is a blessed fruit of faith in Christ alone.
Here is Christ Jesus…for you! Here is the One who lost everything for you that you by grace thorough faith might gain everything from Him. The Gospel reality of “Christ crucified for you” is the life-giving seed we sow, the seed that by Gods’ grace and nurturing takes root in your heart and springs up to bear the fruit of faith.
A faith so real that even when you doubt in your sinful mind God’s gift of faith in our heart firmly trust in Him in good times and in bad times, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until finally death separates us from this veil of tears and face to face we are reunited with our eternal groom in His heavenly Kingdom.
But until that day forgetting what is behind we press forward in faith. Will we ever run this race of life in the faith perfectly? No, we can all honestly own the words of our lesson: Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect … but that’s not the point, as you know Christ has already paid for all sins. We run not counting the cost because with Paul Christ Jesus has made us His own.
In His Holy Name, Amen.
UnitedOctober 1, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements United Philippians 2:1-18 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from ...
The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, where Paul writes to his beloved friends in Philippi, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
One watches the news at one’s own risk these days. If you dare to brave those channels and websites, you’re likely to be bombarded by messages bemoaning the current state of affairs in our world, proclaiming a doom-and-gloom message in a sort of twisted anti-Gospel. There are murders … epic and spectacular natural disasters … and everywhere, there is division. On the international stage, countries continue to debate over the best way to disarm a belligerent North Korea, as some proclaim that “more extreme economic sanctions” will pummel the hermit-state into submission, while others worry that the only language Kim Jong Un understands is force. Europe is tearing apart at the seams, with Britain having left the European Union and others contemplating similar action. The Spanish region of Catalonia is seeking secession, and the Spanish government is pulling out all the stops to ensure that doesn’t happen, even deploying soldiers to barricade polling stations.
In our country, terror groups like Antifa, the KKK, and BLM are causing an uproar, seeking to stoke the flames of revolution and anarchy. You see movements from atheist and LGBT-whatever groups seeking to end any protections of conscience one may enjoy by forcing them to affirm actions that are contrary to nature. Most recently, I’m sure you’ve seen our nation divide over the actions of NFL players as they protest … well, something. I remember what Colin Kaepernick was protesting about a year ago, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess as to what they are protesting now.
Our nation is divided, in ways that we haven’t seen since the mid-19th Century and the bloody Civil War that tore our country apart. I wish I could say that this is something new, but it’s not. Division among humanity has always existed, even in the early Church. Congregations split on different issues – in Galatia, it was whether or not radically Jewish Christians should be supported in their “Judaizing” efforts to make keeping the Jewish customs also a prerequisite for salvation. In Corinth, the congregation there had numerous issues, to say the least, among them what to do about Christians who engage in sexual immorality. Idolatry and sexual immorality, likewise, snuck into the church at Thyatira, and Sardis is described as appearing to be alive, but due to the lack of faith, was actually dead. Divisions in the Church were then, as they are now, deadly serious business. So it’s little wonder, then, that Paul has such a love for the congregation of believers at Philippi, who seem to have been united.
Paul starts his letter to this incredibly generous church by saying, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. These people were wholly committed to Paul and his mission, but more than that, to the purpose and focus of his mission: the propagation of the Good News of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. These are people that Paul had known to be united in their commitment to missionary work, in their area and abroad, and Paul could not be more relieved.
This is why, in our text, he writes, So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. We may be tempted to read ourselves into those “if” statements, as if we are the ones who have these things among us of ourselves, but it would be wrong to do so. The subject of all of these verbs – the comforting from love, the communing in the spirit, having affection and sympathy, mercy and pity, these are all attributed to Christ. It is Christ’s love that is comforting, and it is the result of this fact that the Philippians fill Paul with joy, with relief, with removal of a burden that he would feel for them, because they are adhering to this Gospel and not another. They are acting with one mind, thinking on Jesus, and by doing so, they are being harmonized, united by Christ in their belief and confession.
They are being encouraged, as Paul later says, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. That may sound suspiciously like works-righteousness, but that word “to work out” in the Greek carries with it another meaning – one, frankly, that the editors should have selected instead. It can also mean “to produce,” the same way that a farmer produces a crop. It’s not him actually doing anything, since he is at the mercy of the elements, but simply gathers the fruits. The Philippians are being encouraged to produce their faith, their salvation by making confession of this and nothing else for their salvation. That is where their unity comes from: their common confession. Paul is encouraging them to let nothing and no one come in the way of the congregation’s desire to make this clear Gospel confession the most prominent thing that they are known for: We believe that Jesus died for our sins and we believe that He’s coming again. That was Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, and history shows that his prayers were answered and his hope was well-founded.
Paul’s words certainly transcend time and space, as we sit here today and ponder his words of encouragement, but I’m sure they may carry a twinge of sting with them. It’s very easy to allow divisions to creep in. After all, we are all sinners, and like all sinners, we do often have self-seeking agendas and ulterior motives. We are prideful, self-serving, turned inward upon ourselves – I suppose we take the American ideal of rugged individualism and bring forth the worst of it. We look to how things can better our stations in life. “That’s great,” we think, “but what do I get out of it?” Perhaps that’s the reason that Paul also includes, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Knowing what we do about our sinful selves, understanding and acknowledging our sinful and helpless estate, how could we do other than to count ourselves as the chief of sinners, utterly ashamed and thankful for God’s love for us in spite of our sin. True humility is the remedy for the egocentric, just as unity of confession is the cure for division – not in and of itself, but only and always when the reason for the humility and confession is Christ, and Him crucified and resurrected.
Our world is divided to be sure, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry looking to their own interests, and to hell with everyone who stands in their way. We are not to be this way as Christians; however, when we are, we have been given a different heart and mind – one that repents at wrongdoing, rejoices in service to others, and confesses the hope we have in the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, who will return. At that time, when Jesus finally does return, Paul tells us of the unity of all flesh in resurrection, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. May He preserve us in this one true unifying faith, this single confession, so that we bow, not in terror, but in reverence, with the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
Scorching Heat?September 24, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Scorching Heat? Matthew 20:1-16 There’ve been many changes in our society over the ye ...
There’ve been many changes in our society over the years. One thing that has not changed, however, is "waiting in line" or "taking your turn." It is amazing how complicated the rules for waiting in line are. Yet everyone seems to know them. You can't cut in line, but you can save a place for someone in line under the right circumstances. It is amazing that people will quietly wait in line, but if someone breaks the protocol, cries of "Hey! Wait your turn!" erupt from those who have put in their time.
It’s this deep mindset in our culture that makes the words of Jesus in today's Gospel so bizarre. He told a story and then said: So the last will be first, and the first last …, which goes against pretty much everything that our society thinks of as fair.
Today's Gospel relates the story that Jesus told we know as the "Laborers in the Vineyard." The main point of this story is fairly straight forward. The work day represents a life time. We see that some people are born into faithful families who bring them to the Lord while they are still infants.
These people never know a time when Jesus is not a part of their lives. At the other end of the spectrum are people who make death bed confessions - people like the thief on the cross. The Holy Spirit brings these people into the faith just days or even moments before death.
As the master hires people at various times of the day, we are meant to think of the different points in life when the Holy Spirit brings people to faith. The point is - as long as it is day – that is, as long as a person is alive – it’s not too late for the Holy Spirit to bring him or her into God's family.
We also need to remember that first and last are not always related to time or standing in line. In the Scriptures the words: "First and Last" can also have a broader meaning. The verses right before today's Gospel reading are about the rich, young ruler who came to Jesus and wanted to know what he must do to be saved. Jesus first points to the second table of the commandments those forbidding murder, adultery, theft, and so forth. The young man claimed to have kept them all.
Then Jesus went back to the first table of the law and we discover that this young man loved his possessions more than he loved God. The next words Jesus speaks are about the camel and the eye of the needle ending with the words: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.". And His disciples respond: … Who then can be saved?
You see at that time people thought they were first in God’s sight because of their wealth alone and other people were last or least in God’s sight because of their poverty alone. And we’re no different.
Our culture has many ways of judging people to be a part of the upper crust: wealth, fame, talent, beauty, and while none of these things are bad they certainly aren’t an indication of how much God loves us either. Jesus wants us to remember that many who we judge to be the “least” in our culture may in fact be the first to enter the kingdom of heaven.
And then there’s the, maybe too familiar, attitude of those hired first. Listen to their concern again. 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'
Now before we consider their complaint, let’s think in general about the experience of life time Christians. They are baptized into God's family as infants. They were brought to church on a weekly basis to receive the forgiveness that Jesus Christ earned on the cross for all. As they grew up, they were taught the basics of the faith. After they demonstrated the ability to examine themselves, they received the gift of Christ's body and blood on a regular basis.
When they encountered difficult times, God's reminds them that He is always with them. The Holy Spirit worked throughout their lives to keep them in the faith so that when their last hour came, they left this valley of the shadow of death and joined our Lord in heaven.
The life time Christian knows that Jesus is always with them. They simply can't see Him while they live in this sin-filled world. Since Jesus is here, the reign of heaven has already begun.
The life time Christian knows that he or she is not trying to earn a place in heaven but simply waiting for the day when God will reveal what we already processes. The life time Christian has from the moment of their baptism possessed forgiveness and life and all the other blessings that come from the cross until we are home with Christ in heaven.
Given all these blessings, why do you think the life-long Christian in our text describe his life as a burden or as scorching heat? Stings a little bit doesn’t it? You see it’s so easy, so natural for us to feel as though we’re doing some great thing for God when by His gracious invitation we become a Christian. It’s so who we are to think that heaven is some sort of reward for those who bear a cross for Jesus.
The person who makes the death bed confession receives the same heaven that a life time Christian receives. On the other hand, this person who received the last-minute reprieve did not experience a life time of forgiveness from Jesus while on earth. They didn’t know the peace that comes from God alone. They never knew what it’s like to always have someone who listens.
Every now and then someone will ask the obvious question. "If God will give me all of heaven whether I become a Christian today or twenty years from now, why not wait? Why not have a little fun, enjoy life and then become a Christian?
And that can work if you see tomorrow but still that’s a person who at that moment has been convinced by satan the world and their own flesh that the life of the Christian is a burden. I mean so many rules: honor your parents, don’t kill or steal from each other not to mention the expectation that you go to church. Who would have time to enjoy life if all you’re doing is being “good” for God.
They of course don’t understand that Jesus carried the burden of being good for God to the cross for each of us a long time ago. They don’t understand the Christian life is a gift from the Holy Spirit. They don’t understand what they’re missing and only the Holy Spirit can explain or open their eyes and minds to … not just know about Jesus but to live their life in Him. They don’t understand … but they can!
this very day God continues to search the market place that is the world looking for workers for His vineyard. Truth is it really doesn’t matter when we receive faith only that we do. You see whether our faith is old or young, we rejoice because no matter when … we all received faith as a gift, a gift that brings with it, life everlasting through the blood Christ shed for you and for all.
In His Name, Amen
AbsurdSeptember 17, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements Absurd Matthew 18:21-35 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from o ...
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Peter asks the question, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? and Jesus’ response, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
The story goes of a young man who worked at a nursing facility, and how he provided care for an older woman. In the course of his work, he had done something he should not have done – I’ll refrain from saying what it was, but suffice it to say, he had transgressed against this elderly lady. While certainly a sinner in this regard, this young man did have a conscience, and soon it burdened him enough to the point that he had to confess. He went to the lady, told her flat-out what he had done. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was stupid and foolish, and while I know I don’t deserve it, I hope you will forgive me and give me a chance to make it up to you.” The woman stared at him, a mild frown on her face as she studied his. “Hmm…” she said at length. “I forgive you, young man … but NOT a second time.”
Maybe we all know why this older woman said this. After all, we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone promising to amend their ways, promising to do better, only to face disappointment as they fail yet again. The frustration, the anger that such broken promises bring to bear is enough to drive us mad! “You said you were going to change! Why haven’t you?! I thought we were past this!”
We’ve all been in those shoes. We’ve been there, whether it’s a child promising never to do “it” again (whatever “it” happens to be), a student who promises to never again not do their homework, or the parent who says they’ll never cave to their addiction again. Broken hearts from broken promises, and at a certain point, we may certainly ask with Peter, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? It’s reasonable, we think. Fool me seven times, shame on you; fool me eight or more times, shame on me. We can’t be expected to forgive again … and again … and again … right? At a certain point, the one who asks for forgiveness must not be forgiven if they keep on making the same mistakes again and again … right? Forgiveness, at that point, seems absurd, right?
WRONG. And not just wrong – it’s DEAD-wrong. “Not seven times,” Jesus corrects, “but seventy-seven … or seventy-times-seven … times.” Regardless of what the Greek actually meant, it’s a symbolic numbering meant to show Peter and us the absolute absurdity of keeping number of the times we are sinned against. Jesus is saying, “STOP COUNTING! Knock it off! Stop keeping track of the offenses and simply forget; don’t do the math!” I don’t’ think that He could be any clearer here, and I don’t think the emphasis is wrong. It is simply absurd to think that we should do otherwise! And Jesus’ parable which follows shows us why.
We’re told about a king who is attempting to settle accounts with his servants. In the process, he comes across one servant whose account is short by ten thousand talents – to put it in modern fiscal terms, that would be as if your average Joe owed the government between $7 - and $12 billion. It’s an absurdly high debt which the servant could not settle, not with an entire lifetime of surrendering 100% of his pay. Even more absurd is the servant’s promise that, given time, he would make good on this insane debt. Instead of calling shenanigans on the servant, the king takes pity on him, and forgives that massive debt. All of it. Not a shekel does that servant owe any longer. He’s free.
And what does this, undoubtedly, relieved and unburdened servant do? He goes out. He zeros-in on a fellow servant who owes him a pittance by comparison: a hundred denarii, or close to $6,000 – a sizeable debt, to be sure, but by comparison, to the billions of dollars the first servant owed, it’s a drop in the bucket. That first servant finds this fellow servant who owes him a few grand, and almost verbatim, the second pleads for mercy from the first. He promises to pay back the debt (a more realistic feat, honestly) if he is just given more time. But the second servant finds no mercy here. Instead, he finds himself thrown into the debtor’s prison until the total amount would be paid off.
You can imagine the fury of the king when news of this happening gets back to his ears. He summons the first servant, castigates him for his lack of mercy, and orders him, not just to be thrown into debtor’s prison, but to torture, until he pays back that entire $12 billion debt. It’s a parable that should make us a bit uneasy, especially when Jesus caps it off by saying, So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Jesus’ point here? Our personal experience of God’s forgiveness should shape our attitude of forgiveness toward others. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been in the shoes of the person who’s fallen for the same old trap, the same old temptation yet again. Whether it’s something as mild as being a clumsy oaf yet again, or that you’ve fallen off the wagon yet again, the disappointment, the heartbreak, the frustration with one’s self, the desire for forgiveness and the chance to try again, is something we are all familiar with. We’re familiar with it because we come to that same place at the end of every day, as we look back and reflect how we have sinned against God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. I have no doubt that, some days, you find yourself thinking, “Wow, did I really do that again?” So knowing this, how often we all consistently fall for the same temptations and vices, the question becomes, “Do you really want God doing the math for your sins??”
No, of course not. To imagine God as vindictive, to imagine Him holding grudges the way that we sometimes do, is terrifying. But the plain and simple fact is that He does not do this to those seeking His pardon, mercy, and grace. When one repents of one’s sin – it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or the fiftieth time that one has fallen into that trap or caved to that temptation – for the sake of Christ, our heavenly Father announces His great Te absolvo – “You are absolved. Pardoned. Forgiven.” And the more we hear how we are forgiven in spite of our insurmountable debt, the more that forgiveness rubs off on us. He who is forgiven much, forgives much. That’s part of the reason why we have confession and absolution week in and week out – to proclaim that “Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross on our behalf, your sins are FORGIVEN” and because you are forgiven, you should be as quick to forgive others as our heavenly Father is quick to forgive us. Will you do it perfectly? No, but that’s the beauty of living in repentance – we’re always confessing before God our sins and recognizing His life-giving absolution for the sake of Christ and His all-atoning sacrifice. That is why we partake of the Lord’s Supper, receiving Jesus’ very body and blood in those supper elements, receiving – not only the forgiveness of sins incarnate in that bread and wine, but also knowing the promise of the Holy Spirit to soften hearts to no longer bear a grudge, but rather to harbor forgiveness toward our fellow servants.
Let’s go back to our story from the beginning. The relationship between the older lady and the young man working at the nursing home was healing. However, one day, wouldn’t you know it, that idiot of a young man did it again; he transgressed against the lady once more. What’s worse, this time, he remembered her words from before: not a second time. Understandably, he was terrified of the repercussions of what awaited him as he approached her room to confess. Was he going to lose his job? Get arrested? What was she going to inevitably demand happen to this multi-transgressor? He entered her room, bearing the full weight of his guilt, not even able to look her in the eye. “Ma’am,” he said, “I’ve got to tell you, again, I have transgressed against you. Even though you warned me that you would not forgive me a second time, I did it again. I know how this looks, and I know I have absolutely no business asking it, but I must, once again, ask for your forgiveness.” He finally looked up and saw, instead of anger, a look of confusion, puzzlement, on her face. “What do you mean, ‘once again’? I forgave you for what you did before – that’s wiped away, gone forever. We’re starting over again! Of course I forgive you – but I won’t … a second time. That would be absurd!”
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit + Amen
What About Your Guardian Angel?September 10, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements What About Your Guardian Angel? Matthew 18:1-10 Depending on who you ask or what TV shows y ...
What About Your Guardian Angel?
Depending on who you ask or what TV shows you watch there are many different ways to tell if a person is lying. One of the most commonly held beliefs is that a person won’t or can’t look you in the eye when they’re lying to you. They’ll look up, down, off to the side, but they won’t look you in the eye. But the truth is there are those who can and do look us straight in the eye and lie to us.
In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we get a glimpse of this heavenly eye-to-eye reality with God’s holy angels; the same angels who God Himself sends to watch over and protect us in our day-to-day lives. As Jesus said: For I tell you, that in heaven the angels of these little ones always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. Now, it’s important to notice and keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He’s not speaking to the Pharisees or some crowd of unbelievers but He is as it were, speaking to His Church.
The disciples of Jesus, as well-intentioned and faithful as they were, had some serious flaws. I mean here they are, this time and the Greek makes clear were arguing about who among them would be the greatest in heaven. But in their defense, you can sort of understand, I mean the last two years have been nothing but Jesus putting the Pharisees and Sadducees in their place, doing miracle after miracle, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the poor, huge crowds gathered wherever Jesus went. And remember the last words of John’s gospel: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
You see up until really the time of Peter’s confession about ten days ago when Jesus started talking about His death they had been on one amazing journey. But they were also starting to get a little bit full of themselves if you will. Envisioning Jesus kingdom the way they did and all they began elbowing and posturing to be the “greatest”.
Jesus was well aware that His ministry was about to take a change His disciples just don’t anticipate which is why Jesus sets, a baby in their midst, and says: Unless you repent and become like these little ones in your faith, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, some people hear this and start talking about the innocence of a child being what Jesus is urging us to strive for here. But that’s wrong, plain and simple. Babies are by nature completely self-centered. They don’t care that mom hasn’t slept 2 hours in a row in days.
They don’t care that dad has to get up early in the morning. For the infant, it’s all about me! This doesn’t even consider the fact that babies get sick and sometimes sadly they die. Truly, the wages of sin is death.
My friends if babies were innocent there would be no miscarriages or stillbirths, no tiny coffins. Do you really think babies don’t need of a Savior? I mean, didn’t Christ die so that all who have faith in Him will not perish but have everlasting life? Isn’t the gift of faith created in all who are baptized?
So, are babies innocent … no. But do Christian babies have a more trusting faith than any thinking reasoning person? Absolutely! This is the reality that Jesus is speaking to with His proud and arrogant disciples. The littlest of children have nothing to bring to the table in terms of salvation. They don’t have any works or words or deeds to put their trust in.
We on the other hand actually feel good about ourselves when in our inner thoughts we consider: … all the good things we’ve done. The baby has nothing but the faith God created within them and that faith holds to nothing but the gospel promise of forgiveness worked in their hearts.
One problem we have is we forget faith is not an act of the mind but a living and active gift of God. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians your faith is growing more and more (2 Thess 1:3) Another problem we have is the influence of the world also grows more and more.
That’s the point Jesus is making when He speaks to His disciples about how the guardian angels of these children see the face of my Father who is in heaven. These children are indeed sinful, no different than any of us, but they are living their faith in a God pleasing way and we adults are not. The guardian angels of the little-ones have nothing to be ashamed of before God. They don’t have to avert their eyes when they come to God about the one under their care.
So, what about your guardian angel? Jesus is implying that the guardian angels of those “great” disciples do not see God’s face. That is, they avert their eyes in shame when they’re in the presence of the heavenly Father. I can only imagine how my guardian angel must feel every time he goes before God. “Lord, it’s it seems as though Your Will is being done in-spite of him rather than through him.” And if you don’t confess this same thing about your life, then you’re in the same boat as the disciples in our lesson who were blinded by their own perceived glory.
Seriously, if you can’t look at your life in the light of the Ten commandments and see that you and every Christian who thinks for him or herself makes our guardian angels ashamed to stand before God and report on how we’ve handled this gift we call life then you’re not being honest with yourself or with God who already knows and wants only to forgive you. You can’t seriously believe that your Lord is proud of every thought word or deed that has come from or is hidden within you?
But before you hang your heads in despair, lamenting the fact that by these standards no one can be saved, remember that Jesus Christ live in your place and gave up His life to pay for your sin. Repent and believe that you may by grace live your faith confidently looking forward to the time you look your Lord in the eye confessing to Him that you are sinful and unclean and deserve nothing but His present and eternal punishment.
You know you’re not really just a victim of circumstance. It’s not your parents, spouse, children or works fault and the devil didn’t make you do it. Be honest. You have sinned because you are a sinner, sinful from birth and by nature an enemy of God.
The solution, the only solution is to repent. Open the eyes of faith God gave you and behold the glory of His unconditional and amazing grace. Hear and taste the real and tangible forgiveness and love He feeds you this very day in the form of His Word and His very body and blood. He is the One who takes away the sin of the world! Because Christ died for all. This is the gospel truth we live with, rejoice and be glad for Christ has washed you clean with His blood and made you His own.
In Jesus's name, Amen
For My SakeSeptember 3, 2017See the Weekly Bulletin Announcements For My Sake Matthew 16:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, ...
For My Sake
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel message, specifically where Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
Ours is a faith rife with paradoxes, isn’t it? Many things which are set forth in Scripture seem contrary to what one would reasonably conclude. For example, we are, at the same time, sinners, lowest of the low … and saints, justified fully by God! How both can be true at the same time is beyond our comprehension. Israel stood condemned because of their success, their affluence … and it was their captivity, their languishing under foreign oppression, that turned out to be the best thing for them! The worst persecutor of the Church, Saul of Tarsus, the man who stood by as Stephen was stoned to death and gave his approval … ended up becoming the greatest missionary to the Gentiles, even dying for his faith in Christ!
It’s the last thing you would expect! Certainly, it’s not what we, in our humanity, would guess as to the ways of redemption and salvation. At times, our faith is downright unreasonable. We see these paradoxes, these issues that grind against the grain of our humanity and mortality, and the rest of humanity usually concludes, “Well, the Bible must be wrong. What it’s saying goes against our sensibilities, our reason; ergo, it must be wrong…” As Christians, we would do well to remember that it is not our reason that rings true in those situations. The Scripture is what is true, regardless of what our reason wants to believe. After all, human reason is … well, human. A wonderful gift from God, meant to be used in service of the Scriptures, our reason is flawed, tainted by sin, so that we can’t expect it to lead us to godly, biblical conclusions.
So in our text, when we hear the interesting and not easily explained paradox of saving the soul to lose it and losing the soul to save it, we’re tempted, thanks to our broken reason, to explain it away. That’s not what we’re going to do today, lest we wander into heresy. Instead, let’s get at this critical teaching of Jesus by pitting one side of the paradox against the other.
Let’s tackle that first side, when Jesus says, whoever would save his life will lose it. To “save one’s life,” or “to save one’s soul,” as some translations say, means that the person decides he or she has to do something, whatever it might be—to work hard enough, do the right things, not do the bad things, toe the line—so that he or she will end up in heaven. We call this pietism. We call this self-righteousness. Please note the word self, there. It means that, by some sort of criteria, one has to do or perform or complete some actions by which God will accept that person into the glories of heaven when this life is over.
If that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you, that’s good. We, as Lutherans, should recognize – and recoil from – such false teaching! In fact, whenever we hear that phrase “self-righteousness,” the red flags should be flying up in your minds. We see it all over the place – from well-intentioned Christians who think to themselves, “I don’t drink, smoke, listen to heavy metal – I’m golden!” That’s on an individual level; you see it institutionally in the form of what’s called, “decision theology,” where you must make the decision to “ask Jesus into your heart” in order to be considered saved. You have to make the conscious effort, using your own willpower and emotions, to pray and invite Jesus into your heart so that you will be accepted by God and have eternal life. That may sound reasonable enough, but the focus, the responsibility, falls on the individual to be saved.
It’s this theology, this false teaching, that Jesus is speaking against. The harder we try, the further away we get. Luther’s Small Catechism echoes this; in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, we read, I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, we’d be just like those misguided Christian brothers and sisters who are missing out on the fullness of Gospel.
But that’s not a problem that we, as Lutherans, have, right? That’s just a problem that all those other denominations out there have, right? Wrong. As sinners, every one of us has the exact same inclinations, temptations, to try to save ourselves. This clinging to self-salvation, self-righteousness, self-justification, is what it means, in Jesus’ words in our text, to desire to save one’s life, or soul. We can’t, just can’t, save ourselves. Were it not for the Holy Spirit, we would all be like all the other world religions – all of which believe that to save oneself, one must do something. We would be the same way, because it’s the way every human being by nature is hardwired to think. Our sinful nature knows only this as the way of salvation, to do whatever it takes to save ourselves. It’s in our DNA, if you will, to try and be self-savers. That’s what we would be, and we would be lost. We would be damned. In the same way that a dead man cannot charge up an AED and start his own heart again, we cannot save ourselves from being spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.
So that doesn’t work. Now let’s take a look at the flipside of our paradox. What does it mean when Jesus says, whoever loses his life for My sake will find it? What does it mean to lose one's life, one's soul as some translations put it, for Jesus’ sake? The answer is not found in martyrdom, literally losing your life for the sake of the Gospel. That is its own thing; certainly, it’s something to be honored, but unrelated to what Jesus is talking about here. The answer for how it looks to lose one’s soul for Jesus sake is found a few verses earlier when Jesus says, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
Denying, disowning oneself. That means, with the help of the Holy Spirit, confessing that we cannot save ourselves. That means admitting that we are entirely reliant upon God Almighty, the very fearful Judge of our souls, for our salvation. One does the ad in denying one's ability to save on self. Recognizing that we are entirely holistically sinful, that we cannot redeem ourselves from our sinful conditions and relying entirely thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit upon Christ. It's an air of repentance it's an attitude of repentance. It is humbling. It is intimate. It is scandalous to our reason, but it is the truth. This is why the Gospel is called a “stumbling block.” We want to do it, and we cannot. We simply let Jesus do it for us. The one who loses his soul is the one who denies himself and his own ability to save himself and rests solely upon the cross of Christ. He is the one who finds his soul, his life., or perhaps, rather, he is the one who is found.
But note the reason why one would “lose one’s soul.” Christ says, “Whoever loses his soul for My sake will find it.” Salvation can only be for the sake of Christ. Self-denial is great, but unless one trusts in what Jesus has done for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, unless one follows Him in that way, it’s all for naught. Only Christ lived the perfect life and died the sinless death. Only Christ stood in our place as the worst of sinners, even though He was holy and blameless. Only Christ made the complete and full payment for all our sins when He died on the cross so that all sin would be removed. Yes, Jesus did all that. Yes, He died and rose and gave you eternal life, just as the Spirit has brought you to believe. It all hinges on Christ.
Having come to know all this by faith, through that blessed gift of the Holy Spirit, we rejoice and rejoice greatly that salvation is indeed for the sake of Christ. Since we are incapable of doing anything for ourselves, this is an out-of-this-world gifting. An unreasonable gift, given for free, for Jesus’s sake.
+ In His Name. + Amen.
Prophet, Priest, and KingAugust 27, 2017See the Bulletin Prophet, Priest, and King Matthew 16:13-20 Last week’s Gospel had the disciples in the area around Tyre an ...
Prophet, Priest, and King
Last week’s Gospel had the disciples in the area around Tyre and Sidon located on the shore of the Mediterranean in Gentile territory. Jesus had taken the disciples North of Galilee around Caesarea Philippi to get away from the badgering of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem.
Jesus used this time away from the crowds of Galilee to teach His disciples. Today’s lesson really continues the theme of the last two weeks which has been about the true identity of Jesus. Jesus began the conversation by asking the disciples about the opinion of the crowds. [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
It is sort of interesting that all of their guesses are dead prophets. Herod had recently killed John the Baptist. Elijah was taken up in a whirl-wind about a thousand years earlier. Jeremiah had disappeared somewhere in Egypt after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem over a half century earlier. The people in our lesson thought that Jesus was one of these dead prophets come back to life.
I wonder what people would say if you took a poll at a busy shopping center and asked who is Jesus? I would guess that some would say a rebel, others a great teacher or maybe a life coach. Still others think of Jesus as some permissive personality who pretty much lets you do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.
There were many opinions back then and there are many opinions today. The problem with opinions is that opinions based on guesswork are usually wrong. Opinions about who Jesus is are no exception. People who simply guess about Jesus’ identity based on what they may or may not know will get it wrong.
The truth however is when you get the identity of Jesus wrong, you get salvation wrong. You can talk like a Christian all day long and maybe even fool a lot of people into believing you’re a Christian, but, in the end, you will enter into eternal punishment. As the last two weeks have pointed out, to understand salvation you must know who Jesus is.
And there is only one right answer to that question and we heard that answer from Peter of all people. [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. This is the only right answer both then and now.
But what does it mean that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Jesus knew that the disciples wouldn’t understand the answer to that question until after He had suffered, died, and rose from the dead. That’s why Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one who He was. He knew the disciples didn’t understand and He didn’t want them to give others the same wrong understanding of what it means to be the Christ.
The title Christ comes from the Greek word that means to anoint. The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah. So we can say the Christ, or the Messiah or we can say the Anointed One. They all mean the same thing and refer to the same person.
Now anointing you may recall was a rite for setting someone aside for a special office. In the Old Testament, Aaron was anointed priest, David was anointed king, and Elijah anointed Elisha to be the prophet after him. The anointed offices of the Old Testament are prophet, priest, and king. As the Anointed One, Jesus fulfilled all of those offices just like Moses said.
Jesus is the prophet anointed by God. Now it’s easy to see Jesus as prophet when we understand what a prophet is and who Jesus is. A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Jesus is both man and God. Who better to speak for God than God Himself which makes Jesus the ultimate prophet.
But Jesus went above and beyond the role of the normal prophet. God made many promises through the prophets down through the centuries. As prophet, Jesus Himself made many promises. Jesus went beyond the role of prophet because He did not just speak the promises of God, but He also keeps the promises that God spoken through the mouths of the prophets.
Jesus is the King anointed by God. As God, Jesus also reigns over all things. That makes Him the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It’s by the reign of His power that all things exist and have their being. It’s by the reign of His grace that He brings forgiveness to His church on earth. It is by the reign of His glory that He leads His church into eternity. Even here Jesus serves well beyond any earthly king. As King, Jesus not only establishes the law of His kingdom, but He humbled Himself in obedience to that law and obeyed it in our place.
Jesus is the priest anointed by God. The priest represents the people before God. Who better to represent humanity before God than the One who is both true God and true man? Truth is Jesus is the only one truly qualified to be our priest. All the other priests in the Old Testament were merely shadows pointing forward to the true high priest, Jesus the Anointed One.
And as you probably know Jesus went way beyond the role of any priest from the line of Aaron. The priests of the Old Testament offered up sacrifices before God. Jesus offered up Himself as the “once for all” sacrifice that truly and literally did take away the sin of the world.
It’s only on the cross that we see what it means to be the Messiah, and there we see what He was anointed for. On the cross Jesus, freely and willing offered His blood as payment for the sin of the world. And on Easter He was raised showing that offering was accepted and the debt of sin was paid in full and that humanity was justified. That is the confession, the rock upon which Christ church is built.
Jesus though tempted as we are lived and died without sin, that is He overcome sin. Since death is a consequence of sin, Christ defeated death at the same time and so resurrection must follow for the victory to be complete. That’s what God revealed to Peter, that sin and death would be swallowed up in victory. And so, it is with His resurrection that Jesus taught His last lesson on what it means to be the Christ.
It’s also with that complete picture in mind that we begin to understand Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” I mean Peter didn’t dream up this confession, Jesus specifically said that the Father in heaven gave this confession to him and that it would be the very foundation of His church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” This confession is as Jesus implies solid as a rock, telling us clearly who Jesus is and what Jesus did.
We who by grace have received this gift of faith in Jesus as the Christ have a relationship with God that will last forever. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. He has promised that you and I and all who believe will live with Him forever when the day comes for us to leave this world. And if you let Him, the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament will convince you of the truth found alone in God’s Prophet, Priest and King, and our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
In His Name, Amen
ScrapsAugust 20, 2017See the Bulletin Scraps Matthew 15:21-28 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, J ...
The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, especially where Matthew records the Canaanite’s woman’s response, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table," as well as Jesus’ response to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
This lesson…is a lot like life. What I mean is that, in life, there are a lot of questions, a lot of issues that we want, even feel that we need, answers to, but that we will not get answers to. Why is it that this disease has hit my loved one? Why did that tornado hit my home, and not my neighbor’s instead? Why can’t I be better at volleyball, even though I try my hardest? Why can’t we seem to have kids? Why can’t I seem to kick this sinful habit, this addiction? Why can’t I be a different person? Why are people so ugly to each other? What will it take to reunite the people of our country? When will the wars, the violence, finally come to an end? Lots of questions … not a whole lot of answers.
So it is with our text; there are plenty of questions that likely rise to the forefronts of our minds, but are wanting for any answers. Why is Jesus acting like this? To say that He is acting out of character is an understatement; He sounds downright cold! He doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of this pleading Canaanite mother, let alone give her what she desires: relief for her demon-afflicted daughter. His silence is deafening! That’s not Jesus, we think to ourselves; why on earth is He behaving thusly? You can guess, by all means, but you won’t find the answer.
What was the tone of voice of the disciples in this interaction? Were they dismissive of this pagan nobody? Were they just wanting Jesus to give her what she wanted so she would leave them alone to do more important things? No answers. And Jesus simply responds, "No, I was just sent for the lost sheep of Israel," and does nothing. Why? No answers.
How about the woman herself? It’s safe to assume that she’s a bit of a wreck at this point; anyone who has experienced the mere presence of the demonic, let alone hostile activity and oppression, know how terrible an ordeal it is, but she keeps pursuing, keeps trying to talk to Jesus. How does she react to His apparent apathy? What about His remark about not giving the children’s bread to feed the dogs? Obviously, it’s not a very flattering statement, but does she feel insulted? Hurt? No answers. There is, however, one question that I do believe our text does seem to spell out for us quite clearly, and it’s this: what does great faith believe about Jesus?
If you’ve looked through the Gospel accounts with a close eye, you’ve likely noticed that Jesus doesn’t often hand out compliments to those around them regarding their faith; let’s face it – He’s just not that impressed. With this Canaanite woman, however, Jesus exclaims, O woman, your faith is great! That may sound odd to us as Lutherans, knowing that faith is a gift from God, not something that can really be quantified in any way that we know of, but still. We have the Second Person of the Trinity here, Jesus Himself, saying of a Canaanite woman, "great is your faith." So, again, it begs the question: what does great faith believe?
We’re blessed to be given the answers in our text, and there are two. The first is this: great faith knows and believes who Jesus really is. This woman is a Canaanite – nothing about her should have, according to contemporary standards, been held up as a paradigm of faith and trust in the one true God! She’s a Gentile, she’s a woman (remembering that, at that time, a woman’s testimony wasn’t permissible in court), and she’s a Canaanite! Three strikes, you’re out, according to 1st Century Judean sensibilities. Nevertheless, here she is, addressing Jesus the way a disciple would by calling Him "Lord." In Matthew’s Gospel, calling Jesus "Lord" was something only His disciples would do, and yet, here she is, the only exception to that rule as she calls out after Him, Have mercy on me, O Lord.
She also addresses Jesus like a true Israelite would, calling Him the "Son of David," using a very loaded term describing David’s heir, the King who would come to rule in righteousness and to save His people. Is she just parroting what she’s heard other people say, or does she know exactly what she’s saying in addressing Jesus in this way? … She knows. Her words are intentional. She knows to Whom she is calling after, and this becomes clear after Jesus tells her, in essence, that
it is not right to give Israel’s gifts to the Gentiles. He is, after all, the Son of David, and He comes from a specific people and a specific God – YHWH, the only true God. He has come to fulfill specific purposes and promises related to a specific plan which YHWH had set in motion. Jesus is a specific Messiah; you can’t just decide to have the Jesus that you want. He is the Lord over all, and if Jesus is Lord, that means that she … is not. If Jesus is Lord, that means much more than she or anyone else around Him could have possibly known until after He had taken up His throne in the cross, died at the hands of evil men, and been vindicated as He showed Himself to be Lord even over death in His resurrection. Lord over death, and thus, Lord over everything.
Does she know what she’s saying when she calls Him "Lord?" Yes, absolutely she does, and one little word proves it definitively. I am unsure why, but it seems as though many English translations of the Bible actually mistranslate a word in the Canaanite woman’s response. Our ESV records her response, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. The word they translate as "yet" is the Greek conjunction gar. It means "for," it means "because." She’s not arguing with Jesus, or otherwise appealing to Him to make an exception to the rule in her case. That’s what the mistranslation seems to indicate. There’s no "yet." There’s no "but," or "however." She’s not arguing with Him; she’s agreeing with Him! She’s agreeing with Him, and she explains why it is that she agrees with Him.
She knows that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, that He has a specific plan to carry out and promises to fulfill, and she believes Him to be the Lord. She knows that God is keeping His promises to Israel, and that Jesus’ authority is all that matters. Yes, Lord, she says, because even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. Did you hear the difference? She’s saying, You’re right, Lord; it’s not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. Yes, Lord, it’s not right because the dogs … get to eat, too, from the crumbs and scraps that fall from the master’s table. The dogs don’t need the children’s bread because they’re already taken care of. That’s all I need, Lord – so rich and filling and gracious is the table of Israel’s Messiah and King, that the crumbs are all that I need … and I know that there is something here … for me. That’s the second thing that great faith believes: she knows who Jesus really is … and she knows that He’s got something for her, too. Jesus responds, O woman, your faith is great, and He gives.
Dear Christian friends, here are truths that we, too, believe. Jesus is the Messiah, David’s royal – and greater – Son. He is the King who was hailed … and then rejected, tortured, crucified … died, with all the world’s sin and brokenness, on a Friday. The world was dark. But overcoming every plot and dark dream the world and the forces of evil could concoct, God raised Him from the dead, and He lives eternally, exalted, at the right hand of the Father. And He is the Lord. And He has something for you.
This doesn’t make great faith easy; indeed, often it makes things considerably more difficult. If Jesus is Lord, then I am not, much as I may want to be sometimes. If Jesus is Lord, and He has something for me, it’s possible that what He’s got for me is something that I might not have wanted. Nevertheless, the Son of David is risen from the dead, thus He is the Lord, and He is for you. You have a place with Him? Yes. You belong to His people? Yes. He forgives you of your sin? Yes. He gives you peace, a purpose for your living, and the promise that, one Day, there will be full healing of all, and eternal life of body and soul with Him? … Yes.
Great faith knows who Jesus is, and believes that He has something for you, scraps and all.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.
The Boat We Call ChurchAugust 13, 2017See the Bulletin The Boat We Call Church Matthew 14:22-33 Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain ...
The Boat We Call Church
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus often prayed during times of severe temptation. Remember that Jesus in His state of humiliation or during His earthly ministry didn’t use His divine power to help Himself. That means contrary to popular opinion it wasn’t any easier for Jesus to resist temptation because He is God then it is for those who are in Christ.
As we read in Hebrews 4:15 We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So, Scriptures teach that every temptation Jesus endured caused Him the same anguish … the same tension … the same struggle that temptation produces in us. One difference of course is that Jesus resisted all those temptations and we don’t.
So, what’s the temptation that Jesus was dealing with in today’s Gospel reading? Today’s reading follows last week’s reading of the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had just finished converting a couple of fish and five loaves into a banquet for 5,000 men and their families. This feeding was so significant that all four Gospels record it for us. It’s St. John who records the crowds’ reaction to the free food. [6:15] Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. There satan again tempts Jesus to avoid the cross for an earthly kingdom.
When we understand this temptation, we understand the reason that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. Jesus has taught us to pray, Lead us not into temptation, in today’s reading Jesus is answering that prayer for the disciples. He was delivering them from temptation by commanding them to get into the boat and head for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus then sent the crowds away and went into the nearby mountains to spent the night alone in prayer. By the time Jesus finished Matthew tells us that Jesus had spent the entire night praying. When Jesus got up and looked out across the Sea of Galilee, He could see that the disciples were still out on the water because they also had been up all night fighting head winds and were still a long way from the land ….
So, they’d been up for about twenty-four hours and were in the process of making their second trip across the Sea of Galilee, this time during a storm. I don’t know about you, but my mind starts to get a little foggy after being awake well before twenty-four hours. And then, just to top off the day, they find themselves in the middle of the lake fighting the wind and waves. They had to have been totally exhausted.
Now, while Jesus never used His divine power to help Himself, He did on occasion use it to help others, and at that moment His disciples needed His help. So, Jesus walked down from the mountain across the beach, and just kept walking right out on the water until He reached His disciples who were in a boat in a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
And what was the first reaction of the disciples when they saw that help was on the way? Were they relieved? Did they rejoice when they saw Jesus? Well … not so much! When the disciples saw Jesus they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. They were terrified. Why! Truth is because they didn’t know it was Jesus.
It seems to me that before we know who He is, everyone responds to Jesus that way. St. Paul writes to the church in Rome. Romans 8:7 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. The prophet Isaiah described his encounter with the Lord this way. Isaiah 6:5 “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” You see because we are conceived in sin and so sinners by nature and so the presence of our Holy God is a terrifying thing.
But then Jesus identifies Himself. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” That is because they were terrified, Jesus encouraged them to, “Take heart.” Because they didn’t know who He was, Jesus said, “It is I.” Because they were afraid, He speaks to their fear saying, “Do not be afraid.”
You see for those who don’t know Him seeing Jesus coming to you was and will be a terrifying thing. So Jesus went to them, right where they were, and with His reassuring Words He gives them all they need.
That should have been enough but obviously for Peter it wasn’t and replies: Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” It would seem that Peter wanted more proof than the simple Word of God. Peter wanted a personal sign.
Now it’s not uncommon in Scriptures that when God’s people ask for something we’ll say “odd” God gives it to them to give them as a reality check if you will. Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus on the water. But instead of just standing next to Jesus, Peter began to look around. The wind and waves, the danger was real and it was very close. Peter begin to sink, his terror returns and he cries out, “Lord, save me.”
Now this was a lesson Peter would never forget and from which we also can learn. As Christians, we talk a lot about faith, but it’s important to remember there is more than one way to understand faith and so our talk about must accurately reflect what Scriptures teach. It is not enough to have a sincere and heart felt faith if it’s in the wrong thing. You can have a faith that fills the world, but if that faith has the wrong object then it is not saving faith.
The world says, “Believe in yourself.” Really! Look at your life in the light of the Ten Commandments. Do you really want to put your faith in you for salvation? Peter had faith in his faith but when tested he didn’t believe that Jesus was able to protect him from the storm. Thankfully for Peter, and for us, Jesus is patient, gracious, and merciful and He took hold of Peter and brought him back to the boat and the wind ceased.
Now while not a parable still we can use todays lesson to remind ourselves for example how Christ’s mercy and grace fills our lives. We can see why since the days of Noah the boat has been a symbol of Christ’s church. We can see His disciples at times not being satisfied with the Words alone that Jesus gives to us in His boat or church.
We know how inside our own hearts, like Peter, we want a personnel experience with Jesus. And so like Peter we often put our faith in our thoughts instead of God’s promises. And yet no matter how often we find ourselves sinking in a situation that we ourselves have created, Jesus is always ready to rescue us and bring us back to the place where He restores us with His gifts that is His church.
To be sure, Jesus did a lot more than walk on water to save His people. The payment itself of course was offered on the cross where Jesus became the greatest sinner of all time by taking the sin of the world upon Himself, and offering the blessings of that cross to us in His Word and Sacraments. As Paul writes: For our sake God made His Son who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
You see when Jesus died, yours sins died with Him. When Jesus rose you and all who are connected to Him by the waters of our baptism rose with Him and are even now freely justified by grace through faith in Him alone. Fear not because you do know Christ and are in Christ and in Him you and all who believe have been saved.
In His Name, Amen.
Good EatsAugust 6, 2017See the Bulletin Good Eats Isaiah 55:1-5 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, J ...
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen
The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, from the Prophet Isaiah, especially where he writes, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. … Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
If you are looking for some source material for your own personal or family devotions, I’d like to suggest to you that the prophetic words of Isaiah are excellent for such purposes. If you’ve never read the whole thing straight through, it’s a fascinating book – originally a scroll. It’s written about the falls of both the northern kingdom of Israel, and of the southern kingdom of Judah, and the Prophet even writes of the release of Judah from the Babylonian exile – and all of this is written proleptically, written about future events as if they’ve already happened, written about a century before Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was even born. It’s a beautiful blend of story and prophecy, of Law and Gospel, of debauchery and exile, as well as forgiveness and redemption There is a reason why some theologians have dubbed Isaiah’s writings as the “Fifth Gospel Account.”
Now, we don’t chop up the book of Isaiah, as the more skeptical theologians do by separating the book into four or more parts, written by four or more authors. No, we hold that Isaiah was written by the historical prophet of YHWH named Y’shaehyahu, a later contemporary of the prophet Amos, but we will say that he wrote in two different styles. About the first 2/3 of the book are words of condemnation, words of warning against both kingdoms of Israel, but there is a significant shift at the beginning of chapter 40, starting with the words, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. If you will, the first portion is written for stiff-necked, arrogant, sinful pre-exilic Israel, and the latter portion is written for the broken Judahites who have languished in a foreign land, surrounded by a pagan people, threatened with mistreatment and even death on a daily basis. These broken people are the ones who are going to be redeemed by YHWH their God, and it is in this section of Isaiah that our reading falls.
More specifically, it’s thought that the 55th chapter is written to the Judahites after Babylon has fallen to Cyrus the Great of Persia. He has conquered the conqueror, acting as YHWH’s mighty and just hand against the wicked nation He had used to punish His people. Cyrus had conquered, and now the Judahites were free. They were free from the oppressive Babylonian captivity, and they were free to return to their own land. Indeed, according to the post-exilic prophet Ezra, Cyrus issued a decree which said, YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel. The people of Judah were being encouraged to return to their homeland, to pick up the pieces and rebuild their shattered civilization, but for whatever reason – whether it was lethargy, or what Red from The Shawshank Redemption calls “being institutionalized” – they did not want to leave.
I think it was a lack of belief on the part of the people. They were YHWH’s chosen people … and they had been hauled off into captivity, to a pagan nation with customs and traditions very foreign, and oppression quite severe. Now, along comes a new conqueror – and you know the saying courtesy of The Who, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” But he’s not like the old boss. Cyrus says to return, to go back to Judah. It all sounds too good to be true, and as my Grandpa Heckert was wont to say, “If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it usually is.” The people needed some words of encouragement, words of comfort, words of reassurance that their time of chastisement was now over
So like a street vendor in a bazaar or a boothman at the state fair, YHWH invites His people, Come! Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Come, you who have no money, come, buy and eat! The time of punishment, of castigation, was over – and it wasn’t because of anything that they had done that it was over. It was purely by YHWH’s grace, His mercy, His steadfast lovingkindness, that the time was over, and Judah was welcome to come, once again, to the founts of His love, to return to the land flowing with milk and honey, to return to the comforting embrace of His mighty arms. His invitation echoes what the Psalmist wrote long before: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
This is the same message that Jesus gave to those 5000+ people. They had nothing to bring to the table, no riches with which to buy food that temporarily nourished the body. They were entirely reliant on their Teacher, their Lord … and boy, did He ever deliver. As He did centuries prior for the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness, as He has done throughout history by sending rain on the just and the unjust, Jesus provides His people with food for the physical body. Likewise, He gives them spiritual nourishment, as He did through Isaiah when He said, Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David
See, this is what YHWH does. He provides for His people, according to their various needs, and while we are neither Judahites in Babylon lacking the motivation to return to Jerusalem, nor 5000+ men, women, and children in the Judean countryside with aching bellies, we ourselves still are entirely dependent upon our Lord. The United States of America in 2017 is not the physical Babylon, but you can certainly hear echoes of that pagan nation here in our own land, and you can certainly see images of a similar oppression of the people of God. You can hear similar groanings from those who, for whatever reason, don’t wish to return to Jerusalem the Golden, to the true Temple that was torn down and rebuilt three days later. The plight of God’s people is the same throughout the ages, as we wander, pilgrims in a strange land, looking for the promised deliverance to come from God’s own hand. But He is faithful, and if He has promised it, you can be sure that He will, in His own time, bring it to fruition!
So YHWH’s invitation is the same now, here in this place, as it was back in the iterations that came before. Come, My people! He says. Come for the good eats that I provide! Come, you who thirst for forgiveness, and I will give you the cool waters of absolution! Come, you who long for spiritual milk and nourishment, and I will strengthen you with My Word. Come, you who hunger for righteousness, and My Son will give to you Himself, His own holy, precious, body and blood in, under, and with bread and wine, given and shed for you! Don’t worry about payment; your green money cannot pay the infinitely high toll, but My Son has paid it! Simply come and partake of what He has purchased, what I now give to you! Come, incline your ear to Me; listen to My words of Law and Gospel, that you may repent and believe that My Son died for the forgiveness of all your sins and secured for you salvation and life eternal! I have made, in Him, an everlasting covenant that no one will be able to break! Come, partake of these good eats, now, where you are, and enjoy them in eternity at My Son’s marriage feast, which will have no end! Come, taste and see, that I, YHWH, the Lord your God, am good!
NothingJuly 30, 2017Listen To This Sermon See the Bulletin Nothing Romans 8:28-39 + Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and fro ...
The text for our meditation is from our Epistle lesson, Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially where he writes, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…
So about a week and a half ago, the world of hard rock was substantially shaken, as news came of Chester Bennington’s unfortunate death by suicide. If you have no idea who he was, Chester was the lead singer of the alternative rock band, Linkin Park. He wrote most (if not all) of the songs the band sang. Their work has won numerous awards and accolades, heralded by many people as a voice for those struggling through difficult times. When all you wanted to do was scream, Chester did it for you, and as I said, pardon the pun, his loss has rocked the world of rock music.
I must confess, I was hit hard by his death, as well – growing up (especially in those awkward teenage, high school years), Linkin Park was one of my favorite bands, though I confess to being a fan of their earlier work, prior to their music becoming less tasteful. I hated the fact that he, and many others in recent years have been so overcome by sorrow, depression, despair, that they felt their only way to escape the pain was to end their own lives. I can’t speak intelligently about Chester’s faith life, where he was spiritually – though, of course, we pray that he had been given the gift of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. If he did, if he was a child of the promises of God – or, for that matter, if any Christian becomes so overcome by pain and sorrow that they do as he did, would that separate them from the love of Christ?
Well, what about our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world over, who know intimately all too well the words of Jesus when He said, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you? These are folks who believe on Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, the only One who has delivered us from the just punishment for our sin, and for that, they are thrown in prison. Have their livelihoods destroyed, their children stripped from them. They are people who are beaten, cursed upon, spat upon, forced into “re-education,” tortured … killed. They are found under the most oppressive governments and brutal dictatorships … and they live in “free” societies. What of them? Will the persecution they endure separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus?
Remember back to when you were children, and I’m sure that we’ve all had a parent or some other authority figure chastise us for not finishing our food, reminding us “There are starving people in Africa” or “China” or “insert-impoverished-peoplegroup-here.” Unfortunately, they may not have known how correct they were. There truly are people starving in all corners of the world; not for lack of food – to be sure, there is plenty – but rather because they are too poor to receive it. In some of the most impoverished regions of the globe, where the bellies of children have become distended from malnutrition, miraculously, many hold on to faith in Christ Jesus, their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil; indeed, it is in some of these areas that the Church is simply booming. So, what about famine? Will this nullify the Father’s declaration of our righteousness and innocence for Jesus’ sake?
How about war? Lord knows there’s enough violence throughout the world, even as we live in these current days of terrorism and renewed anxiety over prospective nuclear holocaust. The European Union is in disarray. Nations like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are becoming bolder, more bellicose in their sabre-rattling, daring our country to make the first move in a highly dangerous game of chicken. The United States herself has never been more divided, with speculations over when some states would possibly secede from the union. Domestic terror groups target the very people charged with our protection, and senseless acts of violence have become commonplace, to the point almost where we have become blasé. I just met a lady who had to flee from the south side of Chicago with her son because the neighborhood in which they lived was becoming too dangerous; when asked if she could help find a neighbor’s niece, she was shocked to find the girl’s body behind her garage, in the alley, shot to death. They left nearly everything they owned to escape the bloodshed and danger that is that urban jungle, more reminiscent of Sarajevo in the mid-90s than what one would expect of the American heartland. What of this? Can these days of wars and rumors of wars strip Christ’s love away from us?
There’s a theme that runs through all of our scripture readings for today. The love of God for His people is evident throughout all of His written Word, but it is really thematic in the words we’ve heard today. YHWH did not need to choose Abraham and his descendants to be the messianic people; out of His infinite wisdom, mercy, and love, He made them the chosen race from whom the Messiah would come. For that reason, and that reason only, they were as Moses puts it, a people holy to the Lord [their] God. YHWH had chosen them, and they became His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was His grace, His favorable disposition in spite of their works, that God kept them as His people. The Psalmist likewise reminds his readers that YHWH surrounds and protects His people with His grace and love, even as he implores the LORD to not allow his people to fall into sin. And of course, in His parables, Jesus reminds us that YHWH would spare no expense when it comes to acquiring us, His pearls of priceless worth, His treasures hidden in the fields. He spared nothing … not even the only-begotten Son … to acquire such highly-valued treasures.
Now, we should look at ourselves and think, “There’s nothing special about me; I’m a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner.” And we’d be right to think so. If I can borrow from Bo Giertz, our hearts are rusty old tin cans sitting upon a trash heap – certainly nothing to write home about. However, “a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him.” That’s the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus.
So, rightly, Paul asks the Romans, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Who or what in all of God’s creation will cut us off from His amazing grace? What of any of our trials or tribulations? Getting laid off from work? Struggling to make ends meet, as the bills stack up? Family divides and impertinent, boorish children? Diseases like cancer and AIDS? Addictions? Government policies? Will any of this separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior? … NO. Paul makes it exceedingly clear that nothing from outside of ourselves will be able to wrench us from God’s holy kungfu grip. Nothing and no one will be able to snatch us from His hands.
This is not to say that we cannot leap from His hands, that we cannot walk away from His grace, mercy, and love. His love remains, and in His love, He gives people who want nothing to do with Him exactly what they want: His absence. But we who remain safely in His care pray that this day would never come, that the Holy Spirit would keep us steadfast in the faith to life everlasting, and we trust that God, who has begun this good work in us, will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
Thus really, to trust that the Holy Spirit will preserve us, to trust in God’s Word and His promises given to us in holy Baptism, the promises received in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, truly, even in our sin, we can say with St. Paul that we are convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So, I ask you, dear Christian friends, what can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? NOTHING.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.