Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Today's readings are Psalm 85.1-7, Numbers 9.1-23, and Luke 16.1-18.
We often think of the Passover as a feast for Israel, and it is. However, notice in Numbers 9.14 that this feast which foreshadows the death of Jesus on our behalf is given not only to the descendants of Abraham, but to all the strangers who accept it as well. God has made his means of grace available to all nations. He does not bar anyone from receiving forgiveness, provided we all come to him in the same way. We read in Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith, as a gift of God. And that faith is not in ourselves or anything other than in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. This is the means God has appointed for us. It is available to all, including the strangers sojourning among us. Let us rejoice that our Lord delights in providing such forgiveness.
Monday, May 30, 2011
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 103.8, ESV). We see God's mercy in the provision for the Levites and their service. He appoints a means of cleansing for his servants. He provides for their physical needs. He even arranges for them to rest after years of service in the temple. Likewise, in the Gospel for today we see that God, pictured in the father, lays down his desires and his riches to bless his sons, both of his sons. They use the father's riches as they would. When one of them misuses them and brings shame, the father picks him up and celebrates the fact that he now knows he was wrong. God even celebrates over our repentance! Truly our Lord is merciful and gracious.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Audio link http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/110529John14.mp3
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
I wonder if you know what struck me the first time I was in a Lutheran church which followed the traditional liturgy? It wasn’t the fact that it was easy to concentrate on the words of the Introit, Gradual, and the Psalm that we chanted. It wasn’t the fact that there were three extended passages from Scripture read. It wasn’t the sermon or the hymns. It wasn’t the vestments or the symbolic position the pastor was in at different parts of the service. Those were all good and welcome. But they didn’t strike me over the head and surprise me. What did was the trinitarian nature of the worship. It was how much there was an emphasis on the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but one Trinity.
Sometimes we seem to take the Trinity for granted. Our liturgy is bold about the three persons of the Godhead, but I fear we ourselves fall short. It isn’t just Lutherans who do it, either.
Years ago, very early in my Christian experience, I was involved in charismatic churches. Yes, these were the Trinitarian ones. But it seemed we spent a lot of time speculating about what the specific role of each person of the Godhead might do. We tended to separate the three. And sometimes we’d tend to look to the Holy Spirit as if he was the God who really was there, caring for us. Maybe deep down we sometimes thought of the Father as a sort of distant figure, the Son as someone who did some work but was no longer busy working in us, and the Spirit as God of the moment.
It’s really easy, though, to have this idea that maybe only one person of the Godhead is present at any given time, or that when we speak to the Father we aren’t speaking to the Son or the Holy Spirit. We are awfully good at confusing ourselves that way. And because we are so good at that, in John 14, Jesus spends some time talking with his disciples.
Jesus has been telling the apostles that he is going to depart. He’s going to go to his Father in heaven. They will not be able to follow him there, because he’ll have to die to do it, but he plans to leave them living on earth. The disciples feel abandoned, already, even though Jesus hasn’t left them yet. Their Lord is departing. Who will guide them? Who will teach them? He’s done miracles. Who is going to do that now? What hope do they have without Jesus’ presence? He’s their rabbi, their teacher. He’s a father figure to them. Who are they going to trust when he isn’t there?
But Jesus reminds his disciples. He is one member of the Trinity. He is not alone, nor are the disciples. He goes to the Father, but the Holy Spirit, already dwelling with them, will be with them. Just because the physical, bodily Jesus is not walking around laying his hands on people, just because they can’t hear his voice telling them what they need to hear, just because he is with the Father, that doesn’t mean that God has departed from his people. Not at all. God is not departing from his people. He is not distant. He is not hard to find. He is there, present, really present, for his people, for all their need. They are not orphans. They have one God. They have one Father. And the Father sends the Son. At the Son’s request the Father sends the Spirit as well.
What does the Holy Spirit do in his people? Now here we go again. We need to be careful that we don’t try to divide the persons of the Trinity. Remember that God is God. So what does the Holy Spirit do? He is there for his people when they need him. He is seen and known by believers, because he dwells with them. He serves as a father, preventing Christians from being orphans. He is there, Jesus is there. See how even Jesus’ language becomes a little confusing here? He says he is leaving, that the Holy Spirit is coming, that he is coming, that the Holy Spirit will dwell with his people, and that he will dwell with them. He even pulls the Father in there. The Father is in the Son and the believers are in the Son and the Son is in the believers. It becomes a big mess of language because we’re trying to say something that we simply can’t express. But Jesus says it anyway. We can try to understand it as far as we can. But it won’t fit onto our nice neat flip chart or our corporate table of responsibilities.
Here’s the big summary, then. Jesus is departing from the earth. Truly, but not entirely. He is with his believers, in the fullness of the Godhead, dwelling with them, by the power of the Holy Spirit. God himself is in us. We are in God. We are bound to our triune God, who is always with us. We know him. He knows us. We live in him. He lives in us.
Do we face doubts? Do we fear? Are we afraid that our Lord will leave us as orphans? Maybe we’ve faced trouble in our lives. Maybe our families have abandoned us, maybe there’s unresolved conflict within our households. Maybe we see that we’re to blame for those conflicts. Maybe we doubt God’s provision and love for us. Maybe we wonder whether our Lord can reach into our lives and make a difference. Maybe we think God is far away. Our Lord wants us to know today that he is not far away. He has not abandoned us. As we celebrate the ascension of our Lord this Thursday we also look to the giving of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost two weeks from now. We can know that God is in us, that we are in him, and that he has not left us unprotected. He ever lives so we can live too. He has carried our sins so we don’t have to carry them. He has gathered us from all nations, from the corners of the world, if we could go far enough to find corners, to make us his own people. And he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us always, even to the end of the world.
Our Lord, we are full of doubt. We are so quick to think you might not mean what you say, or that you won’t keep your promises. Show us this day that you are the God who keeps all your promises, even those that we can’t comprehend. May you live and reign in us as one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, caring for us as a father cares for his dear children. Amen.
Jesus tells us that it is very costly to follow him. We leave all we have and go to follow him. Yet how costly is this to him? Like the woman who searches eagerly for the lost coin or like the shepherd who goes to retrieve his lost sheep, Jesus comes to us while we are lost. He claims us as his own, at great expense to himself, laying his very life down on our behalf, to ransom us from death and destruction. Do not fear the cost of following Jesus. Rejoice that Jesus considers you worth the cost of redemption.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
We see a common theme in all our readings today. God will bring rest and blessing to his people in the place and in the way that he chooses. He will gather his people by faith, in repentance, and will meet their every needs. Those who refuse his grace will be condemned, those who trust in his promises will receive them.
How do we treat God's promises? Do we view them as that which we can earn? Do we view them as something we deserve somehow? Or do we view them as the blessings of a merciful God who gives them to undeserving people according to his good pleasure? Let us receive our Lord's promises with thanksgiving.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Throughout our reading today we see God's call to repentant obedience and faith in God. We see the great blessing of God upon his people when they turn to him. What's the response that we sinful men give to God's grace? Look with me at Luke 13. 34-35. We refuse God's nurture and correction. We refuse his protection. We flee from the safety found under God's wings. We prefer to wander on our own, making or breaking our own lives, following our own priorities. For that reason we find that our house is forsaken. We reject God and he allows his blessing to pass us by.
May the Lord turn our hearts to him in repentance. May we be blessed to desire the lovingkindness of our Lord and Savior who eagerly desires to gather us and care for us with all his divine power. May we not look around and see that we have been forsaken by the one we forsook.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
One of the common complaints I hear about the Old Testament shows up in today's reading from Leviticus. Isn't all that "an eye for an eye" bit primitive, hostile and vindictive? It's amazing how much weight that argument carries with people nowadays. So it's time to get into our "wayback" machine and see what we see for justice in ancient societies. Actually, we can do this one without the wayback machine. Let's imagine some of the people who live in neighborhoods very much like the ones I have lived in for the past quarter of a century. They become embroiled in an argument. Someone says something hurtful. To stop such hurtful words, the person who was hurt drives by in the middle of the night and breaks all the windows of his former friend's car with a baseball bat. Or in an increasingly prevalent scenario, person A removes a small amount of cash or drugs from person B's possession. Person B shoots person A multiple times.
Now let's look at the kind form of justice found in Leviticus 24.17-23. Because you know you are liable to punishment commensurate with the harm you cause, you are first of all careful to bring no harm to your neighbor or his possessions. With that in mind you also find that when you do bring harm to your neighbor or his possessions you are protected in that you will incur no greater harm than you caused, though you will also have the added shame of being found guilty. This is very kind and gentle justice. It urges people to care for their neighbors and to limit their vengeance. This is something our society could use more of.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
We're looking forward to this move to Watseka, Illinois. It will be a difficult transition and a challenging first year, with my schedule at The Potter's School remaining full at the same time that I have a full schedule as a pastor. But I've worked double-time sometimes in the past and frankly wouldn't know what to do with myself if I had only one job.
Will we miss the community where we've lived for almost sixteen years? Sure! Let's see, brick streets lined with beautiful trees, a very classy house dating from 1917, friendly neighbors, knowing where to go and what to do in town, knowledge of the places to get the best deals when shopping for anything, there's lots to miss. Yet we look forward to moving to a smaller community, a town of about 10% the size of our current town. They've got sidewalks, trees, neat houses, and businesses as well. In a smaller community it will be more possible to get to know a wide variety of people. It isn't as transient a society there. And we'll get to start over with new habits and patterns of life. For the first time in a very long time we'll live less than a half hour's drive from where we worship and will feel much more like members of the community. We look forward to that.
So here we go - move minus 19.
Today's readings are Psalm 116.12-19, Leviticus 23.23-44, and Luke 12.35-53.
In our reading from Luke we are called to remain prepared for action. Our master, Jesus Christ, who has ascended to heaven yet has promised to be with us always, will come at a time we do not know. We are commanded to be vigilant, watching for him. This passage has often been used to scare people into attentiveness. Yet what do we see of the context of the passage? What happens when our Lord comes and finds us vigilant? He will act as our servant, making us recline at table while he serves us. He will throw a party and treat us to every good thing. There's our motivator. We're not to be motivated by fear. Rather, motivated by the love of God in Christ we look to his return.
As we are watching, as we are being vigilant, what do we do? We engage ourselves in the work that our Lord has placed before us. We busy ourselves about loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength. We busy ourselves about loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is our calling. This is what we render to our Lord, as we read in the Psalm today. This is the offering that we give, doing what our Lord has given us to do as we wait for him.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Today's readings are Psalm 127, Leviticus 23.1-22, and Luke 12.13-34.
Psalm 127.2 (ESV) "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep."
Throughout today's readings we see that God provides for the needs of his people. We can trust in our Lord for all we need, whether it is what is required for the Sabbath, the Passover, or the other celebrations throughout the year. Jesus reminds us in Luke that he is the one who provides us with all we need. His provision is based on his knowledge of our need and his care for us.
We have no need to worry. We confide in a living God whose good pleasure is to give us the kingdom. We can rest in him.
Monday, May 23, 2011
We've often talked about the Law/Gospel paradigm on this blog. As a brief review, law statements in Scripture are what God demands we should do. Gospel statements are what God says he does on our behalf. We see a really good example of these next to each other in Luke 12.4-7. We're told first that we shouldn't fear anyone except God, who is able to condemn people to hell. There's our law statement. It's a dreadful reality. The Bible speaks very openly about the reality of condemnation. Yet what are we to do when we end up fearful? What are we to do in the presence of this God who is able to destroy, who is truly worthy of fear? Our Gospel statement comes to the surface then. Our God, who is able to kill and destroy, is also the one who lovingly knows even the scarce commodity known as hairs on my head! We are of far more value to God than the sparrows, or than our hairs, things which are seemingly inconsequential. This is true Gospel. It's good news. It's nothing that we do, simply what God does. May we rejoice today in the giver of all good gifts.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
I’d like to read verses 9-10 of 1 Peter 2 again. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” With these words Peter lays out the Christian’s true identity and purpose. I’d like to unpack the ideas in this passage a little bit today. Maybe it will help us all as we continue through the week. May the Lord help us to see what we really are in his sight.
First off, though, I’m afraid I have to say something about wrong teaching I’ve heard. You’ve probably heard this passage preached before. Maybe someone has told you something that goes like this. Here God calls us to be his chosen people. We are to live like we are chosen. We are to lay hold of his promises and live like kings and priests before him. We need to trust in his promise and see that we are wealthy, powerful, and holy. Once we start looking at ourselves that way, he’ll make us to be that way. This will be God’s best for you. It’s his desire, and he will do it in us if we only start acting in accordance with his command for us to be kings and priests.
There’s something really popular about this kind of teaching. It has a warmth to it. It gives us something to hold onto. It sounds hopeful. It really gives me a hope that God will do something in my life, if only I start having the kind of faith he requires. But there are a few things wrong with this way of looking at this passage. If we think about it carefully, it doesn’t give us the kind of hope that God wants us to have. Let’s see why.
To do that, first we have to look at grammar just a little bit. There are three basic types of sentences we need to understand. Some of them are sentences we call “indicative,” some are called “imperative,” and some are what we call “subjunctive.” An indicative sentence makes a description. It indicates what’s going on in the real world. It’s a descriptive sentence. It tells about reality. The imperative sentence makes a command. It tells us to do something. The subjunctive sentence is used to show what we could or should do. It shows a possibility or a result of some other action.
Let’s see what we see in this passage. “You are a chosen race...” That’s indicative, isn’t it. It describes reality. It doesn’t command anything. It doesn’t show possibility. It’s a description. Now, “that you may proclaim...” That’s one of those subjunctives. It’s the result of our being the chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s possession. It isn’t a command. It’s a description of a result. We look at verse ten and see that it’s describing reality. Another indicative sentence.
Did we see a command in this passage? No. Not at all. There’s nothing God is commanding us to do here. Nothing at all. He’s describing what we are, then what we normally do, then what we are again. And his description of what we do isn’t a command, it’s just describing what we do by nature. All this that Peter tells us about is by God’s activity, God’s will. It isn’t based on what we do or how well we obey. It’s God’s mercy at work. And that’s really good news. Maybe I don’t believe so well. Maybe I don’t follow Christ as well as I’d like. Maybe I don’t pray as much or as fervently as I should. Maybe if I think I do really well I ought to repent and ask God to forgive me of lying to myself. But this picture of what we are is not based on how well we obey. It’s based on God’s favor for us. Salvation is of the Lord, not us. And that’s real hope.
So what are we, as created in Christ? We are chosen in Christ. We’re a new creation, a new race, we have a new nature, recreated in Christ.
What does it mean to be a royal priesthood? Think of the power and authority of royalty. Think of the noble position anyone called “his” or “her royal highness” has. These are people who can command other people. They are people who have sovereignty. They are able to exercise their power for good or for evil, often without much to stop them. Now take a sovereign and make him a priest. What does a priest do? The priest comes before God on behalf of the people. He makes sacrifices. He prays. He enables people in their worship, giving them access to God. When God sees us as a royal priesthood we are people of power, authority, and a noble position of service. We are those who can come boldly before God’s throne on behalf of other people. We are people who can expect our prayers to be answered. We are people who can be looked to for wisdom, spiritual advice, for counsel, for protection. Does this seem like a big responsibility? It is. But this is not something God is commanding us to do. It is something our Lord says we are. And as we have been called out in the Name and authority of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we can trust that he will give us all the resources we need. He will walk with us, enabling us in our study, in our prayers, giving us his desires, making us the people he has decreed us to be. We are a royal priesthood.
We are also a holy nation. In Christ we are made citizens of heaven. We have divine protection. We have been granted amnesty, pardon from sin. We are partakers of eternal life. We are promised that we will live in the resurrection and never have pain, sickness, hunger, thirst, or sorrow of any sort. We are under God’s protection and cannot be cast out of his kingdom. We do not have to worry about our citizenship, because our Lord has decreed us to be citizens of heaven. He has given us the nature of his people, the nature of his Son, cleansing us and fitting us for fellowship with him in eternity. We are a holy nation, not subject to the boundaries and distinctions that our earthly nations have. We don’t have to be afraid of class distinctions. We don’t have to worry about national origins. We don’t have to worry about skin color. We don’t have to worry about any of that. All who believe on Jesus are made citizens of one holy nation, the kingdom of God.
We see also we are God’s possession. When he claims us in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in baptism, when he creates belief in our hearts in the triune God, when he forgives us our sins in his triune name, when he lays his blessing on us, again using a trinitarian formula, we see that God is laying claim to us. We are not our own. We are adopted into Christ’s kingdom. We are made co-heirs with Christ in eternity. We are adopted as sons of the heavenly Father. And I use the term “sons” on purpose. Throughout history, daughters have not received inheritances. Sons have. God adopts his people as sons. We receive an inheritance from our Lord, whose wealth never runs out. We are heirs of God in Christ. He owns us and reserves the right to pour out his blessing without limit upon us. And as adopted sons, he doesn’t give blessing by compulsion, like he would pay someone who is hired. He gives blessing because he wants to. God sees us. He knows us and our nature. And he pours out his blessing on us because we have been adopted in his perfect blameless Son.
So what’s the purpose of all this? What do we end up doing as a result of God’s activity? We proclaim God’s excellency. We proclaim the praises of him. What has he done? What are his promises? This is what shows in our lives. This is what shows in our attitudes. We receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Do we think that isn’t visible? We have a deep-seated joy in our savior even in difficult times. Do we think we can hide it? I know some of us try, but really we shouldn’t bother. The Christian naturally reflects Christ. Sometimes we seem to reflect a distorted image of him. All right, we always seem to reflect a distorted image of our Savior. But in our very being, since we are recreated in Christ, we reflect his person.
How has our Lord proved up on his promises? Do we need some sort of evidence that we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s possession, with a special purpose? Consider just that our Lord has called us, while we were yet sinners, dying for us. He redeems us, purchasing our forgiveness, that which we could not and would not do ourselves. He adopts us into his kingdom, into his family, giving us all the love and care that a father gives his child. He shows his mercy on us, daily pouring out blessing after blessing on us, his people.
This is really good news. It isn’t about what we can do. It isn’t about what we earn. It is about what Jesus is doing in and through us.
Let us pray.
Our Lord, you have chosen us. You have called us out of darkness into your marvellous light. Let us walk in you. Let us delight in you. May the world see your glory reflected in your people, that they may also become partakers of your glory, for you, the Light of the World, ever live and reign from glory to glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Our reading from Psalms today tells us not to worry about evildoers. They will do their evil things and God will be the judge of them. It strikes me that it is easy to worry about what people can do to us. We seem bent on protecting ourselves from every manner of harm, every sort of chaos, every physical danger we might face. Not content with personal safety measures, we even have governmental efforts to protect us from dangerous substances, now increasingly including particular types of food and drinks which may not even be harmful in themselves. We ultimately can become so intent on guarding ourselves and others we know and love from harm that we cause harm to our society through our protectivenes.
Where do we place our trust? Is it in our door locks? Is it in our nutritional analysis? Is it in our education? Is it in our representative government? Is it in our Lord? May we depend on the Lord to watch over the affairs of this world. He alone truly knows what he is doing. He alone truly knows what is best for his people.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
I've had a lot of times of conversation with friends about whether or not wedding services belong in the Church. After all, in many respects, marriage has a great deal to do with societal order, inheritance, financial liability, and the like. Particularly the Puritans considered it a civil arrangement and did not think it appropriate within the confines of the Church.
Yet our Lord tells us through the apostle Paul that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). God considers marriage important. He creates a "one flesh" relationship for people who are married. And it is the institution of marriage he uses to maintain an ordered society. There are lots of great reasons for a marriage to be a matter of Church practice.
So Peter and Amanda are proclaimed married in the triune Name and under the blessing of the Lord God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May they rejoice in one another, being a reflection of Christ and His Church, as long as they both live.
Psalm 36.7-12, Leviticus 19.9-18, 26-37, Luke 11.14-36 - Lectionary for 5/21/11 - commemoration of Constantine and Helena, mother of Constantine
Today's readings are Psalm 36.7-12, Leviticus 19.9-18, 26-37, and Luke 11.14-36.
We recently read about loving your neighbor as yourself. See in Leviticus how there are many specific ways listed to love one's neighbor. See also today the way Jesus shows love for his neighbors, bringing healing, warning them against danger they can have, proclaiming them blessed by God, and promising his deliverance.
How has Jesus loved you? How are we doing at seeing that Jesus is the God who has come to be our neighbor and who has shown his love for us? I pray that we may all take some time of thanksgiving today, realizing how great our Lord's love for us has been.
Friday, May 20, 2011
What confidence do we have in our Lord? We see when we look into God's Word that we are lawbreakers. We may try, and try very hard, to keep the commands which God has given. But ultimately we fail, time and again. Especially when we see that true righteousness comes from a pure heart, pure motives, and a spirit which loves the Lord wholly, as we read in yesterday's readings, we see that we fall short of the mark.
Do we have confidence then? Yes we do, and it's a great deal of confidence. We think of the love that fathers have for their children, that they will normally work for the good of their children, to protect and nurture them, to provide them with what they need. At lunch time, a father doesn't give his child a rock and a venomous snake. He gives him some sort of food. Yet we see that we human fathers do not love our children as God loves, for his love is perfect. How does God love us? He loves us so much that he will give the Holy Spirit - God himself, living in us, when we ask him.
Lord, grant us your Holy Spirit.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
In Luke 10.27 we are presented with the two great commands of God. Love God with our all. Love our neighbor as ourself. We see that the person who articulated those commands, the person talking with Jesus, immediately follows up by asking a question that might release him from some of the possible demands of God. If he can eliminate a large number of his neighbors on some technicality, he thinks he might find that he isn't breaking God's law. Of course, he doesn't try to approach the idea of loving God entirely and always, perfectly, which he knows deep down he doesn't do.
This idea of loving your neighbor is a problem, though. I've often heard a poorly nuanced answer given for who our neighbor is. People may make the suggestion based on this passage of Scripture that everyone is our neighbor. I'd contend that Jesus doesn't say that. The fact is, if everybody in the world is my neighbor, it's utterly impossible that I should love my neighbor. For instance, as I was writing the prior sentence, I saw a fire truck go down the street about a block away. I don't know where it is going, what kind of call it is responding to, or anything about the people involved. I'm incapable of loving those people on the fire engine or the people who instigated the call as I love myself. Why? I have no idea who they are and have no contact with them.
On the contrary, look at the example of the Samaritan man and the person who had been attacked by robbers. They have proximity. They are actually in contact with one another. The Samaritan man has means and opportunity to help the other man. He did not have means and opportunity to help other people who, at that time, were not his neighbors. It's important in defining how we love our neighbor that we realize our neighbor is always someone we have contact with. We have knowledge of that person and have, at least on some level, the opportunity to love and serve the person.
Let us love our neighbors as ourselves, and we hope we have many many neighbors. But let us not be fearful that we will incur the wrath of God by not making everyone in the world our neighbor. Some people are, some people simply aren't.
May God bless us this day with all the neighbors he would like us to have.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Here's a humorous picture from the visit. Notice carefully what kind of birds these are. Are they spies?
There are times when we feel really good about what we've done. We have followed the directions given to us. We've completed our task. Life is good. No doubt, on one level, when Aaron and his sons had completed the sacrifices on behalf of the people of Israel, when they were tired but knew they had worked for the people's forgiveness, they would go to wash up and feel very good about a good day's work. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two to minister in his name, they returned in victory, feeling very good about themselves.
What was Jesus' response to these disciples? Yes, they had done well, working according to his commands, doing what he told them to do. But their rejoicing should not come from the fact that they were able to do mighty works. The joy of the believers should come because of the greatest miracle of all, that their names are written in heaven.
Christians are partakers of an eternal heavenly reward. We are forgiven. This should overcome all the other reasons for rejoicing that we can ever concoct. Do we look earnestly to our Lord with thanksgiving and praise because he is greater than all the circumstances that drag us down, greater than the sin that besets us? Let us rejoice. Our names are written in heaven.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Our reading from Leviticus puts me in mind of the first petition of the Lord's Prayer. "Hallowed be thy name." The work of the priests was designed to show God's glory and holiness. Their garments, their tools, their actions, all that they said and did was prescribed by God and had symbolic importance. It all pointed to the holiness of the God who has provided a means of forgiveness. We don't know how, though many people assume from the words of verse 9 that Nadab and Abihu may have been drunk, but somehow they decided to do something which went counter to the commands of God. They made an offering which God had not promised to bless and which he had not told them to make. This resulted in their destruction.
The holy God of all is quite clear in requiring perfection. For this reason, he has not only demanded a perfect offering for the sin of man, the death of the perfect man, but, knowing that we cannot provide what he demands, he has provided his own offering, Jesus Christ, God the Son. It is not by our works or by our righteousness that we can approach God. It is only through Jesus, the one God has appointed. Let us look with thanksgiving to our Lord who has provided according to his righteousness what we need to approach him in holiness.
Monday, May 16, 2011
blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com
In Leviticus 9.7 Moses tells Aaron to approach God's altar with his offerings. He says this offering that Aaron will make is a real offering which makes atonement for sin. It is effective. With his offering Aaron really approaches God. He really establishes forgiveness of sins, both for himself and for the people.
The sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus is based on a series of very memorable acts which show God's condemnation of sin as well as the application of a substitute to the human sinner. The animal in the sin offering is killed. Sin brings death. The blood of the animal is put on the altar and on the person making the offering. The animal is destroyed. The sinner bringing the offering lives. It's all very concrete. It's unmistakable. You don't do something like that and forget it.
Likewise, Jesus' offering himself once for the sins of all the people, Jesus' true death on our behalf, Jesus' true bodily resurrection - this is something that is unforgettable. Yet sadly we, as doubtless did the Israelites, can tend to take it for granted. May the Lord remind us of his genuine work on our behalf, his becoming the offering for sin, his approach to the altar of God, bringing himself as the sacrificial animal, applying the blood to God's altar and to us who believe.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
When we modern Christians look at the early Church we’re impressed. How did they do what they did? Sometimes we think of these people, these early believers, the people who turned the world upside down with their doctrine, and we think they are some sort of incredible superstars. They must have had real faith. Maybe the Holy Spirit was working in them a way that he doesn’t work in us. Maybe we don’t trust God like they did. We wonder all sorts of things about those early saints. What held them together?
We can’t tell for certain what they did that made such a difference in their world. The world is more complicated than that. So it isn’t a good idea to try to follow some sort of formula. “The early Christians did this with that result, so if we do it we’ll have the same result.” Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. But in our passage from Acts today we do see four characteristics of the early Christians which we know are for the good of Christ’s Church. We see that the believers continued in doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Let’s look at each of those in order.
In verse 42 we see the early believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (ESV). Then in verse 43 we see that God was doing signs and wonders through the apostles. Devotion to the doctrine, the teaching of Scripture (doctrine is just another name for “teaching”), in this case leads to miraculous work. We believe God does works of healing. We pray for people to be healed. And what do we see? Our Lord is a God of healing. Not everyone always recovers, yet we see that God works through his people, bringing healing of bodies, healing of relationships, healing of all sorts of hurts. And many times this happens as we look to our Lord and we see his loving kindness, his mercy, and his grace. We see how he has commanded us to live with one another, we’re moved to repentance, and we seek forgiveness and restoration.
Forgiveness is another of those miracles God works. Do you believe that when I stand up and proclaim forgiveness of all your sin in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that his forgiveness is worked in you? Jesus, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth, has sent his believers to proclaim forgivenss of sin in his name. It’s in his authority. Your sins are forgiven. I announce the forgiveness of God to you and you receive that forgiveness. It’s truly miraculous. He takes your sin and your guilt away and you don’t have to carry it any more. This is a sign and wonder. Nobody else can do it, only Jesus.
What about conversion? What about repentance for sin? Is it not God who creates a new heart in us as we receive faith by the Holy Spirit and believe that he has redeemed us from sin? Every time someone believes on Christ, every time someone receives the life-giving washing of baptism, that’s a miracle. God works miracles around us and we don’t even notice them!
How about this miracle? In Holy Communion God gives us assurance of life, assurance of his presence with us, assurance that we have been forgiven of our sin. As we hear and receive His words, “take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you” we also hear and receive his words, “this is my blood which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” As we continue in the apostles’ doctrine we live a life full of God’s miracles. All we need to do is open our eyes and see that miraculous provision.
The early Christians also continued in fellowship. We see that the fellowship of believers in the New Testament is, among other things, a fellowship of belief, a fellowship of possessions, and a fellowship of concerns for one another. we’ve already touched on the commonality of belief. But that’s one of the reasons I’m so big on study of the Scripture, the Confessions, the Catechism. Do we gather around a common body of doctrine? Where there’s thoughtful unity of belief we see we have a great deal in common. We have a lot to hold us together. Again, we think about communion. As we gather around the table, we confess that we hold the truth of Christ’s death on our behalf, his promise to be with us, and the reality of his bodily presence in common. We also gather to eat together, expressing our common regard for the well being of each other. This is fellowship indeed.
We also see in Acts that the believers shared their possessions and the profits of their businesses. They took their resources and used some of them to benefit their neighbors. They continued in fellowship, seeking each other’s good. How do we do this? Certainly we receive an offering. Do we help one another? What about when someone is moving? How about planting or harvest time, when life is really busy? Do we get together and help one another? You may not believe it, but sometimes to a family with someone ill, bringing a pot of soup and a loaf of bread is an incredible act of kindness and fellowship.
Third, the believers continued in breaking of bread. Does this refer to communion? As much as I’d like it to, I think it probably is not. That’s part of the doctrine and fellowship. Here, and in many places throughout Acts, I think it’s referring simply to believers eating meals together. The term “breaking of bread” is used both for communion and for eating a meal. But here it seems they are doing this from house to house on a daily basis, maybe as particularly small groups. But dining together is also important, as is communion. Do you invite others over to eat? Do you accept invitations to dine together? Eating together is a significant sign of peace. It’s a sign of concern for each other. It’s a time when you lay down your defenses and show the welcome for each other that our Lord has shown for us.
Finally, the believers continued in prayer. They were giving praise to God. They were praying for one another. They were praying for their enemies as well. Do you ever wonder if you could pray better? Spend time doing it. Do it together. Borrow words that other people have prayed and make them your own words. Your hymnal has a pretty good collection of prayers for all sorts of needs. There are other prayer books available as well. One well known one is Starck’s Prayer Book. Concordia Publishing House publishes the Treasury of Daily Prayer which is a great book, with Scripture readings, prayers, and brief readings from historic confessions and famous Christians for each day. I find that as I study and pray prayers by other believers throughout the ages I start praying more about what the Scripture says and what God’s priorities are rather than letting my prayers center on me.
So here we have it. The early Christians continued in doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. It was a big feature of their lifestyle. And it won’t hurt us in any way. As we join together in doctrine, fellowship and prayers weekly in the Divine Service, maybe we can continue in those as we gather throughout the week, adding some breaking of bread now and then too. It’s a revolutionary life. It changes society. It changes us. And it’s done as God works in and through us, encouraging us, building us up in His holy name.
Let’s rise to pray together.
Our Lord, create in us a hunger for your word, for fellowship with other believers, for time spent together rejoicing in you, for prayer. Let us have the mind of Christ, considering our neighbors as more important than ourselves. Give us a concern for those who would oppose your will and your kingdom. Let us think your thoughts after you as we pray in Your name and authority, this we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Our collection of readings today works together in a very interesting way. The Psalmist talks about God riding out in victory. If we take that as our overall focus, we see how God shows his victorious presence. He anoints the Levitical priesthood for service, providing them with the holiness they need to minister before God, washing them and anointing them, providing them with the food they are to eat. Then in Luke we see Jesus sending out the twelve apostles with authority to preach the Gospel and to heal. Apparently not considering that to be the end of his work, Jesus takes his apostles and heals and feeds a great multitude of people. This is God's victory. He comes to his people in their need. He provides them with the healing and forgiveness they need. Then he gives them their daily bread, showing that he will care for them day after day. As long as God is the victorious God, the needs of his people will be met.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Several times in recent months people have told me that pastors don't seem to want to visit people any more. Maybe I'm naive. This has been news to me. It never crossed my mind not to go to visit people who couldn't make it to corporate worship. For that matter, it never crossed my mind that a pastor wouldn't be visiting people who were regularly attending worship. In our reading from Luke 8 today we see the kind of thing that can happen when Jesus goes visiting. On the way to visit a sick child, Jesus kind of incidentally heals a chronically ill woman. While he is going, he also hears that the girl has died. Yet when Jesus arrives, he raises the girl to life again.
Now if I come to visit you and you have died, well, I don't suppose you will be hoping I will raise you from the dead. Maybe your relatives will hope that. But don't be surprised if nothing happens. Yet I do know that our Lord and Savior sends his servants bearing his Word which is powerful. We come to visit in the power of the Holy Spirit, who will comfort and guide Christians into all truth. We bring Christ and his answers to the situations we confront. That's the pastor's job. That's the gift God gives his pastors. It's important that we come and visit the saints with God's word. For that matter, visitation is probably more important than any of the other tasks I can do as a pastor. There are plenty of people who are fine preachers and probably write sermons that are as good or better than mine. We could always buy those and read them. By the power of the internet we could probably be spectators in a very dynamic worship service and then take in a bang-up sermon from whatever source interests us. But it's the local pastor who is going to come and talk with the saints, to visit them, to hold their hands at a rough time and pray for them. It's the local pastor who is going to bring Christ and his answers to the specific situation we are facing today. This is critical. Let's get busy about it.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Today's readings are Psalm 119.145-152, Exodus 38.21-39.8, 22-23, 27-31, and Luke 8.1-21.
Through the first 25 years or so of my Christian walk I was in situations where ministers were not supposed to wear fancy clothes. If they were, they certainly wouldn't wear robes or vestments. They would maybe wear nice business suits, though more often you'd see a pastor in a shirt and tie or a shirt and no tie. There is, within much of American evangelicalism, a bias against ministers "dressing up." They want to emphasize that the pastor is a person, just like other people in the congregation, simply with a special role of caring for God's flock.
When I look at passages like our reading today in Exodus I see a different picture. God's special servants wear special garments, maybe very costly garments, with ceremonial significance. Those who are leading God's people in worship dress in a way they will only dress for those ceremonial tasks. And the very garments have an important symbolism.
This is one of the reasons that when I am "on duty" as a pastor I typically wear black garments and a clerical shirt, the "uniform" of clergy. The black serves as a symbol of sin. The white collar inserted at the throat symbolizes Christ's righteousness inserted into my life by his sovereign grace. When officiating in a church service, I add the white robe, called an "alb" (named after its color, being the Latin word for "white"), which symbolizes the righteousness of Christ put on over my sinful nature. I wear a good sized cross on my chest. I chose a rather simple pewter cross because of Christ's humiliation, associating with common people. I also choose to wear a rope cincture in the color appropriate for the season of the Church year. Some people like to wear a stole with the color for the time of year as well. I prefer the simple rope fastener, again as a symbol that I'm nobody special, it's Christ in me who is special.
Is it all right for pastors not to wear a special uniform? I suppose so. Then again, as a Russian Orthodox priest I was talking with some months ago told me, he has a simple response to pastors who question his wearing of a black cassock and big gold cross. He says that when he goes into the hospital people know he's not an insurance agent. He never has to explain that, like his Baptist pastor friends do.
Our Lord lets his people be seen as His in all sorts of different ways. May we rejoice to make Him known.
Observe in today's readings how on the one hand God chooses his priests because of who they are - descendants of Aaron - and on the other hand He has no regard for the individual qualities of the priests. They are priests because the are descendants of Aaron. But simply because they are descendants of Aaron they are priests. All of them are appointed for making sacrifices, making prayers on behalf of the people, and dispensing God's forgiveness.
Likewise we see in the New Testament that God chooses his servants not necessarily because of their qualifications. The qualifications for elders are really qualities we can expect to see in most any mature Christian. Of course, God has given the pastoral ministry specifically to men (women can't be a husband of one wife) and many people will suggest that a pastor should definitely be married or at least have been married in the past. God doesn't call everybody to be a pastor. Yet he calls people to be pastors regardless of their amount of charisma, regardless of their good looks, he calls people of a wide variety of ages, with no regard to racial or ethnic background. Our Lord raises up his servants where he wishes to do so. And they are appointed, as are the members of the Aaronic priesthood, to pray, to dispense God's forgiveness, and to acknowledge the true sacrifice, Christ our Lord, given on our behalf.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Psalm 84.1-4, Exodus 34.29-35.21, Luke 7.36-50 - Lectionary for 5/11/11 - Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs
Today's readings are Psalm 84.1-4, Exodus 34.29-35.21, and Luke 7.36-50.
The Psalmist pictures God's courts as a place of safety. We fly to God as a bird flies to a shelter in a time of danger or distress. What benefit does God receive from our looking to him for safety? None at all, no more than a barn receives a benefit from a swallow that hides under its eaves.
How do we flee to God? We come to him for comfort. We come to him for protection. We look to him for our supply of all our needs, just as the bird finds food in and around the barn. And in gratitude, we bring the gifts that God has given us, gifts which He then uses to care for us and for our neighbors. Do those gifts, even our displays of love and affection for God result in our forgiveness? Not at all. Jesus knows the woman who comes to him is a sinful woman. Her gratitude does not forgive her. Rather, her gratitude flows from her forgiveness.
May we who are forgiven in Jesus Christ return thanks and praise to him now and forever.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Our life is full of "what ifs." What if something goes wrong with our plans? What will we do then? In our readings today we see Moses and John the Baptizer confronting failure. They don't see that God's will is going to be accomplished. They don't see God's blessing upon his people. Things just didn't work out the way they planned. What will they do?
Moses brings the situation to God the Father and is shown God's mercy and lovingkindness. John sends messengers to Jesus who reminds him of the works of the Son of God. In both cases we see that God's mercy and love for his people is greater, far greater, than any of our doubts and fears. We can look to our Lord in confidence, knowing that he sovereignly rules this world and will always show himself as the God who redeems his people.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Today is the commemoration of Job.
The Psalmist asks when God will come to deliver his people. Moses likewise, though he himself is brought into God's presence, acts as a mediator of God's glory. God does not show himself to the people wholesale. Yet he has promised that he will deliver Israel. He has brought them out of the captivity in Egypt. Jesus, God in the flesh, goes around working miracles of healing. Yet the people he brings back to life and health in the Gospels die again. When will God deliver his people?
We live in a world that can be characterized by the words "now" and "not yet." Salvation is completed in the person and work of Jesus. Eternal life is now, by belief on Jesus. There is nothing hindering us from seeing that eternal life which has been promised. Or is there? If our Lord doesn't do something to change the normal course of events, we're all going to suffer in this world, then die. We don't seem to have eternity just yet. Though it has been purchased, and though our Lord delivers it by grace through faith, there's still a "not yet" element to it.
Let us not fear. Has our Lord gone through suffering and death on our behalf? Is he not capable of bringing us safely through it as well? He most certainly is. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Our Lord, open our eyes as you opened the eyes of your disciples on the road to Emmaus, that we may see you, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Our God has revealed himself to his people in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the Son. As simple and commonplace as this may seem to you and to me, it’s one of those statements which should be absolutely shocking to us. The people of Israel by and large saw that God had revealed himself to them as the God who accepts their sacrifices and their praise, but who, though he is omnipresent and able to reach and protect them anywhere, has no immediate fellowship with his people. God speaks with Moses face to face and leaves Moses’ face glowing with the radiance of his presence. This is so fearful that nobody wants to see Moses’ face, so Moses gets to wear a veil. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, God refuses it and shows him the backside of his mercy. So the children of Israel are used to the idea of God revealing himself through the mediation of the prophets. There is no concept of encountering God face to face. There is certainly no idea that the mighty God of all creation would walk, talk, sit and dine with his people.
The concept of God revealing himself clearly and personally was also a shocking foreign concept to the people of Rome and Greece. To the residents of the Mediterranean region, the gods were to be feared and appeased. They revealed themselves through circumstances but not through any sort of definitive record. The people had to figure out what to do in order to turn away the anger of the deities, though they knew this would only be partially successful. The idea of a God who is predictable and consistent with himself was completely foreign to these people.
Yet the Christian faith is a faith in the God who has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, living a perfect life, dying a death on our behalf to atone for our sins, creating faith in the hearts of his people, then protecting them to eternity. This is shocking news. May God grant us grace to recover the sense of shock and awe at what he has done, seen in today’s readings.
First, we see that Jesus has revealed himself through the Scriptures. Notice that when he is speaking to the disciples on the road to Emmaus he explains to them from Moses and the Prophets what kind of a savior he is. Jesus, who identifies himself as the living word of God, has given the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to talk about himself. We confess that the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, are inspired of God and serve as our definitive revelation of Jesus, God the Son, who purchases the redemption of his people from sin. This is not something that is isolated, but it is everywhere in the Scripture. All the word of God speaks of Jesus, the living Word of God. Unlike the paganism of the region, God has revealed himself in a definitive way. The Scripture is available. It is not kept hidden, like the writings of the mystery religions. It is not considered secret knowledge, like the later Gnostic writings. It is not something which is to be revealed only to the enlightened few, like the writings of the ancient philosophers. It is spread abroad, read and copied everywhere. And because the Bible is a written revelation of God, it can be studied repeatedly and carefully, unlike an oral tradition, as we find in mythology. There is a very clear, distinctive, definitive self-revelation of God. It’s here for our inspection. That’s why, as Christians, we encourage people to get out their Bibles and read, study, take notes, and discuss the Scripture. We want to know our Lord as well as we can. Since he has revealed himself in the Scripture we take advantage of that.
Now, is it possible to read the Scripture and not believe? Can the Word of God be read with a faithless heart? This is a bigger question than some of you might think. And I don’t want to go into every detail. I’ll just give a plain answer with hardly any nuances for now. We’ll clean it up later as we need to. Can you read the Bible and not be changed by the message? Yes. At least on one level. Words are words and unbelievers can read those words from Scripture and persist in their unbelief. Does the Word of God produce an effect? Yes, we confess that as well. The word of God does not return void. He accomplishes his purpose (Isaiah 55). Yet we see that people, many people, can read the Scripture and not believe. Maybe, by God’s grace, in the last day, our Lord does finally open the eyes of those who have heard his word. But we don’t always see it.
We do, however, see in the Gospel reading today that Jesus reveals himself to his disciples by opening their eyes, creating faith in their hearts, so they can see him as he is. Jesus, through the proclamation of himself in Scripture, does create faith in his people. He draws people to himself. And we can have confidence in that activity. Even as I will take every opportunity I have to persuade people of the truth of the Gospel, I know that I don’t have the power to do so. It is only through the Holy Spirit working in me, only through the power of the Word of God, that anyone will believe on the Lord. And I may never see that. Yet we know that Jesus creates faith in his people through the proclamation of the Gospel, both as it is given in a sermon or a Bible reading, or as it is given through baptism, as our Lord promises forgiveness of sins through water and the Word. Is that faith nurtured? I hope and pray that we will take seriously the command of Jesus to teach believers in all that he has commanded us. Our Lord can and will open the eyes of his followers to see him. But he may be using us as we talk about the Scriptures and see how Jesus is there on every page.
How else does Jesus reveal himself here? He reveals himself in the breaking of bread, feeding his disciples physically, but at the same time planting in them a hunger for his righteousness. This is one of the ways we see receiving communion as so very important. As we see and receive Jesus, the true bread of heaven, feeding us, washing us from sin, and reminding us he is with us, we hunger for him more. This is why the Reformers for the most part tried to make the Sacrament available at any time, to as many people as would receive the body and blood of our Lord. For that matter, that’s why I try to keep some wine, bread, and cups in my briefcase, along with a bottle of anointing oil to go with prayers for the sick. We want God’s gracious provision to be available to his people. Our Lord came to forgive, save, and heal. May we see him more clearly in his merciful presence.
So what are we supposed to do with this Gospel? When we hear the Gospel, aren’t we supposed to go do something? That’s what so many of our American Christians will beat us up with. And I’ve spent years, and so have some of you, being beaten about the head with demands. If we really believe we’ll . . . you fill in the blank. I want us to look again at the pattern we see in the reading from Acts. And I want us to cling to this pattern. Hold on to it.
The people, hearing Peter, were convicted by the Holy Spirit. They were repentant. They knew their sins. The verbs used in Acts 2.37 are all in the past tense. The people, having been cut to the heart . . . see how it’s in the past? Their question is a response to that conviction. Now I need to translate something from Greek for you. I’m sorry to do it so late in the sermon. But this is important. Here’s what Acts 2.38 actually says. It isn’t quite in good English, which is why your copy of the Bible doesn’t say it this way. But here’s what it says.
“But Peter (said) to them, ‘Having repented, also be baptized once (and only once), each of you, upon the name of Jesus Christ into a departure of your sins, and you will be receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
How do we respond to the repentance created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of Scripture. Because we have repented, we receive baptism. We who have been baptized live in that baptism, because it’s a baptism which places us on the foundation of Jesus’ name. It’s a baptism which results in our sins going away. It’s a baptism which washes us and promises us the ongoing washing of the Holy Spirit. What do we do in light of the word of the Gospel? We live. We receive. We walk as recipients of that repentant life our Lord has given us. That’s all. Our Lord has already done all the work. We receive it from God’s mercy and grace.
Let us rise to pray.
Our Lord, you have revealed yourself. As you grant us repentance for our striving, for our desire to live our own way, for our self-sufficiency, also grant us faith in your promise. Humble us that we may walk in light of your forgiveness. Let us receive daily the faith you created in us through baptism and the washing of your word. Nourish us with your body and blood. Give us a hunger for our communion with you in eternity, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In our reading from Luke today we see Jesus' parable of the speck and the log. What does it teach us? Jesus points us to the necessity of repentance. Do we who are sinful often find ourselves needing to confront other people in their sin? Certainly we do. But we need to remember to confront others in a spirit of repentance ourselves. If I am in a conflict with another person, it's my duty to realize that I did bring a contribution to the conflict. Even if the other person's contribution seems much more important to me, still I, as a sinner, have contributed in some way. It may have been a very minor way. Yet it is still sin of which I repent and ask God and my neighbor for forgiveness. Then I'm free to help my brother with his sin that needs resolution.
Food for thought here - I've been in several situations where in a communion service the pastor is communed last. Doesn't it make sense for the pastor to commune first? If this is a concrete way that our Lord delivers forgiveness to sinners, it makes sense that the pastor should commune first, then, in that state of forgiveness and cleansing, commune the rest of the congregation. I wonder why we end up doing it differently?
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Psalm 106.16-23, Exodus 32.1-14, Luke 6.20-38 - Lectionary for 5/7/11, day of C.F.W. Walther, Theologian
Today's readings are Psalm 106.16-23, Exodus 32.1-14, and Luke 6.20-38.
God boldly calls his people to follow him, trusting that he is able to care for them according to his good mercy. Why then do we turn away so quickly? Why do we doubt? The people of Israel, when they were confronted with the great mercy of their God, busied themselves about making a golden calf to represent the God who cannot be represented in images. At the same time that God was writing a command against idols, the people at the foot of the mountain were making an idol. We depart from our Lord's ways quickly.
Jesus gives us very concrete things to do. Maybe his words in Luke 6 can help us focus ourselves. If we busy ourselves about loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing people, giving to the poor, and pursuing all manner of good - maybe if we are diligent about these things we will not be so quick to run into the folly of idolatry. Then again, maybe we will. After all, we are quite able to exalt ourselves as little gods as opposed to the true God. We are quite able to give ourselves all the glory for our good works.
In the end we see that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. He calls us to a living faith, one which is not in ourselves or our deeds, but in his work on our behalf. Jesus has given himself, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. Let us look to him, trusting that he is able to sustain us in every way even as he works through us to love and serve our neighbors.
Friday, May 6, 2011
God has given his Sabbath, a day of rest, when his people are to rejoice in his presence and provision for them. This is a difficult topic in today's society. There are some who insist the Sabbath should be observed and needs to be preserved from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. There are some who insist the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday and must be observed. Some of those consider it to be sundown to sundown while others take time on the clock with the day starting at midnight. Some say we should observe a Sabbath but that we may choose not to observe it rigorously. Some say the Sabbath is on Sunday but act as though it does not exist. And some say it has passed away entirely. Others feel free to move it to another day of the week.
What can we make of it Scripturally? We see that it is a day of rest and an opportunity for God's people to look to him in hope. So it's entirely consistent with the idea of a time for corporate worship and gatherings of fellowship. Jesus used the Sabbath very purposefully to bring healing and to feed people. So we may well see it as a day particularly appropriate for showing mercy. Above all, we see that Jesus is the fulfiller of the Law, so he has also fulfilled the Sabbath. By giving rest from sin and shame to his people, he has brought those who believe on him into a permanent day of rest, a permanent Sabbath. Whether we have a day rigorously set aside or not, let us always remember that Jesus is our Sabbath. We who believe have entered into our rest and will enter into our rest permamently in the day of resurrection yet to come.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Today's readings are Psalm 119.25-32, Exodus 25.1-22, and Luke 5.17-39.
We read today about the people bringing offerings to God. The offerings of the people prepare the way for them to have a means of worship in the Tabernacle. Now in the New Testament we see that God has given his offering to us, Jesus, who is our Tabernacle, moving among us and providing for healing, both physical healing and restoration of sinners to a free relationship with God. Jesus is with us. What do we bring to him? We bring our troubles, our weakness, our pain, our suffering. He takes that and cares for it all by his mercy.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Psalm 99.1-5, Exodus 24.1-18, Luke 5.1-16 - Lectionary for 5/4/11 - commemoration of Friedrich Wyneken
blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
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Monday, May 2, 2011
Psalm 146, Exodus 22.20-23.13, Luke 4.16-30 - Lectionary for 5/2/11 - Day of Athanasius of Alexandria
blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com
Sermon: "A True Inheritance" 1 Peter 1.3-9 Audio link http://dl.dropbox.com/u/23575548/1105011Peter1.mp3
Grace and peace be multiplied to you, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It isn't uncommon for us to look to a future hope. Young people look to a time when they are grown and will make their fortune. People in poverty look ahead to a hope, a dream really, of prosperity, comfort. Literature and song are full of it. "Gray skies are gonna clear up – put on a happy face" "The sun'll come out, tomorrow" "If I were a rich man" We find this message touches our hearts. We like to hear stories of people who have received something better than they could ever dream, better than we could imagine for them. We hear those stories and we make our own dreams, thinking about what we could do, if only . . .
After a bit of that dreaming, sometimes more, sometimes less, most of us yank ourselves back to reality. At least we yank ourselves back to something we seem to think is reality. After all, most of us aren't ever going to attract the attention of someone who is filthy rich and wants to give us all his money. We aren't probably going to win the mega-super-intergalactic lottery next week. In fact, our lives are very likely to go on about the way they have been for the last twenty years. Some of the details will change but really most of the time we don't have really high expectations.
Yet something we need to be aware of is the fact that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has granted us an inheritance, a bequest, to anyone who believes on him. Did we earn this inheritance? Of course not. We don't earn any inheritance. There's nothing you can do to earn an inheritance. Why do you receive an inheritance? It isn't because you were nice to your parents or grandparents, though I hope you were. It isn't because you deserved a reward, though I hope you do deserve a reward. It isn't because of your merit. Inheritances don't work that way. You receive an inheritance because the person who left it to you wanted you to have it. Face it. Great Uncle Edgar could have left his millions of dollars to found and maintain a refuge for homeless pigeons. The fact that he left it to you and you only because your name happened to the the third one alphabetically among all his relatives is purely up to him. It has nothing to do with you or any merit you have. It's an inheritance. You didn't earn it.
This is what our Lord says to us all in 1 Peter. By God's great mercy, through Jesus' resurrection, we who believe have been given a living hope of an inheritance. It isn't because of us. It is because of God's great love for us. This Christian life is based on who God is, not on who we are. It is God's choice, not ours.
What kind of inheritance is this that we are promised? Peter tells us this inheritance in Christ is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, that it is kept for us.
By an imperishable hope, our Lord is telling us that, unlike all the things we hold dear on this earth, the Christian life will not pass away. We may think of some earthly things as permanent. I actually have an inheritance on earth that I tend to think of as permanent. It's a chair which my grandfather used to sit in all the time. I never met my grandfather. He died about the time I was born. About fifteen years later, my grandmother died as well. I received his rocking chair. It's a nice old chair. I sit in it a lot myself. And I suppose it's close to two hundred years old by now. It seems permanent. But it's just a chair made of pieces of wood and some iron nails. It will wear out all the way sometime. It isn't permanent. It's perishable. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe not for a few hundred more years, but sometime, that chair will cease to be a chair anyone could use. Even the things we think of as permanent in this world are not eternal. But salvation in Christ is eternal. It doesn't have an expiration date. It doesn't become any weaker as it ages. Redemption in Christ will never become brittle. The Christian is never an endangered species, for we cannot become extinct. We have an imperishable hope.
This hope we have is not only imperishable, but it is undefiled. Defilement isn't something we talk about all that much in our modern society. It means becoming unclean in some way, not just dirty, but polluted, damaged, being defective in such a way that nobody would want to be around us, corrupted so we can't serve a useful function and will end up causing harm to others. That's defilement. The Bible pictures us as defiled by sin. We are broken people. We are cursed by sin, both the sin we inherited from our father Adam and the sin we commit ourselves. Yet salvation in Christ is undefiled. There's nothing wrong with it. It's perfect in every way. Since the fall of Adam, everything we've had to deal with in this life has been defiled. Only in Christ do we find salvation which is undefiled.
What about the fact that our inheritance is unfading? Again, we look around us and see that even things we supposed were permanent seem to fade over time. Maybe you've seen pictures of the beautiful marble statues from ancient Greece and Rome. I don't know, maybe you've seen them in person. Probably the oldest sculpture I've seen in person was in the town of Italica, a former Roman military settlement near Seville, in Spain. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure if the sculpture was of Trajan or Hadrian. It was one of those ancient Roman emperors. But it was about 1800 years old. After sitting out in the weather for that long it isn't surprising that the sculpture is a sun-bleached white. I expect you've all seen sculptures like that, or at least pictures of them. Did you know that they were originally painted? They had colored hair, brightly colored clothes, eyes with pupils, these were full-color sculptures. You wouldn't know it now, would you? They faded to the point the color was no longer recognizable. We don't have to worry about that happening to the Christian life. Our inheritance in Jesus Christ will never fade. It not only doesn't perish, it doesn't change or wear in any way. Jesus keeps us in eternity, providing us with all we need, simply because of his good favor toward us, and promises that nothing can ever happen to us.
You'll notice that I changed from talking about "our inheritance" to talking about "us." Because, in fact, our redemption, that which makes us partakers of eternal life, our being brothers of Jesus in the resurrection – that is what the inheritance is. The inheritance Jesus gives is salvation. But it isn't just some theory of salvation. We want to banish that from our minds. The inheritance Jesus gives is life. It's real, everlasting, undefiled, permanent, rich, full life. Jesus gives us ourselves as the inheritance. But the version of us he gives us is that which has been redeemed, that which has been regenerated, that which has been washed from sin, that which is refined and protected by him. He gives us life as it should have been. He gives us life which has been redeemed from death. He gives us life from which every sin and stain has been washed. This is the inheritance which fills us with joy, such joy that we can't express it. We have been promised a real inheritance.
Peter tells us that the inheritance is kept for us. Again, it is not something theoretical. We don't calculate the probability. We don't ask Jesus how much he really needed to suffer on our behalf. We don't ask why God gives this inheritance. We simply confess that it is preserved and that it is for us. We do nothing worthy of it. We simply receive it according to our Lord's great love for us.
How is this inheritance, this eternal life revealed? It is revealed by God's promise in Christ Jesus, who does not desire that any should perish. It is revealed by Jesus' promise that he has come to walk with us, to redeem us from sin. It is revealed by Jesus' promise to be with us to the end of the world. Life in Christ is promised by Jesus, who came to show himself as God with us.
How is this eternal life sealed? It is for us. How does Jesus put that address on the package? How does he give us a guarantee of his care for us? It is sealed in the death of Jesus on our behalf. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. When Jesus died to conquer sin, death, and the grave, he conquered your sin, your death, and your grave.
How is this eternal life appropriated? How do we receive it? We receive it by faith in Jesus raised for you and for me. If Jesus remained dead he would accomplish nothing for anyone but possibly himself. But in the resurrection Jesus gives us a living hope. He gives us a promise that we will be raised also with him. He shows that death is not able to hold the dead. We will all be raised, we will be changed in a moment, in the blink of an eye, the dead will be raised to newness of life. We will be taken to be with our Lord. There is no need for fear.
In the meantime, our risen Lord has promised that he will be with us. Our inheritance is still a promise. The will has been read and we can know that we are to receive the inheritance. Yet we do not receive it fully until the resurrection. For now, we receive hints at eternity. One of those we receive today, as we receive a taste of our inheritance in the body and blood of the Lord. He has promised to be with us always. Here he is, then. We will gather and look to our risen Lord who has promised to be with us. We will proclaim the peace of the Lord. We will pray that the Lord will have mercy on us. We will receive the true body and true blood of our Lord and then be dismissed with God's benediction, being told to go in peace. We are not alone. We are not without resources. We have an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and which is kept for us.
Let us pray.
Our Lord, creator and sustainer of all, Emmanuel, God with us, grant that we may see you in your mercy and lovingkindness. Let us receive your presence, the inheritance you have given us, our salvation, with a humble and contrite heart, looking to you as the author and finisher of our salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.--
blogging at http://capnsaltyslongvoyage.blogspot.com
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Psalm 119.9-16, Exodus 20.1-24, Luke 4.1-15 - Lectionary for 5/1/11 - Day of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
We are often tempted to take things into our own hands. It's very easy for us to assume that we know best, then act accordingly. For that matter, it is easy for us to confess that God knows best and then we act according to our own desires and plans. In today's reading from Exodus, God gives the Israelites commands about how to honor him and one another. He reminds them that they do not make any other gods to accompany him, the true God. Life in God's household is to be according to his command. Likewise, when Jesus is tempted by Satan in our reading from Luke we see that he answers his adversary with God's word. It is by God's unadulterated command and by trust in God's provision, not man's provision, that Jesus overcomes Satan.
May our Lord and Savior grant that we look to him for our provision, trusting in his promises, not in our own wisdom.