Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sermon for 7/31/11 "Jesus' Unannounced Potluck"

SERMON “Jesus’ Unannounced Potluck” Audio Link

(Psalm 19.14) May the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

I think we all know how a potluck dinner works. You bring something, I bring something, and so do most of the people who are coming. By the time it’s all laid out, since most people bring a little more than they would eat, everyone has a lot. We gather around the tables, we probably eat too much of foods that are not very good for us, and we can spend some time talking, laughing, catching up with one another. It’s a good time.

What happens, though, when we have a potluck dinner and don’t announce it to anyone? Do you normally bring something to eat after the divine service? I think most of us don’t. What we usually do is come to church, gather together, then disappear to our homes or maybe a restaurant, maybe someone else’s home if we have an invitation, and eat there. Our family had a routine for several years that we called a “halfway market” meal. We went to a church some distance from our home and we would often stop at a little store on the way home to pick up some cheese, crackers, and fruit. Because it was a little expensive, more often we’d have a “halfway market” meal that came from the grocery store close to our home but which we carried with us on Sunday.

But let’s look at this situation Jesus and his disciples find themselves in. Jesus had received some bad news. His friend, his cousin, John the baptizer, had been imprisoned and beheaded. It seems our Lord wanted to get away from the crowds for a little while, so he went to a rural area where there wouldn’t be many people. However, Jesus’ reputation was greater than his need or desire for privacy. He was flocked by people, a large crowd of people, more people than we have in this town.

What does our Lord do when his people come to him? He heals us. He teaches us. He provides us with what we need. And at the end of a long day’s work, the disciples start to realize what Jesus knew all along. The crowd doesn’t have food. These are people who set out without provisions. They may not have means to buy food. And the market won’t have what they need. Picture yourself walking into the grocery store. Maybe not a grocery store here. They are in a rural area. Yes, I know, Watseka seems to be a pretty rural area. But this is the big town. Let’s take this crowd to Gilman, just down the road. It’s more like a village. Actually, it’s a little big to be a village. Now, we take this crowd, some five thousand men plus women and children, and we go into the convenience store in Gilman. Everybody needs supper. Do you see something wrong with that picture? Yes, the store can get enough food for that number of people. No, it doesn’t have the food in stock. It simply isn’t going to work. After a few hundred people come in the store will have a full cash register and empty shelves.

What does Jesus do? He does a parable. I know we’re used to the idea of Jesus saying parables, but here he does a parable. Sometimes our actions speak much louder than our words. Jesus’ actions here speak much more than his words could. So what happens in this parable? Jesus, the one who heals and provides for his people, puts the people in order, gives thanks to God, and starts handing bread and fish to the people. Jesus Christ, the one who sometimes refers to himself as the true bread of heaven, distributes a supernatural banquet to all who believe him enough to sit down and wait there. And his provision for them is abundant. They have plenty to eat and there are left overs, more than the food Jesus started with. What did the people bring? They didn’t bring food. No, we bring nothing to the table of God, nothing but our need, nothing but our hunger. But Jesus takes a bit of normal sustenance and multiplies it, providing what his people need, food and drink which nourishes our faith, which delivers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Yes, our deeds speak louder than words. Jesus gives himself for his people, that they may receive him and live.

Next Sunday we are going to celebrate together as we receive the body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for us. How do we prepare? What do we bring? As our teens acted out earlier in the service, we don’t bring anything of any use to God. What we offer to God is a broken heart, a contrite spirit. We confess that we cannot earn any merit, that we are ultimately bent in upon ourselves in sin. No, we bring nothing but our repentance. It’s Jesus who gives us what we need, his forgiveness, his life, his salvation.

Does the goodness of God move us to repentance? Do we start to see times when we have claimed credit for good which belongs to our Lord and Savior? Do we see ourselves as those who can overcome our sin and present ourselves to the Lord as pure and worthy of being in fellowship with him? Let us remember again how our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the true bread of heaven, has broken the bread and distributed it to his people, that all who believe may receive the nourishment they need. Salvation is of the Lord. It is not anything we can provide. It is nothing we can earn. It is purely from our God.

Let us rise and give thanks to our Lord, the one who is able to have an unannounced potluck dinner and provide for us all, every one of us, all we need, and much more.

Our Lord, Bread of Heaven, we confess that we try to depend on our own ability. We think we can bring something to your table, though we know we can’t. Grant us repentance and remind us yet again of your forgiveness. Give us hope and nourish our faith, for you, the author and finisher of our salvation, live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 80.14-19, 1 Samuel 16.1-23, Acts 25.13-27 - Lectionary for 7/31/11 - Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea

Today is the commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea.

Today's readings are Psalm 80.14-19, 1 Samuel 16.1-23, and Acts 25.13-27.

There's a controversy surrounding today's reading from 1 Samuel. Observe that Samuel anoints David king but then David seems to go a long time before he takes up kingly duties. The controversy among scholars has to do with why David would be anointed as king but not make any attempt to be king until much later. He also doesn't seem to be recognized as king by the general public for some time. But this does not need to surprise us. David recognized Saul as the king anointed by God. It is consistent with his personality that he would wait for Saul to leave his position as king.

When God has given us gifts, how are we at waiting until we have the right opportunity to use them? Do we rush ahead? Are we overly hesitant? May the Lord give us wisdom and confidence either to wait or go ahead at the right time.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Psalm 50.1-6, 1 Samuel 15.10-35, Acts 24.24-25.12 - Lectionary for 7/30/11 - Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor & Martyr

Today is the commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr.

Today's readings are Psalm 50.1-6, 1 Samuel 15.10-35, and Acts 24.24-25.12.

We read today of a confrontation between Samuel and Saul. In this conflict, some people find warrant to rebuke others openly, even to deny forgiveness to people who express repentance. While this is entirely possible based on the passage, we do well to bear in mind Samuel's attitude about it.

As we read, Samuel was grieved about the situation for the rest of his life. He somehow knew that Saul's repentance was not genuine. As a prophet of God, he understood the kingdom was being removed from Saul. This was a serious and grievous situation.

Are we often ready to proclaim God's judgment on sin - more ready than our Lord is? How do we react when we are to forgive an offense but we aren't too certain of genuine repentance? Does it truly grieve us when we do not see repentance? It grieves the Heavenly Father. May the Lord work genuine repentance, faith, and forgiveness in this world.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Psalm 119.41-48, 1 Samuel 14.47-15.9, Acts 24.1-23 - Lectionary for 7/29/11 - Commemoration of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

Today is the commemoration of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Today's readings are Psalm 119.41-48, 1 Samuel 14.47-15.9, and Acts 24.1-23.

As we continue to look at the reign of Saul and the trial of Paul, we continue to see that governing is far from easy. How does Paul make it easier on the officials God has placed over him? Though he is absolutely clear and forthright in his testimony of Christ, Paul avoids making accusations against those empowered to make a legal decision. Rather, he treats his judges with respect. It is their duty to judge, and to judge well. They don't need to have that judgment clouded by angry accusations.

Do we confess God is sovereign? Then he is sovereignly able to guide the judges of this world into all truth. May he grant even unbelievers wisdom and ability to do right.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Psalm 59.1-5, 1 Samuel 13.1-18, Acts 23.12-35 - Lectionary for 7/28/11 - Commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach

Today is the commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Today's readings are Psalm 59.1-5, 1 Samuel 13.1-18, and Acts 23.12-35.

Government is a tricky business. It seems that everything you do has some sort of consequence. Usually a plan made in one area has an influence on others as well. Who knows whether a regulation to protect one group of people may incidentally harm others?

In today's readings we see King Saul beginning to organize his power. No matter the counselors and captains he has, life will be challenging. We also see the political authorities in Acts wondering what to do with Paul. They are not experts in the kind of dispute surrounding him. Yet it is their God-given responsibility to deal with it correctly.

May we always be praying for our leaders. They are in a difficult position. They need the wisdom of God.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Psalm 119.17-24, 1 Samuel 12.1-25, Acts 22.30-23.11 - Lectionary for 7/27/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119.17-24, 1 Samuel 12.1-25, and Acts 22.30-23.11.

A prophet's life is often lonely. As we read today, Samuel, who has largely been rejected by Israel, reviews the history of the period of the judges. As a culmination of Samuel's history survey, he points out that Israel's selection of a human king represented a rejection of God as king. With God giving a sign of thunder and rain during the harvest time, the people were moved to repentance - at least partially.

In the same way, when Paul explained his stand for Christ, some believed and some didn't. The result was that he was taken into protective custody by the pagan governmental officials.

It's difficult to stand for the truth. Sometimes it seems like we're standing all alone. But we aren't. Our Lord has promised to be with us whenever we are trusting in and standing for him as he is revealed in Scripture. There is never a need to fear.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Psalm 69.30-35, 1 Samuel 10.1-27, Acts 22.17-29 - Lectionary for 7/26/11

Today's readings are Psalm 69.30-35, 1 Samuel 10.1-27, and Acts 22.17-29.

In our readings today we see that God uses his people in complicated ways. He does give us new hearts, minds, and gifts to accomplish his purposes. Yet he also uses us within the bounds of our own backgrounds.

Saul appears to be shy about the fact he was anointed king. He keeps it a secret then is difficult to find when publicly chosen by lot. He may have dealt with some struggles throughout his reign which could be tied to a desire to avoid publicity.

When Paul is sent to the Gentiles he doubtless finds it a challenge. But he has shown himself to be someone who can face controversy. When the controversy causes a riot he is also comfortable calling on his status as a freeborn citizen to escape harm.

How has God called us? How can he use our station in life? Let us look to him and not fear the way he has created us and used us in the past. He is the one who knows how to conduct our lives.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Psalm 63.1-8, 1 Samuel 9.1-27, Acts 21.37-22.16 - Lectionary for 7/25/11

Today's readings are Psalm 63.1-8, 1 Samuel 9.1-27, and Acts 21.37-22.16

In our readings today we see the power of God to call his servants. He redirects the lives of Saul son of Kish and of Saul of Tarsus. While they are about their normal business, each one has an encounter with a man of God. each one receives an anointing. Each is appointed to shepherd God's people.

We never know what our Lord will do in us or through us. How do we respond to this wonder of God's providence? as the Psalmist says, we look upon God, thirsting and hungering for his will, praising him as we remember he is our help.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon for 7/24/11 "Dead Meat?"

SERMON “Dead Meat?” Audio link

(Psalm 19.14) May the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

We once had a rather trying experience around our house. You may have had something like this happen to you. I expect even if you haven’t you can imagine this feeling easily. One day you smell something - it seems a mouse has died inside a wall somewhere. That isn’t a very pleasant smell. But it will pass away pretty shortly. The next day, however, it’s worse. You wake up in the morning and the kitchen smells kind of rank. Maybe there’s something in the trash that needed to go out earlier than it did? So you take the trash out. The smell gets worse. By mid-day it seems to fill the whole house. What’s going on? This is no mouse. Then you find that it is smelling outside as well. You do exactly what you didn’t want to do. You walk around the house, sniffing at the foundation, and find that the enclosed porch attached to the kitchen smells worse. There’s a little opening in the skirting that’s nailed to the porch to keep it really enclosed. So you remove some of the skirting and it smells awful. No, this is no mouse. Of course, it’s dark under the porch, but you know that’s the source of the smell. You can’t see anything with your flashlight. Crawling under the porch doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do, so you pull out the rake and see what you can fish out. After you find some broken bricks, bits of pipe, and some other odds and ends you pull out about two thirds of a decaying animal. There’s the culprit! You hunt around with the rake some more and don’t find any more of it, so you hope for the best, enclose the porch again, and dispose of the remains.

There are few things that are worse than encounters with dead, decaying meat. And we’re all familiar with the idea. What happens when the teacher puts something on the final exam that you haven’t studied? You’re dead meat. What happens when the other baseball team recruits your best player? You’re dead meat. What happens when the person you offended suddenly becomes your boss at work? You’re dead meat. What happens when we are pursued by “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (Romans 8.35, NIV)? All our understanding, all our inclinations say that we are in deep deep trouble. Logic says we are dead meat. Intuition says we need to run and run fast. Reason says that no matter how hard we run we will never escape. Philosophy says that when these things happen God must be against us. We see the condition we are in, we see the condition our world is in, and we wonder if God is for us. As Paul says in Romans 8.36 (NIV), quoting from Psalm 44, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” It looks pretty bad for us. If this life were an old Western movie, you know what the bad guy would be saying, right? “Say your prayers, buckaroo.”

There’s some wisdom in that. Maybe our culture has forgotten it. And maybe in those gunslinging dramas the motivation for praying was misplaced. I expect it was. After all, the only time you’d be expected to pray was in the face of impending death. Yet we see that the most appropriate response to a bad situation is to pray. We look to our Lord in hope. Why is this? Because all the riches of God are given to us in Christ Jesus. What did we hear in Romans 8? Listen to some of these rhetorical questions Paul asks. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “How will he not also graciously give us all things?” “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

When the going gets tough, maybe we need to be asking the questions God has given us to ask. Who can be against us? Nobody. How big is the redemption that our Lord has provided in Christ Jesus? It’s greater than any challenge Satan can dish out. What kind of spiritual criminal charges will overcome the perfect righteousness of Christ given to his people? None whatsoever. How far can the love of Jesus Christ reach? A whole lot farther than we can go. We may be facing attack, and it may be a serious attack. Yet in the final analysis it is like the criminal in a rowboat with a revolver attacking and trying to commandeer a battleship. It’s just not going to happen. Satan, the enemy of Christ’s Church, may be able to hurt us individually. In fact, he may be able to destroy some who have left the safety and protection of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. That’s quite serious. Yet his attacks will never be able to stop the ultimate victory of Christ and His Church. God’s will is going to conquer all opposition. Our Lord who is able to raise the dead, who can raise up the very rocks and stones to praise him, that same Lord is able to protect his people. What is our identity in Jesus? You see, we are not dead meat. Not at all. We may look like it. Our lives may be grim. We may be under attack. We may fear those attacks. But we have to look to our Lord and Savior. It is he who is the commander of our faith. He is the one who has won the victory. The battle is his. And he is the only one who has a clear view of reality.

What is the picture God paints of us? We continue looking at Romans 8, quoting verses 37-39 (NIV). “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There’s our true identity. Far from being stinking, rotting, decaying dead meat, we are living and conquering in Christ. How can that be? It is not from our power, not from our ability, not from anything we can do or think. No, it’s all through him who loved us. It’s through Jesus Christ crucified for us, raised from the dead, and seated at the right hand of the Father on high that we conquer. And as we live this life which is empowered by our Lord and Savior, nothing can harm us. We are perfectly safe in the hands of our Savior. The battle is not ours. It belongs to our Lord. He is the one who lives on our behalf. He is the one who is living in us. And in Christ our Savior we are never ever dead meat. He has already carried that for us. We no longer have to worry about it. Rather, we live the life that he has prepared for us, in which nothing in the world can destroy us. We are wrapped in Jesus. We have put on Christ and his righteousness. Remember the acolyte’s robe? Remember the robe that I’m wearing? Jesus Christ puts his perfect righteousness onto each one of us as we receive him in faith. As we trust in his work on our behalf, we find that we are the righteousness of God in Christ. There is no condemnation. None whatsoever. We have no cause for fear. We have been dressed in Christ. We’re not dead meat. We’re conquerors.

Let’s rise to pray.
Our Lord, thank you that you have given yourself on our behalf. Remind us day by day to look to you for forgiveness, for strength, for cleansing. Show yourself to the the Lord our righteousness. Make us to walk as your servants in this world, no matter what may come against us, looking to you as our Lord and Master, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 24.7-10, 1 Samuel 8.1-22, Acts 21.15-36 - Lectionary for 7/24/11

Today's readings are Psalm 24.7-10, 1 Samuel 8.1-22, and Acts 21.15-36.

Samuel gives the people of Israel a stern warning from the Lord. If they desire a king, if they desire to be like all the other nations, they will have everything that the other nations have. This includes high taxes, an oppressive government, and loss of freedom for families to govern their own affairs. The national central power will increase and with it the people will be forced to go to war more often. Do the people of Israel really want this? As it turns out, they do, and they end up having every one of the conditions God warned them of.

So what do we want? Do we really want to be imitators of our larger, unbelieving society? Do we want conformity to the sexual ethos that leads to fragmented families and a continual lack of trust in married couples? Do we really want to solve our conflicts by waiting and seeing if they just go away? Do we want to live like that? I think not.

May we be imitators of Christ, not being conformed to this world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Psalm 119.113-120, 1 Samuel 6.19-7.17, Acts 19.1-22 - Lectionary for 7/23/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119.113-120, 1 Samuel 6.19-7.17, and Acts 19.1-22.

Our reading from Acts, which covers a time period of more than two years and three months, shows an explosive spread of the Gospel. It may be helpful to us to look at who does what in this reading. See how Paul, our main character, proclaims the Gospel, defends his faith, and prays for people. All he does is show himself faithful to the tasks God has set before him. It is the Holy Spirit who brings change. The circumstances of Paul's work seem to be set up by God, not by Paul.

How do we work to spread the Gospel today? Are we often guilty of using our man-centered methods of publicity and market analysis as a substitute for being faithful to speak from God and pray to God? May the Lord work through us, as we are truly unable to accomplish his work otherwise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Psalm 137.1-7, 1 Samuel 5.1-6.3, 10-16, Acts 18.1-11, 23-28 - Lectionary for 7/22/11, Commemoration of Mary Magdalene

Today is the commemoration of Mary Magdalene.

Today's readings are Psalm 137.1-7, 1 Samuel 5.1-6.3, 10-16, and Acts 18.1-11, 23-28.

In our readings today God shows clearly that he is able to take care of himself. The Philistines attempt to incorporate the ark of God into their temple. But the presence of the living God is too much for their pagan deities. Where the people try to use God as a god who is subject to their rules, human weakness shows itself as the people break out in plagues. God is not some lucky charm we put to our service. On the contrary, where we look to the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in faith, rejoicing in who he is and what he does, saving the world on his own terms, there we see the abundance of God's blessing.

May the Lord give us eyes to see him and a heart to receive him joyfully.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

News Reporting

The headline was "Man sentenced for trying to rob a bank dressed as a woman." What was the violation? Was the bank dressed as a woman? Was the man dressed as a woman? Was the problem the bank robbery attempt or the dress code? I wonder where the modifier is really supposed to go?  This becomes increasingly confusing as we ponder it more.

I wonder how many of my communications are unintelligible on a daily basis - including this very sentence.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Psalm 106.1-5, 1 Samuel 4.1-22, Acts 16.23-40 - Lectionary for 7/21/11 - Commemoration of Ezekiel

Today is the commemoration of Ezekiel.

Today's readings are Psalm 106.1-5, 1 Samuel 4.1-22, and Acts 16.23-40.

I'm often torn on the issue of baptism. When someone comes to believe on the Lord, some of my past training says we want to engage in catechesis - Christian education - for a long time and make sure that the commitment to Christ is sufficiently understanding and firm. Yet another part of me, informed by passages such as this one in Acts 16, says we accept an expression of faith in Christ at face value and we baptize the person and all who are willing to believe with him. Observe that this jailer in Philippi is baptized apparently in the dead of night, along with his whole household. There was no long period of training, there were no interrogations, there was no search for godparents or sponsors, there was no theological examination. Do you believe? We will baptize you.

What about those people who are baptized and then seem to fall away from the faith? Shame on us for not encouraging them in Christ. Do they fall away because baptism wasn't good enough? What about the other command Jesus gives in Matthew 28? Baptize and teach. May the Lord have mercy on us and enable us to teach the saints, raising them up to remember how the Lord Jesus Christ himself has washed them from sin by his blood shed on their behalf. The baptism is all right immediately. The teaching goes on every day for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Psalm 119.57-64, 1 Samuel 3.1-21, Acts 16.1-22 - Lectionary for 7/20/11 - Commemoration of Elijah

Today is the commemoration of Elijah.

Today's readings are Psalm 119.57-64, 1 Samuel 3.1-21, and Acts 16.1-22.

The circumcision of Timothy is a peculiar situation. I wonder if it's drawn your attention? While Paul and company are going around, delivering the news that the Church did not consider that people needed to convert to Judaism, he had a young disciple named Timothy circumcised. This should seem quite odd, as the decision of the Church seemed to be against circumcision. So what would provoke this strange behavior?

Sometimes we will curb freedoms that we have in order to reach other people for the Gospel. There are many times when, though we could certainly live in one particular way we might enjoy, we would engage in different behaviors because some of our freedoms would be offensive to others whom we know. Likewise with Timothy. To minister effectively to the Jews and show them the continuity of the Gospel with God's calling of Israel, Timothy would wish to avoid a stumbling block. The Jews would not listen to someone who was openly identified as a Gentile. So he made a move which would give him a hearing in the community.

The whole issue of "relevance" raises its head here. But I'd contend that Timothy's action was not one of conformity to a temporary cultural norm. It isn't like the pastor getting the very modern hairdo and wardrobe so as to communicate with a very modern audience. It is more like the pastor who can hear learning sign language to be able to communicate with an audience of deaf people. This was a fundamental move toward intelligibility.

May our Lord use us to communicate this Gospel to our world, boldly facing the challenges to that communication.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Psalm 82, 1 Samuel 2.18-36, Acts 15.22-41 - Lectionary for 7/19/11

Today's readings are Psalm 82, 1 Samuel 2.18-36, and Acts 15.22-41.

Following on the heels of an exhortation to help those entrapped in sin, today we see examples, both good and bad, of that help. Notice that in the successful instance, when Paul, Barnabas, and others have delivered the wise counsel from the Church as a whole, they themselves have a dispute, are entrapped in sin, and depart angrily. We'd all like to deny that we would become embroiled in a conflict like that. Yet we all realize we have it in us. We know and desire what is right, but we are drawn to what is wrong. We see dissensions and strife arise as we seek our own way. We are told by our culture to take care of ourselves, to look out for Number One, to strive to be a self-made man. Yet what God would give us is to take care of others, to look out for those who are helpless, and to be a God-made man. We all fail, just like Paul and Barnabas failed to resolve their conflict.

May the Lord give us repentance and remind us that his forgiveness is great enough for all our sin. May he protect his servants, as we are so quick to wrap ourselves in turmoil.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Psalm 20, 1 Samuel 1.21-2.17, Galatians 6.1-18 - Lectionary for 7/18/11

Today's readings are Psalm 20, 1 Samuel 1.21-2.17, and Galatians 6.1-18.

In our reading today we see people who are trapped. They are unable to take care of themselves. Hannah in 1 Samuel could not have brought forth a son. No matter how hard she and her husband tried, their only hope was divine intervention. Eli the priest did not know what to do with his sons. He had let a situation go and was unable to recover it. Eli's sons either did not know how or did not want to bring honor to God. They were trapped in their own sinful patterns.

Paul tells us in Galatians that when someone is trapped, we who are spiritual should come to the rescue. Yet we often want to pat ourselves on the back because we think we are spiritual. We want to congratulate ourselves for being the good people who can help others with their obvious problems. And often the help we give people is as subtle as using a sledge hammer to release someone from an entangling net. May the Lord remind us that we are all quite capable of becoming entrapped. May we rush to help those we see in their troubles, but to help gently and effectively, realizing that we ourselves become entrapped easily. Our help is in the Lord, not in ourselves. Thanks be to God who meets us in our need.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon for 7/17/11 "Whose Crisis?"

SERMON “Whose Crisis?” Audio here:

(Psalm 19.14) May the words of my lips and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

I think we all remember the story of one young lady. Her last name was Penney. While she was innocently minding her own business one day, she was struck on the head. Convinced of a coming disaster, she ran to find her friends and warn them. And those friends, one Lurkey, Woosey, and several others joined Miss Penney’s panic. Sadly, it led them into the Woxey household, the very place where disaster was awaiting them.

We read in the Scripture today of God’s confrontation with Isaiah and the people of Israel. What are our Lord’s words for Israel? “Do not tremble, do not be afraid . . . Is there any God besides me?” That’s all very well and good. It’s easy to say. But what about when life gets really bad? What about when the sky is falling?

Let’s consider the situation that Isaiah was living in. God’s kingdom, established in the house of David, had broken in two. Isaiah the prophet was living in Jerusalem. In this time, the Chaldeans, also known as the Assyrians, were on the rampage. They were threatening the people of God. Their forces were on the move, plundering, pillaging, sacking town after town. How long would God’s people be safe? I don’t care who you are or where you live. Invading armies are scary. What will God’s people in Jerusalem do? “Do not tremble, do not be afraid . . . Is there any God besides me?” And against all hope, against all reasonable expectation, the Assyrians sack the northern tribes of Israel but leave the southern region of Judah, including Jerusalem, basically unharmed. The sky is falling - over there. Not here, not right now. Do not tremble. Don’t be afraid.

What about the sufferings of Christians which we read about in the New Testament lesson? What struggles do the Christians in Rome face? What about the apostles, like Paul? The Roman government, though it granted a lot of freedoms to a lot of people, was known by Christians as a government which was officially hostile to their faith. As long as they were identified as Jews, the Christians were fairly safe from the government, which had long allowed Jewish faith and practice. When the Christians had to distance themselves from the Jews because of persecution, they were quickly identified by the Roman authorities as unbelievers, atheists. The Christians refused to follow the accepted forms of civil religion. They would not burn incense to the emperor. They would not swear unbending allegiance to the Roman state. During the early years of the Church, people from Christian families would be very hesitant to pusue military or government service because those required pledging loyalty to the State. To put it in modern terms, the Christians would not say the pledge of allegiance or take an oath of office, because it would require them to promise that their state was always right and had authority over that of Christ, the very reasons many Christians will not say the pledge of allegiance today. Were there Christians who were soldiers? Yes, but they converted to Christianity after becoming soldiers in those early days. Being reported to your government as a Christian brought prosecution. The only ways out were to make sacrifice to the emperor or to die for your faith. It looked pretty rough. But what did Paul say about our present sufferings? They don’t compare with the glory to come. All creation is waiting for the fullness of God’s redemption in Christ. We suffer, we may even be killed for our faith, but we have a living hope in the bodily resurrection from the dead. We know Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. So we do not tremble. We are not afraid. There is no God beside the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have a future. We have a hope. Just like God watched over Judah and Jerusalem in the time of Isaiah, he now watches over all those whose hope is built on Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead. No, we don’t tremble. We aren’t afraid. God is God. Do we seem to be in a crisis? Maybe so. But whose crisis is it? Our Lord is not in any doubt. He is in control. He is not having a crisis. There is no other God. There is no other Rock.

But what about the terrible crisis in the parable Jesus tells us today in our Gospel reading? Last week we considered the way the Word of God is planted in the world. Now we have a man who planted good seed in his field. It seems similar, doesn’t it? But this time we have another force at work in the field. Someone sneaked in and planted weeds. The sky is falling! What’s going to happen to the harvest? Don’t we need to do something to eradicate those weeds? We can’t let them take over! Something ought to be done. The most reasonable reaction seems to be to weed the garden, to prevent the weeds from choking out the good seed. It’s a crisis, no doubt. What reaction does God, who is still pictured as the crazy farmer, have? He says one of the most un-farmerly things you can see. In the Greek of this passage, he uses the same word we use in the Lord’s prayer. He says “forgive.” Let it be! Allow it! Don’t tremble, don’t be afraid. It’s all right. Leave it. In the end, at the end of the age, I’ll take care of it and make it all right.

But what about unbelievers in the church? What about those who don’t prove their faith by their good works? What about people who are tempted, severely tempted to sin? Well, we confess each week that we are sinners. Maybe I need to target that question better. What about people who are tempted, severely tempted to sin in ways that we don’t think are socially acceptable? What about those who claim to be Christians but who engage in adultery, drunkenness, theft, murder? What’ll we do? Well, what about the rest of us, who consider our brothers to be fools and murder them in our hearts? What about us who think sexually impure thoughts but don’t act on them, but are inwardly adulterous? What about us when we have gluttonous thoughts but restrict our gluttony to overeating rather than drunkenness or theft? What about those sinners? We’re all in deep trouble, aren’t we. The sky is falling! We’ve got to do something, and do it now! Shut the barn door! Keep God’s people from sinning! Maybe I need to spend an hour every Sunday night and Wednesday night telling the teens what they shouldn’t be doing. Some sort of preventive measures are needed, aren’t they? What will we do to keep our young people from departing from the faith??

Teens, you’re here, right? Don’t you hate it when people talk about you rather than talking to you? Let me talk to you for a moment. Are you tempted to sin? I am too. We probably have different temptations and different triggers. But you and I and everyone else in this room is tempted, every day, to fear, love and trust something or someone above the Lord. Do you need me to tell you that? I don’t think so, at least not about yourself. You tell yourselves that well enough. And if you forget, that’s what you have little brothers and sisters to do. They’re good at pointing out your faults. I don’t need to lay down the law with you. Someone planted weeds in your field. And you know it. I know it too. It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? No need to tell anyone that. Here’s what I need to tell you. Don’t tremble. Don’t be afraid. It may look like the sky is falling. Is there any God besides our Lord? And you know the answer as well. There is none other. Trust in the Lord. Look to him for forgiveness. And trust that he’ll get it all sorted out in the end.

What does our Lord do about our crisis? He reminds us that there is no part of this world which is outside of his sovereign, good, and wise care. As we’ll be seeing in the Adult Bible Class, the situational heat may be rising. It may look like the sky is falling. We may be tempted to scurry around like Henny Penny and try to find a solution. But that solution has already been found in Christ crucified for us sinners. It no longer matters what someone might do to harm us. Christ our Lord has borne our sin and shame, he has died the death that Satan intended for us, and he has risen victorious from the dead. Things may be looking pretty bad. But whose crisis is it? Don’t tremble, don’t be afraid, is there any God besides me? So we go ahead and proclaim the grace of God. We receive joyfully what our Lord gives us in Word and Sacraments. And we trust that our God is God over all the crises we face.

Let’s rise to pray.

Our Lord, we thank you for being the very God who has conquered sin, death, and hell on our behalf. Compared to that, what struggles do we have to deal with? You who have taken the sin of the world upon yourself, give us confidence that you are also the Lord of Life, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 92.8-15, 1 Samuel 1.1-20, Galatians 5.1-26 - Lectionary for 7/17/11

Today's readings are Psalm 92.8-15, 1 Samuel 1.1-20, and Galatians 5.1-26.

Our God works in unexpected ways. Through the barren Hannah he brings forth the prophet/priest Samuel, who will serve as the last of the judges and will anoint the first of the kings of Israel. Through the proclamation of the Gospel he sets his people free from the law of sin and death, delivering us out of slavery.

We often worry about the free proclamation of the Gospel. Paul sums it up in Galatians 5.13-15, where he commands us not to use our freedom as license to cause harm, but rather to love one another. True freedom from the Law makes God's people into a people who live and spread the Gospel of peace. Christ has broken down the enmity between God and man. Has he not broken down the enmity that we have with our fellow man? Let us love our Lord and live out the Gospel, showing in ourselves and to one another the freedom that Christ has given us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Psalm 21.1-7, Judges 16.4-30, Galatians 4.12-31 - Lectionary for 7/16/11 - Commemoration of Ruth

Today is the commemoration of Ruth.

Today's readings are Psalm 21.1-7, Judges 16.4-30, and Galatians 4.12-31.

The beginning of our reading from Galatians 4 struck me today. Paul first proclaimed the Gospel to the Galatians because of an ailment which apparently brought him or delayed him there. This reading strikes me because I too am suffering from an ailment as I read today and write this. We may well wonder why in God's providence we are chosen to endure the sufferings we do. There's a sort of wonder in this, as we think we would have arranged our lives differently. It is fairly common for elderly and infirm people I visit to ask why they are still in this earthly life. And there are many times when all of us wonder about our viability or usefulness.

We never know what our Lord will use his difficult providences for. We don't know when we might be used as instruments of God's blessing upon those around us, maybe even those who are charged with caring for us in our times of illness. Do we always understand those struggles? Certainly not! But we can know our God understands them perfectly and is using them for his glorious purposes. May he give us grace, in times of ease and in times of hardship, to trust in him and serve him in the ways he has ordained.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Psalm 33.13-22, Judges 15.1-16.3, Galatians 3.23-4.11 - Lectionary for 7/15/11

Today's readings are Psalm 33.13-22, Judges 15.1-16.3, and Galatians 3.23-4.11.

Our Lord can work through flawed servants. As we are looking at the life of Samson, a judge of Israel, we see a man who is often petty, who is given to violence, and who seems driven by his own desires rather than God's revealed Word. This is surely a situation that should give us hope as well. We confess that we struggle with our own desires as well. There are many times when the last thing in the world we want is to be conformed to the image of Christ, who loved us and laid down his life on our behalf. We like it when others lay down their lives but we really don't have much desire to do so ourselves. Thanks be to God that we see He can work through us despite our flaws. May he also give us grace to be changed into his image so we can lay our lives down for our neighbors as well.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Psalm 119.1-8, Judges 14.1-20, Galatians 3.1-22 - Lectionary for 7/14/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119.1-8, Judges 14.1-20, and Galatians 3.1-22.

Yesterday we read about Peter succumbing to the very natural human desire to be bound by the Law rather than to follow the Gospel. Paul continues today to talk with the Galatians about that very same tendency. I think it's a tendency that is universal in the fallen human race. We all seem to want to work out our salvation on our own terms, being the mediator of the covenant we choose, doing what is right in our own eyes. We want to be the judge, jury, and executioner, and to prove ourselves right every time. This is not what God has appointed. He has appointed that salvation is by grace through faith and that we maintain that salvation by God's grace, not by our own works. The law which requires us to do works to be saved becomes a curse to all of us. We simply can't keep that law. But Christ's act of becoming a curse for us frees us from the curse of the Law.

Let us live by the Gospel rather than die by the Law.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Psalm 71.1-8, Judges 13.1-25, Galatians 2.1-21 - Lectionary for 7/13/11

Today's readings are Psalm 71.1-8, Judges 13.1-25, and Galatians 2.1-21.

I was looking at a book earlier today in which the author talked about the demands of the Gospel. He talked about the Gospel convicting people of sin and changing them. From the perspective of a Lutheran, I know that we would like to correct this Presbyterian author. We would say that the Law convicts and makes demands, but the Gospel makes no demands and never constrains anyone. I think that's a good and useful corrective. Yet the point the author I was reading made was essentially correct. What the Lord has told us in Scripture dues correct us. Sometimes even seeing the goodness of God convicts us of our own sinful attitudes. Seeing the way God has poured out his grace on the world can rebuke our own selfishness. Regardless of how you term it, and I do think the Lutheran distinction and terminology of Law and Gospel works really well, we see that God makes distinctions between his people and those who are not his people. This is ever so clear in today's readings.

Samson is to be raised as a Nazirite from birth. He is to be set apart and kept for God. Likewise, Paul and Peter observe the distinctives of the Christian, as well as a distinction between the Christian and the Jew. I fear that we are either too ready to tell Christians how to behave and thus push a works righteousness or that we wish to avoid telling Christians how to behave and end up allowing licentiousness. Neither end of the pendulum swing should be true. God's Word tells us what our Lord expects of us. And first and foremost is that we live according to the Gospel that Jesus has died for us, taken our penalty, and has imputed his righteousness to us. How do we live that way? That's the tough part, because I can't tell someone how to live in God's grace. But I can try to point to the gracious God, trusting that He will guide His people into all truth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Psalm 118.10-18, Judges 7.1-23, Galatians 1.1-24 - Lectionary for 7/12/11

Today's readings are Psalm 118.10-18, Judges 7.1-23, and Galatians 1.1-24.

We've talked frequently about the distinction between Law and Gospel here. Today's reading from Galatians draws our attention to the issue as Paul chastens the Galatians for their falling away from the grace of God in Christ. The people of Galatia have departed from the Gospel, going into "a different gospel" (v. 6, ESV). Paul points out that this different gospel is no gospel at all. The Galatians have begun trusting on themselves rather than on the Lord who has saved them from their sin.

To believe the Gospel is to believe that God in Christ has earned your salvation, period. You can bring nothing to the table except your shame. The Gospel of Christ prohibits us from any glory, from any pride over doing what is right. It means that we confess that God has done all that is necessary to our salvation. It means that we have no hope in ourselves. As soon as we start trying to earn our salvation or to do anything to keep our salvation we have bound ourselves to the entire weight of the Law. We see we are carrying a crushing load which nobody can manage.

May the Lord guard us from this false gospel and bind us to the true gospel, that salvation is in and through Jesus Christ alone. May he protect us from any ideas that we have merit of any sort. Thanks be to God.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Psalm 5.1-8, Judges 6.25-40, Acts 15.6-21 - Lectionary for 7/11/11

One of the jobs God has given the Church is to guard doctrine. We often hear these days that doctrine is the bad guy, that it is what causes divisions. Yet historically, right doctrine has been what unifies us. It is the glue that holds the Church together in one confession. Our reading from Acts today draws attention to the critical nature of doctrinal purity. Can you be a Christian without being circumcised, without having lived as a Jew? When the debate was brought before the council in Jerusalem, the leaders agreed that God could save Gentiles by grace through faith, just like He saves Jews, and that He could do it without their prior conversion to Judaism. No doubt this was troublesome to the earliest Christians who were uniformly Jews. But we have not been given permission to correct the work of the Holy Spirit.

May the Lord use his people to guard purity of doctrine and to reject false doctrine. May he give us courage to stand for the truth regardless of the challenges we face.

Sermon for 7/10/11 "The Crazy Farmer'

SERMON “The Crazy Farmer”

May the Lord make us attentive to what He would speak through His word. Amen.

The Scripture is full of statements of "one." The Lord your God is one God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is one name under heaven by which we might be saved. There is one God and one mediator between God and man. And in our Gospel passage today we see one field, one sower, one seed. These three unities show us three very important facets of God's kingdom.

There is one field. When Jesus pictures the world, it is always a whole world. See how Jesus describes a field, and the field is the world. There doesn't seem to be a road going through the field. There isn't a margin. There isn't some area that is not part of the field. The field is all there is. It's the whole world. This parable and others take a sort of universalist view of life. There isn't anything in the world which isn't going to be included in this parable. There's one field, one world. And it's the world that is cursed by sin. Jesus, the savior of the world, is taking on the world of sin. There is no part of this world his death, burial and resurrection won't affect. There is no place outside of his care. There's one field.

There's one sower also. Our Lord is the one doing the work in the parable. In our household we often refer to God as "the crazy farmer." And he seems to be a crazy farmer. He is sowing seed everywhere. He doesn't seem to be careful about where he puts the seed. He's broadcasting it throughout the world. This parable is not about us and our qualities, our ability to be good soil. It isn't about anything we can do. It isn't about anything we are. We are in the world, which is the field God is sowing. Jesus is coming to our world regardless of the condition of our world. He, the living Word of God, the seed sown by God the Father, is the one who is broadcast by the Father to all the rough places, the hard places, the rocky places, the thorny places, the good land, everywhere. Let us make no mistake about it. The ground has no merit. It's just there in the parable. It's the Father and the Word who are doing the work. Do we bring Jesus to our communities? No, we don't. He's already there. God the Father has put him there. Do we bring Jesus to our families, our work places, our neighborhoods? No. God the Father has already put him there. We don't bring Jesus to people. We may bring people to Jesus, showing them that He is there for them. But he is there for them regardless of our obedience or disobedience. Jesus, the living Word of God, has come to our world. He has been planted here by God the Father, the one sower. There is one field, one sower.

And as I mentioned earlier, there is one seed. This seed is God's Word, the living Word, Jesus Christ himself. What does the seed do? It grows. That's what good seed does. And Jesus is always good and fruitful seed. That good seed will germinate and grow. It needs the conditions – moisture and temperature that's appropriate. If you put a handful of dried beans on a wet paper towel and keep them in a warm moist place, you'll see sprouts very soon. It doesn't matter that they have no soil. It doesn't matter that they won't be coming to maturity. They will grow. Seed grows. God's word, Jesus himself, grows. He is fruitful no matter where he goes. On the hard-packed soil he is attacked by Satan, who spreads his work like a bird which spreads seeds. On the rocky ground he germinates and starts about his work, but his work is stamped out by the hardness of our heart. Among the thorns he germinates and starts about his work, but his work is choked out by our incessant meddling. In the good soil, where he is left to do his work, he produces a bountiful increase. What's the difference? Not the seed. The difference is that in some places Jesus' work on our behalf is allowed to flourish and in some places we fuss with it and stamp out the fruitfulness of the Lord and giver of life. Where does Jesus produce an increase? Where we let him do his work.

What is Jesus' work, then? Living and dying for our sin, giving us his righteousness. Do we try to accomplish his work for him? Do we try to meddle with the seed of the Word of God? Do we try to mediate salvation on our terms? Or do we accept that Jesus Christ has come to give his life and be the savior of the world? There's one field, one sower, one seed.

Let us pray.

Lord, Savior of the world, you have given your life on our behalf, sowing yourself in this world for us. Burn off our thorns. Cast out the rocks from the rocky ground. Plow up the hardened crust of dirt. Be fruitful in and through us, bringing forth your increase throughout this world, for You ever live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Psalm 125, Judges 6.1-24, Acts 14.19-15.5 - Lectionary for 7/10/11

Today's readings are Psalm 125, Judges 6.1-24, and Acts 14.19-15.5.

We continue noticing our pattern of New Testament persecution in today's readings, as Paul is stoned in Lystra at the instigation of the Jewish opposition. After Paul's apparently miraculous recovery, Paul and Barnabas go on to various churches encouraging the believers. I think we will do well to notice the pattern of leadership which emerges in today's reading. The apostles, here two who were not among the original apostles, but who seem in Scripture to be treated with apostolic authority, go to different locations, encouraging the saints, and appointing elders.

This idea of biblical eldership is one which I fear our modern congregations have lost. In the New Testament, those people referred to as elders are treated as and are doing the work of pastors. Yet in modern Christianity we often see elders rotating in and out of leadership roles, serving essentially as a board of directors, not being people who are qualified, gifted, and committed to caring for the flock of God. I wonder if we can recapture the role of the elder? I challenge my readers, as I challenge myself, to study the Scriptural pattern and to be serious about the role of the elder in the local congregation. May the Lord raise up many of these godly men to care for His flock.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Psalm 138.1-6, Judges 4.1-24, Acts 14.1-18 - Lectionary for 7/9/11

Today's readings are Psalm 138.1-6, Judges 4.1-24, and Acts 14.1-18.

Often when we think of persecution against early Christians we think of the Roman government and the pagan citizenry. We notice today, though, that in Iconium it is the unbelieving Jews who stir up trouble for the Christians. The Gentiles generally are accepting of the Gospel, but the Jews fight back. In Lystra Paul and Barnabas are welcomed very warmly. The people are so persuaded that God has visited us that they consider Barnabas to be Zeus and Paul to be Hermes. Of course, the apostles can't allow this blending of religions, but the fact remains that the Gentiles don't seem to have the problem with the Gospel that the Jews do.

I wonder whether a lot of the objections our society has to Christianity are rooted in Christians slandering each other and inviting opposition. It seems possible. Yet it's become quite difficult to decide what doctrines are essential for basic agreement. We find it awfully easy to fight against our fellow Christians but then leave ourselves open to counter-attack from unbelievers who simply see that we object to one another without understanding the nuances of doctrinal debate. May the Lord help us to find clarity and a unity of message.

Friday, July 8, 2011

1, Judges 3.7-31, Acts 13.42-52 - Lectionary for 7/8/11

Today's readings are Psalm 16.5-11, Judges 3.7-31, and Acts 13.42-52.

There's something telling in the response of Paul and Barnabas to their critics in Acts 13.46. To the Jews who objected to the popular appeal of the Gospel, Paul and Barnabas said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles" (ESV). See how the apostolic view is that God's word calls people to faith, but the people can reject the grace of God. We are well warned. God's word does go forth and create faith in our hearts. But we can and do consider ourselves unworthy of the riches of God. What then? God eventually allows us to go our way. The more we reject God's grace, the easier it becomes. May the Lord give us tender hearts, to hear and believe the Gospel, not to trust in ourselves.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Psalm 2.1-8, Judges 2.6-23, Acts 13.13-41 - Lectionary for 7/7/11

Today's readings are Psalm 2.1-8, Judges 2.6-23, and Acts 13.13-41.

Through all the ages, God has graciously raised up people who remind his people of his merciful provision. After the time of Joshua, the people of Israel fell into turmoil, largely because they forgot or ignored God's prior revelation to them. In our reading from Acts we find that Paul is raised up to remind the people of Israel in Pisidian Antioch that Jesus the savior has been raised up. Though the Jews of Jerusalem were busily rejecting Jesus, he was still the savior who was promised. His mercy was still available to all who would believe. And God had raised up Paul, along with many other godly men, to herald this Gospel.

Do we live in a society that is largely occupied with rejecting Christ? Let us also take comfort that our Lord is raising up a mighty army of saints who will proclaim the grace of God to our world. God's mercy and forgiving grace in Christ Jesus will be announced in every age.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Psalm 100, Joshua 24.1-31, Acts 13.1-12 - Lectionary for 7/6/11 - Isaiah

Today is the day we recognize the prophet Isaiah.

Today's readings are Psalm 100, Joshua 24.1-31, and Acts 13.1-12.

We see the astonishing power of the hand of God today in our readings. Joshua charges the people of Israel and calls them to decide whether they will serve the true Lord or the false gods they have allowed in their midst. The pagan proconsul Sergius Paulus is moved to believe, having herad the teaching of the Lord and having seen his power when a magician named Elymas is struck blind by the Holy Spirit.

We often want to look for powerful signs of God like these. Yet we tend to see them rarely in our society today. Yet we see the power of the Holy Spirit all the time, as He convicts people of sin and draws them to Jesus in repentance, as He takes sinners like you and me and grants them forgiveness of sins and new life. God has not stopped working wonders among his people. The wonders change to fit the society in which God is working, but they remain the power of God. Let us turn our eyes, then, to the God of wonders, not to the wonders of God, and look to our Lord and Savior in repentance and hope.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Psalm 68.1-6, Joshua 23.1-16, Acts 12.1-25 - Lectionary for 7/5/11

Today's readings are Psalm 68.1-6, Joshua 23.1-16, and Acts 12.1-25.

Sometimes we tend to think God is different in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. Many people will draw a picture of God as a God of vengeance in the Old Testament but a God of grace and mercy in the New. Yet the Scripture does not bear this out. Observe in our Old Testament reading today that God promises Joshua and the Israelites safety and prosperity, provided they are faithful to the Lord. As they are believing in God's promises and walking according to his commands, they will find that God is indeed gracious and merciful.

What do we see in the New Testament reading today? We see that God continues to be merciful to his people who trust him. Yet what kind of curse can he pour out on those who do not believe him, who assert that they themselves are gods? Herod is struck down in his arrogance. Of course, not all who exalt themselves above God are struck down, but we see that God reserves the right to do so.

There is one God, one judge of the world, and he has not changed in his way of governing. We are always saved by grace through faith, and that faith is in Jesus Christ, who bore our sin and failing on our behalf. This is the same Gospel that Joshua had, though he hadn't yet seen the man Jesus. He trusted in him, just as we today are called to trust him.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Psalm 50.1-6, Joshua 10.1-25, Acts 11.19-30 - Lectionary for 7/4/11

Today's readings are Psalm 50.1-6, Joshua 10.1-25, and Acts 11.19-30.

There's a very strong international flavor to today's readings. We see Joshua and the Israelites under attack from a variety of nations, overcoming their attackers in the name of the Lord by supernatural means given to them for that conflict. We see the Gospel overcoming people wherever they go. Believers are persecuted in one area, go to another place, and bring the Gospel with them. Antioch, in Syria, quickly becomes the center of Christian activity. This is not just a movement centered in Jerusalem. It is international in scope. Our Lord conquers peoples hearts and minds in every part of the world, drawing them to him in faith, granting them eternal life and a living hope in this life. The Gospel is truly the power of God to everyone who believes.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sermon for 7/3/11 "Thanks Be to God"

SERMON “Thanks Be to God” Romans 7.14-25

Our Lord, hear our prayer. As we shelter under your protecting wings, nurture us and teach us to hear your Word. Amen.

“I’m old enough to know better but too young to resist.” Maybe you’ve tried saying this to someone. Or maybe you’ve tried telling it to yourself. We usually think of a statement like that when we’re found out, when our treachery is exposed. Maybe it was something little, a humorous prank. Or maybe it was something that brought harm to someone. Old enough to know better. Yes, no doubt about it. Too young to resist? I’m completely unconvinced.

Do we know how we are supposed to live? Has our Lord shown us through Scripture and also usually through the example of others in our society, what is appropriate? We know it’s bad to hurt people. We hardly need anyone to tell us that. We know that there’s nobody who likes to be dishonored and humiliated. No question about that. And you don’t have to be around Christianity for long to get the idea that God is God, that he has a holy standard, and that we don’t live up to that standard. God’s Law is quite clear. We know plenty to convict ourselves and anyone else. We do know how we’re supposed to live. As one 19th century humorist put it, “I’m not so bothered by the things in the Bible that I don’t understand as I am by the things I do understand.” We know how we’re supposed to live.

So do you really want to do good? This is the question that parents often end up asking their children. I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately. It’s one that I’ve been known to ask my children. But it’s really not a very fair question. What was the apostle Paul’s answer to the question? Yes, he wanted to do what was right. Yet he had another answer at the same time. No, he really didn’t want to do what was right, because he went ahead and did what was wrong. In the world of biblical counseling we have a name for what we end up doing. It’s called “blame shifting.” You know how blame shifting works. If you’ve forgotten, watch the little children for a while. They aren’t quite as sophisticated about it as adults are. “Why is your sister’s hair blue?” “Ralph made me do it.” “Really? How did he make you do it?” “Well, he made me do it. He wanted me to color it blue so I did.” We can bring this to a more adult level. So why didn’t you show your husband the credit card bill? Who made you hide what you were doing? We know what’s right and on one level we want to do what’s right but we go ahead and do what’s wrong, don’t we? We make up all sorts of explanations and try to excuse ourselves, but at the end of the day sin is still sin and we know that we have done what we did and we were aware of it. Nobody made me treat my wife badly. Nobody made me snap at my daughter when she asked me a question. I can do all those things all by myself. I know what’s right, and I do want to live a life pleasing to the Lord, but I’m not wholehearted. I show it all the time, sometimes in little ways, sometimes in big ways. But I’m double-minded. And so is everyone else in this room.

What if I’m doing pretty well, though? Remember the opening of Luther’s Small Catechism? What does the First Commandment mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. How do we violate this First Commandment when we act in obedience to God? What about when we do something good and kind? It’s all well and good until we realize we did something good. What do we do then? That’s when we start patting ourselves on the back. That’s when we start trusting in ourselves, loving ourselves, giving ourselves the glory rather than giving God the glory. Yes, even our good works are sinful once we examine the attitude we have. We are wretched indeed. We’re cursed. We have fallen in Adam, our father, whose sin infects all that we do.

It’s just at this low point, when we realize that we are in sin, that we can start seeing Jesus as the one who is full of righteousness. It’s at that point that we, like Paul, can turn around and say, “Thanks be to God!” It is in and through Jesus that we see God’s righteousness fulfilled. Jesus is the one who tells us again and again what is pleasing to God the Father. Jesus is the one who lives that life which is pleasing to the Father. And he lives it on our behalf, without our doing anything, without our being able to reform ourselves. Jesus lives a life of perfect righteousness and then he says it is the life he gives to us. Jesus Christ credits his own righteousness to us, forgiving us in the waters of baptism, washing us with repentance, granting us forgiveness because he has borne the penalty for our sin, feeding our faith with his body broken for us and his blood shed for us. Jesus delivers all the good that we need. Jesus delivers all the grace there is for us in eternity. It’s Jesus who has risen from the dead so we can know that we will rise. It’s Jesus who gives us the foretaste of the feast to come in eternity. It’s Jesus to whom all glory belongs. It’s Jesus who gives us good deeds to do and shows us they are done on his behalf, so he is the one who receives the glory. It’s Jesus who shows us that he has caught us in our sin, that he knows all about it, that it put him to death, and that he has forgiven us. It’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who forgives us again and again and again. It’s Jesus who loved us when we were yet sinners, including today, and has provided the cure for sin through his death.

Are we wretched? Yes. Are we blessed? Yes. Thanks be to God! Let’s rise to pray.

Our God, you who have delivered your forgiveness and grace to us, remind us of that grace from day to day. Drown us daily as we remember that we are buried with you in baptism. Raise us daily to newness of life as we repent of our sin and receive your forgiveness. As we eat and drink, let us remember your body, the bread of life, broken for us; your blood shed for us, for the remission of sins. Nurture us in this most precious faith, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 84.5-8, Joshua 8.1-28, and Acts 11.1-18 - Lectionary for 7/3/11

Today's readings are Psalm 84.5-8, Joshua 8.1-28, and Acts 11.1-18.

The Psalmist reminds us today that our strength is in the Lord. He is the one who works all things in and through us according to his good pleasure to accomplish his purpose. What then of the intricate plans we make? See how Joshua has leadership of his army and does command them to follow his plans. If God did not tell him very specifically what to do he would carry on with the plan that seemed right to him. Likewise Peter. We see his journey in Acts 11.2 takes him to Jerusalem as a result of what he has heard, not as a result of some specific divine leading. He needs a divine vision to prepare him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius' household. But he doesn't need a special vision to tell him there is controversy brewing and he needs to go to Jerusalem and talk with the other Christian leaders. God directs us through specific statements, particularly those of Scripture, and through our circumstances, which will show us how to carry on in most situations we face. Yet the leadership is still divine if we are Christ's people, believing on him and trusting him as the redeemer of the world who is always with us.

May the Lord guide our paths today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Psalm 51.1-9, Joshua 7.1-26, Acts 10.34-48 - Lectionary for 7/2/11

Today's readings are Psalm 51.1-9, Joshua 7.1-26, and Acts 10.34-48.

We read today how God pours out the Holy Spirit, but he does it in two different ways in our readings. In Joshua we see the terror of the coming of God. He has identified the person who was tempted and disobeyed the specific command of God to the soldiers who invaded Jericho. This man who turned his back on God is confronted by his sin, is brought to repentance, and yet dies, reaping the fruit of his sin. In Acts we see the liberation of the Holy Spirit. As the people of Cornelius' household are repentant, they receive the Gospel with joy and believe on Jesus, who has died in their place. The Holy Spirit falls upon them, causing them to speak in tongues and praise God. What's the difference between these two events? Jesus has died in our place. He has paid the penalty for sin. While sin still brings death, that death rests on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Does this mean that Christians who are repentant do not die as a result of their sin? Not at all. In both the Old and New Testament we see that sometimes people who are confronted with sin die, sometimes they do not. What we can have confidence in, though, is that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for sin. As we are confronted by the Holy Spirit, realize our sin, and repent of it, we also receive the comfort of the Gospel. Our sin has been atoned for by the person and work of Jesus. We do not have to bear our sin any more.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Psalm 47.1-7, Joshua 6.6-27, Acts 10.18-33 - Lectionary for 7/1/11

Today's readings are Psalm 47.1-7, Joshua 6.6-27, and Acts 10.18-33.

Our culture often tells us that the Church is not interested in "outsiders" any more than Israel was interested in foreigners. That's fine with me, but I'd like our culture to know how interested Israel was in foreigners. In today's readings we see that Rahab, a prostitute and dweller in Jericho, the city destined for destruction, was welcomed, with her family, into the people of Israel. Rahab is not the first or the last foreigner to join with God's people, Israel, in the covenant He provided for them. Israel was consistently interested in bringing outsiders in, sharing the grace of God with all who would believe.

The Church is no less interested in "outsiders." Did Jesus not come to seek and to save the lost? See how Peter is sent to bring the Gospel to the house of Cornelius. See how Jesus was called a friend of sinners. And realize that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. Yes, the Church is interested in these "outsiders" just like Israel was interested in foreigners. May the Lord bring us as many as he will so we can share this glorious Gospel with all nations.