Friday, September 30, 2011

Psalm 119:161-168, Deuteronomy 1:37-2:15, Matthew 6:1-15 - Lectionary for 9/30/11 - Commemoration of Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture

Today is the commemoration of Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture.
Today's readings are Psalm 119:161-168, Deuteronomy 1:37-2:15, and Matthew 6:1-15.

I've been thinking a bit about the Lord's Prayer lately. I was spurred on to it by an elderly lady some years ago who asked me why the congregation where I was an elder never prayed the Lord's Prayer. She had grown up with this on her tongue and in her heart and mind. At her age, as she sensed some of her mental faculties leaving her, it seemed she was ready to return to some of the liturgy of her youth. Yet in many circles people shy away from this prayer, citing Matthew 6:7 and suggesting that saying a prepared prayer is a matter of heaping up words to no effect.

As I've studied Luther's Small Catechism I observe that he said quite the opposite. The Lord has given us all we need to pray for. There's nothing in life that doesn't fit into the Lord's Prayer somewhere if we pay attention. We give glory to God. We ask that he will have his way with us and our world. We rejoice that he is providing all we have and all we need, particularly forgiveness. We confess that we don't forgive our debtors like we should and we ask the Lord to change our hearts so as to deal with us in the way we would like to be dealt with.

In the catechism we see this prayer in our morning prayers, before and after each meal, and in our evening prayers. If we eat regularly and pray as Luther suggests we are bringing all this before our Lord and Savior some eight times a day. This is not vain repetition. It's prayer that we desperately need.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sermon for 9/29/11 - Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Sermon “Just a Servant”

Lord, let me speak your thoughts after you, bringing the enormity of the Gospel to light. Amen.

Have you ever thought about what it is to be “just a servant”? The centurion in our gospel reading today has a servant who is ill and needs Jesus’ healing. But he also understands what it is to be a servant, as he is also under the authority of his general. This centurion boldly confesses that Jesus is able to do whatever works of healing he desires. All Jesus needs to do is proclaim the servant healed and the centurion knows he will be healed. Jesus then heals the centurion’s servant. No fuss, no muss, no hassles of any sort, he just heals him.

Today, the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, is a day we recognize the power of God’s servants. When our Lord commands his angels to care for something, can we assume it will be cared for? Consider the mighty power of the angels as revaled in Scripture. One angel is able to kill all the firstborn in Egypt. Yet how much more wonderful when our Lord puts his angels to work to watch over his people? How much more wonderful when God’s servants see to it that we are protected, that we are healed of our illnesses, that we are kept in safety?

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has commanded that his people be kept from all harm. He has proclaimed that his people will prevail over the forces of hell by faithfulness to his name. And as we read in Revelation we do cast down the armies of Satan by our trust in Jesus. This is the service he has commanded. It is the service to Christ that the angels look at and marvel. As mighty as they are, see that it is people who believe on Jesus bringing his kingdom, overcoming Satan himself. In fact, as servants of our living Lord, we accomplish that which no angel can accomplish. For we operate in the power of the crucified and risen Lord.

Do we look for God’s angels to help us? Then we look to a great and mighty power. Do we look to Jesus as the king of all the angels and the redeemer of his people? Then we become servants of the most high, exercising his power at his command. May the Lord so use us to good effect in this world.

Our Lord and Savior, you have appointed your angels to look over us. And you have promised never to leave us or forsake us. As the angels obey you in all things, let us also walk according to your command, bringing your kingdom and will to this world, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 19:7-14, Deuteronomy 1:19-36, Matthew 5:21-48 - Lectionary for 9/29/11 - Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

Today's readings are Psalm 19:7-14, Deuteronomy 1:19-36, and Matthew 5:21-48.

How do we treat our enemies? We see in Deuteronomy that God commands Israel to destroy the people they are displacing. Yet in Matthew 5:43-48 we are told to love our enemies. What caused the difference?

In the conquest of Canaan God's people were invading a hostile land. It was the land God had promised the children of Israel. They were to live there by faith in God, safe from their enemies. Here is our connection. In Jesus we live by faith. We are, in fact, safe from our enemies. Jesus has defeated our true enemies - sin, death and hell. They can no longer harm us. Therefore, our response to those who would persecute us is also changed. We seek their good. We pray God's blessing upon them. We pray that they would come to the same precious faith we have in Jesus. In this way we bless our enemies. Let them rage. Though they kill us, yet we live on, being partakers of Jesus, who himself is the resurrection and the life.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Psalm 145:17-21, Deuteronomy 1:1-18, Matthew 5:1-20 - Lectionary for 9/28/11

Today's readings are Psalm 145:17-21, Deuteronomy 1:1-18, and Matthew 5:1-20.

Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17 is critical to understanding all of the New Testament. What did Jesus do? He came to fulfill the Law. He is not an example showing us how we can earn our salvation. Rather, he is the one who has completed all righteousness on our behalf. We see as we look to God's Law that we don't need a coach. We need a deliverer. As we daily fall short of God's perfect standard we need someone to do all God has commanded, then give that perfect obedience to us. Without a fulfiller of the Law we remain under the curse and all the weight of God's wrath falls on us. With Jesus to fulfill all of God's demands we find the weight of God's glory and blessing falling on us.

Thanks be to God! Jesus has fulfilled the Law.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Psalm 91:9-16, Malachi 3:6-4:6, Matthew 4:12-25 - Lectionary for 9/27/11

Today's readings are Psalm 91:9-16, Malachi 3:6-4:6, and Matthew 4:12-25.

When we consider the end of our reading in Malachi we may be led to think that unity within families is the paramount goal of the Gospel. This is an easy conclusion to make, yet I think we are better off seeing family reconciliation as a by-product of reconciliation with God.

Do we desire our families to be in peace and unity? Sure. But that deep peace will not be well founded without each member being at peace with God, reconciled in Christ. This is the root of all human relationships, just as sin is what ultimately alienates people from one another. Let us look then to Christ's reconciling love, then trust that we may be his instruments, breathing grace and peace into our families. As we all look to him, we will likely find it much easier to be reconciled to one another.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Psalm 16, Malachi 2:1-3:5, Matthew 4:1-11 - Lectionary for 9/26/11

Today's readings are Psalm 16, Malachi 2:1-3:5, and Matthew 4:1-11.

We see it all the time in others. I wonder if we see it in ourselves? The people in Malachi view themselves as righteous. They consider that they have done what is good in the sight of God. They deserve his rewards. After all, they have been blessed by God. Wasn't everything fine all along?

But God is not subject to our whims or our idea of righteousness. We don't get to determine his standard of what is acceptable. Our Lord demands perfect love and trust. He accepts no substitutes, none, that is, but faith in the perfect love, trust, and obedience of Jesus, God the Son.

Do we wish to stand before God in our righteousness? Or shall we depend on Jesus, who clothes us in his righteousness? Let us beware, for when God comes to judge the world, none can stand but by faith in Christ. All else will fail. Yet, clothed in Christ's righteousness we stand faultless before the throne of God.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Psalm 51:5-13, Malachi 1:1-14, Matthew 3:1-17 - Lectionary for 9/25/11

Today's readings are Psalm 51:5-13, Malachi 1:1-14, and Matthew 3:1-17.

Adverbs are interesting little words, aren't they? I fear we use them in discussing the Christian faith more than is wise. But a discussion of today's readings invariably brings up "true" repentance or "real" and "deep" life change. Let's avoid the adverbs for a bit. What does repentance look like? It results in commitment to God rather than to ourselves. It leads us to desire God's priorities. It changes our behavior because it changes our motives.

Will repentance always result in the life change we desire? Not necessarily. Sometimes our sins come back to haunt us again and again, though we are sorrowful and repent of them. We mustn't discount the truth of someone's repentance. But we call ourselves and others to repentance over and over, as often as we are aware of sin. One day, by God's grace, we will be cleansed - thoroughly and permanently - two great adverbs to anticipate.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Psalm 123, Nehemiah 9:22-38, 1 Timothy 6:3-21 - Lectionary for 9/24/11

Today's readings are Psalm 123, Nehemiah 9:22-38, and 1 Timothy 6:3-21.

In our reading from Nehemiah the people of Judah express their sorrow for their sin. They have gone astray, turning away from God's revealed will. In 1 Timothy we see that there are countless ways we can go astray.

What entangles us? What is it that interferes with our trust in the Lord? What takes our eyes off Jesus for us and turns our eyes to our own desire to do good works?

May the Lord grant us repentance - sorrow for our sin and a desire to turn to him in faith. We can never contribute to our salvation. Jesus did it all on our behalf or it is no kind of gift. And as we realize our sin and ask his forgiveness, may we ever know that God's mercy is sufficient for all our sin.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Psalm 51:5-13, Nehemiah 9:1-21, 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2 - Lectionary for 9/23/11

Today's readings are Psalm 51:5-13, Nehemiah 9:1-21, and 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2.

We've talked about biblical eldership here a bit lately. Today in 1 Timothy 5 we see the elder raise his head again. Notice that these elders engage in ruling, preaching, and teaching. Paul points out that they should be free to receive pay. He also says the elder should have protection in what he does. It should be difficult to bring accusations against elders. They are doing difficult things and may be misunderstood easily.

While we have seen that elders seem to be normal Christians, they are exemplary and mature believers, clearly in a position of leadership. Could these be our pastors? They seem to be. But we get the idea here and elsewhere that there may typically be multiple elders in each congregation. It seems elders are expected to be prepared for the pastoral office, but that they are often products of the local congregation and may not spend the entirety of their time engaged in pastoral care.

May the Lord continue to raise up these local leaders, elders, giving us honor and respect for those who rule well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Psalm 133, Nehemiah 7:1-4; 8:1-18, 1 Timothy 5:1-16 - Lectionary for 9/22/11 - Commemoration of Jonah

Today is the commemoration of Jonah.

Today's readings are Psalm 133, Nehemiah 7:1-4; 8:1-18, and 1 Timothy 5:1-16.

In our readings today we see people gathering around the reading and explanation of God's Word as a big family. They encourage and care for one another. They make sure that God's mercy is shown on the weak and weary. They learn about historic life and obedience to God's Word and they participate in the ancient practices of the faithful.

Life today seems quite different. We gather for church events but have complaints if we spend too much time with the Scripture. We shuffle our young people out of the way and don't teach them how to pay attention to God's Word. We shun historic practices rather than embracing them and learning to appreciate them. We choose not to care for our aged people, leaving them to the tender mercies of government social service agencies.

Something is wrong here. May the Lord graciously draw us to a biblical faith which gathers the saints and nurtures them in the Word of God.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Head of The AALC Comes to Watseka

(This is an announcement I'm going to try getting posted in the local paper.)

Pastor Franklin Hays, Presiding Pastor of The American Association of Lutheran Churches, will be in Watseka on Sunday, September 25, for the installation of Pastor Dave Spotts at Faith Lutheran Church. The Presiding Pastor is a position in The AALC equivalent to that of a bishop in many denominations. As the head of the denomination, Pastor Hays' presence suggests the importance of a pastoral installation. In a phone interview on September 21, Pastor Hays said that the installation of a pastor is an important event not only for the local congregation but also for the community. "It signifies that there is a recognized pastor in town, that sacred conversations are ready to progress. This is a sign to the community that God is still active in the very place where we live, that there is no burden we have that God cannot bear, no sin that God cannot forgive," said Hays. Pastor Spotts has been serving at Faith Lutheran Church since June and looks forward to the installation. "This is an important opportunity for the congregation and the community to see that what we are doing, we are doing in public, for the good of our community and the glory of God," said Spotts. Everyone is welcome to the installation service at Faith Lutheran Church, 425 E. Lincoln Ave., in Watseka, Sunday at 9:00 a.m. After the installation Pastor Hays will host a question and answer session, to be followed by a potluck dinner.

Psalm 55:12-19, Nehemiah 5:1-16; 6:1-9, 15-16, 1 Timothy 4:1-16 - Lectionary for 9/21/11 - Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.

Today's readings are Psalm 55:12-19, Nehemiah 5:1-16; 6:1-9, 15-16, and 1 Timothy 4:1-16.

There's a theological term which comes to mind with today's reading from 1 Timothy 4. It is "antinomianism." That's a kind of big word for the habit of saying God's law doesn't really count. But the term can also apply to those who have departed from the faith as Paul discusses in 1 Timothy 4. Notice that these people have left the faith by requiring observance of laws which God does not require. These people are as opposed to God's law as those who say we keep no laws. On both sides of the spectrum we end up denying what our Lord has revealed as his will.

What is the solution? As with Timothy, we do well to devote ourselves to the reading of Scripture. We trust that our Lord will work in us with all the gifts he has given us, especially with the words of life in the Bible. We seek to live according to God's Word, no feeling the need to add rules as a safeguard. No, may God's commands be his commands, that we may see our frailty and look to him for forgiveness and grace.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Psalm 46, Nehemiah 4:7-23, 1 Timothy 3:1-16 - Lectionary for 9/20/11

Today's readings are Psalm 46, Nehemiah 4:7-23, and 1 Timothy 3:1-16.

Our reading today in 1 Timothy 3 may cause some confusion. Some translators call the people at the start of the chapter "elders" while others call them "bishops" or "overseers." What are these people? Are they an elite group of high ranking professional clergy? Are they pastors? Are they godly "lay leaders"? The Greek term used here literally means "overseers." The English "bishop" is a word directly derived from this Greek word. And in the Bible that word is used as a synonym for the word "elder."

Based on what we know from the text of 1 Timothy 3 these people show exactly the character qualities we would expect of any mature Christian man who is married. The title "overseer" indicates that these men are recognized as leaders. But there is no indication that they would belong to a special group of "professional" ministers. They are mature Christian men.

May the Lord raise up many godly overseers and deacons in every church congregation where his word is proclaimed faithfully.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psalm 136:1-9, Nehemiah 2:11-20; 4:1-6, 1 Timothy 2:1-15

Nehemiah sees the destruction of Jerusalem first hand in our reading today. But there is a destruction which is far worse than the broken wall and burned gates. The enemies of the Jews strive to prevent the city from being rebuilt. How do we deal with such opposition? See what Nehemiah does. See how Paul exhorts Timothy. We pray for those in authority. We pray that God will accomplish his will.

Have we remembered to pray for our leaders? Do we ask God to give them wisdom and grace to lead well? Do those prayers include prayers for God's grace upon leaders we don't like or trust? We are told to pray for all people. May God protect his people, enabling us to live a peaceful and godly life. May he use our civil authorities well as he accomplishes his will. May God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Sermon for 9/18/11 "Who Cheated?"

(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 have a mother-in-law who happens to be an amazing card player. She is at home with a deck of playing cards. She can keep track of what has happened, no matter the game. I’m not a big fan of card games anyway, but I certainly don’t think I can play with her. She always wins and she wonders why others, like me, don’t have a clue what we are doing.

Have you ever run into someone like that? Someone who wins every time? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether there’s something fishy going on. We wonder what the special rules might be. Maybe I’m playing by one set of rules and everyone else is using some other rule, so that’s why I always seem to lose.

How does our Lord command us to be? In Isaiah 55 we see that we who are wicked are to forsake our way. We’re to stop cheating. We’re to act in an honest way. Not only do we get rid of the evil behavior, we’re to leave behind our evil thoughts as well. For some of us that doesn’t leave a whole lot left to do, right? We realize that we are fond of those evil actions and thoughts. But rather than just leaving behind this evil we are to turn to our Lord. We beg him for forgiveness, and we know that’s what we need to do, because he responds by pardoning us.

Does our Lord give a reason for this? Why should we change what we do? We change our thoughts because God’s thoughts are greater. We change our ways because God’s ways are greater. We are conformed into the image of our Lord and Savior because he is good and merciful and he wants us to be changed.

This is a summary, and I think it’s a good summary, of our passage appointed from Isaiah for today’s service. But there’s a little more unpacking that we can do to it. There’s no doubt that God calls us to a life of repentance and change. We are to obey our Lord. And we realize that God is quite different from us. The motivation God gives us in Isaiah 55 is that his ways are greater, higher, than ours. The incentive he gives us is that he will forgive us. Let’s look at those issues in order, then. First, God’s call to repentance and change. Second, the way God is higher than we are. Finally, our need for God’s forgiveness.

How does our Lord call us to repentance and change? God is not afraid to call us wicked or unrighteous. He doesn’t pull any punches there. In Philippians the apostle Paul says we are to be faithful even to death, that if our life is to be worthy of the Gospel we stand firm, we strive for the faith of the gospel, that we aren’t frightened in anything, including our sufferings. This is what the Lord has created us to be. It’s the way we are to look in Christ. It’s our identity. Does it match us? Are we the righteousness of God or are we wicked? Are we faithful to death or are we going to flinch? You know, don’t you, confirmands, that one of the questions I’ll ask you in front of everyone when you are ready to be confirmed, is whether you intend to be faithful to Christ even to your death. Every one of us is expecting to face death some day. Do we look to Jesus, who has overcome it? Or do we flinch? Are we confident in our Savior? Or do we say that we hope he’ll actually save us, wondering if the Gospel is true? Whether life is easy or difficult, is our hope built on Jesus and his righteousness? Or do we trust something else? I think we need to be called to repentance. We’re simply not going to be able to keep the righteous demands of God’s law. We are to fear, love and trust in God entirely, all the time, with no mistakes allowed. This is the demand of God’s perfect righteousness. And we aren’t going to do it. Further, like the chemist who spoils a formula by dropping in a wrong ingredient, we can’t rescue ourselves. We can’t undo our faithlessness. Sin remains sin. We’ve failed and the whole thing is ruined. Despite our best efforts, despite our best intentions, we have fallen short of the perfect demands of God.

We recall that God is higher than we are. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Our thoughts and ways are limited by our own sense of right and wrong. He isn’t bound by that. We can look to our Gospel reading for this concept. In Matthew 20 we see the parable of the workers in the vineyard. And we remember that God is normally one of the prime characters in a parable. The master seems to be acting in a responsible manner, at least at first. He hires some day laborers and agrees to pay them what is typical for a day laborer for one day. He then gathers some more laborers, and more, and more, throughout the day, not telling them how much he intends to pay them. This is not out of line at all. Then as the end of the day comes he begins to pay out his workers. He gives them all the same amount, the amount which he contracted with the first workers for.

You may remember that I’ve tried to identify the “no way” moment in parables. This is the “no way” in this parable. No normal master would pay a whole day’s wages for someone who came to work about an hour before quitting time. It’s absurd. It makes no sense at all to do this. All this does is encourage workers to take advantage of the master. But we see this is no normal master. His ways are above our ways. His thoughts are above our thoughts. He has determined to bless people, even though they don’t deserve it.

How has God blessed us? He has blessed us in the person and work of Jesus, who came to gather us to himself. He has blessed us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He has blessed us in that Jesus, the sinless one, takes away the sin of the world, bearing it himself. He has blessed us in that Jesus, the lamb of God, goes to his death, no, rather, he goes to our death, meeting the penalty for our sin head on. God has blessed us in the active obedience of Christ, who ministered among us, not bringing sin or shame of any sort. God has surely blessed us in proclaiming us partakers of a heavenly inheritance, which is received by grace through faith. God has certainly blessed us by accomplishing all that is needed for our salvation on our behalf. God has certainly blessed us by making the last to be first and the first last, by taking us from the rank of sinners and placing us in the blessed place of God the Son, while he himself in the person and work of Jesus has taken our place, the last place, the place of sorrow, shame, and destruction.

So, to return to the question we had at the start of the sermon, who cheated? Our Lord has condemned our lying, cheating, and stealing, calling us to change our behavior and our minds, so he can have mercy on us. But time after time, since we don’t prove ourselves worthy, since we deny the riches of the mercy of God, since we fail over and over again, we see that in fact God himself cheats. He cheats so that we win. He overpays us. He defeats death not so he can live but so we can live. He betrays himself to destruction so we become indestructible. He takes us who would be by nature last and makes us first. And he does it all out of his good pleasure, because he loves us. If there’s anyone treated unfairly in the kingdom of God, it’s God, who himself becomes last to make us first.

Let us pray.

Our Lord, you have called us to you in faith. You have told us to change our ways, and since we couldn’t and wouldn’t, you have changed them for us. Let us then look to you, the author and finisher of our salvation, in faith, knowing that you have conquered sin on our behalf. Grant us repentance and forgiveness, that we may walk in the newness of life you have provided in your kingdom, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Psalm 118:5-14, Nehemiah 1:1-2:10, 1 Timothy 1:1-20 - Lectionary for 9/18/11

Today's readings are Psalm 118:5-14, Nehemiah 1:1-2:10, and 1 Timothy 1:1-20.

Today with Nehemiah we see that God's people are in trouble. They are real people in real trouble. Nehemiah is deeply disturbed over their plight. Even the king gets involved in caring for the troubles of a nation he barely knows.

Paul points out to Timothy that God knows the troubles of his people. We do not escape his notice. We are very real people in very real trouble. But that very real trouble we are in, trouble the Bible calls sin, is resolved by the very real Jesus who gave himself to save us.

We modern people may be uncomfortable with that message. It doesn't agree with our sensibilities. We'd rather think we were products of our world and have the power to do what we want to resolve problems. We'd rather think we're in control. We'd rather look at ancient people and their lives and struggles like so many fairy tales. But this is not the picture of the world the Bible gives. Rather, sin is real, God is real, and the very real God has dealt with the problem of sin on our behalf in Jesus' death and resurrection. May we have grace to believe and live.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Psalm 130, 2 Chronicles 36:1-23, Colossians 4:1-18 - Lectionary for 9/17/11

Today's readings are Psalm 130, 2 Chronicles 36:1-23, and Colossians 4:1-18.

Today we read a very brief summary of the fall of Judah and the captivity in Babylon. How do we see God's providence in difficult times? Do we assume that God has abandoned us? Do we think we must have individually done some sinful act which brings punishment?

Notice that in this captivity in Babylon God is giving the land seventy Sabbaths (2 Chron. 36:21) to make up for many generations when people did not obey and give the land its rest. God's actions tend to be much larger than we would think. Rather than viewing hardship as a result of my individual sin, maybe I am best seeing it as a result of the sinful condition of this world.

What then is my solution? As Paul tells the Colossians - pray, be wise, use our time well, speak carefully, and greet one another, encouraging them in Christ. During times of ease or hardship, living our faith out in the community of the saints will always remind us of the big picture. And that big picture says that Jesus has taken away the curse of sin, becoming a curse for us, dying so we can live in him. May we ever live a life of trust in our Lord.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Psalm 108:1-6, 2 Chronicles 35:1-7, 16-25, Colossians 3:1-25 - Lectionary for 9/16/11 - Commemoration of Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr

Sometimes it's difficult to keep our historical context in view, especially in reading Kings and Chronicles. At the end of our reading from 2 Chronicles today we see that Josiah's death spurred a lament from the prophet Jeremiah, who endured life in Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity.

Before Josiah's death everything was looking up for Judah. Worship had been restored. There seemed to be a period of revival. All that came to an end shortly afterward. Did God's word prove ineffective? Not at all. Then, as now, God was in the world, very active, declaring the riches of his grace and revealing that our sinful unbelief brings destruction and bondage. What is our hope? It is not a political deliverer. They come and go. Our only hope is in the person and work of Jesus on our behalf. Only he can give us his eternal life, which we put on by faith in his name and authority over death. History then melts away, being replaced by life and salvation to all who believe. May this be a day of salvation by His grace.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Psalm 1, 2 Chronicles 34:1-4, 8-11, 14-33, Colossians 2:8-23 - Lectionary for 9/15/11

Today's readings are Psalm 1, 2 Chronicles 34:1-4, 8-11, 14-33, and Colossians 2:8-23.

Today's readings have a theme of dedication to the Lord. Josiah, moved by God's word, gives himself and his kingdom in dedication to the Lord. Paul reminds the Colossians that they have been regenerated and given to Jesus in their baptism. This he compares to circumcision - that which is done to us, which, when received by faith, marks us as partakers of the riches of God's blessing. It sets us apart for Christ's service.

So today we have a challenge in Scripture. Do we live according to the life given in Christ or do we pursue our own sinful desires and attitudes? Our Lord has delivered life and salvation to all who believe. Do we walk in that faith or do we reject it?

May the Lord grant us to always walk in faith that he has accomplished our salvation.

Sermon for 9/14/11 "The Power of the Cross"

Lord Jesus, let us see how you humbled yourself to death, even death on a cross, that you might show all the power and glory of God the Father. Amen.

Today is Holy Cross Day. This day has been recognized as a holiday in the Christian calendar for about 1700 years, since the year 326. Quite a long time. On this day in history, supposedly Helena, the mother of Constantine, found and identified the remains of the cross on which Jesus had been crucified nearly three hundred years earlier. Whether Helena really discovered the right piece of wood or not, this holiday points us to the importance of the cross of Christ.

So why is the cross so crucial? Why is it so very important? We see that in Scripture God has raised up something weak and powerless – a bronze serpent in the wilderness, a man dying in the Gospels – so that the people who look to it in faith will be saved and healed. But how can this work? Where’s the power involved in that? If we were to devise a means of salvation for sinners we’d probably have them do some heroic work of self-sacrifice. We might have them commit themselves to poverty, to works of sorrow, or something like that. We’d figure out some way that people would humble themselves to receive God’s forgiveness. That would seem like a worthy means to earn forgiveness.

But our God doesn’t work the way we do. He doesn’t think the way we think. His ways are not our ways. Our God was not satisfied with sinful man’s ability to save himself. He saw that we couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. And he also saw that we would be attracted to a means of salvation that looked noble or worthy. If there seemed to be great power and grace in it we’d be flocking to it so as to show ourselves worthy.

On the contrary our Lord chose to display his power through giving himself in the person of Jesus, God the Son, who would die in a shameful way. And a substitutionary death is not a means of forgiveness we would devise. He does what is impossible, even inconceivable to us. For Jesus, in his death on the cross, becomes sin for us, taking the sin of the world on his shoulders, suffering separation from God, though he himself is God. Jesus, God the Son, the very true God, dies, which seems impossible for God. And in this sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, the seemingly weak one becomes the power of God. The sign of shame becomes the sign of God’s glory. The apparent defeat of God the Son shows that he has in fact triumphed over death.

How powerful is the cross? Let us never underestimate the power of the cross, for on it Christ died for you and for me, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.

Let us pray.

Lord, let us cherish your cross, for on it you turned the tables on death itself. May we look to you, Christ, crucified for us, the power of God in all we do. Amen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Psalm 38:6-16, 2 Chronicles 33:1-25, Colossians 1:24-2:7 - Lectionary for 9/14/11 - Holy Cross Day

Today is Holy Cross Day

Today's readings are Psalm 38:6-16, 2 Chronicles 33:1-25, and Colossians 1:24-2:7.

As a pastor I occasionally talk to someone who thinks he has sinned in such a way that Jesus cannot forgive him. These people think their repentance is useless because they are too bad to be saved from sin.

Compare your life to that of Manasseh, king of Judah. He sacrificed his own children to pagan gods. He established shrines for false worship and made countless people deny faith in the true God. What was the result? Amid all this destruction he was moved to repentance. He prayed that God would forgive him and he received that forgiveness, becoming a good king.

What is there that our Lord will not forgive as we humble ourselves in repentance, asking that Jesus, who has taken our sins upon himself, should forgive us? There is no sin too great for the mercy of God in Christ.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Psalm 27:7-13, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22, Colossians 1:1-23 - Lectionary for 9/13/11

Today's readings are Psalm 27:7-13, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22, and Colossians 1:1-23.

What kind of opposition do Christians face in this world? It isn't uncommon for modern-day believers to have encounters with people who behave like Sennacherib and the Assyrians. They don't believe in God as revealed in the Bible. So they act as though he is some sort of silly superstition, that he is a god made in man's imagination. This is a natural enough assumption. Most of us tend to view other people's beliefs through the lens of our experience. But in many cases it is inaccurate. The Assyrians, like many in our post-Christian world, thought the God of the Jews was like their gods - servant of the will of the military commander. There's one big problem in that. This is not the way the Bible portrays God. The God we read about in Colossians 1 is quite different. He is the one active in creation and in providence throughout history. He is the true and living God. He calls us to himself on his own terms. We do not rule him. He is the ruler of all.

Let God be God! May we accept no substitutes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Psalm 94:12-15, 2 Chronicles 31:1-21, Philippians 4:1-23 - Lectionary for 9/12/11

Today's readings are Psalm 94:12-15, 2 Chronicles 31:1-21, and Philippians 4:1-23.

Our readings today center on giving - specifically on giving offerings. We read of the abundance that the people of Israel supply to the priests as they bring their offerings before God. We read of how unity among laborers for the Gospel is a sweet offering before the Lord. And we read of the generosity of the Philippians who have given again and again to help Paul in his times of need.

All the offerings which we give are in response to Jesus, who has given himself, along with all the riches of heaven, for us. What do we do then? We offer ourselves and our resources to care for those around us, especially those we know have believed in Jesus' finished work, seeking God's glory and our neighbor's good. We do this not as a means of gaining favor in God's eyes. He has already shown us favor. We simply respond to his love, in his love. May God be praised.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sermon for 9/11/11 "The Cost of Unforgiveness"

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.

Don’t you love it when someone gives you something? Maybe you’ve been in line to buy tickets to a concert or a movie and someone else has come up to you and given you some tickets he bought and couldn’t use. Or maybe you enjoy cruising slowly around town and seeing what people have put out by the curb to give away. You might just get a treasure of some kind! Or maybe you have higher hopes. There’s a reason people buy lottery tickets, right? It isn’t because they are hoping to win the price of the ticket. It’s because they are hoping to win a whole boatload of money. The higher the cost of something we’re given, the greater our gratitude. When we win big, we are usually glad in a big way.

Let’s imagine you are buying a house. Some of you probably are. You have a mortgage. As long as you make your payments each month you make progress on paying off the loan. One of these days you’ll own the house all the way and get to keep it without making monthly payments. How would you like it if the bank that holds the loan on your house sent you a letter saying that your bill has been satisfied and that you no longer have to send in any money?

In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today we have an even bigger example of a gift. There’s a servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. Did you ever stop to think how much money this is? It’s a difficult thing, since we don’t really have an equivalent economy. A talent was a weight of money, not a coin. It was too much money to be coined. So it could be measured in weight as a talent of silver or of gold. The weight was the same. A silver talent, probably the more common weight of money for accounting purposes, was enough money to outfit and supply a war ship for a month, including paying the soldiers, feeding them, and providing their equipment. The warships carried approximately three hundred men. So picture making payroll and supplies for about three hundred people for a month. This is a talent. The servant owes the master ten thousand talents. That’s enough to pay for a war ship for about eight hundred years. It’s an incredible amount of money. It’s more money than a master would have. It’s more money than a government would have, in fact. And without a doubt, it’s more than any sane master would lend anybody, not to mention a servant. The servant would not have any means to pay it back, ever.

Every parable has in it what I like to call the “no way” moment. Do you see that moment here? There’s no way in the world this situation could exist. Jesus pictures it to point to the very impossibility of the thing. There’s no master who has that kind of money or who could or would lend it to anyone. No human master, at least. But we confess there is a divine master who has all the riches of heaven and earth. And this divine master, God, has given to us, his servants, all that we need. He has provided us with our food and drink, our clothes, our families, our employers, all that we need. He has provided us with life and health. He has provided us with absolutely priceless things such as happiness, joy, delight. And this he does, day after day, beyond measure, pouring out his many blessings upon his people.

How do we respond to God’s goodness and mercy? Do we rejoice in the good gifts our Lord has given us? Do we live in accordance with them, claiming him as the Lord and master, realizing that he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being? Do we recognize that all we have is a gift? Or do we, like this servant, decide that what God has given us is something we have borrowed from him? What is our attitude toward our Lord’s provision? Do we consider it something that we can earn, that we could buy, that we deserve in some way? Let it never be, or we may suffer the same fate as the servant in the parable.

Look at the situation with me. The servant has apparently decided this is a debt. The master, knowing this, wants to bless the servant. He intends to show the servant that all he has comes from the master freely. There is no debt. There is no payback. The servant hasn’t done anything to deserve the blessings. And he can’t. He never could. He just receives the blessings of the master. So we picture the conversation between the master and the servant. The servant indicates that he intends to pay for his keep. The master shows him the bill. It’s an incredible bill. But the servant has claimed responsibility for the bill. So the master does what any master would. He announces the plan to sell the servant, his family, and all he has to collect what he can. The bill remains outstanding. Best to try to collect something. After all, the servant affirmed that it was his bill. The servant then begs for time. He will pay it. He will work his hardest. He will manage to come up with the means to do so.

Let’s be real, though. The servant won’t be able to pay his bill. You won’t be able to hire three hundred men for eight hundred years during your lifetime with your income. Or if you are able to do so, our church finance committee wants to talk with you about your giving. And this servant is no more able to pay his bill than you are. You have received priceless gifts. If you wish to pay for them, it’s time for you to start sweating and figuring out how you’re going to do it. Because you can’t. That should be very clear.

What does the master do? He forgives the debt. The servant has affirmed that he owes the debt, though the parable would seem to indicate the master was giving him all this as a gift, not as a debt account. But the servant wants it to be a debt. So the master, wishing to be generous beyond belief, just like he’s always been generous beyond belief, forgives the debt.

Likewise, our Lord has forgiven us our debt. With Adam’s sin imputed to us we become heirs to a tremendous debt, a debt of forgiveness. We owe God perfect righteousness and perfect obedience. Yes, perfect. How are we doing on that? Have we sinned against our Lord in thought, word or deed? Any one of the above will incur the debt. Have we failed to love and trust him perfectly? Ever? Have we sinned in what we’ve done or in what we’ve left undone? Then we deserve his wrath. We deserve his anger. We deserve death and destruction. That’s the kind of debt we have. And no matter how many good works we do we can never make up for our sin. God demands perfect righteousness all the time. As soon as we sin, and we all have sinned in Adam, we all have come short of our Lord’s perfect demands. We are under the curse. We owe a debt which we can never, never pay. But our Lord has forgiven us that debt. He proclaims us not liable for the penalty, for he has taken the penalty of our sin upon himself. Our Lord and Savior forgives us our sin and cleanses us, dressing us in his own perfect righteousness.

How do we react? Do we walk in this forgiveness that our Lord has given us? Or are we like the servant in the parable? He goes out, forgiven, and chooses to do something which may help him pay his own debt. He takes the debt back upon himself, trying to collect it from others who owe him. Is this an insignificant debt he tries to collect? Some of you may have Bibles which identify it as “a few dollars.” That isn’t an appropriate understanding of it. A hundred denarii is the figure mentioned by Jesus. This is about four months’ wages. It’s a lot of money. If you owed me four months’ wages I’d be pretty eager to collect it. And if I owed it to you, you’d want it back too. It’s an amount that we would have trouble forgiving. Yet what does our Lord demand? He has forgiven us a debt we could never pay. Should we not also forgive others the debts they owe us, even significant ones? How significant is my debt of sin before my Lord? All other debts pale before this one. And my debt has been forgiven. It is not my business to be taking it onto myself again and again. I am supposed to leave it forgiven.

So we have a debtor who has been forgiven. He takes on the burden of his debt again. In the end his Lord lets him carry that burden again. This is the destruction of the poor debtor. He has condemned himself. May we never do so! Let us rather walk in the forgiveness which our Lord has provided in Christ Jesus, letting him bear our sins, that we should bear them no more. Let us receive with joy the reconciliation our Lord has provided on the cross. Let us delight in the good gifts of the Lord, who has given himself for us.

Our Lord and Savior, you have cancelled the debt of our sin. Let us walk in newness of life, clothed in your righteousness, for you ever live to make intercession for us. Amen.

Psalm 44.1-8, 2 Chronicles 29.1-24, Philippians 3.1-21 - Lectionary for 9/11/11

Today's readings are Psalm 44.1-8, 2 Chronicles 29.1-24, and Philippians 3.1-21.

Paul continues his theme of being subject to the Lord in today's reading. Philippians 3.12-16 is another of those passages people love to twist. We read that we press on in Christ in case we can attain salvation. But what we so often ignore is the fact that Paul has already said he belongs to Jesus. What Paul struggles with, then, is his own attitude. He knows he belongs to Jesus. But he also knows that he tries to stray from Jesus. The question for Paul, as we should also ask, is whether we love God as much as God loves us. The resounding answer is that we don't. What will we do then? We press on toward God's high calling in Jesus. We strive to know and love God like he has known and loved us. We will fail. But Christ's love compels us to try anyway.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Psalm 58:1-8, 2 Kings 9:1-13, 10:18-29, Philippians 2:12-30 - Lectionary for 9/10/11

Today's readings are Psalm 58:1-8, 2 Kings 9:1-13, 10:18-29, and Philippians 2:12-30.

Our passage from Philippians 2 is often troublesome. Just how do we "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (ESV)? Does this mean we must do something to earn our salvation? Does it mean that we are in danger of losing our salvation? Not at all, on either count.

We work out our salvation by continuing to trust in God, seeing how he is working in us. Why does this cause fear and trembling? Because God is the kind of God who inspires such a reaction. In light of God's mercy in Christ Jesus we are humbled. We see that we are proud and arrogant, but without cause, for we are sinners. We see that our Lord has clothed us with his righteousness. We then forfeit all claims to our own righteousness. Confessing that we are unworthy. Then we watch as our Lord exalts us as kings and priests. Yes, this rightly inspires fear and trembling. Thanks be to the God of all glory.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Psalm 61, 2 Kings 6:1-23, Philippians 1:21-2:11 - Lectionary for 9/9/11

Today's readings are Psalm 61, 2 Kings 6:1-23, and Philippians 1:21-2:11.

Power. It's attractive to us. We'd like to be superheroes, geniuses, extremely wealthy and influential. Most of us, deep down, think we would manage such power better than others. We would not be corrupted by wealth and power. We would use our means for good. Yet this is remarkably rare in practice. When we have power we all want to use it for our own self-serving ends.

How different is our Lord and Savior! He saw the suffering of this world and gave himself to be the servant of all. He didn't grasp his authority. Rather, he humbled himself. His mastery over sin was accomplished by letting sinful man take mastery over him. His desire was to lay his life down for our sake so he could take up his life again and give it to all who believe.

May we have the mind of Christ, looking to him as the one and only Lord, the one who gives himself for those who are without a hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Psalm 71:12-16, 2 Kings 5:9-27, Philippians 1:1-20 - Lectionary for 9/8/11

Today's readings are Psalm 71:12-16, 2 Kings 5:9-27, and Philippians 1:1-20.

We often want to do noble, magnificent works to bring glory and praise to God. Maybe we'd like to be sent on a mission to an exotic place. Maybe we'd like to raise a tremendous amount of money to support our favorite ministry. Maybe we'd like to proclaim the Gospel freely and boldly with the acceptance of all our civil authorities. Yet in our readings today we see the opposite circumstances. Naaman the Syrian is not healed without washing in a river he considers worthless. Gehazi, Elisha's servant, becomes leprous when he seeks financial gain for his master. Paul is imprisoned for his faith and finds that the Gospel spreads.

Our God is truly the God of wonders. He takes low circumstances and works his mighty miracles through them. This should bring great hope to us. Most of us are people of moderate abilities and means. Yet our Lord can and does work in and through simple people like us. He uses plain elements, like the spoken word, water, bread and wine to accomplish the truly sublime. May we ever trust him with all things, knowing he is able to bring about the outcome he desires.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Psalm 131, 2 Kings 4:38-5:8, Ephesians 6:1-24 - Lectionary for 9/7/11

Today's readings are Psalm 131, 2 Kings 4:38-5:8, and Ephesians 6:1-24.

Today's reading from Ephesians points out the armor of God. But I wonder if we realize where the battleground is? In this great spiritual warfare which we face, do we consider the relational matters - children and parents or slaves and masters? Do we see that often the spiritual battles we face are right in our own families and workplaces? Yet if we do not stand firm in the faith where we live and work, how will we wear this armor of God elsewhere?

Lest we despair, we should observe that we do not train or clothe ourselves. Rather, we have been redeemed as Christ has put himself onto us. We do not wage war on our own but we stand in the power and authority of our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Psalm 127, 2 Kings 4:8-22, 32-37, Ephesians 5:15-33 - Lectionary for 9/6/11

Today's readings are Psalm 127, 2 Kings 4:8-22, 32-37, and Ephesians 5:15-33.

Our culture seems to have a low view of marriage. One young friend of mine was recently asked "how married" she was. She replied that she was entirely married. It's sad that anyone could even ask a question like that. Yet we seem to have trouble with this concept of marriage laid out for us in Ephesians 5. Because I am a man I'll gloss over verses 22-24, simply observing that it is not a suggestion but a command of God.

How about men? Verses 25-31 take some courage. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. He loved us while we were sinners intent on destroying him. He loved us when we were certain he was wrong. He loved us even though we could do him no good. He loved us though he is repulsed by sin, even our sin. He loved us even though he had to suffer and die on our behalf. He loved us enough to do good for us even though it brought him great harm. So, men, are you man enough to love your wife? By God's grace, I hope so. May the Lord enable you to show yourself as a picture of Christ's redeeming love through your marriage. Amen.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Psalm 56:8-13, 2 Kings 2:19-25, 4:1-7, Ephesians 4:25-5:14 - Lectionary for 9/5/11 - Commemoration of Zacharias and Elizabeth

How do we use our words? Do we strive to use them kindly, to build others up? Or do we tend to tear people down? Our reading from Ephesians today talks about how we speak to one another. Our speech is to be not corrupting. It is to be fitting to the occasion. It is to give grace.

It always amazes me when people decide they are going to follow Ephesians 4:25 by speaking the truth, but then do it in a way which is malicious and harmful. When we do that we make ourselves imitators of Satan rather than imitators of God. May we have grace to speak the truth but in a way and at a time to encourage and give grace.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adult Bible Class 9/4/11

Here's a recording of today's Adult Bible Class. We started discussing the "slippery slope of conflict" with the "attack" responses.

Sermon for 9/4/11 "Give What Is Due"

SERMON “Give What Is Due” audio link

Lord Jesus Christ, open our eyes to see your love and mercy toward us. Grant us repentance of our mistrust. Place our faith firmly in you. Make us like you, that we can be your ministers of mercy and grace in our world. Amen.

Our Epistle reading today talks about giving to each one what is due. We are told to submit to the authorities because God has placed them over us. We’re told to pay our taxes. And elsewhere in Scripture we’re told to do all this cheerfully. How are we to take this kind of command in today’s American culture? There’s a large segment of the population which is pretty deeply libertarian – keep the government out of my affairs, away from my bank account, out of my life. We’re taxed enough already. We’re over-regulated. We talk about the “nanny government.” We live in a climate in which it’s pretty hard to decide to go into business for yourself. Believe me. I’ve been there and done that. There’s hardly anything that will raise my hackles as much as receiving a form from the IRS or being told that I need to provide more information than I wanted to. The fact is most of us would rather be rugged individualists. We’d like to do for ourselves and be unregulated. Of course, we like the idea of government regulations, but those are for the other guys, not for us. We don’t need them for ourselves, right?

So what is God’s attitude toward our governmental officials? What is his view of the legislature? He says all these people and institutions are God’s servants and exist for our good and protection. This includes those we might not want to claim as our leaders of choice. It includes the departments which we’re pretty sure are regulating us to death. It includes the department of circumlocution. It also includes the department of redundancy department, where you fill out forms to verify that you know you need to fill out forms stating you want to fill out more forms. When it’s all said and done, these are God’s servants for our good. We may not always know what they are doing. We may think they are unnecessary. We may even find them annoying or potentially harmful. No doubt the apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Romans, found some aspects of his Roman government annoying or harmful. I don’t think he liked being chained to another soldier while going to his trial. I doubt he enjoyed the terms of his imprisonment when he was under arrest and was held because he had appealed to Caesar. Doubtless he had mixed feelings about being taken and executed in prison. This didn’t seem like the government was watching out for his good.

How are we going to deal with all this conflict? Let God be God. Let His word be true. If he has proclaimed that a situation is for our good, it is. We may not see the good immediately. But remember Romans 8.28-29? Everything is working together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. And that good is that God is changing us, bit by bit, into his image. He is remaking us so we will be like we were intended to be prior to Adam’s sin and its curse. He is working patience and perseverance in us. He is showing us his forgiving grace. He’s showing us our need for his work in our lives.

Our reading from Matthew offers a strong commentary on this idea. How are we to resolve conflicts? Before we end up taking them to our government authorities, who are there for our good, we’re to try to deal with conflicts lovingly and gently first. And how does that work? First we go to the person with whom we have a dispute. We ask the person to see it our way. If we are right, maybe the Lord will call the other person to repentance for his wrong. If we are wrong, maybe the Lord will correct us and help us see his righteous will. And most disputes can end right there. If both people cooperate, that will be the end of it. What if the one-on-one contact doesn’t resolve everything? Then we, still convinced that we are right, bring a few other people with us to plead our case. We try again. And we really try. We want to bring the other person to repentance. His lack of repentance and our lack of forgiveness are hindering both of us. It needs to be dealt with. What if that isn’t sufficient? What if our friends don’t convince either of us to repent and ask for forgiveness? What if we can’t resolve the conflict then and there? Then we bring the dispute before the church. It’s become pretty serious by this time. Maybe we’ve gone many times and begged our neighbor, our brother, our friend to repent. But we finally bring it to the church, not to harm our friend, but to help our friend. We seek to call our friend to repentance. And the church may call us to repentance instead. We never know. What’s the result of the church’s ruling? The one who is not repentant is treated like a sinner. May the Lord preserve us from having to make that judgment. May he rather give us repentance and show us forgiveness. Yet God’s restoring love is visible. We remember that God’s will is that none should perish but that all should come to repentance and faith. So our call to the unbeliever is to repentance. We call the unbeliever to trust in the Lord. This is our message. And it is a message of reconciliation.

What if we need to bring a dispute before the civil authorities? The Scripture says they are there for our good. Yet in all things let us hope that we can resolve our differences by our Lord’s mercy and grace. Let us pray for repentance and forgiveness, that the body may be restored. We give our leaders what is due, but we first give due thanks to God who has redeemed us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We give thanks to our Lord who lived a perfect life on our behalf, died a perfect death in our place, rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection, promised us he would never leave us or forsake us, gives us his true body and blood as a promise that we are partakers of his death and resurrection, and who always intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. Let us give him the honor due his name first and foremost. And then let us rejoice that he has appointed leaders in this world. He has appointed order. There’s a time and place for the civil authorities to operate. And they are useful. They are for our good. We give them what is appropriate. Yet above all we look to our Lord and give ourselves to him, as he has given himself for us.

Let us pray.

Our Lord, we give you honor and glory. You have given yourself for our good. Let us always look to you, worship you, revere you, earnestly seek you in praise and thanksgiving. Amen.

Psalm 90.13-17, 2 Kings 2.1-18, Ephesians 4.1-24 - Lectionary for 9/4/11 - Commemoration of Moses

Today is the commemoration of Moses.

Today's readings are Psalm 90.13-17, 2 Kings 2.1-18, and Ephesians 4.1-24.

The Christian life is full of the idea of "putting off" and "putting on." Today in Ephesians we see that we put off our old self and put on the new man in Christ. We do away with all manner of sinful attitudes and behaviors, putting on the kind of conduct which brings honor to our Lord.

How do we do this? We confess that in ourselves we are not able to conquer sin. We claim that salvation is of the Lord so we don't take that salvation and wrestle it onto ourselves by our goodness or merit. Yet in our lives we do see God glorified by our choices. When we realize our sin we repent. When we see ourselves coming short of the call of Christ we ask for his strength to do his will. In this way we put on Christ and we trust that he will bear fruit in us.

May the Lord grant us this day to do his will as he brings his kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Psalm 119.57-64, 1 Kings 19.1-21, Ephesians 3.1-21 - Lectionary for 9/3/11 - Commemoration of Gregory the Great, Pastor

Today is the commemoration of Gregory the Great, Pastor.

Today's readings are Psalm 119.57-64, 1 Kings 19.1-21, and Ephesians 3.1-21.

We never know what our Lord will appoint for us. Elijah followed his circumstances and fled from Ahab and Jezebel. But God appointed him to establish a successor to Ahab. Paul had persecuted the Church then was sent as an apostle for the Church. Both of these men spent considerable time encouraging others and appointing people to posts where they would serve God.

What is the appointment God in Christ has given you? Maybe, like Paul, he sends you far from home and will remind you that he is the one who is always with you, the closest family you can ever need or have. Maybe he has you living and working in mundane circumstances. This too is a way we can honor our Lord. He has one body, his Church, but it is full of different members with different gifts.

Whatever the gifts God has given us, may we use them boldly and faithfully, giving all praise to the Lord.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Psalm 138, 1 Kings 18.20-40, Ephesians 2.1-22 - Lectionary for 9/2/11 - Commemoration of Hannah

Today's readings are Psalm 138, 1 Kings 18.20-40, and Ephesians 2.1-22.

Demolition and construction - they seem to go together. We tear one thing down to build another. In 1 Kings 18 we see God tearing down Israel's altars and priests of Baal, a regional fertility god. What is God building? Look to our reading from Ephesians. He is building his household. It is constructed on Jesus, the cornerstone. This household of God, the Church, is built according to God's covenant and promise. It is founded on the peace and reconciliation of God in Christ, who is called "our peace" (v. 14).

May the Lord sweep away the rubble of our attempts to redeem ourselves. Rather, may he construct his own temple, of his own design, for his glory. Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Psalm 47, 1 Kings 18.1-19, Ephesians 1.1-23 - Lectionary for 9/1/11 - Commemoration of Joshua

Today is the commemoration of Joshua.

Today's readings are Psalm 47, 1 Kings 18.1-19, and Ephesians 1.1-23.

When Ahab approaches Elijah in 1 Kings 18 he accuses Elijah of troubling Israel. In recent years our culture in the United States has been increasingly critical of Christians, saying they are revolutionaries, bringing trouble upon the country.

If we consider our reading from Ephesians 1 seriously we can see why Christians should be so interested in their message. It is decidedly good for our society to become those people who are blameless before God, forgiven and walking in forgiveness, full of hope, and looking to God in Christ as the ultimate good and gracious ruler.

Who is troubling Israel? "Not I," says Elijah. He points the blame at the one who is denying God's merciful rule. May we also have the grace not to trouble our society but to help it to raise our neighbors up in the mercy of God.