Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 35 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Hebrews 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Hebrews is an interesting book, in part because the authorship is so obscure. It’s always been a matter of speculation. The theology is very much like Paul, but the vocabulary and style are unlike anything else in the New Testament. There is no statement of authorship as we find in Paul’s letters.

The text concerns Hebrew Christians who are enduring suffering and are tempted to deny Christ and find solace in the Law.

Hebrews 1 - Jesus is the exalted Son of God, greater than the angels.

Hebrews 2 - Salvation in Jesus must not be neglected. Jesus is the one who is worthy of all honor and glory. He brings us to glory as he perfects us to be his brothers.

Hebrews 3 - Jesus is the prophet who comes after Moses, the one who is a son in God’s house, while Moses was a faithful servant.

Hebrews 4 - Jesus is the great high priest today and forever, the one who gives us grace. We are to make sure we don’t depart from his saving and cleansing love.

Hebrews 5 - Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. We who should know this need to cultivate ourselves to grasp how much Jesus has done for us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 35 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 26-31. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Today’s reading begins with a heavy emphasis on the fool and the burden he places on others. I continue to be struck by the sharp contrast between wisdom and folly. It’s my impression that much of our modern Western culture pursues the kind of attitudes and behaviors characterized by folly rather than wisdom. We are rewarded culturally by being fools, not by being wise. This will doubtless have consequences.

29:9 (ESV) “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.”

Chapters 30-31 break the pattern of couplets for good, lending balance to the book which begins and ends with longer narrative portions. The last portion of chapter 31 is often used as motivation for a woman to live an exemplary life. I would propose that this is an impossible standard individually but that it fits the Church being the bride of Christ, her blessed husband.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 35 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 21-25. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

The couplets we have been seeing for some time continue but then in chapter 23 we return to longer discussions, again returning to the folly shown in adultery, then in drunkenness. As with all folly, these are deceptive. It is the wisdom found in the person of the LORD which is reasoned and not deceptive. After a recapitulation of the nature of divine wisdom we return to brief provers, first of a “wise” person and then proverbs of Solomon collected and arranged some generations later.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 35 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

In our reading today I notice the delicate t ension drawn between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. The LORD is responsible for all. He guides every life situation. Yet at the same time people are responsible for their own attitudes and the resulting actions.

Proverbs 18:1 spoke to me. My general desire is to retreat, to isolate myself. But I see here that if I wish to love and serve my neighbor I need to go to that person. The LORD takes even introverted people like me and uses us to care for others. This is wisdom and good judgment.

What specially spoke to you? Why? Tell someone so as to encourage others in the Word of God.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sermon for 8/26/12

Sermon “Consequences”

Our Lord, wash us by your Word, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sometimes we Americans tend to consider actions as “only ceremonial.” In fact, I’ve watched over the years how ceremony has been downgraded in this country. You might have observed it also. I won’t say anything personal or name any names, but we’ll just observe that the last several graduations I have attended, including middle school, high school, and college graduations, students have become less likely to dress up under their robes. They are more likely to clown around at these ceremonies than they used to be. And the audience, during the solemn ceremony of conferring degrees upon candidates, some of whom have worked very hard at great personal expense, in the case of college degrees often living in poverty as they struggle to receive an education, the audience sometimes treats the event like a basketball game, whooping and hollering and generally not conducting themselves with the decorum the event demands. After all, we say, it is only a ceremony. It isn’t really like anything is happening there. It’s just a piece of paper.

Is this the way God views ceremonies in the Bible? In Mark chapter 7 we are presented with ceremonial washings. And while some would like to see these washings as being simply signs of another washing, the washing done in our hearts by faith, it strikes me that the ceremonial acts of people commanded by God in Scripture are more than simple signs. When the people are sprinkled with blood of a sacrificial animal they are cleansed. Yet if their hearts are not broken in repentance, there’s something wrong. They have been proclaimed clean but then they don’t live in accordance with God’s proclamation. When we engage in all those ceremonial washings in Mark 7 but then treat that which is purified as if it is unclean the ceremonial washing was to no avail. It wasn’t worth anything. Yet when we are washed, when we are cleansed by the Gospel, when God washes us in the water of baptism, when he gives us all his gifts including forgiveness, life and salvation, God has actually done something in us. In Isaiah chapter 55 we read that God’s word does not return to him without accomplishing the purpose he has appointed for it. In Hebrews we read that God’s word is living and active. He does something through the public reading and the hearing of his word. We can expect it to be effective. We should expect it to be effective. We should be surprised when the Word of God is proclaimed, when it goes forth in words and with the accompanying signs of baptism and communion, and it seems ineffective. That should be what surprises us. Our expectation should be that through the Word of God we receive faith to draw near to God. He is recreating us to be holy as he is holy. After all, actions have consequences. When God acts we should expect consequences.

What is that consequence of being a Christian, one washed by the regeneration of the Lord? First we should expect to see that we fear, love and trust in God. When the Lord works in us by his Word we are changed into his image. We should expect that our words and deeds will change. We should expect that the attitudes that are lying underneath those words and deeds will be changing. We should expect to see that our values are conformed into the values that Jesus, God the Son, has. We should expect that he will call us and enable us to submit to him as the wife submits to her husband. We should expect that we will have a desire to honor God in all our actions. After all, God’s action in us should have consequences. But what happens when we look to ourselves for evidence? What is the outcome when we look inside ourselves and see how our hearts are being conformed to Jesus?

There are probably two different ideas we can get when we look to our hearts. One of them might seem pretty positive at first. For example, before I trusted the Lord I was pretty impatient with other people. I can look at my behaviors over the past thirty-odd years and I can see that I have changed in that respect. I’m a lot more patient with other people than I used to be. I don’t end up in arguments with my wife as much as we did when we were first married. I’m more patient with my second child than I was with my first. I can see some progress. That seems positive, right? It’s a good thing. But what if I am expecting that to be the sign that I’m doing really well? What if I say my hope in eternity is based on the fact that I’m a patient person? I’ve just set myself up as an example. Now if you aren’t patient like I am maybe I think you must not be a Christian. Or maybe I decide that all patient people are Christians. That isn’t true either. Or maybe I decide that I’ve gotten all better and no longer enter into sin because, after all, I’ve arrived. I’m a godly person and don’t need any repentance. It looked like a good situation at first but do you see how I have turned it around into selfishness and sin? I may be patient but I’m also arrogant. My pride is running the show. That’s one idea we can get when we look to ourselves. Not a good outcome. What’s the other idea we can get when we look at our hearts? The Bible is full of character qualities that I don’t have. The closer I look at them the more I see I don’t have them. Want some samples? Look at Galatians 5 and consider the fruit of the Spirit. So in the power of the Holy Spirit we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. How are you doing on those? No, maybe you’d better not answer. We can be arrogant and say we are doing a super job, and I hope everyone is doing a super job. But the more we look honestly at our hearts, the more we see we are failing. And this realization that we fail can drive us to despair. It can crush us.

Arrogance or despair. Neither is what we want. Neither one will help us. But there’s something else we can do when we look at our hearts. We can hold them up to the light of God’s Word. And we can turn to our Lord in repentance. Then we accept his forgiveness by faith. We ask that the Lord would have mercy on us. We accept his forgiveness, and we see that the Christian life is a life driven by God’s forgiveness. This inspires us to have faith in Christ. This moves us to repentance, to godly sorrow, and to receiving his forgiveness again and again. This changes us into his image as he works in us by Word and Sacrament.

Is it just ceremonial? Well, the fact is, in the Bible there isn’t anything that is “just” ceremonial. If it is a cermony that our Lord instituted it accomplishes something. And it accomplishes something because God is powerful. He acts through his word and through the signs he has given to accompany his word. He delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation, creating faith in our hearts as he nourishes us through our ears when we are hearing the Word of God. Actions have consequences. God’s actions have consequences.

So how will we respond? Will we go on our own way, like the people Isaiah addressed, rejecting God’s power, simply looking to our own ability, our own wisdom, and treating the actions of God as some sort of signs of something else that we don’t want, that we don’t care about? Or will we be changed in heart, will we be repentant, will we approach him in faith, trusting that he will accomplish in us all that his mercy demands? May the Lord give us grace to devote ourselves to Word and Sacrament, to prayers, to fellowship with one another just as the first Christians did. May the Lord give us grace to live out the Gospel which he has given us. May the Lord work out his consequences in our hearts and lives.

Do you believe that the Lord in his Word delivers grace to you? Do you believe he gives you life? Then may the blessing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ pour out upon you and flow through you so you too may deliver his mercy, grace, and love to this world. Delight in the Lord! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 34 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

We continue with brief proverbs, called “couplets.” Normally the second line is the key element. It either shows a contrast or expands on the idea in the first line. See how frequently two or more couplets work together. Some people have found it a fruitful practice to look for patterns in the arrangement of the Proverbs. Above all, see how the wisdom of God introduced in earlier chapters leads to righteousness and well-being. Folly leads to unrighteousness and trouble.

A challenge is in order today and as we continue through Proverbs. Pick a proverb of the day and put it to work. Meditate on it, see how it applies to life. Then tell someone about it, either here or elsewhere.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 34 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Proverbs 6 - Making ourself subject to others puts us at their mercy. So does laziness and inaction. Yet in our activity we should seek wise faithfulness before God. One of the most dangerous ways we can fall into bondage is adultery. It always causes harm. It shows a terrible lack of judgment.

Proverbs 7 - Wisdom keeps the wise from the adulteress, who seems to the example of all folly. the folly waits and watches for people to entice.

Proverbs 8 - As a contrast to the calls of folly in chapter 7, wisdom calls out in chapter 8. There is nothing secretive or deceptive. If we look at verses 22 and following we may see that wisdom is the firstborn, the one who was before creation, namely God the Son. see especially the claim in verses 35-36. Finding Jesus, God’s Son, is life.

Proverbs 9 - The call of wisdom from the high point of the city is also pointing to wisdom being God. The temple in an ancient city is always at the high place. Wisdom and folly both cry out. May we receive wisdom and live.

Proverbs 10 - Here we begin a series of very brief truisms. Notice they are not always foolproof. For instance, in verse 4 we can observe that there are some lazy rich people and diligent poor people. But the principles generally hold. That’s the nature of a proverb.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 34 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Proverbs 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Often we think of Solomon as the author of the Proverbs. While he is stated as at least the collector and arranger of large parts of Proverbs, there are ascriptions to other people as well. We should remember that a proverb is a truism. It does not necessarily indicate a promise which is certain every time. But we can look to Proverbs for great wisdom presented often in a slightly humorous way.

Proverbs 1 - By attending to wise words, especially the instruction of parents, we gain understanding and self-control. We are introduced to Wisdom, personified here, giving freely to understand the LORD but being rejected roundly.

Proverbs 2 - Pursuit of wisdom is more important than all treasures. Wisdom gives us understanding of right and wrong, letting us be the upright who inherit the promised land.

Proverbs 3 - Wisdom from God leads us to trust in Him. He will direct us in all good ways. This will protect us all our lives, giving safety and prosperity, making us a blessing to others as well.

Proverbs 4 - Wisdom leads us down the path of righteousness. The path of evil is not wise. Pursuit of wisdom is worth all we have.

Proverbs 5 - Giving our life to folly is a form of adultery and foolishness. We will always regret it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 34 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Titus 1-3 and Philemon. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Titus 1 - Titus’ task was to appoint elders who would engage in teaching sound doctrine, thus protecting the saints against deceivers.

Titus 2 - Teaching is different for different groups. Yet underlying all of it is Jesus the redeemer who cleanses us for himself. As he cleanses us we grow in godly attitudes which sustain us in this world.

Titus 3 - As Jesus chose us and called us to faith we who have become obedient to God also become good members of our society. We devote ourselves to living a life of holiness in Christ because he loved us and saved us.

Philemon - Paul writes to a friend, Philemon, asking him to receive back a runaway slave who has become a Christian. While Paul does not request that Philemon should release Onesimus, he asks that he receive him as a brother in Christ. How do we view those who are different from us but for whom Christ died? Do we receive them as brothers and sisters?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 34 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 146-150. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 146 - We are blessed when our trust is in the LORD. Why? Because he is eternal, good, wise, faithful, and powerful. When we sing his praises we rightly proclaim his character. There is our hope.

Psalm 147 - It is “pleasant and fitting” (v. 1, NIV) to sing God’s praises. He is the one who cares for those that cannot care for themselves. He provides the weather and all that is needed to sustain life all over the world. And he cares for us as well. Pleasant and fitting!

Psalm 148 - Everybody and everything is called to praise the LORD. He created and sustains it all. Most of all, see at the end of the psalm, he has raised up a horn of salvation.

Psalm 149 - We celebrate and delight in the LORD because he delights in us. Today it seems people want to celebrate for the sake of celebration. That is empty and meaningless. Having an object of praise is important. Here that is the LORD of all who delights in us, his people.

Psalm 150 - In every way we can imagine we are to praise the LORD. As long as we have breath we look to him and proclaim his wonders.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sermon for 8/19/12

Sermon “You Have the Words of Life

Our Lord Jesus, grant that we may hear your word and receive it as did Peter. You are the one who has the words of life, for you are the way, the truth, and the life. Give us your life as well. Amen.

We recently left this scene in John chapter 6, with the apostles listening to Jesus as Jesus taught large crowds of his disciples. He talked about how he himself was the fulfillment of the manna in the wilderness. Just as God sustained a whole nation of people for a whole generation using supernatural bread, so God will sustain a whole world full of people forever using Jesus, the bread of heaven. Yet we saw that Jesus’ teaching was enough to make us uncomfortable. We who have been raised a long distance from the Hebrew dietary laws still have a strong reaction to the idea of eating a person and drinking his blood. It’s out of bounds in our society, for good reason, since we at least claim to respect human life.

As Jesus continues to explain himself to these disciples he does not do what we would expect. When I’ve said something, maybe by mistake, or on purpose but suddenly realized it was controversial and that I wanted to reconsider my position, you all know what I do. I do very much what the rest of you do. I try to defend my reputation but back off of what I said. I try to make the controversy smaller, not larger. This is my normal process, as it is probably yours. When you said something and discovered it was the wrong thing to say, you try to take it back or redirect attention away from yourself.

What does Jesus do here? The people start grumbling against him, so he restates exactly what he had said before. He makes it crystal clear in John 6:51. He is talking about giving his body. He’s doing that “for the life of the world” and he is very clear that he is giving his body to be eaten like bread.

There are really two different issues at hand here. First, there’s the issue of whether or not Jesus is giving us his real, physical body and blood under the substance of the bread and wine. That’s what Jesus is saying, and it’s one of the matters that sets different groups of Christians at odds with one another. One of the factors that led my family into the Lutheran faith was the fact that in our former situation, where we received communion on a weekly basis and where I was frequently the one who administered the Sacrament, there was a division among those who considered that the elements were purely symbolic, those who affirmed a spiritual but not bodily presence of Christ in communion, and those of us who confessed a real bodily presence. When the congregational and denominational leadership said it was a matter of little importance and that each person should simply be persuaded himself, I saw that as inconsistent with the idea of Christian unity. If I said, “this is my body” and most of the congregation interpreted it as “this represents my body” we did not have the unity of doctrine that Jesus calls us to. We should not be receiving communion together. I requested to be relieved of administering communion, but we later had to seek out fellowship with Christians who believed as we did, this historic position that Jesus’ body and blood are present, truly and physically.

But that’s the issue we went into in the last sermon. What’s the other issue here? What did Jesus say would happen to the person who eats his body? Look at verse 51 again. Partaking of the body of Christ gives us eternal life. This is a way Jesus says that he delivers forgiveness and life to us. That’s a very powerful claim. What about the person who does not take it believing? Does it make it no longer the body and blood of Jesus? Not at all. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 we see that our eating and drinking unworthily calls condemnation down upon us. These are serious words. We can eat and drink worthily or not. We can receive forgiveness or condemnation. Jesus’ body and blood are powerful. We must use them rightly. This is one of the reasons that in confirmation class I hammer away at the ideas. If I have anything to say about it you won’t be a communicant at the altar where I am administering the Sacrament without believing the real bodily presence of Christ. It’s that powerful, to forgive or to condemn, and I don’t want anybody to be condemned. So we seek that unity of belief, that doctrinal fellowship, a true union in our understanding.

What if we are nervous? What if we are a little doubtful? What if we are wondering if we ought to avoid the Sacrament because we’re afraid we don’t believe well enough? Here’s the good news. It isn’t about how well you believe. It isn’t about how well you’ve conformed your life to Jesus’ life. It’s all about how well Jesus has given himself for you. It’s all about how completely Jesus has died for you. It’s all about how well he is able to give his flesh “for the life of the world” (v. 51). Once again, we have to realize, have to come face to face with the idea that Jesus is God. As God he is supernatural. He doesn’t limit himself to the patterns we understand. He is able to give his life and apply it to us. And he is able to do it by his body broken for us and his blood shed for us. He is the one who is able to use whatever means he wishes to deliver eternal life. Jesus is absolutely that powerful. He is ready, able, and willing to give himself on our behalf, so we can have fellowship with him, and our fellowship is in his body and blood.

This creates a controversy among Jesus’ followers. Once again, they are arguing but Jesus simply clarifies some more. The statements they found troublesome are exactly the statements he wants to repeat. He is the one who gives his body and his blood, his life, for us to eat and drink so that we will have life ourselves. That’s the way he made it work. And that is the only way he intends to make it work. Salvation is a supernatural matter. It doesn’t depend on us or what we can do. It depends on what Jesus has done. We don’t come to him by ourselves, we are brought to him by Word and Sacrament, by the means God has given, the means which God promises to use to draw us to him.

At this point many of Jesus’ followers consider the conversation over. They aren’t willing to walk with him any longer. He has claimed to be the fulfillment of God’s great signs in the Old Testament. He has claimed to be the only way to have fellowship with God. He has said that the relationship with him is applied through his body and blood, which are to be consumed by them. This is a hard teaching. It’s offensive. It violates our sensibilities. But it is the way God has appointed for salvation. Only through Jesus’ death in our place can we receive his life.

Do you consider the conversation over? It probably isn’t the answer any of us would like. We’d like to hear that we are able, by our goodness and our effort, to give ourselves as a pleasing offering to God. I hear person after person in the hospital express worries but say they have tried to be good people and live for Jesus. But when we go down that path, when we show our goodness and hope that we are able to be worthy of God’s love, we realize we are offensive in his sight. It is only through trust in Jesus that we receive his words. It is only through trust in Jesus that we receive his true body and true blood. So Jesus places a decision in front of each of us today. Do we walk away, saying that the only way we will receive salvation is by our own works? Or do we, like Peter and the rest of the Twelve, confess that Jesus is the one who has the words of life? Will we accept these hard teachings and continue to realize that Jesus is indeed God the Son who has given himself for us? May we have the grace Peter did, seeing that Jesus has the words of life. His word is life. He himself is the life. Trust in Jesus! He is the one who is able to give his life for you, for me, and for the whole world. Thanks be to God.

Now may our Lord give you grace, guarding your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 33 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 141-145. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 141 - Our Lord delights in the prayers of his people. Yet again and again we ask him to hear us, to change our hearts so we pray rightly, to come and work in his righteousness.

Psalm 142 - In this Psalm, David prays from a cave where he and a few men were hiding. Without knowing David was in the cave, Saul’s forces, seeking David’s life, had encamped outside the cave and were using the cave as a latrine. In this position, when his refuge was unsafe, David looked to God as his true refuge.

Psalm 143 - When we are in distress we cry out to God. Yet sometimes even the faithful think God seems to be hiding. Yet we can look to his unfailing love and see he has not abandoned us.

Psalm 144 - In war and in peace God is the one who provides his people with all they need. In him we are perfectly safe.

Psalm 145 - Praising God is an intergenerational lifestyle. One generation tells the next of God’s love which extends to all generations. He is worthy of our praise, and the praise of those who will come after us.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 33 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 136-140. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 136 - The repeated line “His love endures forever” seems almost out of place at times. Yet in the context of praises to the God who has particularly shown his love by bringing Jesus, the Messiah, to provide life for all who believe, this makes perfect sense. God’s love makes him preserve his chosen people forever, no matter what their unbelieving enemies might do.

Psalm 137 - The Babylonians who took Judah captive and destroyed her people then wanted life as usual. Yet here the Psalmist reflects that some trials are not easily left behind. Rather, we add those hard life events into our coherent world view, realizing that God’s mercy is what we depend on even in the worst of times.

Psalm 138 - The LORD preserves us. When we are troubled we depend on his word (v. 4) rather than our own.

Psalm 139 - Our God is the one who lovingly knows all of our life, all the time, from beginning to end. Nothing escapes his loving care.

Psalm 140 - When faced with opposition David here prays that his enemies will reap the natural consequences of their actions. Do we trust that the LORD will care for us in the same way?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 33 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 131-135. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 131 - I had to read this Psalm slowly a second time. How often I try to involve myself with things too great for me, as if I had great understanding and wisdom! No, it’s time to be like a child before God.

Psalm 132 - David works tirelessly when he is shown that he is the ancestor of the promised king. The LORD has worked since creation to place Jesus, God the Son, on David’s throne.

Psalm 133 - Our unity in the faith is like a holy anointing for the priesthood. This is a very good thing. It is pleasing in the sight of God.

Psalm 134 - As we praise the LORD day and night he blesses us. This gives us all the more reason to continue praising him.

Psalm 135 - The living God who can do whatever he wants has chosen Israel. He who has no obligation to any of us has poured out his love and favor in a great way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 33 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 126-130. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 126 - God brings captives back home. In the Psalm the captivity lasted 70 years. Most of the captives had never been free. Yet they rejoiced. How do we view the freedom we have from the bondage to sin? That is a true release.

Psalm 127 - What God has appointed for us he will see that we can do. If he has not approved what we wish to do for him, we will not accomplish it. May we have grace to learn our Lord’s priorities.

Psalm 128 - The fear of the LORD brings blessing upon blessing. We rightly ask for his peace and grace.

Psalm 129 - Here the Psalmist asks that God would withhold his blessing from those who hate God and His people. There is a time to pray that God would strike down his enemies. But since we don’t know his timing and we have imperfect knowledge of the people we deal with, our duty remains to love our enemies and pray for them as well.

Psalm 130 - How great is God’s forgiveness? Greater than all our sin and shame. We look to Jesus who redeems us from all sins.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 33 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 120-125. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 120 - When we find ourselves living among people who hate peace we can call on the LORD. He saves us first from the destruction we cause when we show that we ourselves hate peace. He also saves us from the people around us.

Psalm 121 - This Psalm is often taken to have the Lord as the one in the hills who helps us. More likely, since criminals hide in the hills, we should see that the Lord is the one who guards us from the enemies surrounding us. We are safe with Him no matter what.

Psalm 122 - Jerusalem in this Psalm is seen as the place of God’s true presence. We pray for peace and security in the presence of God. That is exactly what he promises us as well.

Psalm 123 - Modern Western culture has largely lost the idea of the servant and master. The best servant is invisible. The greatest compliment is when the master shows favor to a good servant. May God our master show his favor.

Psalm 124 - How are you doing today? Far better than without God’s help! He is our creator and sustainer.

Psalm 125 - God surrounds his people like a mountain range. He interferes with all the harm that can come their way. He does good, not evil.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sermon for 8/12/12

Sermon “Eat and Do Not Die”

Our Lord, as we consider your great love for us, open our hearts and minds to receive your Word, which will never pass away. This we pray in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus presents himself as the true bread of life. Those who come to him will never hunger. Those who believe in him will never thirst. These are bold claims, right? We have the Father and the Son together giving eternal life. We have what we would call an exclusive claim of God, with Jesus saying that nobody comes unless the Father draws him. We have one way, and only one way of approaching God. There is no other way but through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, who is the true bread of life.

How do we respond to this teaching? Do we respond in faith, accepting that this is God’s world, that Jesus, God’s the Son, can work out life for his people in whatever way he decides? Do we take the words of Jesus at face value? Or will we grumble like the Jews did in verse 41? Will we decide to place our own construction on Jesus’ claims, rather than accept them as he gave them? We might say, “I’m all for Jesus leading, teaching, loving. But really, isn’t this just a metaphor?”

Jesus presents quite the opposite, though. And this is common when we look at the Bible. Let’s remember how a metaphor works. We take one item and make it symbolic of another. The symbol is normally still a real item, but the activity involved doesn’t quite exactly fit the real situation all the way. Here’s an example. Robert entered the room as gracefully as a bull in a china shop. Robert is the real thing. The bull in the china shop is not. But we can picture the trouble an excited bull might cause among narrow aisles lined with shelves of easily breakable items. Now, Robert, the real thing, enters the room, trips on the threshhold, knocks over a lamp, tries to set it up again and takes out an end table, then pulls his coat off and hits three ladies at this tea party that used to be dignified. There’s how a metaphor works.

The Bible tends to have metaphors which work the opposite way from our expectations. For instance, in 1 Peter baptism is mentioned as the fulfillment of the flood of Noah. We probably would have thought of it going the other way, the little thing is symbolic of the big thing, but the Scripture points the other direction. And here in John chapter 6 Jesus presents himself as the fulfillment of the bread in the wilderness. A whole generation of Israelites were nourished by this mystery bread in the wilderness. And Jesus says it is almost incidental. It all points to him, the one who fulfills it. To take us back to our illustration, the bread in the wilderness is the bull. Jesus is Robert, the fulfillment. The whole nation of Israel being sustained for a generation is merely a sign, if we can use the word “merely” for something that influenced millions of people for a whole generation. Jesus is the fulfillment. His body broken for us is what gives life. And he’ll turn up the heat even more as he goes on, but that is in our readings appointed for August 19.

Jesus presents himself as the living bread of heaven. That bread is his flesh. And he calls us to eat and drink, believing. What is the result? He will give us life. Is that offensive to us? It should be. It is offensive to the people who are following Jesus. They have always been taught that eating a person is wrong. They have been told that drinking blood brings defilement. Now Jesus says that he is giving himself to be eaten and drunk and that through those actions the people will receive forgiveness and life. This should be very offensive. But the Lord who created and sustains all things is able to make them work the way he wishes. Jesus is the one who promises us life, as we receive his body and his blood. Jesus is the one who promises to give up his life so that we can receive it in place of our lives. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the signs, all the provision of life, all the sacrifices in the Old Testament which brought forgiveness. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of that.

What does he tell us, then, today? He says to eat and drink. He says to receive him and live. The earliest Christians made a habit of gathering, often daily, to hear the reading of the Scripture and to pray. But when they would gather on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, they gathered around the breaking of bread. They gathered around what we would now call communion. They gathered to eat and drink. They gathered so as not to die. In those gatherings they were opening themselves to charges of all sorts of criminal activity, including cannibalism. They took Jesus’ claims in John chapter 6 so seriously that they would not make an issue of it. They would say, as Jesus said, “This is My body, broken for you. This is My blood shed for you.” And they would face persecution, arrest, imprisonment, and even torture and death rather than give up receiving the Lord’s body and blood given for them. He is the fulfillment He is the one who feeds us and gives us true life.

Is it difficult to take a stand like this? How many people in our culture today even think that communion is a matter of discussion or debate? I know that most Christians I speak with, at least in this country, are convinced that the bread and wine, except they normally use unfermented grape juice, are symbols. They don’t see that there is any debate. And they don’t seem to think it is important whether we receive communion frequently or not. It seems that Jesus’ very bold claims here don’t matter to most people. And that’s all right. But I know this. Jesus is very clear about what he says. You can take it or leave it. If you don’t see Jesus as the fulfillment, the one who gives us life through his true body and his true blood, you have left something behind, a precious gift that our Lord has given. It is something that people throughout history would live and die for. It is Jesus’ means of grace, to nourish us.

Now, today is not a Sunday when we are scheduled to receive communion. In my opinion, more’s the pity. I’d have us celebrating communion whenever we meet on a Sunday if at all possible. But that’s my conviction, not part of our church’s official doctrine and not part of the practice of this local congregation. But as we look to our next communion service, I want to ask you. Are you tired? Are you stressed, like Elijah was? Do you realize your mortality, that your days are numbered, that you labor and toil in this world and don’t seem to have the kind of abundant earthly reward that you would like? Do you suffer from cares and fears? Elijah did, so much so that he ran away and despaired of life itself. What was God’s solution for Elijah? He had him lie down and rest. Then he woke him up and told him to eat and drink, not to die. Maybe you are hungering and thirsting as well. Jesus calls you to eat and drink and not die. If we come to him we will never hunger. If we believe on him we will never thirst. He is the one who gives his life, and presents it to us, not just in Word, but also in the Sacrament, giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He takes our broken life and gives us his life. Come to Jesus. Believe that he is the fulfillment of all God’s provision. Come out of the wilderness with him. Eat and drink. Do not die.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 32 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalm 119. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

This longest of the Psalms is an acrostic with each stanza featuring a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Throughout we are reminded of God’s Word being that which corrects us, draws us to faith in the Lord, and nourishes us for life. Lutherans make a clear distinction between Law, what we are commanded, and Gospel, what God does on our behalf. The Psalmist is not using the word “law” in that way. He rather views it as any decree of God.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 32 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 114-118. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 114 - The earth responds to the Lord’s presence. But see that his presence is made known through his people. How does the world see the Lord today? Through his people assembled in the Church.

Psalm 115 - True praise belongs to the living God. Why do we trust in someone less, even often in something we have made? Rather trust in the true eternal and living God.

Psalm 116 - A commonly sung offertory consists of verses 12-14 and 17-19. When we make our offerings, though, we should remember that we offer our life along with our gifts. As he receives our very lives he gives us his eternal life.

Psalm 117 - Just two verses? All right. Here’s an assignment. Write your own Psalm of prayse. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or long.

Psalm 118 - When we are challenged we look to the Lord whose love endures forever. See the various places like vv. 22-23 where it looks like this Psalm is about Jesus. Yet we all are reminded to trust the Lord.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 32 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 107-113. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 107 - God in his love raises up those who fear and trust him. Those who despise his word he will humble. He remains loving. Yet when we reject his call we may reap the consequences.

Psalm 108 - God is our great and glorious leader. He is the possessor of all. That includes those who reject him. There is no need to fear our enemies when the Lord walks with us.

Psalm 109 - This is one of our Messianic psalms, talking of Jesus’ suffering and death. Surely Jesus suffered on our behalf, in ways we have endured and in ways we have not. He is our faithful Lord.

Psalm 110 - Here is another Psalm that depicts Jesus, the one David calls Lord, the priest in the order of Melchizedek. See how Jesus is Lord for all eternity.

Psalms 111-113 - These three Psalms beg for meditation and prayer. May the Lord create in us the trust and delight that he commends here. How great our Lord is in all he does for us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 32 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 101-106. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 101 - God’s loving protection is on those who walk with him. Yet we must realize that we fail. We don’t walk in perfect integrity. We are not blameless. Only Jesus, God the Son, who places his perfect blamelessness upon us, is.

Psalm 102 - When we see our sin and our mortality we realize the Lord is the one in whom we can trust. All others are threatening but God has mercy on his people forever.

Psalm 103 - We are surely small and frail. But look at hte LORD and how great his love is. His love is greater than the greatest heights. He separates our sin from us in a limitless manner. This is true compassion.

Psalm 104 - In this Psalm all creation appears as God’s delightful play yard. He tends his garden and cares for all of it. His care is perfect and is a delight to him.

Psalm 105 - God’s greatness is shown in the way he rescues his people. Their deliverance may not always come immediately. Yet he always preserves his chosen people.

Psalm 106 - God’s love endures even through the flagrant sin of his people, who demand their own way and despise him. While we were yet sinners Jesus died for us to bring us to God.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 32 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 96-100. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 96 - What is that new song we sing to the LORD? Ironically enough it is an old song. We sing that he is the mighty God, the Savior. We proclaim his glory, strength, and salvation. Our new song is new only because we are singing it anew.

Psalm 97 - By its very nature all creation praises the LORD. This extends even to the false gods which bow down before him. How much more his people who are called according to his grace!

Psalm 98 - Again all creation is singing the praise of the LORD who has made his salvation known. He alone is the righteous judge.

Psalm 99 - God’s forgiveness is there for Israel who has disobeyed him again and again. His forgiveness is there for all the nations who lived in disobedience. His forgiveness is there for us who believe him.

Psalm 100 - In our praise to the LORD we call all people to see him as their creator, redeemer, and sustainer. In Christ he has made peace with God on behalf of fallen humanity. Let us come before him in thanksgiving for his redemptive love.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sermon for 8/5/12

Sermon “Jesus, the True Bread

Lord of all, grant that we may be one in you, as you are one God in three persons, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our readings today Jesus is presented as the true bread of heaven, the one who gives his people unity in the faith, the one who nourishes his people in all they need. We confess this to be true. We confess that Jesus gave himself to deliver all believers from sin and all evil. We confess that Jesus has given himself in his real body and real blood to nourish our faith and to deliver, over and over again, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

I’d like to take you on a little journey today, a journey back in time, to another group of Christians, early in the fourth century, believers who were celebrating on a Sunday, people who, like us, confessed that Jesus was present for them.

(Below is an excerpt from a homily given on May 29, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI regarding this martyrdom:)
In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus.
Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor's severe orders. He replied: "Sine dominico non possumus": that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb.
After atrocious tortures, these 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with bloodshed. They died, but they were victorious: today we remember them in the glory of the Risen Christ.
The experience of the martyrs of Abitene is also one on which we 21st-century Christians should reflect. It is not easy for us either to live as Christians, even if we are spared such prohibitions from the emperor. From a spiritual point of view, the world in which we find ourselves, often marked by unbridled consumerism, religious indifference and a secularism closed to transcendence, can appear a desert {just as} "vast and terrible" (Dt 8:15) as the one {we heard about in the first reading} from the Book of Deuteronomy. God came to the aid of the Jewish people in difficulty in this desert with his gift of manna, to make them understand that "not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8:3).
(end of quotation)

Those believers in northern Africa aren’t that different from Christians in the 21st century. They knew that it was only through Jesus that they could stand. It was, literally, in the words of Emeritus, only through the celebration of the Lord’s supper that they could exist. They did not have strength in themselves. And we find ourselves in a similar position. We are challenged on all sides in this life. We don’t face official persecution in this country, at least not yet. That seems to be going on in other parts of the world, and some of us have our eyes on it, keeping aware so as to guard against it invading our territory. But we do face criticism. We are surrounded by people who have been taught over the past two generations or so of life in public education that God is irrelevant. We are surrounded by people who may even think Christians are wacky and dangerous people. We have voices all around us, voices of “enlightened liberalism” telling us that everyone should have a right to free expression so we need to be quiet and embrace their cultural values rather than ours. It’s all around us. People who want to have a clear Christian message, a message based on Scripture, people who value sound doctrine and find it unifies and strengthens us, those people are under a lot of pressure. It’s a hostile world.

Where are we going to find strength in that wilderness? Where are we going to turn? Like the people of Israel on their way to the promised land, we need food. We need sustenance. If we are not nourished by heavenly bread we will not survive our journey. That’s one of many reasons I’ve been encouraging people this year on their forced march through the Bible. And if you’ve kept up, you’re more than half way through reading the Bible this year. You’ve been taking in the Word of God which will accomplish God’s purposes in you, changing you from inside to out.

But here in John chapter 6 Jesus presents himself as the true bread of heaven. What is it that he does? Let’s get three quick points that you can take home with you, that you can meditate on, that you can teach to your children, maybe that you can tell someone else about in the upcoming week.

First, Jesus nourishes our faith so we can do what he commands. We saw that in John 6:29. And what does he command? In John 6:35 he commands us to believe on him. Now I know we might believe very well without ever having a physical encounter with Jesus. We may believe in Jesus very well even with the idea that he is only symbolically present in communion. But as one friend of mine reminded me, we’re Lutherans. We get more for our money. He claims to be there, really, that the bread and wine are his body and his blood. We don’t just get the picture. We don’t just get the symbol. We get the real bread of heaven. We get Jesus, the fulfiller of the manna. We are nourished to eternity as we receive communion by faith. We really get to receive the crucified and risen Lord. He nourishes our faith so we can believe on him.

Second, Jesus delivers his grace. He gives us forgiveness, making us participants in him. We read about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. We can turn there and read verses 14-21.

(NIV 1984) “14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

This was one of the most compelling passages to me years ago when I was considering the idea of the real bodily presence of Christ. The word used for “participation” means actually being part of a whole item. When we receive communion, Paul says, we receive Jesus’ body and blood. We are all bound together into one body, being partakers of his own nature. Jesus delivers his grace to us as we are participants in him.

Finally, Jesus builds us up as one body in Him. We read about that in Ephesians 4:11-13. This happens as Christ’s servants deliver the Word and Sacrament, the means of grace, building us up until we reach the fullness of his stature. He makes us one body in Him. We are not a bunch of individuals going our own way, making our own blunders. We are drawn together as Jesus nourishes us.

Jesus then gives himself in his true body and blood, given and shed for you, so you can take up your cross and follow him, just like those fourth century disciples in Africa. They went into their world fearlessly as Christians because their faith was nurtured. They faced their very hostile world without fear because they knew they were participants in the body and blood of the Lord, and that he has triumphed over death on their behalf. They faced their end knowing that it was not the end, because Jesus told us he is the resurrection and the life. They faced death and were conformed into the image of Jesus. It is just the same for us. As we face our world trusting in our Lord, being nourished by Word and Sacrament, we are conformed into his image. We become participants in his death for us. And we also become participants in his resurrection.

The Lord is here! He is very, very, really and truly here. And he is here to deliver forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to you and to me. All he demands is that we believe. Do we believe that the Lord has given himself for us? Do we believe that he has borne the penalty for all our faithlessness? Then his body and blood are here, passing out forgiveness, putting it into your hand, into your mouth, drawing you together with your fellow Christians so we can be one body, participants in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is here for you. Be sure. Be a participant in his body and his blood. Receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. Believe on the Lord.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 31 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 91-95. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 91 - Safety comes not from being strong, fast, or smart, but from resting in the presence of the LORD. God rescues his people who love him.

Psalm 92 - Look at the plants in this Psalm. The wicked spring up like grass, which is a very hardy plant. The righteous are like palms and cedars which are substantial and long lasting. They may not be as common as grass but they are certainly of greater value, producing much food and shelter.

Psalm 93 - Water is amazingly powerful. But God is even greater. Nothing can displace our Lord.

Psalm 94 - When the Lord teaches us he often does it through discipline. We endure hardship for a time, then we begin to understand his desires and his holiness. Like the Psalmist, we may feel anxious. But we can depend on God’s unfailing love.

Psalm 95 - The first seven verses are the venite typically sung at Matins. See the change in person as we move to verse eight. God now cautions his people to hear him diligently. Though we confess Christ and hold to Christian doctrine we are often hesitant to trust and follow our Lord. May God grant us repentance and restoration.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 31 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 86-90. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 86 - We are often bold to confess God’s power and love. But sometimes we are afraid that our prayers are selfish. We think God loves all those other people but maybe he doesn’t love us. Lord, treat us with your blessings just as we would have you bless others!

Psalm 87 - How does God treat “outsiders”? He gathers all sorts of outcasts to himself and treats them as his beloved family. What does this urge us to as we seek to bring Christ’s love to our community? Gather them all in!

Psalm 88 - Is it right to say the Psalmist is in despair here? Not entirely. There is some hope, for he turns himself toward God. Even when we are very low we can hope in the Lord. He is our deliverer.

Psalm 89 - Even as the Lord made his promise to David, he arranged for the wrath of mankind and the wrath of God to strike Jesus, the Son of David. He was mocked and brought low so we could be raised up with him in glory.

Psalm 90 - Our frailty stands in stark contrast to the Lord’s might. May we learn to rejoice in him for as much time as he grants us.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 31 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Psalms 81-85. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Psalm 81 - Much of this Psalm shows up in the Lord’s prayer as we confess that God will establish his kingdom, lift our burdens, and provide all we need. It is God’s desire to care for his people. Therefore we are quick to pray in confidence.

Psalm 82 - We seem to have a spark of divinity in us. But it is only a dull remnant, recalling the way we were created in God’s image. Our fallen nature shows up as soon as we compare ourselves to God. May he show himself as the great ruler.

Psalm 83 - We notice that God often seems less zealous to protect himself than we do. People revile him and he waits. God’s mercy extends far beyond ours! While we are quick to defend ourselves, he forgives instead.

Psalm 84 - When I think of finding refuge in God I frequently think of wild animals in not-so-wild places. Look carefully around an urban environment. It’s dominated by humans. But there’s a nest in a sign, a hole in a tree, another hole in a planter. The wild animals find refuge. How much more do we find refuge in God even in this hostile world.

Psalm 85 - What does it mean when we say God’s love is unfailing? It means that even when we forget to look at him in love and trust he still looks to us in mercy. He never fails.