Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Today is the Feast of  St. Bartholomew, Apostle.  Bartholomew was one of twelve apostles chosen by Christ (Matthew 10:1-4).  Most likely he is called Nathaniel in the Gospel of John (John 1:45-51).  If this identification is accurate, then his personal name was Nathaniel and Bartholomew is an Aramaic patronymic (i.e. identifying the person as the son of someone: “the son of Tholomaeus” or the like).  Nathaniel was from Cana and was present with six other disciples when the risen Lord appeared by the Sea of Galilee and hosted a breakfast for them (John 21:1-14).  According to some Early Church Fathers, Bartholomew brought the Gospel to Armenia, where he was martyred by being flayed alive.

Scripture reading:
 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”   John 1:43-51

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, your Son, Jesus Christ, chose Bartholomew to be an apostle to preach the blessed Gospel.  Grant that Your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22

                                                                                                     Trinity 13
                                                                                                      Gal 3:15-22

In a recent blog post Julie Garber wrote: “As an estate planning attorney I used to receive a call at least once a month from a potential client who wanted to contest the validity of a loved one's will, and at least once a month I had to explain the four legal reasons for challenging a will, how difficult it is to prove any one of them, and how costly it would be to proceed.”

She goes on to describe the four legal grounds for contesting the validity of a will. The first is that a will most be signed in accordance with the applicable state laws. Garber says that “failing to sign a will in accordance with applicable state laws is the first and foremost reason why a will is contested and also the most common reason why a will is found to be invalid.”

The second is that the individual lacked the testamentary capacity to the make the will. Testamentary capacity involves an understanding of the nature and value of the assests; the people who will inherit them; and the legal effect of signing the will. Garber notes that “the testimony of the witnesses to the will signing becomes crucial, and absent a doctor's visit or an adjudication of incapacity within days of the will signing, lack of testamentary capacity is difficult to prove.”

The third reason is that the individual was unduly influenced into signing a will. But Garber adds that like a lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence is difficult to prove. And fourth reason is that the will was obtained through fraud – that the person was tricked into signing it. Obviously when the person is dead, they can’t be questioned about what they thought they were signing. Again witnesses are the only source of information and the only hope for overturning a will is if for some reason their stories don’t add up.

It’s apparent that invalidating a will is quite difficult to do. And there’s a reason for this. A will is a person’s final wishes about what is to be done with the things they have acquired during their life. It’s their stuff, and so they have a right to decide what happens to it when they are gone. Since the will goes into effect when the person has died and can’t express their wishes anymore, the legal system assumes that a will describes what is to be done. The burden of proof is on anyone who wants to contest the will, and the demands for proof are very high.

With very few exceptions, you don’t invalidate wills or make changes to them after the person has died. In the epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul uses this fact to help the Galatians understand that God has never changed the manner in which he gives salvation to all people. It has always been based on God’s promise that is received in faith, and not because of things we do. And he emphasizes that not even the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai changed this basic fact.

St. Paul had founded the Galatian church on his first missionary journey in south central Asia Minor – modern day Turkey. However, at some point after he had left, other Christian teachers had come to Galatia. These Christians were trying to convince the Galatians that Paul had not told them the whole story.

The Galatians were Gentiles – they were not Jewish. Paul had told them that they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ and that they did not have to do the things required of Jews in the Torah in order to be saved. But these other teachers told the Galatians that if they really wanted to be part of God’s people, they did have to do the law of Moses – or at least certain parts of it. They had to be circumcised, follow the Jewish food laws and observe Jewish religious days and occasions.

To be clear, these teachers weren’t saying that a person earned salvation on their own by doing these things. They certainly believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they were saying that a Christian had to do something in addition to Jesus in order to be part of God’s people and receive salvation. To Paul, this was nothing other than a rejection of the Gospel. He began this letter by saying, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

To Paul, the idea that a person’s actions were part of the reason they were saved was a perversion of the Gospel. In this chapter he is arguing that a person is not saved by works of the law, but instead by faith in Jesus alone. This is in fact what God had said from the beginning. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” God had reckoned Abraham as righteous by faith. In Abraham God showed that faith was the means by which all people would be saved. And God had promised that in Abraham’s offspring all nations would be blessed.

Salvation was going to be given by faith in Jesus, and not by doing something – not even if it was just a part of the equation. The reason for this is simple. Paul says before our text, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” The Law is about doing. It’s not about faith. Paul adds, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’” 

The apostle says that when you do things in the way of the law, you have to go all the way. The law offers life – if you can do it. Yet throughout this whole discussion Paul is operating with an assumption that you know well. Paul assumes that people can’t do the law. It’s not just that we don’t. Instead we are completely unable. Paul says in our text, “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

God’s Word has declared what our true situation is. We are trapped by sin. It poisons our thoughts; our words; our deeds. It has infected everything so that even when we do good things, they are rarely pure. Instead, we have ulterior motives that are often self-serving in some way. We are not motivated only by love of God and love of our neighbor.

Yet the good news of the Gospel is that salvation was never about doing. By his grace, God had promised it as a gift – a gift received by faith. God had spoken the promise to Abraham. And this fact was not changed by the Law that God later gave at Mt Sinai. Paul uses the example of a will to illustrate this. He says in our text, “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made testament, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a testament previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

What Paul described as good news for the Galatians is still good news for you. We may no longer be bound by the law in the specific form given to Israel. But the Law – the ordering of how God’s creation is to work – determines how life is to work for us. And transgression of that Law still brings the curse of God’s judgment.

The good news – the Gospel – is that Christ stepped into our place. Pauls says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

God had promised that in Abraham’s offspring – in his seed – all nations would be blessed. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is this seed. It is Jesus - crucified and buried, and then raised from the dead on the third day. Jesus is the One who has fulfilled God’s promise. And now, through baptism and faith God has included you as well.

At the end of this chapter Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You are the offspring of Abraham because through baptism you have been joined to Christ – you are “in Christ” as Paul like to phrase it. As the apostle goes on to say, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”

You have received forgiveness and salvation not because you have done anything. Instead, you have received it through faith in the promise; through faith in Jesus Christ. And because your salvation is based on what Christ has done it is certain and sure. There is no doubt.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux

Today we remember and give thanks for Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian.  A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the 11th century A.D., Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of 22. After two years he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some 68 daughter houses. Bernard is remembered for his charity and political abilities, but especially for his preaching and hymn composition. The hymn texts “O Jesus, King Most Wonderful” and “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” are part of the heritage of the faith left by Saint Bernard.

Collect of the Day:
O God, enkindled with fire of your love, your servant Bernard of Clairvaux became a burning and shining light in your Church.  By your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in your presence as children of light; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Commemoration of Johann Gerhard, Theologian

Today we remember and give thanks for Johann Gerhard, Theologian.  Johann Gerhard (1582– 1637) was a great Lutheran theologian in the tradition of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and Martin Chemnitz (1522–86) and the most influential of the 17th-century dogmaticians. His monumental Loci Theologici (23 large volumes) is still considered by many to be a definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Gerhard was born in Quedlinburg, Germany. At the age of 15 he was stricken with a life-threatening illness. This experience, along with guidance from his pastor, Johann Arndt, marked a turning point in his life. He devoted the rest of his life to theology. He became a professor at the University of Jena and served many years as the Superintendent of Heldberg. Gerhard was a man of deep evangelical piety and love for Jesus. He wrote numerous books on exegesis, theology, devotional literature, history, and polemics. His sermons continue to be widely published and read.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, you give the gift of teachers to your Church.  We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Johann Gerhard, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Commemoration of Issac

Today we remember and give thanks for Isaac.  Isaac, the long promised and awaited son of  Abraham and Sarah, was born when his father was 100 and his mother 91. The announcement of his birth brought both joy and laughter to his aged parents (so the name “Isaac,” which means “laughter”). As a young man, Isaac accompanied his father to Mount Moriah, where Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, prepared to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. But God intervened, sparing Isaac’s life and providing a ram as a substitute offering (Gen. 22:1–14), and thus pointing to the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. Isaac was given in marriage to Rebekah (24:15), and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob (25:19–26). In his old age Isaac, blind and feeble, wanted to give his blessing and chief inheritance to his favorite—and eldest—son, Esau. But through deception Rebekah had Jacob receive them instead, resulting in years of family enmity. Isaac died at the age of 180 and was buried by his sons, who by then had become reconciled, in the family burial cave of Machpelah (35:28–29).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, heavenly Father, through the patriarch Isaac You preserved the seed of the Messiah and brought forth the new creation.  Continue to preserve the Church as the Israel of God as she manifests the glory of Your holy name by continuing to worship Your Son, the child of Mary; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.