Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity - Micah 7:18-20

                                                                                               Trinity 3
                                                                                                Micah 7:18-20

            People have many different hobbies.  As you know, my hobby is model railroading.  Some people collect items like coins.  Some like to fish or hunt. For many, their yard or garden is a hobby. Certainly, following your favorite sports teams can be considered a hobby.
            Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft has a hobby as well.  It’s just on a larger scale than most of us.  His hobby is finding sunken warships. In the last few years he has found in the Pacific Ocean the USS Indianapolis that was sunk by a Japanese submarine after delivering components for the atom bomb, as well as the Japanese battleship Musashi which along with her sister ship the Yamato were the largest battleships ever built.
            Just recently, Allen’s hobby produced some amazing images as he found the U.S.S. Lexington, the U.S. aircraft carrier that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.  The Lexington went down with planes on the flight deck.  Two miles down below of surface of the ocean, Allen discovered that some of them had settled on the sea floor upright near the Lexington.  They were preserved in remarkable condition.  Among the images produced by Allen, there was a F4F Wildcat fighter and you could clearly see the Japanese flags on the side of the cockpit indicating aerial kills along with the squadron insignia.
            When the Lexington and her planes sank into the ocean, no one expected to see them again.  That’s because when things go down into depths of the ocean, they are gone.  You can’t see them. There is no sign of where they went down.  Even if there were, under normal circumstances you could never get to the bottom to see them.
            In the Old Testament lesson today, the prophet Micah ends his book by saying that our God is a God who forgives.  He shows love and compassion toward sinners.  In order to emphasize this fact, Micah uses the metaphor of God casting all of our sins into the depths of the sea where they are gone forever, never to be seen again.
            The prophet Micah served God in the eighth century B.C.  He is unusual in that he spoke to both the northern and southern kingdoms.  Micah’s book has some really amazing stuff.  Yet you probably aren’t very familiar with him.  In large part, that is because he was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah overshadows all of the writing prophets because of the size of his book and what he wrote.  Micah is kind of like all of those star NBA players during the 1990’s who had great careers but never won a championship because they had the misfortune to play at the same time as Michael Jordan.
            Like Isaiah, Micah announced that Yahweh iwaz bringing judgment against his people.  He was going to do this because they were worshipping idols – the false gods of the surrounding nations.  They were not walking in faith.  They were not living according to the Torah that God had given to his covenant people – the instruction that described how they were to live because Yahweh had taken them as his own.  They were coveting the possessions of others, and acting in order to get them.  They cheated their neighbor by using deceitful weights. They lied, in order to get what they wanted.
            It’s not hard to see how these same accusations apply to us.  We too have false gods; we covet; we don’t always do what is right at work; we lie in order stay out of trouble and to get what we want. 
            Yet the thing we really need to pay attention to is that God’s people didn’t want to hear about their sin.  They said everything was going to be fine.  Micah complains, “‘Do not preach’--thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’”  The prophet lamented, “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”
            Micah’s words raise the question regarding whether you are willing to be confronted about your sins.  The world won’t do this. Instead, it will often affirm your actions.  In fact it will provide a sinful example to follow.   Are you using the Gospel to give yourself a false sense of security thinking that you can do what you want and everything will be ok?  As Micah said of Jerusalem in his own time, “Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us."’”
            They were wrong.  Yahweh did send judgment in the form of the Assyrians, and then finally, the Babylonians.  Just as our sins can have very real consequences that we are unable to avoid, so it was for God’s people. They experienced destruction and exile.
            Yet in our text, Micah offers hope that this will not be the final word.  In fact it cannot be, and the reason for this is to be found in the nature and character of God himself.  The prophet says in our text, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”
            God is the One who pardons and overlooks our sin.  He does not remain angry. Why?  Because instead, he delights in steadfast love.  People like to contrast the Old and New Testaments. We are told that in the Old Testament God is angry, wrathful and full of judgment, but in the New Testament he is loving, merciful and forgiving.  Yet in our text we hear a portion of what can be called a creedal statement of the Old Testament as it says again and again that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
            Because this is so, Micah describes the future of God’s people … including you.  He says in chapter four, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”
            Micah and Isaiah provide this same description of God’s salvation and peace.  We are told that God “shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
            How can this happen?  How can this forgiveness and peace become ours?  Micah tells us in words that you will certainly recognize when he writes in chapter five, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
            Yahweh sent Jesus the Christ, the descendant of King David, to be born in Bethlehem.  He was born as a baby and laid in a manger, but he was more than just a baby.  He was God in the flesh, the One in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwelt bodily.  He is the One about whom Micah went on to say, “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
            Jesus Christ is our peace.  He is because God delights in steadfast love.  He has acted in Jesus so that his anger against our sinfulness is not retained.  He had compassion on us, and that is why he sent his own Son to die on the cross.  In our text Micah says, He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  God had compassion on us when he cast our sins on Jesus. At his baptism in the water of the Jordan River Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit as he took on the role of the suffering Servant described by Isaiah. God’s anger against our sin; his wrath and judgment were exhausted as Jesus suffered and died in our place.
            Yet God’s steadfast love could not be stopped by death.  Instead, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit.  In his resurrection he began the new creation.  He has begun the peace that will encompass all of humanity and creation when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
            The same life giving Spirit who raised Jesus is now at work in you.  He has made you a new creation in Christ.  He is working in you the mind of Christ so that now, like God, you are not to retain anger.  Instead you are to delight in steadfast love and have compassion on others, just has God has had compassion on you.  Because of Jesus we seek to live Micah’s words when he wrote: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
            When through the power and work of the Spirit we are able to do this, we rejoice.  We give thanks to God.  And when instead, we stumble in sin, we repent.  We confess our sin.  We return in faith to the words of our text: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
            God has given us this forgiveness in Holy Baptism, to which we return daily.  We now know that even ships sunk two miles down in the depths of the sea can be found and seen again.  Yet in the font we possess a water in which those sins are gone forever.  This is so because in that water we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ.  By his death he has destroyed sin.  It is nowhere to be found because God has pardoned our iniquity and passed over our transgression.  And in that water we have the promise that we will share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Last Day, when sin will be no more and the peace of Christ will reign forever.




Thursday, June 14, 2018

Commemoration of Elisha, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks or the prophet Elisha. Elisha, son of Shaphat of the tribe of Issachar, was the prophet of God to the northern kingdom of Israel ca. 849-786 B.C. Upon seeing his mentor Elijah taken up into heaven, Elisha assumed the prophetic office and took up the mantle of his predecessor. Like Elijah, Elisha played an active role in political affairs. He also performed many miracles, such as curing the Syrian army commander Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27) and restoring life to the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-37). A vocal opponent of Baal worship, Elisha lived up to his name, which means "my God is salvation."

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elisha, You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mark's thoughts: The Christian view of homosexuality and marriage

Unfortunately, we live at a time when an incredible shift is taking place in our culture.  We are witnessing the homosexualization of culture.  Powerful forces in the world around us are promoting homosexuality as a normal, acceptable and even praiseworthy lifestyle. They have achieved one of the primary goals for this movement: legal recognition of homosexual marriage.  However the march of the homosexual movement has not stopped there.  Instead in a seemingly inexorable fashion it seeks to annihilate the biblical view of sex and marriage in the public square using the weapons of “hate speech” and economic power of large corporations.   
When we encounter these forces and see their impact on the world and Church, it is crucial that we as Christians return to God’s Word and listen to what He has to say about these issues.  We must start at the beginning and acknowledge that in establishing His created order, God made humanity as male and female.  We read in Genesis 1:27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  God determined, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:18) and he created woman as the necessary partner for man.  He instituted marriage as the one flesh union of a man and woman (Genesis 2:24) which was to carry out the necessary task of procreation – God told Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

God’s Word teaches us that He established marriage for three reasons.  First it prevents mankind from being alone (Genesis 2:18).  Second, it provides for the continuing life of humanity through procreation (Genesis 1:28).  Third, it curbs the inclination toward sin and lust in this fallen world, for as Paul wrote: “But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).

Homosexuality runs directly counter to this ordering of creation provided by God.  God’s Word in the Old and New Testaments is absolutely clear on this point.  Because it is crucial to actually listen to what God’s Word says on this topic, I have set forth the full text of these passages below:

Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Roman 1:24-27 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.  For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  Amen.  For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their woman exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

1 Timothy 1:8-10 But we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.

It is important to realize that the Old and New Testaments stated this condemnation of homosexuality in the midst of the ancient world that accepted homosexuality. However, the specifics of this position are not what the world would have us believe.  Typically it involved the practice of pederasty in which an older man sodomized a young man (often a slave in the Roman period).  While it was acceptable for the older man to play the active, insertive role, the young man who was passively penetrated was looked down upon (see the discussion in Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity, 22-37). 

Homosexuality has gained wider acceptance as it is promoted by powerful forces in our culture.  One of the most common arguments is that homosexuality is a natural state.  We are told that people are “born that way.”  This was a crucial part of the argument that helped sway public attitudes toward acceptance.  However it is certainly false to say that all homosexuals were born that way.  J. Michael Bailey has observed that studies with identical twins do indicate a genetic component.  At the same time he adds, “If sexual orientation were completely genetic, then genetically identical twins should always have the same sexual orientation, but clearly they don’t.  Environment must also matter….” (The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, 110).  There is an increasing awareness that sexual orientation is not fixed as homosexual but instead “fluid,” especially among women as they shift between homosexuality and heterosexuality.  It seems likely that there is a combination of genetic inclination and societal influence in varying degrees within each person.  

However, even if it were conclusively proven that homosexuality is a genetic condition, it would not change the truth that God’s Word shares with us about the sinfulness of homosexuality.  The entrance of sin into the world in the Fall (Genesis 3) warped and twisted God’s creation.  The presence of the genetic predisposition to cancer, heart disease, alcoholism or any harmful condition bears witness to the impact of sin on creation.  It does not make these things “natural,” but rather makes them part of a sinful, fallen world.  A genetic predisposition to homosexuality would be no different than the genetic predisposition to alcoholism.  The struggle against these sins would be caused by the impact of sin in the world, and not through any personal fault of the individual.  However, in neither case would this give an individual the right to engage in homosexual acts or drunkenness and the abuse of alcohol.  Both would remain sins that Christians must avoid and for which they must repent when they have committed these sins.

As a result of our sinful, fallen world a Christian may have sinful homosexual inclinations and desires, in the same way that a Christian may have sinful heterosexual inclinations and desires that break the Sixth Commandment.  In both cases, the Sixth Commandment forbids Christians from acting on these desires and calls us to repentance in the face of these desires.  When Christians fall and engage in a homosexual act they need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness, just like Christians who engage in a heterosexual act that breaks the Sixth Commandment.  At the same time, it is important to realize that sin is sin.  Homosexuality is one form of the many ways that people sin.  Christians must strive in their lives to avoid all forms of sin.  We know that we frequently fail to do this in many different ways.  On those occasions, we take comfort in knowing that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the assurance of forgiveness to all who repent and turn to Him in faith.  

Reflection on God’s Word also leads to the conclusion that Christians cannot endorse any form of “homosexual marriage.”  As we have seen, God’s Word teaches us that marriage has three purposes: 1) it prevents mankind from being alone (Geneis 2:18); 2) it provides for the continuing life of humanity through procreation (Genesis 1:28); 3) it curbs the inclination toward sin and lust in this fallen world (1 Corinthians 7:2).  Since homosexual relationships violate the second and third purposes of marriage, they do not reflect what God calls marriage and Christians are not permitted to call them marriage.

Ultimately the discussion about homosexuality is really a discussion about the authority of God’s Word.  If we believe that the Scriptures are God’s inspired and inerrant Word, then we will recognize that they remain God’s authoritative revelation to us.  They will continue to guide the God pleasing life that reflects and respects His ordering of creation.  However if we treat Scripture as a human document that we must evaluate and then decide which parts we wish to accept, the result is that we lose God’s Word as the guide for our faith and life.  As Dr. David Adams has correctly judged regarding the topic of homosexuality: “If successful in their efforts to undercut the authority of the biblical witness on this subject, the proponents of homosexuality in the church will have effectively deprived the church of the means to apply what the Bible says about virtually any moral issue to the life of the church today” (Concordia Journal, July 2005, pg. 228).  

Unfortunately, the general acceptance of homosexuality in our culture is here to stay.  If the Church is to be faithful to God’s Word, it will increasingly find herself to be counter-cultural as she tells the world what it doesn’t want to hear – just as things were at the beginning of the Church during its first few centuries of life.  Yet if the Church is to remain Christ’s Church, she must listen to God’s authoritative revelation about all subjects - including homosexuality.  May the Holy Spirit grant each of us the faith to listen to God’s Word and confess the truth about the ordering of God’s good creation that He has made known to us.