Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Gen 2:7-17

                                                                                                     Trinity 7
                                                                                                     Gen 2:7-17

     It’s gone!  It’s gone! Rejoice with me!  It’s gone!  I’m talking about the sweet gum tree that was in the back yard at our house.  A couple of years ago I mentioned the tree in a sermon.  I told of how growing up at my parents’ house in Indiana we had a sweet gum tree in the back yard.  I quickly learned to despise that thing.  Its leaves weren’t pretty in the fall – they just sort of turned brown. And those pods….  It dropped those hard spiked pods.  They meant it hurt to walk barefoot and they had to be raked up and removed every year.
     I was therefore less than pleased when we bought our house here in Marion and I realized that we had a large sweet gum tree in the backyard.  During the last eleven years my sons learned to despise it too.  They learned how the pods from the tree hurt your feet and they took part in the less than pleasant task of raking up and removing the pods.
     The tree grew during the last decade to the point that a large branch was hanging out over the corner of the house where Amy and I have our bedroom.  It wasn’t hard to imagine that one of these days the storms that blow through our area might bring that branch down on the house. 
     We had someone in to trim the branch, and then we just decided to go all the way.  I certainly didn’t want spend the money, but the opportunity presented itself to get rid of the thing.
And there was rejoicing in the Surburg house.  Where the tree once was, there is now a stump with a barrel on it that Amy and Matthew filled with beautiful flowers.  The sight brings me joy.
     Our experience with that sweet gum tree contrasts greatly with what we learn in our text about the creation that God made.  In Genesis chapter one, Moses gives us the “big picture” of God act of creation.  We hear about the six days of creation as God says, “Let there be” and creation is made.
     Now in chapter two, he moves in for a close up as we learn the particulars about God’s creation of Adam, Eve and the world in which they lived.  We learn: “The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” These are actually are some of the more important words in the Bible, because they tell us about what God made us to be.  He created us as individuals who have a body and a soul.  We can’t be what God intends us to be without both of these. Anything less than that is not the “very good” that Moses uses to describe God’s creation.
     God created Adam with a body to live in place.  And then we learn about the place God created for him.  We hear: “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
     God gave Adam a place to live – a beautiful garden where every tree is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  We learn that a river flowed out of the garden, and that there in the garden was the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God put Adam in the garden of Eden with a purpose – with a vocation.  He was to work it and keep it.  This was work that was not work – it was the privilege God entrusted to Adam in which he found fulfillment as the only creature created in God’s image.
     God told Adam that it was all there for him.  He said, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden.” It was all there for him, that is, with one exception.  God added: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” 
     Adam alone was created in the image of God. But Adam was not God.  So God gave Adam something by which he worshipped God.  God had created Adam as body and soul.  He had made the place – the garden – where Adam lived.  And so God gave Adam the located means by which he showed that God was God and he was not.  He identified the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as the one tree from which Adam was not to eat.  Adam showed that he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things – that he worshipped God – by leaving this one tree alone.
     Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop there?  Well actually not right there.  We haven’t yet heard about God’s greatest gift to Adam.  In the next verse God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him.” God created Eve from Adam, and when Adam saw her he said: “Wow!” Well, ok, not exactly.  He said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” – but you get the point. And we are told, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
     Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop right there?  But of course we can’t, because Adam and Eve were not content to be God’s highest creation. They weren’t content to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  They weren’t content to trust and obey God’s word.
     And actually, you don’t have any trouble understanding what that is like.  Their first sin was about not trusting God’s Word.  It was about wanting to be God.  And you’ve been doing that your whole life.  God promises to care for you, but you don’t like how he is doing it so you worry or you get upset.  God has told you in his Ten Commandments how he as God has set up life to work.  And instead, you choose to act like God and make up your own rules. You get angry and hurt others; you look at pornography and lust; you gossip and you covet.
     God told Adam “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  And he wasn’t kidding. As St. Paul told the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.”  It brings physical death.  You are all sinners and apart from the Last Day you are all going to die.  And it brings eternal death because sin evokes God’s eternal punishment.  It brings God’s curse, since as Paul told the Galatians: “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.’”
     But the good news of the Gospel is that God didn’t leave things there. The first Adam brought sin because he didn’t trust and obey God in relation to a tree.  And so God sent forth his Son to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He sent him into this world in the flesh – true God and true man. In Jesus Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily.  And Jesus, the second Adam, trusted and obeyed God in relation to a different tree.  Paul went on to say in Galatians, “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."
     Jesus Christ hung on the tree of the cross in order to receive the curse for you.  The wages of your sin brought him death. And by doing this he redeemed you from sin – he freed you from it.  But that wasn’t enough – not for what God intends you to be. And so on third day Jesus defeated death as he rose from the dead.  His risen body is the first fruits of your resurrection.  God has acted in Jesus so that on the Last Day when Christ returns you will be renewed in both body and soul, never to die again.
     This good news means that you have forgiveness and peace now. You know that in God’s eyes because of Jesus you are a saint! It means that you have hope right now.  You know how things will end. You know that death can’t separate you from Christ and that the final victory is yours on the Last Day. You can count on it because Jesus has risen from the dead.
     Forgiven? Yes.  Confident because you are certain of the future? Yes.  But you are also still living right now.  You are going to go home after the service and there is going to the lunch to fix.  There is going to be a lawn to mow.  There is going to be dinner to get ready. There are going to be kids to bathe and put to bed. And come Monday for many of us there’s going to be job to go do.
     In our text we learn that God gave Adam a vocation – a calling.  He was to work and keep the garden.  God has given you vocations too – he’s put you in positions and stations in life where he uses you to provide and care for others.
     This is a good thing.  It means that God takes the seemingly mundane things in life and gives it a divine importance.  Yet this morning I want to mention another side of this.  Your vocations and Adam’s vocation in our text are different in that Adam did not yet know sin.  Living perfectly according to God’s will, his calling was second nature.  It was a source of joy and not of difficulty.
     It’s not that way for you and me.  Sometimes, our vocations are work; they are not easy; they are not fun.  Now it’s not always. There are certainly joys in our vocations.  But many times they are just something we have to do. And you know what?  You probably don’t want to hear this, but that’s good for us.  That’s God at work through our vocations not just for the sake of others, but for our sake.  God uses our vocations to crucify the old man in us. When we want to turn in on ourselves in selfish ways, God uses vocation to turn us outward and make us serve others because we don’t want to do so.
     Because our new man needs nourishment and support in that struggle with the sin still present in us we come here.  We come to this place to hear Christ speak absolution to us. We come to hear his called servant proclaim the Gospel to us. And we come to receive his Sacrament. We come to receive the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for us. For through this gift at the foretaste of the feast to come we receive sustenance for our service in the present.  And in the body and blood of the risen Lord we have the guarantee of the day when everything will be very good once again. 




Friday, July 28, 2017

Commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor

Today we remember and give thanks for Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor.  Johann Sebastian Bach  (1685–1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted of all composers past and present in the entire western world. Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at the age of 19 in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last 27 years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to his being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the church to glorify God and edify his people.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, you have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing your praises and have given to your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth your glory in his music.  Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all your servants who write and make music for your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Feast of St. James the Elder, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. James the Elder, Apostle.  James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, was one the first apostles to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22).  James, John and Peter, were the only apostles present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and the agony in the garden.  James was the first apostle to suffer martyrdom and the only one whose martyrdom is recorded in Scripture (Acts 12:1-2).  He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, probably between 42 and 44 A.D.

Scripture reading:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 11:27-12:5 ESV)
Collect of the Day:
O gracious God, Your servant and apostle James was the first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ.  Pour out upon the leaders of Your Church that spirit of self-denying service that they may forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Christ alone, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mark's Thoughts: The blessings of private confession

I am currently in the midst of writing the portion of the forthcoming Lutheran Service Book Handbook that will deal with all forms of Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Service Book.  The following is the second in a series of four church newsletter articles about private confession that I am writing for my congregation:

The Fifth Part of the Small Catechism bears the heading, “How Christians should be taught to confess.”  It may be surprising to recognize that when it does so, it is seeking to teach about private confession. First it states: 

What is Confession? 
Confession has two parts.
First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is,     forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
Confession is very simple.  First it means admitting our sins.  As the psalmist expressed: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” (Psalm 32:50.  We confess our sins – we admit before God that we have sinned in thought, word and deed.  By this act we repent.  We confess our sin before God and ask Him for forgiveness.

The second part of confession is that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness.  The word absolution is based on a Latin word that means “to loose.”  Absolution is the word of forgiveness.  Our Lord Jesus gave His Church the authority to forgive sins – to speak His forgiveness in His stead.  He said, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18) and “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23).

We call absolution, Holy Absolution, because it is God’s gift which He carries out in our midst.  When we receive forgiveness from the pastor in Holy Absolution, it is in fact God who is forgiving us.  We hear the pastor speak for God as he says “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The pastor serves as the means through which God forgives us.  The pastor is not able to do this because of who he is as an individual (because of his personal holiness or qualities).  Instead, does this because he has been placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry through ordination.  God has given the Office of the Holy Ministry to the Church in order to administer His Means of Grace, which include Holy Absolution.  And so the pastor says that he speaks “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.”  As the Augsburg Confession states: “For it is not the voice or word of the person speaking it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin.  For it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command” (XXV.3).

Holy Absolution can be described as “the Gospel in its purest form.”    In fact the Apology of the Augsburg Confession calls it: “the very voice of the gospel” (XI.2). The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead in order to win us forgiveness.  The Gospel is about forgiveness, and in Holy Absolution we hear God speak to us in the first person singular and say, “I forgive you all your sins.”  This is the unique and special character of Holy Absolution.  We hear God speak directly to us and forgive us of our sins.

This brings us to the great blessings of private confession.  The first is that we receive the opportunity to confess those specific sins that trouble us.  Before God, sin is sin.  However, the devil is able to use some sins more than others in order to trouble us and cause us to doubt God’s forgiveness.  When we keep these sins inside, the guilt and anxiety they produce can be very destructive.  In private confession we have the opportunity to confess these sins and “get them off our chest” as we confess them to God.

Then, the second blessing is that not only do we confess them, but we also hear God’s forgiveness spoken to us and to us alone.  God deals with us individually as He forgives us through the absolution spoken by the pastor.  The Lutheran reformers cherished private confession for this very reason.  As Luther wrote: “I will allow no one to take private confession from the and would not give it in exchange for all the wealth of the world.  For I know what consolation and strength it has given me” (LW 51:98). 

The third blessing is that the practice of private confession aids us in our struggle against sin.  Confessing our sins out loud forces us to face our sin for what it is – sin against God.  In the absolution we receive the Gospel through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us to resist sin and temptation.  And during our daily life as we face temptation, the knowledge that an action is a sin – something to be confessed – helps us to resist and avoid it.

Next month: Private confession - How is it done?