Thursday, August 29, 2019

Feast of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Today is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  In contrast to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed on June 24), this feast commemorates his beheading by the tetrarch Herod Antipas.  From the perspective of the world, this was a pathetic end to John the Baptist’s life.  Yet it was in fact a noble participation in the cross of Christ.  Our Lord Himself said that none had arisen greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).  He was the last of the prophets in the tradition of the Old Testament, and was the “prophesied prophet” – the Elijah of whom Malachi spoke who would come to prepare the way for the Lord (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6; Matthew 17;10-13) and the voice crying in the wilderness foretold by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3) . John prepared the way for Christ by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived” (Matthew 3:2) and administering a baptism of repentance.  John’s death anticipated that of the Christ for whom he prepared the way.  By his own martyrdom he bore witness to the fact that God works through the cross in the lives of His people, and that they bear witness to Jesus Christ as they suffer, and even die in His name.
Scripture reading:
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death.  Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins, patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Mark's thoughts: When our soul pants for God

The Psalms are inspired prayers that have served as the prayer book of God’s people since the days of the Old Testament.  They encompass a broad range of subjects and experiences.  In this variety, the Holy Spirit provides words of prayer that we can take up to address God in the circumstances of life in which we find ourselves.

There are times when we feel like God has abandoned us, or that He doesn’t care.  There are times when God seems to feel very distant.  These are not experiences that are unique to us.  They have been felt by God’s people throughout the history of Israel and the Church.  In fact, they have been felt and expressed in the inspired prayers of the Psalms.

Psalm 42 begins with the words:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?" These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.  (42:1-4). 
In poignant imagery the psalmist expresses his desire for God who seems to be absent.  He expresses the emotional toll this is taking in the tears that flow.  Even as he experiences this, there seem to be those who mock him and his trust in God.  The situation of the psalmist is a change, for he recalls how he used to lead the processions to the temple singing praise to God. He knew the sense of trust and confidence in God, and the peace and joy this gave to him.  But now this is gone, and it seems likely that the memory pains him because it reminds him of what he has lost.

Yet just at this moment in the psalm, the psalmist abruptly addresses himself with the words: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (42:5).  In a statement of faith, the psalmist reproves his emotions and feelings.  He calls upon himself to hope in God for he knows that God is his salvation, and so inevitably he will again praise God. This time is painful, but in faith he calls himself to hope in God.

After this statement, the psalmist returns to a description of his trouble.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: "Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?" As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, "Where is your God?" (42:6-10).

The psalmist’s soul is indeed cast down, just as verse five had acknowledged.  Yet here the psalmist speaks of “remembering you.” He refers to God’s “steadfast love” and while he asks, “Why have you forgotten me?”, these words are addressed to “God, my rock.”  The note of faith and hope in God called for verse five begins to appear in small ways.

Then the psalm ends in verse 11 with the words: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  The exact same statement heard in verse 5 closes the psalm as the psalmist again reproves his emotions and feelings.  He again calls upon himself to hope in God for he knows that God is his salvation.  Hope in God will lead to a time when he praises the God who is his salvation.

Psalm 42 provides the inspired words of a prayer that express feelings of God’s absence and abandonment.  Yet the refrain in verses 5 and 11 tells us that at these times we need to reprove and reject these feelings, for they are only feelings.  Instead, in faith we hope in God who is our salvation.  In times of trial there may be the need to do this repeatedly as the psalmist does.  The verses after the first time (42:6-10), show small signs of growing trust.  At the end, the psalmist again hits himself with the reproof: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  Hoping in God, surely these words eventually yielded the desired outcome: “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  In these words, the Spirit provides the guidance of what we need to do, and even the very words for doing so.

 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” 

Commemoration of Augustine of Hippo - Pastor and Theologian

Today we remember and give thanks for Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian.  Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin church fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in A.D. 354 in North Africa, Augustine’s early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book Confessions he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother Monica and the preaching of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (339–97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the 5th century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from A.D. 395 until his death in 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, and a prolific writer. In addition to the book Confessions, Augustine’s book City of God had a great impact upon the church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Collect of the Day:
O Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you, give us strength to follow the example of your servant Augustine of Hippos, so that knowing you we may truly love you and loving you we may fully serve you – for to serve you is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Commemoration of Monica, Mother of Augustine

Today we remember and give thanks for Monica, Mother of Augustine.  A native of North Africa, Monica (A.D. 333–387) was the devoted mother of Saint Augustine. Throughout her life she sought the spiritual welfare of her children, especially that of her brilliant son, Augustine. Widowed at a young age, she devoted herself to her family, praying many years for Augustine’s conversion. When Augustine left North Africa to go to Italy, she followed him to Rome and then to Milan. There she had the joy of witnessing her son’s conversion to the Christian faith. Weakened by her travels, Monica died at Ostia, Italy on the journey she had hoped would take her back to her native Africa.

Collect of the Day:
O Lord, You strengthened Your patient servant Monica through spiritual discipline to persevere in offering her love, her prayers, and her tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine, their son.  Deepen our devotion to bring others, even our own family, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity - Rom 9:30-10:4

                                                                                                Trinity 10
                                                                                                Rom 9:30-10:4

            I have a pad of them on my desk and use them all the time.  I have no doubt that you also use them frequently at home or at work.  I am referring to “Post-it notes” – the small square piece of paper that has an adhesive strip at the top.  This adhesive is sticky – but not too sticky. You can apply the note to something and it will stay there.  But then you can easily pull the note without any damage to the surface the note was on.  Then, you can put the note on something else and it will stick there until you want to remove it.  In fact you can repeat this action a number of different times before finally the adhesive wears out.
            We use Post-it notes all the time and find them to be very helpful.  But the funny thing about them is that they are an invention that no was trying to make.  They are a solution that no one was trying to find. They are an outcome that no one was seeking.
            In 1968, Spencer Silver was a scientist at the company 3M who was trying to develop a super-strong adhesive.  Instead, he accidently created a “low-tack,” pressure sensitive adhesive that was reusable.  Silver thought he had accidently created something that was useful – he just didn’t know how it could be used. 
            For a number of years he presented his “invention” to others at 3M, but no one saw any use for it.  Then, in 1974 Arthur Fry who also worked at 3M was looking for way to hold bookmarks in his hymnal at church as he sang in the church choir.  He remembered Silver’s adhesive and came up with the idea of using it on small pieces of paper.  Silver wasn’t trying to produce a low tack adhesive, and Fry wasn’t trying to find a use for it, yet nevertheless they created a product that has been incredibly successful.
            In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul is taking about how we, the Gentiles, have attained and taken hold of something we weren’t going after.  We weren’t looking for it.  We weren’t trying to find it.  And yet by God’s grace – completely unexpected as far as we are concerned - we have received the righteousness of God.  And at the same time, Paul addresses the fact that many Jews who were trying to obtain righteous – who were zealously seeking it – have missed it altogether.
            In chapters nine through eleven Paul take up a very challenging subject – something he had briefly introduced at the start of chapter three.  The question Paul is addressing is why so many Jews are rejecting Christ, while at the same time Gentiles are believing in the Lord.  After all, the Jews are the descendants of Israel, and Jesus is their Christ – their Messiah.  Paul began this letter by speaking of the “gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
            Simply stated, Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, the descendant of King David promised to Israel in the Scriptures that God had given to Israel through Moses and the prophets.  And yet while the original group of believers in Christ were Jews, and certainly other Jews became believers, for the most part Jews were rejecting Jesus.  By the 50’s A.D. it was becoming clear that instead Gentiles – non-Jews – were the ones who were going to be the majority of the Church.
            Paul sets forth the basic and seemingly puzzling situation at the beginning of our text when he writes, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 
but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.”
            “Righteousness” and its related word “justification” are central to Paul’s argument in Romans.  The apostle had begun by saying in the first chapter:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
            Coming out of its Old Testament background, when Paul speaks of the “righteousness of God” he means God’s saving action to put all things right.  A crucial aspect of this was the fact that God is going to judge all people on the Last Day. But the Gospel meant that because of Jesus, God is going to – and already has declared us to be righteous and innocent.  Paul could say in chapter five: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            Now you will notice how many times these verses from Romans have mentioned faith and believing.  And for Paul, this was the key.  The righteousness of God – his saving action that gives us the status of being righteous before him – can be received only by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord.  It can only be received as a gift – as something unearned and graciously given by God. 
            That’s the explanation Paul gives in your text for why so many Jews were rejecting Christ, even as Gentiles believed.  He says, “Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
            Although the Jews of the first century did not in any way ignore God’s grace, they also had a positive view of their abilities to keep the Law – the Torah.  An important part of the basis for their confidence in salvation was that they had kept law.
            Now as good Lutherans that sounds hard to believe.  You have already been shaped by Paul’s argument earlier in chapter three when Paul said that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”  You know that Paul went on to say, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  You just confessed earlier that you are “poor, miserable sinner.” And you are right.
            Paul says of the Jews in our text, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
            The apostle gives credit to his fellow Jews that they do have a zeal for God.  However, it is one that is misplaced because it is oriented towards establishing their own standing before God. Again, it’s not that they denied God’s grace, but instead they were focused on the role that they had to play in achieving this righteous standing.
            There was a failure to recognize the very thing you know about your own life – that such attempts must inevitably end in failure. But more importantly, there was a rejection of the way God was giving forgiveness – by faith in the crucified Christ. Quoting the prophet Isiah, Paul writes, “They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
            Paul says at the end of our text, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  Submitting to God’s righteousness means receiving his forgiveness and salvation as a gift.  It means believing that God raised Jesus from the dead, after he had died as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. And because God has done this, the words of Isaiah are true for us: “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
            In our text, Paul genuinely credits the Jews of his day as having a zeal for God.  The problem was that it was not according to knowledge – it was not directed in faith toward Christ. You have this knowledge.  What is more you have been baptized into the saving death of the risen Lord. As Paul said earlier in chapter six, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
            But for Paul this fact was not simply about the forgiveness of sins.  Instead being in Christ – being linked to Christ’s saving work in this way – creates a change in the way we live.  He went on to say, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
            So how is our zeal for God according to knowledge?  The Spirit who raised Jesus Christ is at work in you so that you too can walk in newness of life.  And while Christ is the end of the law – the end of the Torah or of any ideas about doing as the means of salvation – that doesn’t mean we no longer know what this life looks like. 
            Paul goes on to say later in chapter thirteen: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
            Zeal for God according to knowledge is produced by what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  It is produced by the work of the Spirit in us.  And it takes the form of loving and serving our neighbor. It takes the form of forgiving.  In chapter twelve, Paul provides a series of brief statements that summarize and direct us towards what this looks like.  He says things like:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. “

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. “

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

            This is what zeal for God according to knowledge looks like.  It is the life lived in Christ through the work of the Spirit. It is our life because we have received the righteousness of God – the saving work of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which we already now have the status of being saints in God’s eyes. Through faith in Christ we are justified, and we now know that “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Commemoration of Samuel

Today we remember and give thanks for Samuel.  Samuel, the last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century B.C. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel’s authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Sam. 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king (10:1). Later, as a result of Saul’s disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul’s leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (16:13). Samuel’s loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel’s great leaders.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, in your mercy you gave Samuel courage to call Israel to repentance and you sent him to anoint David as king.  Call us to repentance, so that by the blood of Jesus, the Son of David, we may receive the forgiveness of all our sins; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Cor 10:6-13

                                                                                                Trinity 9
                                                                                                1 Cor 10:6-13

            Do we really believe that temptations to sin are a threat to our life in the faith?  It’s a question that our text raises because apparently, there were some Corinthians who didn’t. Corinth was definitely the “problem child” among the congregations that Paul had founded in his work of evangelization.  In both letters that we have from Paul to Corinth, we see him dealing with a whole series of issues where Corinth was having problems or causing problems.
            Actually, in this particular portion of the letter, the problem was that the Corinthians didn’t see any problem.  All Christians in the first century lived in a world that was a sea of paganism. The religious practices of the false gods were woven into the culture, and so Christians came up against challenges in areas of life that would never occur to us.
            So for example, if you want to get meat you go to the grocery store.  There you have the pick of anything you want – beef, pork, lamb, chicken – in any cut or form you want.  It was not so in the ancient world.  There, meat formed a relatively small part of the diet. And in a city like Corinth this meat came from basically one source: the sacrifices that took place at pagan temples.
            Once an animal was sacrificed, the meat could end up in several places.  First of all, it was eaten at the dining area that was often part of a temple complex.  These dining areas weren’t specifically settings of worship.  Instead they were places where people met to eat together and to hold celebrations.  But of course, none of this changed the fact that the meat had been sacrificed to a pagan god, and was being eaten on the grounds of a pagan temple.
            The meat that wasn’t consumed on the temple grounds was sold to vendors, who then sold it throughout the city.  This meant that if you went out to buy meat in Corinth, it was basically certain that its source was a pagan sacrifice.
            These facts raised all kinds of questions for the new Christians in Corinth.  And in chapters eight through ten Paul deals with several different aspects.  Earlier, Paul has addressed the fact that Christians who are strong in the knowledge that there is only one true God, and that the pagan gods are nothing, need to be concerned about fellow Christians who are still struggling with this.
            For some of them, seeing another Christian eating in one of these temple dining rooms, could lead them on a course that resulted in the loss of faith.  Paul says in chapter eight, “For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.”  Paul emphasizes that in a situation like this it is necessary to seek the good of the other person, even if it means giving up one’s own rights. After all, this is what Jesus Christ has done for us. So Paul can say, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
            But there was a deeper problem present at Corinth.  Some of the Corinthians had the notion that because of the salvation that had received in Christ, they were protected from any spiritual dangers. They had arrived. That had it made. After all, they were baptized into Christ and were receiving the true body and blood of the risen Lord in the Sacrament.
            But on this, they were completely wrong. Just before our text Paul has described how Israel had experienced God’s miraculous saving action through water as the people passed through the Red Sea.  God had worked miracles by providing food and drink.  The apostle says, “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
            Israel had received these saving gifts – these types that pointed forward to Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  But this had not prevented the consequences of their willful sin.  And so Paul says in the verse just before our text, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
            In our text, Paul goes on to say that these events in Israel’s past were not just dusty, ancient history. Instead he asserts, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  The apostle says that these experiences of Israel are examples – they provide a paradigm of what happens when people engage in a pattern of sin.
            And so Paul takes up the incident of the golden calf at Mt Sinai as he writes, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”  He points to other examples of Israel’s sin as he adds, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”
            After listing these sins from Israel’s past, Paul makes the dramatic statement: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”  The apostle tells us that these events from Israel’s history were written down in Scripture for our instruction. They are there to teach us about the threat of temptation to sin.
            So, do we believe Paul?  We are indeed blessed to receive the pure Gospel- the assurance of forgiveness by grace through faith on account of Christ. But honestly, sometimes don’t we let a little of the Corinthian attitude into our lives as Christians?  Aren’t we tempted to think that because we are forgiven Christians, the struggle against sin isn’t really that big a deal? After all, Jesus has us covered.  So if we sin, we sin.
            Paul says in our text that Jesus does indeed have us covered.  He describes us in our text as those “on whom the end of the ages has come.”  For Paul, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has marked the beginning of the Last Days.  He says in chapter fifteen: For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
            By his death on the cross, Christ has redeemed you from sin. He has freed you and won forgiveness.  And in his resurrection, the Last Day has begun. The wages of sin is death, but in Christ death has been defeated for us.  This salvation is present for us now.  Through baptism you have received it all. Earlier in chapter six Paul refers to the sins of their past and then adds, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
            Yet this doesn’t mean that now sin is no big deal.  In fact, Paul says it is quite the opposite.  You have received regeneration through the work of Spirit.  You are new creation in Christ.  You live as one who is in Christ.  And therefore you now recognize the temptation to sin as the threat that it is. The Spirit has taught you through the examples of Israel as he has recorded them for us in Scripture.
            Paul draws a conclusion from what he has been saying in our text when he says: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Because we are saved; because we are the baptized children of God we need to take heed. We need to view temptations to sin with a recognition about how serious a threat they are.
            We are fallen people living in a fallen world.  Temptations to sin will always be present. And in our text, the apostle offers a word of instruction and encouragement.  He writes: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
            First of all, you need to recognize that you are not that special.  Let’s just get that thought out of the way.  The temptations that challenge you in life are no different from the temptations that confront other people. And therefore none of us have some special excuse.
            But more importantly, Paul assures us that God is faithful. The God who sent his own as the sacrifice for your sin; the God who called you to be his own; the God who created faith through the work of the Spirit, will not turn his back on you.  God has promised two things. First, he has promised specifically that you will not be tempted beyond what you able to bear. Second, he has promised that there will be an end to it – a way of escape – so that you may be able to endure it.  God promises both that we will only be given what we can bear, and that in God’s timing it will last for a time that we are able to bear it.
            Now these words are no magic formula for mapping out every temptation.  Instead they are grounded in the words, “God is faithful.”  They are a call to believe and trust in God who has revealed his love for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.  And they are also a call to turn to those places where God gives us grace – where he gives us spiritual strength.  They are a call to be faithful – and even more faithful – in the use of the Means of Grace both here in the Divine Service and also at home.
            Such an approach to the life of faith will aid us in recognizing and resisting temptations to sin.  And guess what?  It is also the exact same thing that we need in those times when we stumble, sin and must repent.  We return always to the fact that we live as those upon the end of the ages has come – the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through baptism and work of the Spirit, we have received forgiveness – we are saints. In the struggle against temptation, we always return to the fact that God is faithful.  


Friday, August 16, 2019

Commemoration of Isaac

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

Today is the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord. Mary was the virgin from Nazareth within whom Jesus Christ was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35).  She gave birth to Him in Bethlehem (Luke 2:6-7) and was present at our Lord’s first miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11), at His crucifixion (John 19:25-27) and gathered with the disciples after the resurrection (Acts 1:13-14).  She is remembered for her trusting submission to the will of God as at the annunciation she said to the angel Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).  According to tradition, Mary finished her life living with the Apostle John in Ephesus.

Scripture reading:
            And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
                        and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
            for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
                        For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
            for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
                        and holy is his name.
            And his mercy is for those who fear him
                        from generation to generation.
            He has shown strength with his arm;
                        he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
            he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
                        and exalted those of humble estate;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
                        and the rich he has sent away empty.
            He has helped his servant Israel,
                        in remembrance of his mercy,
            as he spoke to our fathers,
                        to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son.  Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Jer 23:16-29

                                                                                    Trinity 8
                                                                                    Jer 23:16-29

            “It shall be well with you.”  “No disaster shall come upon you.”  That’s what the false prophets were telling the people of Judah at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.  They were saying that everything was going to be just fine.
            As I considered these words, I thought about how they compare to the message we receive from politicians about the looming financial crises that face our nation and state.  We know about the enormous debt owed by the United States federal government, and the state of Illinois.  We know about the impending insolvency of Social Security.  Various communities face similar crises related to their pension commitments.
            On the whole, it seems to me that the message we hear from politicians takes one of two forms.  The first is nothing.  It is easier if the problem is just ignored.  It seems that everyone wants to go about with business as usual.  The other is that sometimes there are voices that acknowledge the problem.  However, the answers that could address the problems are too painful, and therefore politically unpopular. And so in the end they just “kick the can down the road.” So for example, during the sixteen years of Presidents Bush and Obama, the federal debt ceiling was raised eighteen times. Again, it is easier to go about with “business as usual.” 
            But I don’t think even the politicians of our day are declaring, “It shall be well with you.”  “No disaster shall come upon you,” when it comes to these issues. And remember, that’s what the false prophets were claiming was the message from Yahweh. They were telling the people that God said everything was going to be fine.
            Their message could not have been further from the truth. You didn’t need to be a prophet to see that danger threatened.  The Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the great power in the near eastern world. They were asserting their power over Judah.  Already twice, they had taken exiles of people from Judah back to Babylon.  In 610 B.C. they took the very elite of society like Daniel.  In 597 B.C. they took the next level, such as a priest like Ezekiel.
            King Zedekiah was now on the throne.  In the previous chapter Yahweh had sent Jeremiah to the king with this message: “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”  The king and those in power were not acting according to God’s instruction of the Torah.  And the root cause was very simple – they were worshipping false gods instead of Yahweh. 
            Jeremiah was calling the king to repentance.  He told him that judgment would come on Jerusalem and why it would come as he said, “And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?" And they will answer, "Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.’”
            The prophets were no better. Just before our text Jeremiah said, “But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
            And it wasn’t just the prophets. The people wanted to hear this message because they had turned away from God.  Jeremiah says in our text:  “They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” 
            These were not true prophets.  Jeremiah challenged: “For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?”  The Old Testament describes the prophets as those individuals who were provided access to Yahweh surrounded by his holy angels. Because of this access, they received the real deal – the word of Yahweh.
            These false prophets had none of this and the results were disastrous.  We hear in our text:  “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
            False prophets exist in our own day.  No longer do they claim to speak for Yahweh – in fact most of them don’t claim to be religious at all. But they have a message about how to think and live, and they declare: “It shall be well with you.”  “No disaster shall come upon you.” 
            We hear the voice of the false prophets that begins in academia and then spreads through media and popular culture as it says there is no such thing as truth.  Instead, you need to determine your truth. That truth may include some vague version of “spirituality,” but it cannot include truth claims based on revelation from God.  The voice of the false prophets says that there is no truth - no norms or standards – for the use of sexuality. And so sex outside of marriage, living together when not married, homosexuality and the common use of pornography are all perfectly fine and beneficial. The voice of the false prophets says that the rich and full life must be filled with things, gadgets and experiences – you must have the great stuff the world offers; you must travel and have experiences to be fulfilled.
            How much are we allowing these voices to influence us? After all, even as those who are a new creation in Christ through baptism, there the old Adam is still in you that despises the word of the LORD.  He still wants stubbornly to follow his own heart.  Are we silent when we should speak? Do we live and think in the ways of the world when it comes to sexuality?  How do the views of the world impact our stewardship as we return a portion of God’s blessings back to him?
            After all, the Lord knows everything about us – our every thought, word and deed.  In our text Yahweh says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. 
I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” The false prophets’ sins were not hidden from God. And yours aren’t either.
            God knew about the sins of the false prophets. And in our text Jeremiah declares, “Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly.”  Those latter days arrived in 587 B.C. when God sent the Babylonians as the instrument of his judgment.  They destroyed the temple, tore down Jerusalem’s wall and took all but the poorest of the land into exile in Babylon.
            Yet do not think that God’s anger against your sin has turned back without executing the intent of his heart.  The false prophets had not stood in the council of Yahweh.  He had not sent them. But there was one who had – who had from eternity.  The Son of God – the second person of the Trinity – as true God had stood in council of Yawheh.  And God the Father did send him.  He sent him into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He sent Jesus as the One who spoke the true words of God to us, because he is the Son of God.
            For the true prophets sent by Yahweh, their experience was often was one of suffering.  Jeremiah himself was rejected, beaten, put in stocks, and even thrown into a well.  Jesus Christ did not come in the latter days.  Instead his presence began the Last Days.  He came as the final end times prophet who did what no human prophet could ever do.  As true God and true man, Jesus came to suffer as the sacrifice for your sins.  God’s anger against your sin was poured out on him as he suffered and died.
            But on third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated him as the One who had carried out the Father’s will to win your salvation.  Jesus’ resurrection has defeated death and given you the living hope.  You have shared in Jesus’ saving death in baptism. And so you will also share in his resurrection.  Ultimately, your existence can only end in one way – resurrection life with our Lord. And even if death intervenes before our Lord’s return, you who are in Christ can never be separated for Christ. To die is to be with the Lord.
            In our text today God says through Jeremiah, “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
            Jesus Christ has spoken the word of God to us.  Through his word he now turns us from evil ways; he turns us from evil deeds. At the end of our text God says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” This word of God crushes us in our sin, as God works repentance.  It is a word that the Spirit uses to repress and subdue the old Adam - that bashes him so that he doesn’t run the show.
            And as the exalted Lord who has poured forth the Spirit, Christ’s Spirit is at work through his word to lead and enable us to live in the ways of God.  We learn that the life of faith – the life of the baptized child of God – is one of love and service toward others.  It is a life that sees the blessing and goodness of God’s ordering that he has revealed in the Ten Commandments and their explanation by Jesus and the apostles. The Spirit leads us to recognize, “Yes, that’s what I want to be!” “Yes, that’s what I want do do.”
            And then the Spirit who has created the new man in us, leads and enables us to seek to live in these ways.  For sure, this happens in the midst of struggle. There is no quit in the old Adam until we die or the Last Day. That alone is when he is finally killed.  But the resurrection power of Christ is already at work in us to lead us in this struggle.  And we know that the struggle can have only one outcome - Jesus Christ will have the final word when raises us up on the Last Day.