Friday, July 31, 2020

Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea

This Joseph, mentioned in all four Gospels, came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea. He was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was presumably wealthy, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt 27:60). Joseph, a man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus’ body (Mk 15:43). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39). Their public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus.

Collect of the Day:
Merciful God, your servant Joseph of Arimathea prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial with reverence and godly fear and laid him in his own tomb.  As we follow the example of Joseph, grant to us, your faithful people, that same grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our lives.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr

Today we remember and give thanks for Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr.  Remembered as a devoted disciple of Martin Luther, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs.  Born in 1495, Barnes became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England.  Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.  During a time of exile to Germany, he became friends with Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae.  Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII.  The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in his native country, however, claimed him as a victim; he was burned at the stake in Smithfield in 1540.  His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes, “our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest … this holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes.”

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, heavenly Father, You gave courage to Your servant Robert Barnes to give up his life for confessing the true faith during the Reformation.  May we continue steadfast in our confession of the apostolic faith and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from I; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Mk 8:1-9

         Trinity 7
                                                                                                Mk 8:1-9

            The term “déjà vu” is a French phrase that means “already seen.”  Of course, you also know it as one of those instances where a foreign word or phrase has entered into common usage in the English language.  And so when someone uses the term “déjà vu” even if you don’t know that “vu” is a participle form of the verb “voir,” you know what it means – you know it describes the experience of feeling that you have already seen something before.
            The reader of the Gospel of Mark is certainly justified in having a sense of déjà vu as we hear our Gospel lesson this morning from chapter eight in which Jesus feeds four thousand people using seven loaves of bread and a few fish. The reason is that two chapters earlier, in chapter six, we heard about how the Lord fed five thousand people using five loaves of bread and two fish.
            On that occasion, Jesus was trying to take his disciples away to a deserted place so that they could rest.  However, the crowds followed them and even though Jesus intended a time of rest we learn that our Lord had compassion on crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.
            Eventually as it grew late in the day the disciples came to Jesus. They pointed out that it was deserted place and asked him to send the people away so that they could go to the villages of the surrounding area and buy food.  But instead, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”  The disciples objected that that this wasn’t possible – there wasn’t enough money to give everyone just a little.  So Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, and used them to feed thousand men, not counting the women and children.  In fact he gave them so much that there were twelve baskets full of left overs.
            Jesus had the disciples get into a boat and head out on the Sea of Galilee.  He dismissed the crowds then then went to a mountain to pray.  In the evening the disciples’ boat was caught in a storm, and Jesus came to them walking on the sea. The disciples thought it was a ghost and were terrified. But Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And when he got into the boat the wind ceased. Then Mark tells us, “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
            The disciples’ reaction to seeing Jesus walking on the sea and bringing about the calm is explained by the fact that “they did not understand about the loaves.”  They had seen the miracle Jesus performed, but they didn’t perceive what it meant about Jesus.  Instead of insight, we learn that “their hearts were hardened.”
            Next, in our text we hear, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’”  This time, Jesus initiated the discussion.  He expressed concern about the people being famished so far from home.
The disciples responded, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  On the previous occasion, their concern had been about the size of the crowd and the cost – there was no way they could buy enough bread to feed everyone.  This time they focus on the location – it was a deserted place and they asked Jesus, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” It is as if the previous feeding miracle had not happened. They see a large crowd in a deserted setting and they tell Jesus that it just can’t be done.
Jesus learned from them that they had seven loaves. So he took them and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, who gave them to the people. He also blessed a few small fish and did the same. Everyone ate and was satisfied – a crowd of about four thousand people - and when they gathered up the left overs there were seven baskets full.
Obviously, the disciple just didn’t get it.  But to understand the true depths of this we need listen to what happened immediately after our text.  After Jesus had just performed a miraculous feeding, the Pharisees came to Jesus seeking a sign from heaven in order to test him.  Then, Jesus and the disciples got into a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  We learn that the disciples had forgotten to bring bread with them, and in fact only had one loaf.
Jesus said to them, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The disciples missed his point altogether and started discussing that fact that they had no bread. Jesus knew this and asked: “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”  Then he reviewed with them how he had fed five thousand with five loaves and four thousand with seven loaves, and asked, “Do you not yet understand?”
The disciples see Jesus work a miracle in our text today as he feeds four thousand people using only seven loaves of bread and few small fish. He does this after he has earlier fed five thousand using five loaves of bread and two fish. But the disciples don’t understand.  They don’t perceive in the miracle who Jesus is or what he is doing.
            This is all the more surprising when you consider Israel’s history.  For forty years the people of Israel had been in the wilderness – in a deserted place.  During that time, God had fed them through the miracle of manna – a miracle the psalms described as the “bread of heaven.”  Now Jesus works a miracle in a deserted place giving them bread – in fact he does it twice! Yet they don’t understand what this reveals about Jesus.  Instead their hearts are hardened.
            But before we smugly condemn the disciples for being so obtuse, we must consider whether sometimes our own hearts are hardened.  We must consider whether we fail to perceive. After all, we are the ones who know the whole story.
Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  We know how that kingdom – that reign of God – arrived.  It arrived as Jesus died on the cross. And we know why Jesus died. We know that Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice to win forgiveness for all. He won forgiveness, and then God raised him from the dead on the third day. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ God defeated death.  We may die.  But sin and death can never separate us from God.  And death can never be the last word, for Jesus will raise up our bodies on the Last Day.
We know all of this – far more than anything the disciples understood at this point. And yet when difficulties arise, do we wonder about whether God really does love and care for us?  Do we question his plans and purpose for our life?  Do we look around at our world and wonder whether God really is in charge; whether he really is caring for his Church?
When Jesus spoke about giving his life as a ransom for many he said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”  Do we really believe that because Jesus Christ has served us by his death and resurrection, we are now to serve others? Do we really believe that we are to place the needs of others before ourselves?
We must confess that even though we have seen what God has done in Christ, there are times when we do not perceive what he really means for us. There are times when like the disciples our hearts are hardened. We miss what should be obvious, because of all that God has already shown to us.
Jesus’ call to repent and believe the Gospel continues to address us. He invites us to confess our sin, for he has already paid the ransom for it.  He urges us to receive his forgiveness, for through his Spirit he gives us eyes that perceive the way things really are. He gives us a heart of faith that trusts and believes in Christ.
And the Lord continues to see our need to be fed in a deserted place – in a wilderness.  That is a description of our world.  It is a place that knows nothing of the true God.  It knows nothing of sin, but instead revels in all that is wrong.  It knows nothing of forgiveness because it believes there is no right and no wrong.  It knows nothing of Christ because it refuses to worship any Lord but itself, and it certainly doesn’t believe it needs a Savior.
But for us who know and feel our sin; for us who can see how ugly, and brutal, and selfish the world running by its own rules really is; for us who know that we are in a wilderness, Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to us saying, “This is my body.”  He takes wine, gives thanks, and gives it to us saying, “This is my blood.”  He continues to offer a miraculous feeding as he gives us his true body and blood.  He feeds us with his body given for us and his blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
He feeds us with food that sustains us in faith.  He gives us food for the new man so that through his Spirit our eyes can continue to perceive the way things really are. He sustains a heart of faith that trusts and believes in him. He gives us a miraculous meal that is the foretaste of eternal feast to come.



Friday, July 24, 2020

Mark's thoughts: When "my people" aren't my people

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

It is quite likely that you have seen this Bible verse on a billboard, yard sign or social media meme. We live at a time of great turmoil in our nation. For Christians living in the United States there are distressing signs all around. The breakdown of basic sexual morality has made it common for couples to live together before marriage, and to have children outside of marriage.  Internet pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that is now accessible by anyone of any age who has a smart phone.  Homosexuality is celebrated by our culture with the full support of the government and large corporations.  “Homosexual marriage” is a legal reality in our nation because of a Supreme Court decision, and same sex partners use donated sperm and eggs, and surrogate wombs in order to “have children.”  The murder of babies in abortion continues in our nation (because of another Supreme Court decision), even as our government gives hundreds of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood.  Intellectual trends antithetical to Christianity control the universities, and this influence is felt in the media, entertainment, corporations and the schools of our nation.

It is not hard to understand why people read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and feel like it is a perfect description of what our nation needs. We can see that there is a need for repentance and for people to turn to God. We know that He is the God who forgives because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet the use of this verse illustrates a basic error in exegesis – in the interpretation of Scripture.  It also demonstrates that while we may care about our nation, we need to recognize that we are part of something far more important.

2 Chronicles 7:14 narrates the prayer that King Solomon spoke at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.  In its Old Testament setting before Christ, “my people” is God’s covenant people, the nation of Israel. “Their land” refers specifically the land God had promised to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:7) and that after the exodus from Egypt he gave to them as it was conquered during the days of Joshua.  There is not a single word in this verse that applies to the situation that exists in the United States today.

This illustrates a common problem as Christians fail to realize that all of the Old Testament must be read through Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-47). But with the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, God’s people is no longer limited to the nation of Israel and her descendants, the Jews (Acts 1:8; 10:44-48; 11:15-18).  Instead His people is the Church which includes Jews and Gentiles – all who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized. As Paul told the Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18)
This means that while a verse from the Old Testament like 2 Chronicles 7:14 may teach us basic truths about God (He wants sinners to repent; He forgives), the specific referent of its words and promise remains in the past – in the Israel of Solomon’s day. There is no nation in 2020 to which the words “my people” and “their land” can be applied.

As Christians we should be concerned about our nation in our vocation of citizen.  We pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3).  We want our fellow citizens and our culture to live in ways that reflect God’s ordering of His creation, because this will always be best for them and the nation as a whole. Whenever possible we will seek to promote this will of God as it relates to sexuality, family and God’s gift of life.  We do this out of faith in God and love for our neighbor.

Yet the deeper truth is that our nation can never be the most important thing for us.  Instead, God’s people, the Church, is our people.  We have been baptized into Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is a people that spans all nations, all races … and even all times.  It is this people who will dwell with the Lord when he raises up our bodies in the resurrection and heals the land in the renewal of the new creation (Romans 8:18-23).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.  Mary Magdalene followed Jesus after He had cast out seven demons from her (Luke 8:2).  She was present at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56) and was one of the women who went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:1-10).  According to the Gospel of John (20:11-18), Mary was the first to see the risen Lord and He sent her to deliver a message to the apostles.  Although the Western church has at times identified her as the penitent prostitute (Luke 7:36-50) or as the sister of Martha and Lazarus, there is no biblical basis for these identifications and the Eastern church has treated them as three different women.

Scripture reading:
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” … Then the disciples went back to their homes.  But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.  (John 20:1-2, 10-18)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of his resurrection.  Heal us from all our infirmities, and call us to know you in the power of your Son’s unending life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy  Spirit, one  God, now and forever.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Commemoration of Ezekiel, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks for the prophet Ezekiel.  Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was a priest, called by God to be a prophet to the exiles during the Babylonian captivity (Ez. 1:3). In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army brought the king of Judah and thousands of the best citizens of Jerusalem—including Ezekiel—to Babylon (2 Kgs 24:8–16). Ezekiel’s priestly background profoundly stamped his prophecy, as the holiness of God and the Temple figure prominently in his messages (for example, Ezekiel 9–10 and 40–48). From 593 B.C. to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 B.C., Ezekiel prophesied the inevitability of divine judgment on Jerusalem, on the exiles in Babylon, and on seven nations that surrounded Israel (Ezekiel 1–32). Jerusalem would fall, and the exiles would not quickly return, as a just consequence of their sin. Once word reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, his message became one of comfort and hope. Through him God promised that his people would experience future restoration, renewal and revival in the coming Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 33–48). Much of the strange symbolism of Ezekiel’s prophecies was later employed in the Revelation to St. John

Collect of the Day:
 Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Ezekiel, you continued the prophetic pattern of teaching your people the truth 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.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Rom 6:3-11

         Trinity 6
                                                                                    Rom 6:3-11

            When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was facing a situation that he didn’t encounter very often.  Paul was writing to a Christian congregation that he had not founded. We don’t know who brought the Gospel to the city of Rome first. In the first century AD Rome was the center of the Roman empire and its most populous city. There was a very high level of sea travel and shipping to Rome from all over the empire.  It’s not surprising that by the 50’s A.D. the Gospel was present in Rome and a Christian congregation was located there.
            While we learn from the greetings that Paul extends in chapter sixteen that Paul knew many of the Christians who were in Rome, that didn’t change the fact that Paul was not the first to evangelize there – he was not the founder of the church. And this meant that the manner in which Paul could interact with them was different from when he wrote to a church like the one at Thessalonica.
            There were two other factors at work as Paul wrote to the Romans. The first was that Romans was partly a “fund raising letter.”  Paul wanted to undertake missionary activity further west, in Spain, and for that he needed the Roman church’s support. And second, Paul could assume that the Romans had heard negative things about him from his opponents – from those who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised and keep parts of the Law of Moses if they wanted to be Christians.  Paul had to respond, and so in Romans we have his most intentional and carefully argued treatment of these issues.
            As Paul wrote to address these various factors, it’s not surprising that he seeks to draw upon common Christian teaching that he knows the Romans also believe. We have an important example of this in our text this morning as he writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  Now as we will see, Paul’s whole argument falls apart if the Romans had been able to respond, “Gee, no, we have never heard that before.”
            But that’s not a concern for Paul because he knows that this is part of common Christian teaching. This is apparent because in the only other letter we have that Paul wrote to a congregation he did not found – the church at Colossae – he uses the exact same argument. There, without any kind of explanation, he simply says, “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Paul assumes that they know it is true, just as he does here.
            So Paul knows that the Romans believe that through baptism they were baptized into Christ – that they were baptized into his death.  When we hear this statement and use this language about baptism we normally think of it as teaching about the forgiveness of sin that we receive through baptism.  After all, we confess every Sunday in the Nicene Creed, “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
            And while this is certainly true about baptism, that’s not exactly how Paul uses it in the argument here.  In chapter five, the apostle has been describing how Jesus Christ has reversed the damage that Adam caused by his sin.  Paul has said, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”  The good news of the Gospel is that through Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will by dying on the cross we now have justification before God – we are righteous in his eyes. We already know the verdict of the Last Day.  It is innocent, not guilty.
            But then Paul adds something that he doesn’t fully explain until chapter seven.  He says, Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Later Paul will explain how sin uses the law to provoke and entice more sin.  But here he emphasizes the comforting point that God’s grace abounds beyond any sin.  God’s love and forgiveness in Christ surpasses all sin.  His forgiveness knows no limits because of what Jesus Christ has done for us by dying on the cross.
            There is unlimited forgiveness!  But the problem is that the old Adam in us is always looking for an angle he can work. So Paul says just before our text, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Is this how the Christian life is supposed to work: “I love to sin, and God loves to forgive”?
            In the verse just before our text Paul replies firmly: “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  And then goes on to share that teaching he can assume they already know and believe as he writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.”
            When you were baptized, you shared in Jesus’ saving death.  You were buried with Christ through baptism.  This means that we have received forgiveness and in Christ we have died to sin.  Paul says in our text, “We know that our old man was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 
For one who has died has been set free from sin.”
            But Jesus did not just die.  Instead, on the third day God raised him from the dead. And so Paul says in our text, “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.”  Jesus died, but as Paul will explain in chapter eight, through the Holy Spirit God raised him from the dead. You have died with Christ in baptism, and the Holy Spirit has given you new spiritual life – he has given you regeneration so that you can walk in newness of life.
            Paul says that baptism is the source of the Spirit’s work in our life that enables us to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  As he says at the end of our text, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
            The problem is that sin doesn’t go away so easily. As Martin Luther quipped, the old Adam is a good swimmer.  The now of our forgiveness, salvation and new life by the Spirit is true.  But the not yet of the continuing battle against the old Adam is also true. We continue to sin against God in thought, word, and deed. And in doing so we continue to harm our neighbor.
            Paul knew this too.  Immediately after our text, he went on to say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” The apostle exhorts the Romans to take up the struggle against sin.
            Martin Luther knew it too.  In the Fourth question about the Baptism in the Small Catechism he asks: “What does such baptizing with water indicate?”  Now this answer is a little hard to understand if we don’t recognize that “such baptizing with water” refers to the actual manner in which baptism was performed at Luther’s time. This was done by taking a naked baby by the feet, plunging it down into the water and then pulling it back up out of the font three times.
            Luther says that his manner of plunging the baby into the water of baptism and bringing it back out illustrates how we now continue to use baptism.  He writes: “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
            Our life is a constant return in faith to our baptism.  In daily contrition and repentance we turn to our baptism and know that through baptism we were baptized into Christ – we were buried with him.  Jesus’ saving death has become ours, and so we are forgiven. Because of Jesus, we stand righteous and innocent before God. 
            And in baptism we also have the continuing source of the Spirit’s work in our lives. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us – the resurrection power of Jesus is there to enable us to walk in newness of life.  This is what our baptism continues to offer.  But this also requires that, like all of the Means of Grace, we use it in faith.  We need to think about our baptism and believe the promises that God has attached to it.  Your baptism is not some long ago event that no longer has any meaning for you.  Instead, it is a daily aid which provides the assurance of forgiveness and the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives.
            Our text says that Christ died to sin, and lives to God.  In Christ you have died to sin.  Eventually because of Christ you will completely die to sin when you die. As the forgiven child of God through baptism, sin cannot separate you from God, and when you die sin will no longer trouble you.
            But that will not be the end of what your baptism means for you.  Paul says in our text about baptism: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We have been baptized into Christ’s death – we have been buried with Christ through baptism into death.  But the Lord Jesus did not remain dead.  Instead God vindicated Jesus when he raised him from the dead through the work of the Spirit. 
            The apostle says that if through baptism we have shared in Jesus’ death – Jesus who has risen from the dead – then we will certainly also share in his resurrection.  Your baptism is the guarantee of resurrection on the Last Day. That’s why Paul says in our text, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
            The grace of God has abounded in the forgiveness that overcomes every sin. But that doesn’t mean we just keep on sinning.  Instead we know we have been baptized into Christ. We have been baptized into his death. 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. The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has given us new life in baptism and is at work in us.
When we do sin, in repentance we return to the water of our baptism and confess our sin – we drown the old Adam.  And then trusting in God’s promises of forgiveness and of the Spirit’s continuing work in us because of baptism, we go forth to live in ways that please God.  We do so confident that baptism points to the end of the struggle – that it guarantees we will share in Jesus’ resurrection when he returns in glory on the Last Day.



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Commemoration of Ruth

Today we remember and give thanks for Ruth.  Ruth of Moab, the subject of the biblical book that bears her name, is an inspiring example of God’s grace. Although she was a Gentile, God made her the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17), and an ancestress of Jesus himself (Mt 1:5). A famine in Israel led Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem to emigrate to the neighboring nation of Moab with their two sons. The sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but after about ten years, Elimelech and his sons died (Ruth 1:1–5). Naomi then decided to return to Bethlehem and urged her daughters-in-law to return to their families. Orpah listened to Naomi’s but Ruth refused, replying with the stirring words: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). After Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, Boaz, a close relative of Elimelech, agreed to be Ruth’s “redeemer” (Ruth 3:7–13; 4:9–12). He took her as his wife, and Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:13–17), thus preserving the Messianic seed. Ruth’s kindness and selfless loyalty toward Naomi, and her faith in Naomi’s God, have long endeared her to the faithful and redounded to God’s praise for his merciful choice of one so unexpected.

Collect of the Day:
Faithful God, you promised to preserve your people and save your inheritance, using unlikely and unexpected vessels in extending the genealogy that would bring about the birth of your blessed Son.  Give us the loyalty of Ruth and her trust in the one true God, that we, too, might honor you through our submission and respect and be counted among your chosen people.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Kg 19:11-21

                                                                                                Trinity 5
                                                                                                1 Kg 19:11-21

            If you were putting together a list of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, there is no doubt about who is number one – and the answer may surprise you.  The greatest prophet was Moses.  Unlike many “top ten lists,” this is not a matter of opinion.  Deuteronomy chapter 34 tells us: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 
and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
            Confirmation of this is found in the fact that Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.”  God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses, and Peter preaching in the book of Acts tells us that that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this promise. And of course it is Moses who appears with Jesus at the transfiguration of our Lord.
            When we look to the number two ranking, it’s not hard to make the case that Elijah must be ranked there.  True, he was not a writing prophet like Isaiah. But Elijah’s mighty deeds stand out, just behind those of Moses.  In fact, Elijah’s miracles served as a model for what Jesus Christ would do in his own ministry.  Elisha, the assistant and successor whom we hear about in our text this morning went on to do similar miracles.  But having received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit his ministry was always seen in relation to Elijah his mentor.
            Elijah is the only prophet who did not die.  Instead, he was taken up by God in a whirlwind.  Along with Moses, the other Old Testament figure who appears with Jesus at the transfiguration is Elijah.  And Elijah is singled out by the prophet Malachi a key figure in God’s end time action when he wrote: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”
            Elijah lived and worked in the ninth century B.C. in the northern kingdom of Israel. The nation had split into the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.  From the start, Israel was led by kings who promoted false gods and idolatry because they didn’t want the people to be drawn to the temple which was located in Judah.
            But things had been taken to a whole new level by King Ahab.  He had married, Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon. This was a great move because it united Israel with Sidon which was port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Trade flourished and the economy rocked.
            But Jezebel was a committed follower of the false god Baal, and she prompted this god in Israel.  Ahab and Jezebel were a one, two punch of paganism, and 1 Kings tells us, “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
            So first Elijah announced that Yahweh was sending a drought.  And then he called for a showdown with prophets of Baal and Asherah at Mt Carmel.  While they failed to entice their gods to do anything, Elijah’s prayer called down fire that burned up the sacrifice, the altar, and the water with which it has been soaked.  The people responded, “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And Elijah ordered the pagan prophets who were misleading Israel to be killed. 
            What an exhilarating moment it must have been for Elijah!  He had experienced an incredible victory provided by God.  But when Jezebel learned about what had happened to the prophets of Baal she sent this message to Elijah, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” She told Elijah that he was a dead man walking. Elijah knew that Jezebel did not make idle threats. She was a powerful woman and filled with rage.
            So Elijah fled into the wilderness.  It seemed as if all that he had done had made no difference at all.  He said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”  He asked to die.  And only after twice being encouraged by an angel to eat and drink, did Elijah take nourishment and journey on to Mt.Horeb – also known as Mt. Sinai – the mountain of God.  He went to the place where Yahweh had brought Israel into the covenant through the ministry of Moses.
            Elijah was staying in a cave, and we learn in our text that the word of the Lord came to him asking: “What are you doing here, Elijah?" The prophet replied, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 
            God told Elijah to come out of the cave and stand on the mountain.  There followed a strong wind that broke rocks, and an earthquake, and a fire.  Yet we are told that Yahweh was not in any of these.  Instead there was a sound of a soft whisper, and Yahweh asked again, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah repeated his description of what had happened, and how he alone was left.
            So Yahweh replied to Elijah: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
            In our text today, we see a towering figure of the Old Testament reduced to despair and hopelessness.  No doubt he was experiencing what we today would call depression. And in Elijah’s experience we find much with which we can sympathize and relate. 
            We know the feeling of being worn down after living with all of the consequences of Covid-19 month after month.  We wonder when life will return to normal – and if it ever will.  We know the sense of powerlessness as again and again we hear that family, friends, acquaintances – and even we ourselves – have been diagnosed with cancer.  We look around at a culture that has lost its mind – a culture that says a boy is “really” a girl; a culture where homosexual relationships and even marriage are celebrated; a culture that shows increasing antagonism towards Christ’s Church.
            It is easy to feel pessimism, doubt, and even despair.  Yet we need to recognize that such feelings are the devil at work.  He does not want us to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  He wants us to turn away from God and look only at the circumstances. For when we do so; when we doubt God; when we cease to trust God fully, then we have stumbled into sin.
            In our text, God did not come to Elijah in a mighty wind that broke rocks, or fire, or an earthquake. Instead he called Elijah through a small whisper. That’s not how we would expect God to work.  After all, this is Yahweh, the creator of the heavens and the earth.  He can do anything.  If we had that kind of power, we would certainly act in overwhelming ways.  But God is God, and we are not.  And he acts in ways that we often would not expect.
            In our text, God provides two piece of information to Elijah that address his current state of mind – his despair and hopelessness.  I am going to take them up in reverse order.  Twice Elijah had said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
            Elijah declared that all of Israel was unfaithful, and that only he was left.  But at the end of our text Yahweh says, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God told Elijah that was wrong. There were seven thousand – a remnant – who were still faithful to Yahweh.  Things were not as they appeared.  God’s understanding of the situation went beyond Elijah’s.  His plans and faithfulness had not changed, even if Elijah did not recognize it.
            And then, Yahweh also told Elijah that he was going to do something about the situation.  He told Elijah to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, and Jehu to be king over Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in his place.  God would act through them to address the very situation that has caused Elijah despair.
            The same thing is true for us.  What we see is not what God sees.  His understanding of the situation and his purposes go far beyond our ability to perceive and understand.  He is a God who often acts in a small whisper, and not mighty winds, fire and earthquakes.  He keeps a remnant in the midst of what looks like failure. But it is still his plan; his purpose.
            We must trust him in faith.  And we can do that because just as in our text, God has acted to do something about our situation.  He has done this in his Son, Jesus Christ. I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon that God had promised that he would raise up a prophet like Moses.  Jesus was more than just a prophet, but he did act as the end times prophet sent by God. The miracles of his ministry reflect those done by the prophet Elijah.
            As we see in Elijah, prophets were not only about mighty miracles.  Prophets were rejected.  Prophets suffered.  Jesus Christ came as the end time prophet who experienced refection and suffering for us.  He was rejected by his own people who handed him over to the Romans to be crucified.  Though innocent of any sin, he was numbered with transgressors, suffered and died on a cross.
            On Good Friday, the sight of Jesus dying a slow and agonizing death on the cross made it look like his ministry had been a complete failure. But yet again, what we see is not what God sees.  His understanding of the situation and his purposes go far beyond our ability to perceive and understand.  He is a God who often acts in a small whisper, and not mighty winds, fire and earthquakes.  The Son of God dying on the cross for our sins was actually God’s mighty action to save us.  He was giving us the forgiveness and peace with God that we could never earn.
            The good news – the Gospel – is that God has not left us in the dark.  He has revealed what was really happening on Good Friday by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day.  He vindicated Jesus and so revealed what the cross was really about.  It was not merely weakness and death, but God working through weakness and death to accomplish his saving purpose for us.  And now in the resurrection of the Jesus, he has begun the resurrection of the Last Day.  The resurrection that will be ours has already happened in Jesus. And because it happened to Jesus, it will happen to all who have been baptized into his death, and receive his true body and blood.
            These facts now shape the way we look at everything.  Because we know the crucified and risen Lord, we can trust God in the midst of circumstances we don’t want and don’t understand. We can trust that God and his purposes are still at work, even when it makes no sense to us. We can live in the assurance that we are the forgiven children of God.
            And we can know that God is going to do something about the situations that exist in this world. The risen and ascended Lord will return in glory on the Last Day.  He will raise us up, and transform creation so that it is very good once again as we live in the new creation.  Never again will we have to trust that God sees things differently, because we will see God as we walk by sight and no longer by faith.