Sunday, October 25, 2020

Fear God, and Give Him Glory

 


Revelation 14:6-7

And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."

Sermon for Reformation Day 2020 (Observed)      10/25/20

Fear God, and Give Him Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Revelation is a challenging book.  Lutherans don't preach it much because it is not as clear and easy to teach from, because so many reformed Protestants twist it in their apocalyptic fervor, it is easier to avoid confrontations and controversies about it, and because it is not a regularly a part of the lectionary, historically, except for Reformation Day.  But today we observe Reformation day.  This is our Reformation Day first lesson, chosen by our Synod's worship department, and so, we will take look at it this morning, drawing our theme from the words of the angel flying in mid-heaven, Fear God, and Give Him Glory.

This is the old, traditional Reformation Day Epistle because except for Roman Catholic scholars, the angel mentioned has been interpreted almost universally to be a symbol for Martin Luther.  He is interpreted as the angel for a number of reasons.  First, the word "angel" means "messenger".  Earlier in the book of Revelation, the Apostle John speaks of the angels of the churches in Asia Minor, and they are clearly understood to be the pastors, and not merely spirit beings assigned to specific locations.  So, here Luther is understood to be the messenger of God.

The second reason that it is thought to be Luther represented here is that the angel has an eternal gospel to preach, and that was the burden of Luther.  Luther's focus was not Law but Gospel.  Every other reforming movement in the church seems to have its grounding in the Law, but Luther was grounded in the Gospel, in the justification of the sinner before God.  While most Protestants speak of the sovereignty of God as their fundamental doctrine, and Catholics tend to find the doctrine of the Church as their most basic doctrine, Luther said that the doctrine of Justification was the "articulas stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae" -- the doctrine on which the church either stands or falls.  

The focus of the Lutheran fathers, beginning with Martin Luther, was to return the church to her first love, the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified.  The Confessions go out of their way to demonstrate that Lutherans have nothing new to say, but only teach what the Christian Church has always taught, when she is faithful.  Therefore the Gospel which this angel bears is eternal, not new, or modern, but the ageless and eternal Word of God.

The apostle John, in his vision, sees this angel flying in mid-heaven.  Those who write commentaries tell us that this because in the vision of John, the earth is the domain of the beast and of Satan.  To be on the earth is to be within the grasp of the devil and his hoard.  Being in mid-heaven places this eternal gospel beyond the reach and wrath of the devil, the Antichrist, and the devil's minions.  He is bringing down from heaven a glorious treasure, and he is not in contact with those forces that would destroy him and kill the message.

Of course, that is not how it felt to Luther.  He was in constant danger.  But he was preserved by the Lord, and during his lifetime, no one could stand against him.  The power of the Papacy and of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire we insufficient to threaten the life of this one man.  God was with him.

And God was with His Gospel.  It wasn't Luther's Gospel, actually.  It is God's.  The plan was God's, and the proclamation was God's, and the success was God's.  Everyone who is a Christian acknowledges that the Gospel Luther proclaimed is true.  Frankly, if they do not acknowledge it, they are not really Christian.  Luther invented nothing.  He simply uncovered what had so long been hidden.

What darkness reigned in the days before Luther!  Men who could not read or write were taught legends and fairy tales in place of the truth.  They were given phony relics to worship, and made-up saints to pray to, and taught that they could not approach God.  They were told to do certain "good works" to earn their way to heaven, to spend money to buy the forgiveness of sins, and never to question their Church.  Bibles were withheld from the people not just because they were so very expensive and that they were before the advent of printing presses but because the teachers of the church believed that the people could not be trusted with the Bible.  They feared that too many Bibles in the hands of laymen and laywomen would create too many questions and too many heresies.  Sadly, their teachers did not spend much time in the Bible either - or understand much of it very well, at times.

Not that things are much better today.  Five centuries after Luther, people still prefer the fables and myths to the truth.  The fables have changed, but there are still fables.  Today many people prefer a theology where life is a mystery which rarely makes sense - and religion is all about being good, and being involved in the lives of others.  People want the easy religion of ecumenism, where we can ignore the fact that those around us are hurrying to hell with false teachings and false gods.  Some will pray with just anyone, and want to pretend that everyone is welcome to commune with us, and comfort themselves with the confession that "at least I know what I believe."

Today the danger to the truth is not one religion or another.  It is the false idea that I make the difference, that I can decide, that I can measure up, somehow.  It is the loss of the doctrine of "church" to the American philosophy of radical individualism.  It is the loss of the doctrine of the ministry to the American pride which says that I can know it all just as well as anyone and that God must deal with me directly, and not through any messengers or sacraments.  It is the loss of the very concept of truth to the American ideal of pluralism and to an American pragmatism that says what I do is more important than what I believe:  deeds, not creeds.  The danger is more the Pentecostal fascination with how and what I feel rather than who and what I believe.  The danger we face is the idea that I am the judge and measure of all things  and so we surrender the authority of Scriptures to the authority of my personal opinion.

In short, the dangers we face are precisely the same as what Luther rebelled against in his day.  It is the darkness of the medieval papacy dressed up in the clothing of the modern television evangelist.  But it is the same flight from the truth of God.  And we see modern Lutherans even in the Missouri Synod many times in full flight from the Truth.  The Reformation "Sola's" are as important in our confession of the truth today as they were five hundred years ago.

By grace alone, holds before our eyes the truth that we were chosen by God, not the other way around.  We were chosen for His purposes and not for our own.  We were chosen because of His will and not because of who we are or what we have done.  We are saved by grace alone!

Through faith alone, stands to remind us that all that we receive from God we receive through faith.  We don't earn it.  We don't reach out and grab it.  We don't make ourselves worthy recipients.  "It is the gift of God."  We trust God to do what He has promised that He will do, and through such faith, He pours into our hearts and lives all the rich blessings of Christ and all that He has promised in connection with Him.

In Christ Jesus alone, gives us the heart of it all.  Jesus.  He came to do what we could not do, and would not have done for ourselves even if we were able.  Our nature is sin and evil, and we hated God from our conception.  But Jesus Christ came and took our place, actually became one of us for our salvation.  He kept the whole will and law of God for us.  He did not fail, He did not sin.  He obeyed where we had rebelled.

Then, when He had earned life everlasting, and health, and peace with God, He died.  He chose to take our place, according to the will of His Father, and die a death He did not deserve, but we did, so that we might inherit from Him the life He had earned.  His resurrection is the event in which God announced before the whole world that our sins have been atoned for, paid for entirely, and forgiven.  The Law of God has been removed from the equation of everlasting life.  It is the gift of God, poured out on everyone, and received only through faith by those who know the truth which God goes to such pains to reveal, and who take God at His Word, and trust in Him and in Him alone.  As Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but through Me."

Your salvation is already complete, done up for you, and presented as a gift.  You don't need to feel anything special to get it, or make certain decisions, or pray special prayers, or visit certain relics, or anything to earn or deserve it.  You can't.  You lost the ability to earn it with your first sin actually before, by inheriting that original guilt and sin.  But when you rebelled against what is right and true for the first time, you earned death and hell for yourself.  When you sinned, you became unable to earn and joined the ranks of humanity as those who have no right, and can never deserve anything good from God.

But God is good, and sent Jesus to earn it, and pours it out on us all to be received by faith.  And how can I be so sure?  It is through God's Holy Word.  Scripture alone is my authority.  That is the final Reformation "Sola", By Scripture Alone.  It is the Word of God.  Nothing that it teaches can be ignored, and nothing that contradicts this holy Word may be believed.  It doesn't matter how it seems to me, or how I feel, or whether it makes sense to me immediately or not.  If God reveals it, it is true, and I must also accept everything He teaches me, because it is His Word, and because it is true!

Scripture, trusted as the very Word of God, is the answer to all the confusion and independence, and uncertainty of our age.  It is not my theology, it is God's Word.  It is not my opinion, it is His truth!  It is not up to me or my feelings, but God has established it in His holy Word.  We can argue about precisely what this or that passage means, but we must start by agreeing that when we understand the Word of God, it is the truth, and we will humble ourselves, our reason, our minds, our ego's before it.

And that is what we celebrate when we celebrate the Reformation.  We celebrate knowing God and knowing the truth.  We celebrate the faith once again clearly revealed.  We know and confess clearly that He is All and all, and all glory belongs to God alone for our lives and our salvation.  In other words, we hear, and we heed the message of the angel flying in mid-heaven we fear God and we give Him the glory!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Not What Most People Expect

 

Genesis 28:10-17
Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set: and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity 10/18/20

Not What Most People Expect

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

So, what did you expect? That is the way so many responses to situations in life begin. Usually, this is the response to a situation when life gets ugly. Something costs more than you anticipated. So, what did you expect? Murphy s Law proves itself true one more time. So what did you expect? A politician fails to keep his promises and do the things we need him or her to do. So, what did you expect? Something goes wrong and everyone holds you responsible. So what did you expect?

Then we come to God. What do you expect from God? This isn't a frivolous question, nor should it be the sort where you give the answer you are certain I want to get. The answer to the question "What do you expect from God?" doesn't have a right answer or a wrong answer. It only has an honest one or a dishonest one. In our text, we see God presenting himself in a way that doesn't fit the real expectations of most people, not even of most Christians. Our theme, then, is "Not What Most People Expect."

Most people, to illustrate my point, don't expect God to be good, kind, loving, or generous. They may have the theological expectation of grace and mercy and blessing, but generally, they do not have the real-life expectation of the goodness of God. It's like we know what we should say, but we don t really believe it. People expect sickness. They expect pain. They expect that God is going to punish them for what they have done wrong.

Many people don't expect those things right off the bat. We usually start by expecting to be healthy and happy and successful. That expectation isn't necessarily connected to our faith in God, either. The truth of our experience is that God is so faithful and good and we so consistently experience His blessings that we naturally - not religiously, but just as human beings - begin to believe that we are something special, that we just somehow deserve to go from one good thing to another. This expectation is about us, and not necessarily connected to any thought about God or blessings at all! I imagine that was pretty much how Jacob dealt with life. His father was rich, and life was about as good as it could get. He probably expected it. He was accustomed to servants, and nice clothing, and abundant and good food. I suspect he never imagined that it would be any other way.

Then he listened to his mother, and deceived his father, and stole his brother's birthright blessing from him, while Esau was out hunting. Suddenly, his life became something entirely different. Now he was on the run. He was off to try to find his mother's brother. He was not going to be the beloved son of a rich man, but the uninvited nephew of a man that we learned from later in the book of Genesis was not so very nice, or so very honest. He was on his way to becoming something like a hired hand, something like an indentured servant. At this point, I would imagine that Jacob began to expect life to deal him a "not-so-nice" hand.

That is more or less what happens to most of us. To be honest, not everyone ever expects life to be good. Some people are born with troubles, born with deformities, or born to abusive parents, and they never expect life to be just wonderful. But most of us walk along with the dream that it can only get better and that we are going to have it made. But eventually, later rather than sooner for some, hardship, illness, or sorrow finds our door. We discover the pain of life, and it challenges us and our faith, and it often twists our perspective on what life is supposed to be or going to be.

That is when we might begin to expect God to be less generous. That is when we sometimes begin to greet bad news with, "Well, what did you expect?". We have been sick before, and we just expect that it will come back. We run from that expectation, but it is there. Or, life takes a left-turn, and we have one problem after another. It could be about money. It could be neighbors causing us trouble. It could be one friend or beloved relative after another passing away. It is always something, and the devil always knows where our heart is, so he knows where he can hurt us most with the least amount of trouble. And so, we may begin to expect it. We always figure that God has a hand in it, and we usually connect it to our sins because we know our sins, we feel our guilt, and often hidden away from everyone else, our shame is always right there.

You see, we are sinners, and the law is so natural to us that we cannot escape the sense that the bad things in our life are deserved somehow. The awareness of the law is just natural to us — but the keeping of it is not. It is, in point of fact, impossible for us. We cannot do it, and we know it. There is a part of every one of us that feels the guilt of our sins and knows that we deserve nothing good from God. This reality is part of the reason why people who suddenly find fame and wealth have such a problem dealing with it. It is part of the reason so many turn to drugs and outrageous behavior. They cannot escape the feeling that they don't deserve what they have, and it seems so transient and temporary to them. They have a sense that it is going to disappear on them just as suddenly as it appeared. They expect something unhappy and unpleasant from God, even if they never consciously frame the issue in those terms.

The result of all of this is that we all eventually come to "that certain place" in our lives, and lie down with Jacob, with the rock pillow, and expect justice from the most worthy Judge eternal.

And we get justice — but not what most people expect! We get justice from God, but it is poured out on Jesus. He goes to the cross — went there already, actually. He bore our guilt and shame and sin to the cross and died there in your place, and in your place, and in my place. He is our Substitute. Vicariously we pay. Vicariously we die. Vicariously we receive every awful thing that we have earned and deserved by our sins. Jesus takes all these things for us and dies our death. And then the Father proclaims that the payment made and the death that Jesus died was enough and more than enough for our sins by raising Jesus from the grave on Easter morning.

That is why God did not tell Jacob how grievously he had sinned. That is why God did not curse or threaten Jacob. Instead, God did what most people would not have expected; He promised good and blessing to Jacob. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to This land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Of course, the promises to Jacob were the land, and the family, and the Messiah coming through His family line. Those promises were for Jacob, but this promise is for us all.

God promises by Himself to be with us, to keep us wherever we go, and not to let go of us until He has done all that He has promised to us. Now, He did not say here that this promise was for each and every one of us. He said it in the Gospel. It is just that the promise is so well-stated here, and so clear. What God promises us in Jesus Christ is that He will be with us to bless us and keep us until He has accomplished all that He has promised us. Until God accomplishes His will for us, He is with us to take care of us. And what is the will of God for us? [Our salvation.]

That is absolutely correct! His will is that we rise from the grave just like Jesus did. His will is that we live with Him eternally, just as Jesus does. His will is also that we know Him and His love, and trust in Him, and have no fear. Which is what He was telling Jacob. But this is just not what most people expect. This is not even what most religions teach. Men are still looking for the justice, even though they fear it and do not want it. We just naturally expect it.

Now God wants you to expect the unexpected. He wants you to expect His love. He wants you to expect that He will be with you in everything. He has explained in the Scriptures that He is not going to turn all of the troubles of life away from anyone. He wants us to know, however, that He is right there with us when we are sick, or in trouble, or in sorrow, or whatever. It is a difficult thing to keep that straight. Look at Jacob. After God appears, and says all these things, and makes him such marvelous promises, how does Jacob react? "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven! It is the house of God because God's people worship here, and God comes here to be with us. Here God speaks with you through His servants who are called to preach His Word. Here God invites you to the feast of Holy Communion. It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This meal, of course, is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of salvation - sort of like God took from the table in heaven and gave us just a taste before we actually come to that heavenly feast. In doing so, however, God has delivered to each of us personally forgiveness and righteousness and our share in the promises — including this promise today that He will never leave us or cease to bless us and keep us until He has done all that He has promised to us. You know that it is a promise meant for you when you receive the body of Christ, and you drink His blood, hidden beneath the forms of this bread and wine. It is given and shed for you, and sealed to you in this heavenly meal.

Many people think that our worship is what we do, and we make this place a church — but it is all from God. He comes through Word and Sacrament to claim us and to bless us and to cleanse us and to bestows His gifts of life and righteousness and salvation. It sounds like we are doing something here, but it really God at work, assuring us that He loves us, and He is with us to bless us and keep us until He has accomplished everything that is in His will for us, everything He has promised us. This place and this worship is just like the Gospel, Not What Most People Expect.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Realistic Perspective

 Deuteronomy 10:12-21

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?  Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.  Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.  For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.  He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.  So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen."

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity                  10/11/20

A Realistic Perspective

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

People often try to make a deal with God. Times are hard, or circumstances are frightening, or the challenge before us is too big to be faced with anything like confidence, and we try to make a deal with God.  "Oh God, if only you let me succeed, if only you help me, if only I pass this test, if only . . ., then I will be or do such and so, and I will make this bargain with you, if only."  

Such bargaining is based on false doctrine, that is, on a false perspective on God.  One mistake is that it assumes that we have to bribe God to be good to us and to care about us – we have to make a deal with Him. The other false idea is that God can be bribed or that He can be coerced into doing anything that is not in His will. Our text disposes of both of those ideas.  Our theme is A Realistic Perspective.

What does the Bible say about our relationship to God, and His relationship to us? It says, first of all, that God expects you to be His people. And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you. but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?  These words were first written to the children of Israel, people He had chosen to be His own and rescued from bondage in Egypt.  He quite reasonably could set before them His command to them to be His people.

Nonetheless, these words are preached to you today.  God has placed you in a rich and profoundly blessed land.  He has rescued you from sin and death.  He quite reasonably sets before you the command to be His children.  After all He bought you.  And He expects you to be delighted to be His children because He has rescued you and richly blessed you.  So, He commands your love.  What does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him.  But you will notice that He is requiring the sort of love that is demonstrated by keeping His will – walking in all His ways.  It is as Jesus said in John 14:15:  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

God doesn't simply demand our love because He is God and Creator and such, although He deserves it for that, and for all the good He does to believer and unbeliever alike.  No, He has another reason for commanding your love.  The foundation for that love is to be the grace which He has poured out on you, choosing you to be His own.

He wrote these words to the children of Israel, through Moses, Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  See, that is the part about His being God – but that isn't listed here as a reason to love Him.  It is stated to set up the wonder of the next part of the passage, Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.

He says to Israel that even though He is God of all, and has created all things, none-the-less, He has chosen them to be His people, and set particular affection on them, rescued them and loved them.  For all of that, He reasonably expected them to love Him, and willingly, even eagerly, serve Him by keeping the covenant and doing the things that would mark them as His holy people.

He could have written the same words to us – and in fact they are for us as well.  He doesn't need us or anything we can bring to Him.  He created all things and everyone and everything belongs to Him.  In our sins, we earned and we deserve to be thrown away, discarded and destroyed.  But that is not what God did.  Instead He set His affection on us, to love us.  We might be tempted to think that He merely loved a bunch of people and that these passages are generically about all sorts of people.  But they are about us – you, and you, and me – in particular.

God didn't just choose our race – He chose us and set His love on us, and called each of us personally, by name.  Our names were written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world, but He spoke each one of them softly through the lips of His servant in your baptism.  In Baptism, your pastor said, and God was speaking through him!!, Irma, Gene, Lora, Barbara - He spoke Your name - I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  And just like that, God called each one of you by name, and set His affection upon you, to love you – and chose you to be His child both now and in eternity – and forgave you all your sins through Jesus Christ – actually connected you quite literally to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to His glorious resurrection – and made you His child and heir.  And now He requires of you that you be His child, and live as His child, and love Him as your heavenly Father, just as He loves you.   It is as John wrote in His first epistle, We love because He first loved us.

He has revealed to us that His love for us is to be returned by you showing compassion and consideration to others.  You cannot do anything for God that He needs.  You cannot kiss Him or cuddle Him.  You cannot give Him what He lacks, for He lacks nothing.  So, He would have you pour out your love for Him on others, even those most difficult to love.  You serve your neighbor and the stranger among you and in so doing you show love to God and serve Him in the only way He will accept.  

Now, God knows that this is not easy or natural.  He has heard the worldly proverbs we have all heard – you know, "take care of Number One first;" or, "There is no such thing as a free lunch," and the like.  He knows that our sinful flesh is selfish and greedy and resists these noble impulses strenuously.  So He warns us: Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.  Don't be so stubborn and hard-hearted, but show love: do justice for the helpless, show love for the alien as God does by providing for them in their need, and act out who you are and what you believe by being the child of God He would have you to be.  This is what we mean by a realistic perspective.

Why would you want to live this way?  Because God is God.  He has played favorites with you already.  But if you continue to behave as those who do not know Him, and act as those who have never seen His love and have only Number One to take care of, then He will treat you like He treats everyone else who lives that way.  If you live as His enemy — as one who does not know Him or love Him — He will deal with you that way as well.  For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.  

He is not partial.  The wicked and the selfish and the unbelieving all go to hell.  And that is not referring to three different groups – the wicked are the selfish and they are the unbelieving.  They all face His wrath because He has loved them, and purchased them, and yet they continue to pretend He does not exist, or that He does not matter.  They live as though they were God, and they blaspheme His name with every self-serving statement, with every time they mention Him without faith, with every time they refuse to believe His love or to embrace His grace.  They offend His love by every instance in which they don t show love for one another, as He has already shown love for them by blessing them, and by sending His Son to die for them, and by sending preachers to proclaim His love –  preachers whom the enemies of God despise – and ignore – and attack.  

And God will not take a bribe.  You cannot buy your way out.  Salvation is a free gift, but you cannot buy it for any price.  You must receive it as His gift — or do without.  And just saying, "I m a Lutheran," or "I went to church now and then,"or "I know all about Jesus," isn't going to buy Him off at all.  He doesn't take a bribe – of any sort! As Jesus said once, in Matthew 7:21, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,  will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.

And what is the will of God for you?    [Our Salvation.]

And, the will of God for you is also to live as His people.  He wants you to live in forgiveness – and think about what that means to your personal conduct, your morality, and your willingness to forgive others around you.  His will is for you to live in His love, and consider how His love for the sinner that you are should color how you treat others who are in need, or undesirable, or even your enemies.  He wants you to consider how love and thanksgiving can shape your desire to give back to God by being a blessing to those God places around you for you to serve in His stead.  This is life in the grace of God from a realistic perspective.

He will be your God and you will be His people – or – you will abandon Him and deny Him and He will deal with you accordingly.  That is the message of the text.  It is a promise, and it is a warning.  He is your praise and He is your God – those are the words of the last verse of our text – or He is not.  Either all that He has done for you is precious, and you know He can be trusted and you walk in that faith, or you are like the unbelieving world – and like them you face His wrath.

Remember, He does not show partiality or take a bribe.  Remember Ephesians 5:15-16, Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  And Titus 3:8, This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things 1 want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.  

And for your blessing, strength, and help, God has given us this Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, given and shed on the cross for your redemption, that by it we may be equipped to live as His children here and now – and in eternity.  This is one of those great and awesome things He has done in your sight.  So come, eat and drink and be refreshed, and then walk as His people without fear and without doubt, showing forth His glory in Jesus Christ!  That is life lived from a realistic perspective.

We are nothing special, except that God has loved us and chosen us to know Him and His love.  So we live for Him just as we live from Him.  And we live confident in Him, knowing that we don't have to bargain with Him for His love – it is ours already in Jesus Christ.  That is a realistic perspective.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 05, 2020

Wisdom

Proverbs 25:6-14
Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; for it is better that it be said to you, "Come up here," than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.
Do not go out hastily to argue your case; otherwise, what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?  Argue your case with your neighbor, and do not reveal the secret of another, lest he who hears it reproach you, and the evil report about you not pass away.
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.  Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.  Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters.
Like clouds and wind without rain Is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.


Sermon for the Seventeenth after Trinity              10/04/20

Wisdom

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Preaching on the Proverbs.  It is a difficult task.  As you heard the words of our text, what did you hear?  Yes, you heard the Word of God.  Yes, it was true and wise.  But did it have a unifying theme?  How did it sound to you?  Can you tell me where these seemingly disconnected proverbs are going?

Obviously, this set of proverbs was chosen because Jesus used them, or the same wisdom, in the Gospel lesson this morning.  He, too, said that it would be better to be invited up into higher glory than to be humiliated before others.  But the rest of it – it speaks about arguing with your neighbor – real disputes that could land you in court.  These proverbs address keeping confidence and not being a gossip.  They speak about faithfulness and about both reproof given and reproof received.  Finally they speak about boasting falsely.  What they have in common is Wisdom.  Our theme this morning is "Wisdom".

My dictionary at my desk says, "[Wisdom is the] power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.".   My favorite definition says that Wisdom is defined as the proper application of knowledge.  I want you note that neither definition said that wisdom is the  "best" or "most useful" or "most expedient" use of knowledge.  The point is that Wisdom is proper, good, right, and helpful, but it is not always what seems "best", whatever that means.  Wisdom is not always going to be popular.  It is simply ‘wise'.

Wisdom is the point of Proverbs.  Some proverbs address specific pieces of wisdom and some talk about wisdom itself.  Our text today talks about specific points of wisdom.   If you think about them, they mostly speak about humility.  Be humble before the king, be humble with your neighbor – at least humble enough to deal directly and personally with your neighbor rather than some other route.  It also says not to reveal the secrets of another, another way of saying that we should let our grievances be between us and our neighbor, and not the subject of public gossip.  Our text reminds us to be humble enough to receive reproof when it is spoken to us, and to treasure anyone who has the wisdom to offer us "wise reproof".  We are urged to be humble enough to be faithful, and finally reminded not to boast, particularly falsely.

Wisdom is contained in those words, and yet they are recorded for us to teach us, that we may be wise and exercise wisdom.  The very thought of wisdom in the abstract begs us to ask the question, "What is the best use of the information contained in these very proverbs?".  How do we apply these proverbs in our lives wisely?

The answer is – or at least the answer begins with – listening to the proverbs and taking them to heart.  We can profit from them only if we apply the lessons to our own lives and to what is going on in our world today.  It is applied by doing precisely what Paul says in our Epistle lesson today, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

We need to remember who we are and how we got to be here, as part of the body of Christ.  We are sinners.  The word is thrown around so much in churches that it seems to have lost its sting.  "Of course we are sinners," you say.  We say it as though it means nothing.  What it really means is that we are not nice people.  We are not good or wholesome.  We are not the kind of people we want others to think we are, that we like to pretend to be.  We dress nice, and we live in swell homes.  We drive nice cars, and we hang out with "church people".

But we judge others.  We gossip.  We do things with no thought for the other person.  We also say things for our own advantage or our own reasons without thinking how we would feel if we were the recipients of such words or behavior – or how our doing or saying such things might play out in the lives of those around us.  Everything we do or say is not evil or destructive, but there are times and places in which we take care of number one first, and forget the other guy.

Most people feel pretty good about themselves.  They haven't actually murdered anyone.  They haven't stolen things out of their neighbor's garage or house.  They don't do drugs – leastwise not illegal drugs.  We manage to keep our lives outwardly respectable, and publicly decent.

But God sees the heart.  He sees the secret thoughts and desires, like the desires to dominate, the desires to injure, the desires to be just like someone else, or to be utterly different from them.  He sees when we do or say things to get our way without considering how it impacts others.  He sees when we put ourselves and our goals above others, or above Him and His will and His Ways and His Word.  God sees our sins even when no one else does.  He knows the truth that we can hide from others by putting a good face on and speaking very pleasantly.  He even knows the truths that we manage to hide from ourselves.

Yes, we are sinners.  We are not nice people.  If we saw one another as God sees us, I suspect we could never trust one another, or particularly like one another.  We would know that most of the time other people are trying to take advantage of us for their own benefit, and putting another face on it and calling it "business," or "friendship," or "being helpful."  

And I am sure that most of you are grumbling inside right now and saying, "How cynical!  I am not like that!  I am genuine with my family and my friends."  And sometimes you are, but sometimes you are not – that is what being sinful by nature means – and I can see the truth of it in myself, so I know it fits you as well.  Listening and believing what I tell you here is what our text spoke about when it said "Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear."  Solomon wasn't writing so much about the reprover here, as he was about the wisdom of listening to the truth, even if it doesn't strike one as happy news.

So, wisdom reminds us that we are not God's people because we are so good or such swell men and women that we just had to belong to that select group.  We are God's people because He forgave us, and called us to be His own through the preaching of the Gospel, and has kept us as His own by Word and Sacrament ever since.  We didn't come walking in the front door, God snuck us in past the purity sensors and washed us clean in Baptism, and refreshes us each week with the holy meal of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament.  There, but for the grace of God  .  .  .  we would be just like everyone else outside of the church – lost and condemned.

So humility is appropriate.  It isn't fun, but it is the proper use of the knowledge of who we really are, and how we got to be God's people.  So, we walk in that "manner worthy".  That means visible humility toward others – even toward those we don't think deserve it, or who are "just not our type of people."  It means gentleness with someone, even if we think they are a jerk! – or wrong! – or evil and manipulative.  After all, we aren't so clean ourselves, except that God cleans us regularly!  It means patience with one another, and with the processes that we go through in life.  The "manner  worthy" means that we bear with one another for the sake of one another and for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ.

Paul says that we do this "in love".  We do it in love toward God, and from God.  We also do it in love for one another.  That wisdom stuff should teach us that we are all alike, and connected by God's choice of us.  It isn't just the "other guy" who doesn't belong here!  We are the ones who desperately needed to be redeemed, restored, and forgiven.  We have been called out darkness into Christ's marvelous light of love and salvation!  The others, however we may perceive them with our flesh, are just like us, chosen and select of God, fit into this great puzzle together.  None are too good, and none too evil for our association.

Of course, that is all within the congregation.  Of course there are people outside who are too wicked for our casual association.  We can witness to them of the love and salvation which is in Christ Jesus, but we do ourselves a favor if we don't make professional criminals our associates, or hang out with the drug crowd, invite prostitutes into our homes.  We can invite them here, with the hope that they will hear the Word of God and be saved – but outside of that, there are undesirables out in the world.

But within the church, here in the congregation, every single person is family.  Every one here has been called by God, and their presence is God's choice, just as ours is.  And when we are tempted to doubt that, or act as though it is not true, wisdom teaches us humility.

And knowing the Gospel, that Christ died on the cross for you, to pay the penalty you earned by your sins, Wisdom works within you by the power of God to comfort you when you feel the pain of your sins.  Knowing the love of Christ for you, and the gift that He has given you in this blessed Sacrament,

Wisdom brings you faithfully to the altar to receive that gift and be strengthened in your faith and in your life in Christ day to day.  Knowing that you have been Baptized, called by name by God, through His chosen servant, and forgiven, having been cleansed by the washing of water with the Word, you can daily return to your baptism and find strength and comfort there by contrition and repentance.  Luther tells us in the Small Catechism that  you can daily drown that old sinful self in the waters of your baptism, and allow God to raise up that new man of righteousness, to walk before God each day.

All of these things are wisdom, the proper application of knowledge about Jesus Christ.  Our text speaks about wisdom and humility.  As Jesus said in our Gospel lesson today, "everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Our text says, "Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters."  You know how refreshing a little cold air is in the heat of the harvest-time.  God's Word is what we need, Wisdom.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say "Amen.")

Sunday, September 27, 2020

This, Therefore That

1 Kings 17:17-24
Now it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe, that there was no breath left in him.  So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death!"  And he said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.  And he called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?"  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, "O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him."  And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.  And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive."  Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."


Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity                   9/27/20

This, Therefore That

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever had one of those experiences?  You do your best, you give your all, you try to be faithful, and what happens?  You get trouble.  You have what is called "bad luck"?  Things go against you and you want to ask yourself what you bothered for?  Everyone has those times.  It seems to us like life should pay back the investment.  If I try, and if I am good, I expect to succeed and find rewards and just compensation.  Instead, I find pain and frustration and trouble.

That is the situation of this good woman of Zarephath.  We heard last week how she fed the prophet with the very last of her food.  She had just enough to make one more meal for herself and her son, and then, because the famine was so severe, she was going to sit down and wait for death.  But Elijah told her to feed him something first, and then she could go and fix that last meal.  So, she did.  And God caused the little bit of flour and the little bit of oil to last for many days – long enough for the drought to end, and a new crop to grow and new flour and oil to be produced.

She thought that she had a reason to expect a special relationship – special and good treatment from God on account of her faithfulness and generosity in difficult times.  So, imagine her surprise when her son falls ill and dies.  For some reason - probably the popular belief that your behavior determines how God works with you -  she makes a connection between her troubles and her sins of the past, whatever they may be and she figures it is a case of this, therefore that.  And that is our theme, This, therefore that.

The woman made a connection between her misfortune and her sins.  I suspect that she is making a connection that she doesn't need to make.  Surely trouble comes in our lives because we are sinners, but often they are not because of specific sins we can recall.  Life is filled with pain and illness and sorrow because we live in a fallen world, but every problem is not connected to a specific sin.  Some are – sexually transmitted diseases result from unchastity, for example.  Colds and heart trouble, strokes and cancer, however, are not necessarily traceable to specific sins, or even specific patterns of behavior.

But what the woman did that was correct – and natural – was make the connection between human troubles and sin, and between her close contact with God through the prophet, and guilt.  Because God is holy, when we come into close contact with God, either through His Word, or His messengers, the Law of God is always brought to the fore.  We don't have to look for it.  We don't need to want it.  God is holy, and wherever His holiness is seen or felt, our sin stands out in bright relief.  The Law of God is preached, even when no one says a word.

Life will be painful and difficult at times, even for Christians.  That pain and those difficulties will preach the Law to us.  They will scourge us and make us question the love of God and His good will toward us.  Pretty soon, we begin to think of sickness and trouble as the lot we have been given by God.  That is when the troubles begin, troubles like those that haunted this widow of Zarephath.  Some even begin to despair of any hope from Him – and therefore become unbelievers – because they continue to battle troubles – while they think of themselves as believers.

That is the danger.  We might allow our troubles to preach false theology to us.  We listen to our aches and our sorrows and think that we hear the heart of God toward us in those troubles.  I have seen it happen more than once.  If it does, we may have a head of faith –  and a heart of fear and worry and despair.  When that happens, we are no longer believers, at least in the sense of saving faith.  We have the faith of the head, which means we still think we believe – but we don't trust God.  We call this being "nominally Christian" – Christian in name, but not in reality.

That is not what this text is about, however.  The woman's despair and fear and guilt were in the lesson to highlight the other part.  The other part tells us about the power, and the good will, of God.  God can do anything, and He is merciful.  This is also the point of our Epistle lesson this morning, and Paul concludes the verses of our Epistle with these words, Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Elijah takes the dead child and prays.  Trouble and need brought the prophet to prayer.  This, therefore that.  Sometimes God uses affliction to draw His people closer to Him.  When life is good and we are pleased with everything, we tend to get sloppy about prayer and worship.  For example, statistics tell us that during the Great Depression, over ninety-five percent of Christians attended worship each and every Sunday.  According to a 2019 survey, 29 percent of Americans never attend church or synagogue, compared to 23 percent of Americans who attend every week - only about one church-member out of four bothered to come to church on any given Sunday.  Our attendance is better, of late.  We have more than half of our members in worship on any given week, statistically.

Another example of the principle is stewardship.  When I was a vicar in Austin, Minnesota, the Synod released some statistics that indicated that the average "tithe" of Christians across denominational lines during the Great Depression was 4.9% of their income. The tell-tale statistic was that at that time, the average "tithe" (during the 1970's) was 1.9%.  And it isn't as good today as it was back then.

The evidence is that we tend to grow less attentive to God, His Word, and our prayers when life gets easy and pleasant, and we grow rich.  So, God often uses sorrow, trouble, pain, and affliction to draw us back to Him and catch our attention in order to remind us of our need for His presence in our lives and in our hearts.  He may give us trouble to teach us to pray.  And when trouble comes, we should pray, and pray fervently and in faith.

But that isn't exactly where this text takes us, either.  God answers the prayers of Elijah, and brings the boy back to life!  What an amazing thing!  God can do anything.  He has the power to do whatever it is we need done.  We can trust in Him.  And the woman takes the healing of her son, this great blessing from God, and she understands that this blessing is the evidence that Elijah is God's prophet, and that what Elijah says, when he preaches God's Word, is truth.  That is the "This, therefore that" of our theme.

When God shows His power and His good will toward us, then we should be brought to trust in His Word and His promises and His will for us.  And what is the will of God toward us?

And how do we know that?  We look at the cross of Jesus Christ.  When we want to see what is in the heart of God , we do not measure His love for us or His will toward us by the moment - how we feel or whether we experience the moment as good or bad, as happy or sad, as comfortable or painful.  The moment changes constantly, but God does not change.  He says so.  His will toward us is always the same - and we find it not by feeling ourselves or by gazing at our navels, but by lifting our eyes to the cross.

God demonstrated His love for us and His will to save us by giving us His Son.  Jesus was born one of us, fully human.  What a humbling step that was!  But there was more.  He lived - poor by any standards, abject poverty by our standards today.  He faced all of the temptations to sin that are common to man.  He endured hostility toward Himself for nothing more than being holy and righteous.  Finally He allowed Himself to be falsely convicted and willingly bore our sins and guilt to the cross.  He suffered almost unimaginable agony of body - and the wrath of God against our sins in His soul.  He who is God was forsaken by God!  He died, even though He had earned the right to life without end.  He died in your place and in mine!  He paid the price demanded by the justice of God for our sins.

Then he rose again from the grave.  Just like the son of the Widow in our lesson – except He did not need a prophet throwing His body over Him and interceding with God for His life.  He laid down His life for us, and He took it up again of His own power - raised by the Spirit of God to proclaim that sin was done with, the guilt was no more, and that death had been conquered by life.  He that believes and is Baptized, shall be saved.

This, therefore that.  Because Jesus has died -- and has risen from His grave, your sins are forgiven!  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It is by grace, and it is received by faith.  It is possessed by taking God at His Word and trusting Him and trusting His promises.  You want to be like the widow of Zarephath.  You want to see the great things that God has done for you - and find in them the evidence that God's Word is truth.

His will is so complete that He preaches to you each week, and brings you this Holy Supper of the body and blood of Jesus Christ to strengthen and establish you in His love.  Here He hides the body and blood of Jesus under the form of bread and wine so that it is visible only to faith.  Those who have seen the great deeds of God for them know that His Word is truth, and that His Word delivers the very things that He promises through it.  In this Supper He promises forgiveness and everlasting life and salvation, and health that endures eternally, and a home with God and joys eternally.  This is the Medicine of Immortality that bestows all that Christ has won for you - so that you may receive it and know that God was speaking about you and that He loves you, and that He means to rescue and save you!

So you do not need to fret and worry.  No matter what the moment may seem like, or what the danger may appear to be, or what ever, God can handle it, and His will toward you is good -- it is life and hope and peace and salvation -- and resurrection from your grave, just as He has risen from His grave!  It doesn't matter whether you are tempted to worry about your children, or your health, or your family finances, or your church, or whatever.  God can handle it, and His will is for your blessing and salvation.  You can see what God has done on the cross - and in the empty tomb of Easter.  This, therefore that.  You can trust God – and His Word is true.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

God's Way

 

1 Kings 17:8-16
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, ‘Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink." And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand."
But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die."
Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.'"
So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity                                     9/20/20

God's Way

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The story is told about a man who stopped by the side of the road in the country to ask a fellow who was walking down the road for directions to a nearby business establishment. First, he asked if the man was a local, and familiar with the area, and the man said, "Yes." Then he admitted being lost and asked for directions to the place. The fellow who had been walking down the road began to describe the route from this point to that. "God down to the second crossroad," he said. "And take a right, then go two miles to the dirt road on your left and turn there and go up . . .", then he realized that the road he was leading the man to was blocked. So he said, "No. Wait. Forget that. Just go left at the next corner and go up a mile and . . . No that won't work either." After making several more attempts to describe how to get from point A to point B, the fellow finally said, "Forget it. You can't get there from here."

It's a cute story, and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't based on a real event, but I mention it to bring up the idea of different ways to get to this point or that. As I read the text, I had to ask myself what this account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath has to do with anything in our lives. Now the obvious thought is about God providing - which He does, and which is a good thought for us to keep in mind, but He doesn't often provide in such blatantly miraculous fashion. What struck me about this text was everything around the miracle - how God prepares us, and how God delivers His providence to us, and how God works in the lives of His people. God probably will not work this same miracle for you as your checking account goes flat or your cupboards are bare, but God always cares for us, and I would like to look at that element of this text and see, in the words of our theme, this morning, God's Way.

Elijah had been commanded by God to proclaim to the evil king, Ahab, that there was going to be a severe drought - a drought which would not pass until Elijah said so. Then God commanded Elijah to go to a certain place and stay there while He would send ravens with food for Elijah in the morning and in the evening, and Elijah would drink from the stream near the place. This is how God provided for His prophet.

Now, we know that the drought lasted three years and six months. During that time, the stream dried up, and Elijah needed new provisions. That is where our text picks up. God now instructs Elijah to go to Zarephath, a city in the region of Sidon (You remember Tyre and Sidon - an area in ancient Phoenicia and modern-day Lebanon), and, God said, "I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." So Elijah went to Zarephath.

When he arrives, it becomes plain that God did not communicate this command to the woman. I don't know how Elijah picked her out and knew that it was the right woman - but he did, and God helped him, although the Bible does not tell us how. Elijah identifies the woman, and asks her to bring him a drink of water, and while she is at it, could she also bring him a cake of bread to eat. In today's society, that would seem to be pretty gutsy - but it was not out of order back then. Besides, she very quickly sized Elijah up as one of those prophet-guys.

She explains to Elijah that she would like to, but she is just now gathering a couple of pieces of wood to build a small fire, to use the last bit of her flour and oil to make the final, pitiful meal for herself and her son to eat, and then they will simply starve to death, undoubtedly due to the drought. Elijah responds by telling her to make his meal first, and then cook for herself and her son, and if she does, she will find that the flour will not be exhausted nor will her oil run out. To her credit, she believes the word of Elijah and makes his meal, and then her own, and * * to her delight and blessing * * the supplies do not run out, and she and her son - and Elijah - eat for many days - literally a long time.

The miracle is cool – but it is not likely to be repeated in ways that you will recognize as "just like Elijah and the widow". God will always provide, however. The thing is, He will usually do it in ways and through means that you do not necessarily expect. God's way is not our way, nor will we always be able to see how God can do it or how He accomplishes it when He does it. We might not even want God to do it the way He is going to do it.

Look at Elijah's case. He thought he had it made by the brook called "Cherith" which was on the east side of the Jordan River. He had water. He had bread and meat delivered to him twice a day - and that was all he needed, and pretty much all anyone in that time in history expected or hoped for - food and water - and some sort of shelter which was either a cave nearby, or Elijah built something- the Bible doesn't address that issue either. He was set for the duration and had no need, and probably no expectation, that he would be on the move again during the drought. Surely, if God could send ravens with the food Elijah needed in their mouths to feed him (and He could and did), He could keep the brook flowing.

But He did not. That was not God's way in this instance. The brook dried up, and God sent Elijah to Zarephath.

Okay. Now, look at the widow's situation. She had no adult man to take care of her, so she was destitute. The drought always hit the poor hardest - just like they always say about rising gas prices or any other social problem. She had run through her resources, and could not buy more. Everyone was hoarding - you know, take care of number one first. She was down to her last few handfuls of flour - the Hebrew word means just the amount you can fit in the palm of your hand - not a generous handful, but a very sparse handful. Her oil was about to run out too, so there was going to be no more food, and she was about to starve, along with her adolescent son. No doubt, she had only made it to this point by eating short rations and was likely almost starved at this point in time. She could see no way that she and her son would survive.

But she did survive because God stepped in, and for the sake of His prophet He extended her supply and multiplied it daily so that her little bit did not run out, even though she fed the prophet, her son, and herself for many months. She discovered God's way was capable beyond anything she could imagine.

Why her? That, too, is God's way. Jesus mentioned it once, in Nazareth when He had announced who He was and what was prophesied of Him, and they began to question Him simply because they knew Him, way back when: "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow." This irritated the people of Nazareth, of course, because they thought it meant something about the judgment of God against them - and because they were not willing to wait upon God or His ways."

Actually, it is like grace, God's choice for God's reasons. It stood also as a judgment of Israel – they did not call, were not faithful, did not trust God - and so they did not receive. But mostly, it indicated that God could and would deal favorably with whomever He chose. You didn't need to be one of the genetic family of Abraham to find God's mercy. And God doesn't need resources to accomplish His will. He is the resources.

We need to stop and consider this miracle. Why this woman? Because God chose her to use her to accomplish the blessing of His prophet. Was she better than others, or more religious, or more open to His will? Nope. She was not even from among the "Chosen People". She was simply the one God selected - commanded is the word the text used. She didn't hear the command, nor was she aware of it until the prophet asked her for food and promised her divine provision. Nevertheless, she did what God had commanded, and was part of the way in which God worked for the blessing of His prophet. God could have kept the stream flowing and the birds bringing the food, or He could have provided for Elijah in some other ordinary way. But He did not. He did it this way so you could see that He can provide - and will provide all things in accord with His will even when there is no way and we have no resources and everything and everyone seems to be - and really is - against us.

Look at the cross. We sinned. We deserved to die. We earned His wrath and judgment - - - and yet we live and He sent Jesus to live and die for us, and He has forgiven us and rescued us and promises us that the flour and oil will never run out - that we shall live forever with Him even after death seems to have the victory. He has paid the price and redeemed us. He has promised to raise our sorry bodies from their graves and outfit them for everlasting life - and He has shown us what it will look like by raising Jesus from the dead.

And He feeds us with a food more miraculous than the bread the widow made all those months. He feeds us with His body and gives us to drink of His blood and cleanses us from all our sins and comforts us in our fears and in our shame and guilt and in our pains, and says, I will never leave you nor forsake you. It is more certain and clear than when He told Elijah, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." He has commanded His Son to provide life and salvation, forgiveness, and peace to us – and Jesus has. Already. What we see happening around us is all part of His plan – or at least He has accounted for all of it, and we are safe, and He will accomplish in us and through us all that He has planned. And while this moment or that may not be entirely to our liking, or our understanding, as long as we are His children, and faithful, God's way is the right way, and He will accomplish all that He has planned and all that He has promised, and all that we need.

So rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for you - and because God's way may not always be plain to us, but it is always right, and just exactly what we need. So don't look around and try to figure out how God will do what you need or want or what we need or want. Just know that He will guard and keep and bless you. Everything will be done as it was in our text - according to the last verse of our lesson - according to the word of the LORD. That, of course, is God's way.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, September 14, 2020

Two Paths

 Proverbs 4:10-23
Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many.  I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.  Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.  
Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on.  For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.  
My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.  Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their whole body.  Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.


Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity                                  9/13/20

Two Paths

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This time of year in the Church Calendar, the readings tend to focus on Christian living.  Our lessons this week are no exception to this rule.  The Gospel talks about faith and thanksgiving and compares those who believe with those who do not in the account of The Healing of the Ten Lepers.  The Epistle lesson compares the life led by the Spirit of God and the life lived for the flesh.  It seems quite natural, then, that the Old Testament Lesson should compare those same two conditions, and what results from them.  The results are likened to a footpath - the path of the wicked and the path of the righteous.  This morning we will examine these two, and what really makes the difference, under the theme, "Two Paths."

Our theme comes directly from the text which speaks of "the path of the wicked" and "the path of the righteous".  They are two paths that a man or a woman might choose - but only if they are the child of God.  The words of Solomon, who spoke so many of the proverbs, are intended for the believer as a guide for living.  Notice the intimate, fatherly way he proceeds:  Hear, my son, and accept my sayings, And the years of your life will be many.  I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; And if you run, you will not stumble.  

Solomon was not directing these word to his own son in specific, but as the wise man, was playing kindly father for us all.  He calls us "son" just as the New Testament calls all Christians "sons of God".  You see, the term is not even gender specific here, for all who believe are counted as sons.  There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.  We all rank as sons - and because of Jesus we are all counted as first-born and as precious as His only-begotten Son.

He encourages us to take his words to heart, and you have got to know that these words are not merely the words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, but God speaking through Solomon to His chosen people - to us!  If we pay attention to these truths, we can live a good life, a satisfying life.  These words will be a solid guide even if life becomes rich, abundant and wildly successful.  That is what it means to run, and not stumble.

What are the things which we are counseled to do that we might have this good life?  First, Solomon says, "Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life."  He is not referring to just any instruction, mind you.  Learning is good, but learning a trade, for example, is not going to make you stumble proof.  The learning here is the moral instruction and the instruction in the faith to which God is drawing our attention.  This is the kind of instruction that the world wants to have nothing to do with.  This is what children - of all ages - object to at home and in church.  This is what the secular experts call "whiteness" or white privilege when they assault common decency as some sort of racism.  People don't mind learning, per sé, but they object to the idea of truth as truth, and to holiness in principle.  They don't want to hear that they are wicked, or that they have no automatic path to whatever good there might be in the next life, or that their conduct is sin.  Since they do not place their trust in Jesus Christ, they do not want to hear that salvation is in Him alone.  To them the idea of the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone is dangerous, because it threatens them and their eternity with whatever the other alternative might be – and whether they admit it or not, human nature is wired to understand what the alternative to salvation and "heaven" is, and that something is coming when all is said and done.

This instruction in the faith is your life - eternal life - and yet it is also useful and effective and salutary - that's the old word for beneficial - salutary for daily life in the here and now.  That is the substance of the other points of our text.  Secondly, God warns us, "Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not proceed in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on.  For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence."

Notice that there is no detailing here of what that path entails.  We all kind of know what it is, and other passages here in Proverbs and in the rest of Scripture fill that in for us.  Here, we are simply told to avoid it.  Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men.  One of the two paths is evil.  We are not to join the wicked in their ways, to turn to wickedness, no allow ourselves to be seduced into the ways of sin.  The world around us will try to do that.  Sometimes we call it "peer pressure".  Other times it is just temptation to fit in, or belong to a group, or to achieve something - success or wealth - or something - the easy way.

God says,  Avoid it.  Do not even pass by it.  Turn away from it, and keep moving.  These words remind me of my Sunday School memory work - "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not," (Prov. 1:10) or "Flee youthful lusts," (2 Tim. 2:22).  The way to avoid the paths of the wicked is to stay away, turn away to another direction when you see it in front of you, and run - physically - from temptation when it confronts you.  Put space between you and the immediate cause of your temptation.

The nature of the evil path is hinted at here, as well.  It is addictive, in a sense.  The Bible says that they cannot sleep unless they do evil.  There is something compelling about sin.  It puts me in mind of the passages that speak of us as slaves of sin.  Once you embark of the path of the wicked, you are compelled to do wicked things.  For they eat the bread of wickedness, And drink the wine of violence.  Perhaps you can identify examples of this in your own life - not big things, of course (I hope), but you may remember times when you were not going to say something - or do something - but you couldn't resist.  You spoke what you know you should not have spoken in the heat of anger in an argument, or you went ahead and did something you knew better than to do because your just felt compelled.

The path of the wicked is also infectious.  Once you go wrong, there is a powerful urge to drag others down with you.  You cannot let good enough alone.  "They are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble".  You can see that in how false teachers want to destroy the churches from which they arise.  How often haven't we heard the cry, "Why can't they just go somewhere else, where they agree with their false teachings"?  This is apparently why.  The path of evil compels one to seek recruits.  Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it."

He also said, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."  The way is so narrow, in fact, that Jesus likened it to the eye of a needle.  It is the path of the righteous.  Our text doesn't tell us to choose the path of righteousness, or to decide for it, or to walk on it, as though it depended on us.  That is because it does not.  It describes the path briefly.  The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.  It sounds good, but then, goodness tends to sound good.  The description is clearer, actually, by comparison to the other path:  The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble.   The path of the righteous is bright and clear-sighted and only gets better and clearer as you go.  But it is a path which we are given, not a path which we may choose.  Your only choice to depart from it.

It is, in fact, the path of faith.  Proverbs doesn't say it explicitly, but then it would be foolish to expect to find the New Testament explicit in the Old.  But even here, it is pretty clear.  Solomon says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life".  The only other place where I remember hearing this language is John 7, where Jesus says, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"

The path of the righteous is path that Jesus walked.  He walked it perfectly because you and I cannot.  We are far too easily drawn to the path of the wicked.  He walked that path alone and hated.  And He died - not for walking that path, because that path is the way of life - the narrow way that few find.  You know, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."  Jesus found it, and He gives it to us and places us upon it.

The words which are life are the words which tell us about Jesus and teaches our hearts to believe, and through which the Holy Spirit creates in us that faith which receives all the riches of forgiveness and life for the sake of Jesus Christ.  He places us on the path of the righteous by declaring us righteous and giving us life and salvation.   We cannot choose this path, but we can choose to remain on it and flee from the paths of the wicked.  This is the instruction to which you are to cling and never let go.  These word of God's love and grace are life and health to your body - both now and in eternity.

Solomon speaks of directing us in the way of wisdom.  Wisdom, as you know, is the proper application of knowledge.  The proper application of the knowledge of the gospel is faith.  Trust in the Lord.  There are times when doing something else will seem wise and good.  People around you will encourage you to step out, and be bold, and fit in, and run with them.  The temptation may be subtle or it may be bold and blatant and compelling.  The truth is, when you confront those moments of temptation, you are facing the moment of decision between two paths, the path on which Christ has placed you - His path, the path of the righteous - and the path of the wicked.  Wisdom tells us to turn away from that second path, flee in another direction, refuse to enter - and to refuse to continue in the company of the wicked.

God will give you the strength - and He has already given you the instruction.  When you face the two paths, walk in the path of Christ.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)