Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Lord Will Provide

Genesis 22:1-14
     Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!"  And he said, "Here I am."  And He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.  On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.  And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you."  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.  And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!"  And he said, "Here I am, my son."  And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"  And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."  So the two of them walked on together.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!"  And he said, "Here I am."  And He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.  And Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.

Sermon for Judica Sunday                                              3/29/20

                          The Lord Will Provide

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
     Picture this: Abraham has waited his entire life – over 100 years – for this one son to be born.  He left home and family to follow the promise of God over twenty-five years before.   Then Isaac was born.  When Isaac was thirteen or fourteen, he was undoubtedly passed through the ritual of the coming of age, the predecessor to what the Jews call "Bar-Mitzvah" today.  So, it was some time after that in which the events detailed in our text take place.  Sarah was still alive, so we know that Isaac was under thirty-five, or so, and that is all we can tell.  The point is that Abraham has waited a long time for Isaac.

Abraham is probably about one hundred and twenty-five years old.  Now God tells him to take his son out into the wilderness and offer him up as a burnt offering to God.  It is difficult to imagine what must have been going on in the mind of Abraham.  The Bible only tells us of his faithfulness.  The most revealing thing our text tells us is Abraham's response when Isaac asks about the lamb for the sacrifice, "The Lord will provide."  And that is our theme this morning.

The Lord will provide.  Abraham had to be crushed and frightened.  Nevertheless, he followed the command of God.  We could make all sorts of judgments about why – Abraham's wealth, God's previous faithfulness, you know, all of the worldly reasons to understand Abraham's willingness to be faithful in this extreme command.  None of them are certain, however, and none of them are likely to be true.  Abraham was faithful because Abraham believed.

His faith is demonstrated in his answer to Isaac – God will provide for Himself the lamb.  Isaac was the miracle child, and Abraham did not question God's ability to do more miracles.  Abraham thought God would raise Isaac from the dead.  That is what the book of Hebrews says.  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac;  .  .  .  He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.

Abraham trusted God to provide, and so he was willing to sacrifice his son.  And God provided.  He provided for Abraham in a way I suspect Abraham had never envisioned.  He stopped Abraham at the very last moment and provided the lamb for sacrifice, caught by its horns in the bush nearby.  Abraham passed the test and worshiped God, and everyone went home happy.

Hebrews tells us that it was a type.  Abraham received Isaac back from the edge of destruction as a type of the resurrection from the dead.  The type goes deeper, however.  Abraham was the father who was sacrificing his only son, just as God did for us.  God was under no command from another.  It was His plan and His will to sacrifice His Son for us and for our salvation.  But Abraham acts out in his struggle a human example of what this takes, and a human picture of the father giving his son.

Men marvel when they stop to consider it, that Isaac went along with the whole thing.  We usually have this picture of the young boy, twelve or thirteen, and that could be possible, but I suspect that he was older and well able to flee or to fight this hundred and some year old man, if necessary.  But Isaac carries the wood for his father – and that would be no small pile of sticks, for the kind of sacrifice that they intended.  He must have allowed his father to tie him up and lay him on the pile of wood in the altar area for the sacrifice.  No matter what may have been going through his mind, he humbly did what his father asked him to.  In this, Isaac is a type of Christ.

Christ humbly followed the plan and will of His Father.   He knew throughout His life who He was and where He was going to end up.  He walked that road and was faithful.  He faced the wrenching sorrow of the garden of Gethsemane, the awful dread.  He went to the cross, and the torture that led up to it, humbly, willingly – in so far as it was His will to be obedient to His Father.  He allowed Himself to be tied and placed on the altar of the cross for sacrifice.  The only real difference of consequence is that no voice from heaven stopped the hand of the executioner for Jesus.

Abraham looked up, when God commanded him to stop, and saw the ram caught by its horns.  God told Abraham that he had demonstrated his faith and absolute trust in God, being willing to give up that which was most precious to him for the sake of his God.  Similarly, God demonstrated His great love for us, and His desire to rescue us from sin and death and hell by offering up that which was most precious to Him – His only-begotten Son.  Because Jesus suffered the torments of hell and died in your place, you are forgiven, and you will never die.  Your body will, and it will rest, as did the body of Jesus, in the grave for a time, but like Jesus, you will commend your soul into God's presence and keeping, and you will live — both between the day of your body's death and the day of resurrection and, following that day of the resurrection of all flesh, you will live in joy and glory with the Lord eternally.

God provided the sacrifice.  He provided it for Abraham in the ram caught in the bushes, and He provided it for you in Jesus Christ.  That was the type, and Jesus the antitype – the reality which fulfills the meaning of the symbol which comes before.  "In the mount of the Lord, it will be provided."  Back then it was a specific unnamed hill in the land of Moriah.  In 30 A.D. it was a hill named "Golgotha," just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  Jesus wasn't trapped, however, but willing – out of love for you, and for His heavenly Father.  Because of Jesus, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."

Abraham received Isaac back from the dead, as it were.  That is how Hebrews put it.  Isaac hadn't really died, but he was marked for death and as good as dead at his father's hand if God had not intervened.  His release from death was a type – it demonstrates to some degree the resurrection of Jesus.  It is for us a type of Jesus' return from the dead.  And Jesus is the first-fruits of our resurrection – that is to say that we shall also rise from the dead as Jesus did, as part of His resurrection, because we are His body, and we have joined Him in His death and resurrection through baptism.  Just as Isaac pointed forward as a type to the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus points forward to our own.

The Lord will provide.  And He has.  But this text is not just about history.  It shows us that the Lord will provide.  When God wants us to serve, to do some specific thing, or just to be faithful, the Lord will provide.  We will never face any situation where God cannot meet our needs.  We will never face any circumstance where God will not provide what we need in order to be faithful to Him.  Just trust Him.  That is the other message here.

Trust God and be faithful.  You cannot need more than God can provide, and if you are faithful, and are doing what is faithful, the Lord will provide.  We are "the mount of the Lord" today.  He does not identify with any geographic location any longer.  It is not Mount Sinai.  That was once the place, but when the children of Israel left the holy mountain, God went with them.  He provided Manna and water and guided them to the holy land, promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Then they built the temple, and God claimed it as His place – the place of His presence on earth among men.  Then He came in the person of Jesus.  He was Immanuel, "God with us."  When Jesus left this earth, He made His holy people the place of His presence.  That place is not ancient Israel, or their modern descendants, according to the flesh.  That place is us — the Church!

"In the mount of the Lord it will be provided."  We are that "mount".  When we are faithful, God will provide.  He provides for us all of the time, even when we are not, but certainly, we may have the greatest comfort and confidence in His provision and blessings when we are faithful, as Abraham was faithful, and as Jesus was faithful!  So we should never be discouraged or tempted to find a better way than simply being faithful.

Our age offers us programs and gimmicks and "new measures" to grow the church and ensure success and survival.  I find it is an interesting historical note that the term, "new measures", was the one that liberal Lutherans were using at the time our Synod was founded, a century and a half ago, for their efforts to abandon faithfulness.  God, however, has called us to His Word, and the Sacraments, and to trust in Him.  If we walk together in God's Word, and encourage one another in faithfulness and trust in God, and do those things which the Lord lays before us to do, the Lord will provide.

He may not do everything we would like Him to do, nor bless us in the ways that we dream about.  God's will is that the Gospel be preached, and His people demonstrate it by their lives of faithfulness, grounded in His Word, and trusting in His promises.  His will is that you live the faithfulness so thoroughly that others see it and ask you about it, and you witness to them the hope that is in you.  His will is that you come here to hear His Word, to eat His holy Supper, and to encourage one another and love one another in the fellowship of His holy ones in the body of Christ.  And, of course, His will is?? 
.  .  .
His will is that you trust Him.  Trust Him, not yourself.  Trust Him, not your own wit and wisdom.  Trust Him, not the opinions of those around you who think they know better.  Abraham did the unthinkable because God told Him to do it, and God said.  "Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  God did the impossible in Jesus Christ, to save you, to show you His love, and to teach you to trust in Him.  Now it is your turn.  Now it is time for you to be faithful.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."

Trust in the Lord, and walk faithfully.  Then you may know with absolute certainty that the Lord will provide.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The "Evangelical" Ambush

Matthew 18:15-17 

    “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

     The passage from Matthew has been used as an informal guide to Christian confrontation for a long time.  It is not about man to man conversation, primarily.  It is about discipline in the Church.  Even so, it may serve as a useful guide when properly applied.
     It does not mean that when you want to talk with someone you may stand them up against a wall, so to speak, and scold them.  The “reprove him in private” (the King James Version says, “tell him his fault between thee and him alone”) is a conversation, not a lecture.
     As a pastor, I have been confronted by angry parishioners using this rubric to give the pastor “what for” and unburden their souls of whatever grievance they may imagine they have.  I am always happy when a parishioner comes to me with a concern and wishes to discuss it with me.  More often than not, however, I am met with a lecture.
     The tone of the address is hostile, possibly due to the nervousness of the speaker.  I am allowed no response.  I cannot explain the why and the what of the situation.  I cannot apologize.  I cannot address the misperceptions of the speaker, such as .”You were pointing this right at me!”, even when I had no thought of the individual when I spoke the offending words.
     I am instructed to stand quietly and allow the speaker “to get this off my chest.”  Every attempt to speak, explain, apologize or whatever is waved to silence with anger.  When I do squeeze in a comment like, “I was not speaking about you.  I was not even thinking of you when I spoke,” is met with, “I don’t believe you!”
My parishioner calls me a liar.  Then any other offense in history that comes to the mind of the speaker is heaped into the shame of the wrong that I have allegedly committed.  And when the speaker has vented their animus, they stalk off and refuse any conversation on the issue.
     While I may make a mistake now and again, the oft-repeated sneak attack typically demonstrates several things.  First, the attacker usually rejects the law.  They have been made to feel guilty and they don’t like it.  It does not work repentance, but an evil hostility.
     Second, the attacker usually comes from a small group in the congregation which regularly fields an assault on the pastor for his lack of sensitivity and supposed disrespect for them or some other group.  They hold themselves to no need for any sensitivity toward the pastor.  They demonstrate either a misunderstanding of the office of the Pastor or hatred for it.  Pastors are beneath contempt and consideration in their eyes.
     Third, the attacker makes it clear that their judgment must be above all others.  Only they can determine what must be preached, which sins need to be addressed, and when it is wrong to address any specific sin within the congregation. They presume to judge others and hold the pastor guilty of not addressing sins they see and are offended by - while totally unaware of what pastoral counsel and attention the sins they decry have actually received.
     Meanwhile, the assault on the pastor is seen as “taking it directly to the pastor as is right to do, and not gossiping around the congregation.”  The spirit of the conversation is wrong.  The judgment of the pastor is wrong.  Calling the pastor a liar when he speaks the truth, a truth one is not comfortable with, is wrong.  The ambush approach and denial of the right of the pastor to speak to the assault is wrong.  But the attacker has sanitized his or her conscience and cleared their mind of the issue, having “shared it” with the pastor, so even though almost nothing was right about the attack, somehow, the attacker feels that the right thing has been done, much to their satisfaction, a satisfaction evident in their demeanor as they depart the cite of the ambush.
     The evangelical ambush is one of the most trying forms of unbelief common in the Christian congregation.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Greed - The Scrooge

Matthew 16:24-26
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.  For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
This evening we must leave our mythical zoo to hunt out yet another sin.  There is no animal, however loathsome, which can serve as an appropriate symbol of the sin we will dissect tonight.  This sin is peculiar to man.  Only man could be so short-sighted, so grasping, so wretched.  And many men are.   Our Cardinal Sin tonight is greed.

Tonight we must wander through the murky shadows of ancient fiction in search of our symbol.   We must find a man who represents our Sin-of-the week clearly.  We could use Midas, of the golden touch, but . . . his problem was more being foolish than being greedy.  Then there was Cassius the Great whose greed was so well know that when he was captured in battle, the mode of execution used was to pour molten gold down his throat.  Nah, we can't use him.  He's not fictional, and his death is a better example of envy than greed.  Ahh . . .  Here he is.  Ebenezer Scrooge.  He was filthy rich, and disgustingly greedy.  He even deprived himself of the use of his wealth.  Now that is greedy.  Let us agree, tonight, to picture our sin of greed as the Scrooge.

Scrooge is a miser.  Did you ever notice that all you have to do is add a "Y" to the word miser and you have misery?  Misers are wretched people.  Greed makes one pinched in his personality, in his very being, not to mention making him a penny pincher.  While greed struts around claiming wealth, all that is really visible is poverty.  Scrooge may have the wealth, but he is not able to use any of it – not even on even himself, which makes him no better – and perhaps worse off-than the most impoverished person in town.

Greed claims to aim at wealth, at making the greedy one wealthy, but it really makes him poor.  Oh, the Scrooge may gather money, possessions, and the like, but he loses one form of wealth he started with.  The value of himself.  Greed gives wealth a false and high value, and robs the individual of real personal value.  Suddenly, the Scrooge is valued in terms of that which he possesses instead of who is or what he can do.  His humanity is cheapened even in his own eyes, and he measures his personhood and worth in terms of bits of paper, hunks of metal or things that he has collected.

Greed is idolatry.  It is the worship of money, or the worship of possession, or it is the worship of success.  We see it at work in our society today in our cults of celebrity.  We worship celebrity.  Their image will cause us to buy, to give money, to spend time.  And what is it about our celebrities we enjoy?  Their talent?  Their charm?  Their beauty?  No!  Their success.  It is the simple fact that they have made it that we worship.  We call success "the American dream."  We even boldly announce it as a virtue, "If you've got it, FLAUNT IT!"

Greed is defined as the inordinate love of things.  Inordinate means that it is not guided by a reasonable end in view.  We love things for the sake of loving things.   We don't love them to use them, or to accumulate them, or to profit by them, we just love them for the sake of loving them.  It is senseless, stupid.  You see, greed is not the love of possessions, but the love of possessing. 

What is the miser's favorite past-time but to count his money.  It isn't what the miser possesses that is important, it is how much, and the fact that HE is possessing it.  Scrooge fools himself by claiming to be rich.  He has amassed a fortune, but he is not rich.
But you wonder what this has to do with you.  Few of us know people who actually sit in  special room and count their money.  But that is not the only kind of greed.  We all know people who seem to have too much.  They have beyond what they or could even enjoy using.  Their joy comes from having the things not from using them, or enjoying them for themselves.  Each of us can probably look at our possessions and see things we have that we don't need, don't use, don't really want, but we won't part with them because they are "ours" and we enjoy the simple fact of possession.  We see it, and we want it, and we gotta have it, but when we have it, we have no use for it, but at least we possess it.

Or do we?

The trouble with greed is that, at a certain point, we don't possess the things, they possess us.  We can't give them up, even if we don't have any use for them.  The simple fact of possession has taken possession of us.  We find ourselves defined by what we have.  We become controlled by our possessions.  We even have names for some forms of possession by things.  The man or woman who seemingly has an endless wardrobe is called a "clothes horse."  The woman who has jewelry to spare so that she is always wearing too much is called a Christmas tree.  Those people are forced by their possessions to be identified by it.

Scrooge thinks he is rich.  Look at all he has.  He has become defined by his possessions.  The rich are not so.  The rich find their treasures insignificant.  The greedy hand every treasure right under your nose.  They find their value in having things.  The truly rich might hide a Rembrandt or a Renoir in a corner.  It is the fact that the aristocrat possesses something that gives that thing value.  With the greedy it is the fact that they possess the thing that gives them value.

The greedy man accumulates a fortune.  Webster defines a fortune as "a condition of life as determined by material possessions."  You see?  Even here, the owner is no longer in charge.  The possessions have taken over.  In the greedy pursuit of possessions, we lose possession of ourselves.  Greed denies the self and destroys the self in pursuit of the desired object.  We make ourselves of no value by defining ourselves on the basis of things which have no real value. 

And Greed isolates.  The cry of the greedy is I Possess!  And so greed has robbed us of our God, robbed us of our true worth, robbed us of ourselves, and isolated us from everyone around us.  Is it any wonder that Jesus says that the love of money is the root of all evils?

Look what part Greed played in the crucifixion of Jesus.  Judas was greedy.  He was interested only in fattening his purse.  He stole from the treasury, and when that didn't satisfy him he sold his friend, his teacher, and his Savior to those who wanted to kill him, for a measly thirty pieces of silver.  It was pure greed, Judas was the slave to his greed, and when it came to choosing Jesus or choosing to possess, Judas betrayed his Lord with a kiss of friendship.

Pilate was a slave to all that he had collected, his possessions, his power, his place in the government of Rome.  He knew that Jesus was innocent.  He could have turned Jesus loose, but it was easier, safer to put him to death.  The other, the just course might have cost him something, but killing Jesus seemed perfectly safe.

Jesus had challenged the authority of the Scribes and the Pharisees.  He had pointed out their dishonesty, their hypocrisy.  If this continued they could all be ruined.  If this Jesus turned out to really be the Messiah, they reasoned they would all lose out.  Especially the High Priest.  He would not be High Priest, the Messiah would.  And if Jesus upset the status quo, the Romans might take away his wealth and power.  Controlled by their greed, these all played their parts to bring Jesus to the bitter death on the cross, a death he died to free them from the power of the sins – yes, even that of greed.

You know, I just realized something!  I am greedy!  And most of you are too!  We live in an age of greed.  But what can we do?  What is the cure for our greed?

The beginning of the cure is here in Matthew 16:24-26.  Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.  For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
The cure is the realization that all of our things cannot save us.  We are more than the simple sum of our possessions.  We have a soul, and there is no price we can pay for that soul.  If we lose it, even though we own the entire earth, we cannot buy it back, because the One who deals in souls will not accept that currency.

But the situation is not hopeless.  There is a currency that he will accept.  But it isn't one you can buy, accumulate, or earn here on earth.  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  It is the forgiveness of sins, paid in the currency of the blood of the Son of God.  And that currency is available only as a gift.

But he who will have it must follow Jesus.  He must deny himself and take up his cross.  Since the Scrooges of this world define themselves in terms of their possessing of things, they must surrender those possessions.  They must give up the love of owning for the sake of simply having.  If they try to hang on, if they try to spare their possessions–even to the possession we call life – they will lose eternity.  For us, nothing can be in the category called "anything but this."  If it is, the Scrooge is us will drag us to Hell.
But the one who, as St.  Paul says, counts all but loss for the sake of Jesus, that one shall see his life saved, his soul purchased with the price in the only currency God accepts.

The greedy man thinks he is rich, he has gained the world.  But God asks, what is the profit if he loses his own soul?  Then everything is lost.  But the man or woman who can surrender all for Jesus is not poor, no matter how it may look to another, for he has eternity, he has life, he has forgiveness, and he has been made a fellow-heir with Christ in all that He will receive from the father on the last day, which is everything!

Two men have great possessions.  One is Scrooge, the other is a Child of God.  How can you tell them apart?  Give them a decision between this wealth or God.  A Child of God is always ready to let go of everything for the sake of God.  Scrooge is always ready to let go of God for the sake of anything.  God grant that you are all made rich in the acceptable currency–and watch out for Scrooge, for Christ's sake.