Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wednesday in Lent 2 OT - What others said

My dear friend, Reverend Steve Schave, posted this on Facebook on Wednesday about the Genesis reading:

Knowing what it is to suffer the death of a son... Then to be blessed for the next several years with the births of my three beautiful daughters... Then at the end of childbearing to have our only son, who now lives and is a young man. I know of no more powerful Gospel than that of the Old Testament reading from today's Treasury of Daily Prayer:
Genesis 22:7-8  And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
 Mt Calvary, is the fulfillment of this place where "the Lord provides," because it is here that the Father did not withhold His son, His only son, from me... to save me. I cannot even begin to comprehend this sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, that was made for me, a sinner.

Thursday in Lent 2 - OT and Gospel

Sometimes it feels like God is giving us the silent treatment.  Other times He practically interrupts us in the middle of our prayers by answering them.  "Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear" (Isaiah 65:24).  These are the experiences of Abraham's servant and of the Canaanite women.  And they are our experiences as well.  But no matter how long He takes, we have this promise - "the LORD hears when I call to Him" (Psalm 4:3, which happened to be brought into my day by the 5th and 6th Grade class' religion workbook.)

For more on today's readings, here is what I wrote about it back on 2010:

In his podcast on depression, Rev. Todd Pepperkorn has an excellent devotion on Mark 7:24-30 (actually Matthew 15's parallel passage) titled, "When God doesn't seem to care"

I'd like to connect this same text to what he posted today ("Abandonment and the Pastor"). Our church's 3 year lectionary last Sunday (Luke 13:34) brought us Jesus weeping over Jerusalem's unbelief. Like the woman in Mark 7:24f, the church weeps as she sees the devil have his way with her children. We pray and pray, and it can feel like we are getting the silent treatment from the Lord. Yet Mark 7:24-30 assures us that the Lord does hear. And so we confidently pray such words as the Prayer on Thursday in theTreasury of Daily Prayer (p. 1308), knowing that the gates of Hell will not overcome the Lord's Church, for the same God who answered Abraham's servant (Genesis 24:12-14) will answer our prayer as well.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Homily - Lent 2c, Luke 13:31-35

            The Pharisees make it sound like they want to help Jesus out.  “Get away from here while you still can.  Herod wants to kill you.”  Of course, the Pharisees had been scheming for a year to do the same thing to Jesus.  They just could not agree on when and how to get it done. 
            Did Herod Antipas really want to kill Jesus?  We do not know for sure, but it would be consistent with the usual ways that family handled things - from his dad who slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem when Jesus was born, to Herod Antipas and his adulterous wife Herodias and that nasty beheading of John the Baptist, to his nephew Herod Agrippa who had the Apostle James executed and Peter imprisoned about a decade after Jesus ascended.  But the Pharisees could have just been lying to scare Jesus into leaving town and getting out of their hair.
            However, Jesus did not come to save His own skin.  He came to save yours – and He is determined to do it.  He will not be scared away.  He says, “Go and tell that old fox that I still have work to do… and on the third day I will finish My course.”  On the third day – so much important stuff in the Bible happens on the third day.  Jesus knew what was in store for Him at Jerusalem the next time Passover comes up.  He had already predicted it, that He would suffer, die, and on the third day rise to life again.  Death threats from two-bit kings did not worry Jesus.
            He is the Lord, so He lays down His life on His own terms.  When the crowd in Nazareth wanted to throw Him off the cliff, Jesus slipped through their hands without a scratch.  He goes to Jerusalem, the Lord’s holy city, and He knows His own people will put Him to death there.  They would not have any power over Him if it had not been given to them.  And you know that is the whole reason the Son of God was born to us on earth – so that He could die on earth for us to defeat our death.  He will be slain at the hands of sinners for the forgiveness of sin.  He will be laid in the grave to burst its stone cold grip.  When the going gets tough, or when we know that people will be ungrateful for our help we give to them, we often times have wanted to give up, pack up and go home.  But Jesus is determined to finish what He came to do.  No matter how dangerous it will get.
            Jesus explains that He is our refuge, our protective hiding place.  And not only the Protector for some good people – He is here to be the Protector for all people, even Herod, the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, and all who had a hand in putting Jesus to death.  You can hear the sorrow and grief in God’s voice as He cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
            The picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd is better known, but God’s love is every bit as tender in this picture of a mother hen with her helpless and vulnerable chicks under her wings – while birds of prey soar overhead, hungry beasts prowl around in search of an easy meal, and all sorts of other dangers lurk around every corner.  The only line of defense between the threats and the chicks is mother hen’s wings.  She is willing to give herself for the life of her chicks. 
            Likewise Jesus covers you to protect you from Satan.  In Psalms 17, 36, and 57, the Holy Spirit gives us these words to pray – “Hide me in the shadow of Your wings, O Lord.”  And just like the hen shields her offspring by offering her own back as a target for the predator, so also Jesus “gave His back to those who strike” (Isaiah 50:6) so that you and I would be protected from Death and the Devil devouring our faith.  That is why the prophets like Jeremiah warned the people.  That is why the Apostles took this message of Jesus far and wide – even under death threats from their enemies.  And it is why Jesus Himself spreads His arms wide on the Cross – so that we find refuge and protection under His wings. 
            But then we hear Christ’s heartbreaking words – “And you were not willing.”  And you have that heartbreak too as you think about the people you love who want absolutely nothing to do with Christ and walk away from Him or speak angrily against Him.  Jesus wants only to shelter and love us, to forgive and save us from Hell.  But many want nothing to do with that.  They leave the protection of Christ to indulge in the pleasures of sin without regard to the dangers to themselves, or consequences for those around them.  They expose themselves to the ravenous appetite of Satan and face death all on their own. 
            You can also see this play out in the history of Jerusalem.  The city that rejected Jesus will watch helplessly years later as their city was forsaken.  In 70 AD, the Romans tear Jerusalem’s Temple down.  The mound where that Temple sat is now the location of a mosque.  The land around the city is used for deadly target practice by the enemies of the Jewish people.  And again we hear the sorrow of Jesus, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” 
            That sorrow for those who reject Him in a major way is also warning for us.  Do not presume on the mercies of God.  Do not sin on purpose today and then say to yourself that you will just repent next Sunday.  You do not even have a hold on tomorrow.  Now is all you have.  Now is the time.  Now is the day of your salvation.  Now is the moment of repentance.  Those tears that Jesus shed over Jerusalem He also sheds over the people of His church too, whenever you or I neglect His preaching, whenever we reject God’s eternal Word in favor of our own temporary opinions. 
            The Spirit of Christ seeks to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep us in true faith.  If you or I are left out of the party, we have no one to blame except ourselves.  Do not blame God.  “And you were not willing.” 
            Left on our own, we are not willing.  Our wills must be broken or we will never want to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus on the way of death to Resurrection.  Lent calls us to return to the Lord our God so that we can discover again that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger against our sin and abounding in forgiveness and love.  Return to the Lord and see the Son of God rise upon you with healing in His wings and salvation from your sin.  Return to the Lord so that God’s will may be done in our lives as we believe His Word by His grace, and live godly lives according to it. 
            God wills to gather you into safety.  God wills to deliver and protect you from all evil.  God wills to keep us firm in this true faith until we die.  God wills to keep your end from being destruction, and so He warns you against finding glory in shameful sin.  And God wills for you and me to wait for the second coming of our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21) – even to subject to Himself His own rejection and death at the hands of men, which the Lord has turned into the power of your Resurrection.  Amen.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Homily - Lent 1C, Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

(many of the thoughts came from this sermon by Rev Timothy Pauls)

            Sometimes at Church you hear a Scripture passage and wonder what it has to do with your life.  Not today, as we hear of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness each year on the First Sunday in Lent.  You and I face temptations.  Constantly.  And so listening to Jesus oppose our temptations for us and our salvation is a good thing.
            Many of your temptations revolve around the things that you have, or do not have.  Today’s Old Testament is both a warning and a blessing in reminding us that everything that you and I have is a gift from God.  Six times in 11 verses God is said to be giving land and crops to Israel.  Moses is teaching about worshipping the Lord in thanksgiving.  There is nothing they would possess without His blessing.  When the Israelites brought their firstfruits to the Lord, they were to praise Him saying, “A wandering Aramean was my father.”  Without the Lord’s blessing, their ancestor Jacob would have remained just a drifting traveler who never amounted to anything and would probably have died in a famine.  But God provided.  The words they were given to say at worship acknowledge that everything that they have was undeserved gift.  Likewise, we often begin our services by saying, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You, and justly deserve Your temporal and eternal punishment.”  With those words, we are saying that everything good that we have is an undeserved gift from God.
            Moses commanded an offering of firstfruits.  Before the people enjoyed the full harvest, they were to take a portion of the best of their crops and offer it back to God.  Note that this is not a bribe to buy God’s favor and grease His palm, so to speak.  The reason they had firstfruits to offer was because God had already given them His favor.
            And so it goes with our own church offerings.  The nuts-and-bolts reason for the offering is that while God’s grace in Christ is free, it does take money to run the furnace and pay the electric bill.  We financially support the spread of the Gospel.  Not just here among us, but around the world.   We do it so that people will be told that God raised Jesus from the dead and they learn to call on the name of the Lord with us and be saved (Romans 10, Epistle) – even as past generations of Christians gave offerings that made it possible for you to hear the Gospel and be saved.  The Gospel reason is that Christ has set us free from sinful doubts so that we trust that God has given us more money than we need to for ourselves – and that the Lord will provide tomorrow as well.  Our discipline of giving further impresses upon us the truth that everything we have is a gift of God.  Giving it away reminds us that money is not an idol to cling to.
            But you know how the Devil uses all of those “daily bread” sort of gifts – from food to clothes to cars and medical care - to provoke covetousness, jealousy, discontentment and doubt.  He exploits them as false evidence that God is no use to you.  When you lack the things you would like, the Devil will suggest, “Are you really sure that you are a child of God?  It seems like you should have more good stuff if you were.  Maybe God does not care about you.”  And when you happen to suffer misfortune, then the Devil tempts you to drop God and set off on your own.  On the other hand, when times are good for you, the Devil tries to seduce you all the way to Hell, saying, “Look at all the things you have gotten for yourself.  You did this without any help!”  Left unrepented, these sinful thoughts would lead to flat out unbelief that imagines you do not need God.  Why deal with annoying commandments and God’s talk about sin and grace if you get by on your own? 

           Whether the Devil attempts to get you to doubt God, hate God, or see no need for God, underneath all those tactics is that one ultimate goal – to destroy your faith in Christ.  And material things are some of the most useful for his temptations – because you can see the things you have.  You cannot see your Savior Jesus, and the thing in your hands seems so much more real than a Savior you trust by faith.
            However, to all these temptations, you can respond with Jesus today, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD!” (Matthew 4:4).  By the word that comes from the mouth of the Lord, you know that Jesus has taken His place with sinners, for you.  Immediately after He was baptized at the Jordan River, Christ was tempted in the wilderness – not only with the physical comfort of food when His tummy was growling, but He was also tempted to pride and power, idolatry and the testing of God as St. Luke tells us.  Tempted continuously for 40 days by the Devil.  As the Son of God, He should have everything.  However, as the
Lord come to save sinners, He has laid aside His glory, humbling Himself.  And with nothing in His hands, He faces Satan’s tempting accusations, “If you are the Son of God… but are you sure?”  All that Jesus sees would gives false testimony against His sonship.  However, Jesus goes with what He has heard when the Father said, “You are My beloved Son.”  He has heard His Father say, “In You I am well pleased,” and so Jesus knows all His work to save us has His Father’s blessing, even while He is weak and alone facing the Devil’s deceitful attacks.
            You have heard the words that come from the mouth of the Lord, and so by that word, you know that Jesus resisted perfectly.  By the word of the Lord, you are told that Jesus gave you the credit for it – as if you have been perfectly obedient to His Father.  That word declares to you that God’s Son died in your place – not by falling from the top of the Temple, but by being lifted up on the tree of death outside of Jerusalem.  That word tells you to be certain that there is no condemnation against you for any of your sins
because you are in Christ Jesus.  No matter who else might tell you or not tell you that they love you this Valentine’s Day, God’s word tells you today and every day that He loves you in Christ Jesus, and that neither death nor life nor anything in all of Creation can separate you from that love.
            The Lord speaks His Word personally to you, so that you can be sure that He cares for you as one of His children – because He said to you the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!”  As the Father called Jesus His beloved Son at His baptism, so the Father has also declared you to be His beloved child at yours.  And God speaks His word to tell you that His favor for you has not changed – each time He declares, “I forgive you for all your sins!”  As long as you are in this wilderness, you know that you are not forsaken.  The Lord is with you, near you, as near as His Word – so near as to give you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  God’s word promises these works of salvation for us – a grace that is far greater than the great deeds, signs and wonders that He performed to free His people from Egypt; for by His Word, God has freed you from sin, death, and Hell.  Eternally.
            Everything you have is a gift from God.  An undeserved gift.  As long as the Devil tempts you and me, that will be tough to believe all the time.  Yet no matter whether God gives you to be a steward of many things or few in this life, you have the Word of the Lord which promises that you are a child of God.  That is why you live by every Word that comes from the mouth of the God Who has forgiven you for all of your sins.  Amen.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saturday after Ash Wednesday - from Yesteryear

I'm busy working on sermon for tomorrow morning, but I re-discovered what I wrote in 2010, and I think it is pretty insightful weaving the readings together.  Check it out. (Oh, and I know now who was responsible for the Psalm selections.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ash Wednesday - Mark 1

Mark says the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begins in the wilderness.  That is appropriate, because that is where you and I are at.  You do not need me to tell you this is not Paradise.  You have known that since long before the first time you complained to your mommy that life was not fair.  The Bible lets us know that in fact there was a time when life was fair - and more than that, filled only with goodness.  But we lost that through no fault of God's.  And so now we wander around outside of Paradise through a spiritual wasteland, a wilderness filled with wild things and wild people.  And the evidence of where we are at being wrong piles up like dead bodies.
However, the Scriptures let us know that being in the wilderness is not as bad a place to be as it could be.  Because God is there.  He does some of His best work in the wilderness.  Jacob is turned by God into His Israel through the wrestlings in the wilderness.  From Egypt He took a bunch of slaves who had divided loyalties and in the wilderness God made them to be His faithful people.  In the wilderness He taught David and opened his mouth so that David could teach us that the Lord is our Shepherd.  In the wilderness God shook Elijah out of his pity-party that "celebrated" his utter "failure" as a prophet and let Elijah know that there were in fact 7000 preserved who had not bowed down to Baal.  
And then into that wilderness Jesus goes - to stand shoulder to shoulder with sinners at His baptism, and then to face His temptation.  Because that is where you are, and where I am, facing our temptations.  
As we enter the wilderness of Lent, we become a bit more aware in this penitential season of the beastliness of our sin.  We have grown too accustom to it, and even convinced ourselves that we have tamed our wickedness.  Your Lord knows, however, how dangerous your sin is, that it can never be domesticated.  Christ has released us from its jaws, yet He knows better than we do that it is ready to sink its lethal teeth into you again without any warning. 
Yea, though we walk through this shadow of Lent opening up our eyes to our deadly sin, we shall fear no evil.  For the Lord is with us.  And He does some of His best work in the wilderness.  The question for us this Lent is - are we interested in the Lord working on us?  Are we looking to improve ourselves in just minor ways?  Do we just want to limp along in survival mode day to day?

Or do we really desire the Lord to resurrect us?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

February 9 - John 3 on the Doorway to Lent

I've been encouraged by a friend to dust off the blog and get back to writing for this.  So here we go.
As far as I can tell, February 9 will not be the day before Ash Wednesday again in my lifetime, but John 3 seems like an extremely fitting text on which to leave Epiphany and enter Lent.  Nicodemus, in the darkness, has the Light of the World revealed to Him.  As we follow Jesus to the darkness of Good Friday, He will be revealed to be the Son of God given by the Father to save us from perishing when He is lifted up on a pole like the bronze serpent of Moses.

(Oh, and I always feel bad about leaving Job where he is at in the middle of the story in the Treasury.  Some years I've added the end of his saga to my daily Lenten devotions just to get to his salvation.  Or at least chapter 19.  I wonder if we get to the end of Job in 2038.)