Thursday, November 30, 2006

Andrew, Apostle

What would things have been like if it hadn’t been for Andrew? The most well-known of the twelve apostles is Peter. He was always the one speaking first, making things happen, sticking his foot in his mouth. He became the leader of the apostles and was not afraid to step into the spotlight.

But if it hadn’t been for his brother, how might have things been different? Andrew was the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. Who knows, Peter might have remained a fisherman the rest of his life if it hadn’t been for his brother. We don’t hear much else about Andrew. But God certainly used him in a wonderful way. Jesus called his brother Peter and him to be apostles. Whether we become well known like Peter or hardly anything is known about us at all like Andrew, we can be grateful that our Lord uses us for the furthering of His Gospel.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What Are We by Nature?

Do the Scriptures teach original sin? Nearly all Christians recognize that we sin. We daily commit acts of sin against God. But are we born into sin? Are we sinful by nature in addition to committing particular acts of sin?

Jesus may very well be shedding some light on this matter when He says to the Pharisees as they try to shut up the disciples who are hailing Him as the Messiah on Palm Sunday. He says that if they remain quiet even the stones will cry out. We would all agree that it is not in the nature of stones to cry out, let alone do anything, being as they are inanimate objects. But the fact that our Lord could bring an act of life and praise to the rocks that line the way shows us yet again what kind of a God we have—one who brings life to our souls and praise to our lips even though we are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Having Your Head in the Clouds

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

We probably all know someone who has their head in the clouds. They often seem to be daydreaming or simply seem to be out of touch with reality. Dear friends in Christ, this is us—we have our head in the clouds. Ask anyone you know who doesn’t believe in Jesus about the three Scripture readings today and they’ll probably think you believe in a fairy tale if you really believe the stuff that’s in there. And we have to admit, it’s some pretty strange stuff.

These Scripture readings give us fanciful descriptions of God and His reign and the end times and seem preposterous to many. But if we can get our head in the clouds to see what these descriptions are showing us, we’ll actually have a very practical outlook on our life.

One thing common to all three readings is the description of Jesus coming with the clouds. This suggests to us that we can’t be so quick to bring things “down to earth”. We must remember that this is not our true home. Heaven is our home. We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. We belong here, yes, because God has placed us here. But this is not where we ultimately belong.

Having our head in the clouds the way the Bible leads us to will give us three practical ways to put our lives into perspective and help us live day to day. The first is that we must truly have our head in the clouds but never deny the life God has given us on this earth. We live in this world and we must not fall into the trap of thinking that just because something is physical or temporal means that it’s bad.

It’s true that the greatest blessings of God are spiritual and eternal. But He has just as readily given us many good things in this life to use for enjoyment and our benefit. We can rejoice in the good things God has given us in this life. We can and should enjoy our family and friends, the material possessions we have, nature and all its wonders, the abilities we have, the many exciting things we enjoy doing whether it’s art or games or hobbies.

And since He gives these things to us so that we may benefit from them we should remember that they are for the benefit of everyone. So we shouldn’t just use them for ourselves. We should rejoice also in using them for the benefit of others and help them see how they are good gifts from God.

The second way we should have our head in the clouds is by looking forward instead of constantly in the present. Yes, we may enjoy the blessings of this life but we mustn’t get caught up in them. We should see them and use them for what they are—blessings God gives to us for our benefit and the benefit of others. We must also remember, though, that we are here today and gone tomorrow. We don’t know how long we have in this life. Everything we have on this earth we will lose when our life comes to an end.

So we must look to the clouds. That’s where Jesus will return. We must always be aware that He could come at any moment. We must always remember that He wants to take us to our true home, heaven. If we lose sight of that we could lose heaven forever. Enjoying the things of this life doesn’t mean forgetting about what is to come, where God is taking us once our life here comes to an end.

And this leads us to the third way we Christians have our head in the clouds. It’s kind of a melding of the first two. We have our head in the clouds when we are mindful of where we’re going and where we are while realizing why we’re here. We know where God wants us to be—heaven—but we also know that there’s a purpose for why He wants us here for the present.

The purpose is described most beautifully in the three Scripture readings with images of people from all nations, thousands upon thousands giving glory to the one Lord and Savior. How will people know if we ignore our ultimate destination and just live for today, enjoying life as it comes but never looking beyond this life? How will they know if we ignore why we’re here on this earth while we wait for that day of our Lord’s Return? If we’re always looking ahead and forgetting that there’s life to live now, people to love now, the Gospel to share now, then we’ll just have our head in the clouds but no Christ in those clouds.

When Christ was hanging on the cross with His death imminent, the clouds seemed to make a statement about why Christ was hanging there suffering. The clouds darkened the sky and everything spiritual and eternal Christ had proclaimed and pointed to seemed to be snuffed out in the darkness. But it was in the darkness of the covering of those clouds that the brightness of God’s love showed through. The clouds may have darkened the skies over Him; the tomb may have enclosed His lifeless body; all may have seemed in vain, both spiritual and physical things; but God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ. All was not lost.

And just as on Easter Sunday the sun rose in the east, so the Son of Man rose victoriously from His grave. Just as the clouds gave way to a brightness that fills the world with light and warmth, so the Son of God has ascended into heaven, being covered with the clouds, to reign on high forever and having a very personal involvement with your life and mine. He is interceding for us. He is blessings in every spiritual way, giving us strength that we may have our head in the clouds.

For those clouds that covered Him up will reveal Him to the world on the Last Day. On that day we will join with the thousands and millions who are even now in pure glory giving all honor and praise to the God Most High. Amen.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful For...

God who created all good things for our use and enjoyment and for us to use to the benefit of others.

Who gave us His greatest gift of all in His Son Jesus Christ who humbled Himself to become a man. To be born, to suffer and die, and who lives forever having been raised from the grave. Who intercedes for us and will return to take us home to be with Him in heaven.

And who also has given us His Holy Spirit, who has brought us into the eternal family of God through Baptism and who sustains us with the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith in the Holy Supper of Christ. And who will give us life on the Last Day when our bodies will be raised and we will know what eternal and full thanksgiving is.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blessing the Lord

Day of Special Thanksgiving
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Everybody knows what “thanksgiving” is. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we have a national holiday called Thanksgiving and we get a day off and eat a lot of food and watch a lot of football. Or do a lot of shopping. (Different people are thankful for different things.) But even people who aren’t naturally grateful know what it means to be thankful.

But there’s an aspect to thanksgiving that we’d miss entirely if it weren’t for the Bible. Even though Thanksgiving Day isn’t an actual festival in the Church Year, Christians have more reason to be thankful than anyone. As abundant as God’s gifts to us are in this life, His eternal blessings do not compare. We aren’t able to give enough thanks to our gracious God.

But even though that’s true, that still tends not to be the reason we don’t give Him enough thanks. No, it’s usually along the lines of us taking things for granted. But maybe we also don’t realize fully what giving thanks is. The Bible shows us that there’s much more to it than simply being grateful.

Does it strike you as odd that the Old Testament reading says that the Israelites will bless the Lord? When it comes to God, we usually hear of and talk of Him blessing us. Why would He need to be blessed? Discovering what it means for us to bless the Lord opens up a new dimension for us of thanksgiving than simply being grateful for the things He gives us. The promise in the Old Testament to the people of God entering the Promised Land is this: “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.”

This is really interesting because the only reason they were entering the Promised Land was because the Lord was blessing them. He was the one that saved them and brought them into the Promised Land. He blessed them abundantly.

And this is what God does. This is what we’re used to. This is what we have come to know from God. He is the God of blessing; of helping His children and giving them His gifts.

And we’re the ones who give Him thanks for that, of course. We express our gratefulness to Him.

But how do we do that? Do we just say “Thank You”? Or is there more to it than that? Much more, in fact? Yes, there has to be. God who has given us all the abundant riches of His grace and mercy can’t be used by us only in the simple telling Him of our thanks.

So the Bible says that we also bless Him. We give to Him the highest glory. We don’t just acknowledge and appreciate His goodness, we live our lives in such a way that others see He is the center of our life and the reason for it. We bless Him in everything we do.

We do things not just because they are what we want to do but because God has given us holy lives to live in honor of Him and that will be of benefit to others. Without His blessing us we have nothing of eternal value. By His blessing us we live blessed lives that show forth His glory and lovingkindness, not our own pride.

It’s a different way of seeing who we are. People who are loved so much by God He would save them in order to bring them into an abundant land. People God cares enough about that He would send His very own Son to be born into the perils of childbirth and the rough life of ancient times. People God wants to bless in that very own Son in His even further humiliation by suffering our guilt and sin in our place.

How can we simply say “thank you” to such abundant blessings? We can’t. We see more and more in Scripture that this abundant love of God overflows into our hearts and minds and we become people who are not simply grateful, but people who bless their Lord. Just hear some of the ways the Bible shows us how we do this:

With [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. [James 3:9]

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? [1 Corinthians 10:16]

And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” [Matthew 21:9]

Jesus said: “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” [Matthew 23:39]

Luke says of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist: “And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.” [Luke 1:64]

And of Simeon, who took the infant Jesus “up in his arms and blessed God.” [Luke 2:28]

And the disciples after the ascension of Jesus “were continually in the temple blessing God.” [Luke 24:53]

God certainly gives us abundant blessings in this life and we can enjoy to our heart’s content tomorrow the football, the shopping, and the good meals we share. But the best thing of all is the day after and every day of our lives we may bless the Lord who has blessed us abundantly in Christ. Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Man's Work

Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Daniel 12:1-3

I suppose in this day and age you have to be careful about how you describe things and people, but work with me on the assumption that there’s no intention here to be chauvinistic. There are certain things that are a man’s work. And it’s good when men step up to do that work.

Picture Eve in the Garden of Eden. All things are at her disposal. She has a husband who treasures her above all other things, even though God has given him dominion over the earth. Eve is truly content, knowing that all of her needs are provided for with a gracious God who has given everything to her.

But she is on her own when Satan tempts her. She is beguiled by the picture he paints before her eyes—maybe she doesn’t have everything she needs after all. What is wrong with this situation is that there is no man to step in and do the man’s work. Oh he was there. Adam saw what was happening to his wife. But he didn’t do anything. He didn’t be a man. He let his wife be taken advantage of.

Or what about Bathsheba? Where was there a man to protect her in her time of need? Oh wait, he was the one that violated her. David, the man who was charged with the duty of taking care of the people of his kingdom, was the one who abused his authority in the absence of Bathsheba’s husband, the one charged with taking care of her. When Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was called to active duty he trusted that Bathsheba would be in good hands back home. David, like Adam, backed out of his man’s work that God had given him to do.

And what do you think possessed Peter to shirk his duty to protect the flock of God by guarding them against false doctrine? He was a afraid to stand up and be a man. He was more concerned about what people would think of him so he traded the Gospel for respect of people. Like Adam and David, his selfish actions ended up hurting others. People were led to believe that if you eat certain foods you will be gaining favor with God. This caused some who were weak in faith to wonder if they could really be saved by what Christ has done or if they needed to get their act together and be better than they were.

We could go on and on with examples of men of God who didn’t do the man’s work God had called them to do. But what does this have to do with Daniel and the angel Michael and the Old Testament reading for today? It’s this: God has given us men to do His work, but we must not rely on the men themselves. Because they continue to shirk their responsibility. They fall short. They don’t always step in and do the “man’s work”—the work God has given them to do.

We must rely on God Himself. In the case of the situation described in the Old Testament reading God doesn’t even send a man. He sends an angel! An angel is not a physical being, but a spirit being. Angels are not men or women, they are angels, beings sent by God to help us out. And boy do we need help. Because there’s a lot of men who aren’t doing the man’s work.

Every human being is a sinner. Every person falls short. Let’s his own desires or cowardice get the best of him. We can’t rely on men, or any human being. We must rely on God. He gives a powerful prince, the archangel Michael. He is not of this world and he will fight against the spiritual forces of Satan, as we see described in Revelation:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Since we are so frail as the saints who went before us, men like Adam, David, and Peter, it’s good for us to know that God has His army of angels fighting for us. Paul reminds us that it is not flesh and blood we fight against but against the very principalities of darkness. And is it any wonder things are so difficult for us Christians? We not only have our sinful flesh waging war against us, Satan and his minions are constantly on the attack as well.

The Old Testament reading gives the warning: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” That’s why we need to know that we’re not alone. That we who cannot overcome spiritual powers on our own are surrounded by an army of angels of the Most High God.

But even here, do we find our salvation? Is our ultimate hope found in Michael; in the other angels? No, it’s still a man’s work that needs to be done. Michael is great. Gabriel is fantastic. God gave them to us for our help. But ultimately, that’s what they are: help. Michael is the prince of the people of God. We need the king. We need more than angels.

The word angel means “messenger”. That’s the greatest thing angels do for us. They point us to the King. They bring the message to us that He is the Savior. Satan wants to deter us from that message so the angels also fight for us. But is there any man who will step up to actually defeat Satan, to bring about our salvation, to give us true hope?

Yes, there is. And we know who it is. The Old Testament reading goes on to say about those Michael is fighting for (the people of God): “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” You might say, “Well, it doesn’t say Jesus, and it doesn’t even say God.” That’s true, it doesn’t say that. But the Bible does say that there is only one man who has risen from the dead to never die again. And that is Jesus.

There really is man’s work to be done, so God did it Himself. He became a man. And He did what a man should do, He actually took care of those entrusted to His care. Michael may be responsible for writing the names of the people in the Book of Life, but they aren’t in there because he’s a such a great warrior. There’s only one man who can get you into the Book of Life, the Man who conquered death and Satan. He did this by His death and resurrection.

Jesus in the Gospel reading describes in detail how bad things get. On a large scale, of course, we see this. Dictators continue to be relentless. Government leaders who are supposed to serve others at times serve themselves at our expense. And we always notice the tragedies of storms and other physical disasters. We can’t prevent these things from happening. We’re mere men. Even the angels can’t prevent these things from happening. They can fight for us and help us, but there’s only one who is the true ever present help in time of trouble, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The signs of the times cause us to fear and be unnerved. As the Epistle reading reminds us, we ought to be vigilant as we see the Day drawing near. Even on a small scale, in our own lives, we see how things get worse. Why can’t we kick our bad habits? Why do we continue to worry? Why do we treat people the way we do? All of this points to the unmistakable fact that once you die, you stand before the Judgment Throne of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament explains it simply: “And those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Even before Jesus Christ came in the flesh and died on the cross and rose from the grave, the Bible gave the prophecy of the resurrection of all the dead. There is no “nothing” after you die. There is resurrection from the dead and Judgment. Those who have already been written in the Book of Life will hear the judgment confirmed—Welcome into My Father’s eternal mansion. Those who rejected Christ as the only Savior from sin will be told of their judgment: shame and everlasting contempt.

There’s no doubt that this is something we’d rather not have to hear. Why is God’s judgment upon unbelievers eternal damnation? Can’t He cut them some slack? That would undo everything Christ did in taking eternal Judgment upon Himself. He has already accomplished salvation, those who don’t want it cannot blame God. What happens to unbelievers is a warning, and we pray that people will heed it.

God wants us to know the Gift that He gives in His Son, the work of the man Jesus Christ. “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” These words from the Old Testament are a precursor to the Words of Christ Himself in the New Testament: when Jesus described Judgment Day and welcomed the sheep into heavenly glory because they fed Him when He was hungry, clothed Him when He was naked, and visited Him when He was sick, they didn’t understand what He was talking about. When did we do those things to you, Lord? When they had done it to the least of His brothers they had done it to Him.

The very fact that they were unaware of this “condition” of being saved shows that there is only one thing that must be met in order for those who are saved to be saved—what Christ Himself has accomplished in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. And this is truly a man’s work. But not just any man. Not just anyone. Certainly not us ourselves. But the work of the one Man, Jesus Christ. Yes, He sends angels to help us. And for that we are grateful. But above all God our Father has sent us His very own Son. Begotten of Him and born of a virgin. To live, suffer, and die that we may live. Raised from the dead, He lives forever as our Lord and Savior, the man who is at the same time God Almighty. Amen.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why Was Jesus Born?

We all love Christmas. We love celebrating the birth of Christ. And it’s wonderful, of course. But when you think about Jesus’ birth, do you ever spend time thinking about why Jesus was born? Really meditating on that fact. As great as the birth of Jesus is, there is a distinct reason why.

That reason is maybe given most clearly in the Creed. Have you ever noticed how quickly the sequence of events goes in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed? He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. We have His conception, His birth, and then it jumps right to the events of His Passion, His suffering and death.

There is the reason He was born. He was born to die. It’s striking that we have His birth and His life and Ministry not referred to but rather a jump right to His suffering and death. His life and Ministry is of course included in His birth. The fact that He was born and then suffered and died confesses that He also lived, accomplishing what we are unable to do: live in perfect righteousness under God’s Law. But it is His suffering and death that is the focal point of His life and Ministry. What He came to do was die for the sins of the world. As He hung on the cross He cried out: “It is finished.” It is accomplished. Salvation has come to completion. He came in order to die on that cross so that life may be given to the world.

Something to think about as we prepare to enter Advent and our preparation for the celebration of His birth.

Monday, November 13, 2006

God Serving Us

We usually think of worship as our action. And there it truth to that. We do, after all, do things in worship. But when you take a look at what actually happens in worship is has a lot more to do with what God does than what we do. He actually serves us. All the stuff we do is in response to His love for us that He gives us in the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Lord's Supper. God served us by sending His only-begotten Son to live and die and rise from the grave. This is how He saved us. In worship the Holy Spirit delivers forgiveness to us. The introduction to the hymnal Lutheran Worship expresses well what worship is:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.

Saying back to Him what He has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His Name, which He put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where His Name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words He has used to make Himself known to us.

The rhythm of our worship is from Him to us, and then from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink. Finally His blessing moves us out into our calling, where His gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from His Word and from the way His Word has prompted His worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day—the living heritage and something new.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Providence of God

Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year
Commitment Sunday
Sunday, November 12, 2006
1 Kings 17:8-16

The prophet of the Lord who feeds God’s people with the Word of God needs to be fed as well. So the Lord provides for him. But how is a widow who is unable to feed herself and her son able to feed the Lord’s prophet as well? Ah, but here is where we see that it is truly the Lord that is providing.

And maybe that is the thing we most need to hear when it comes to things like Commitment Sunday, and stewardship, and the giving of our time, talents, and treasure. Because when it comes to things our Lord calls us to do we’re more likely to look at all the facts standing in the way. Things that won’t make it possible for the Lord to provide for us. You know, we need to be realistic. Frugal, not go beyond our means.

A widow who can’t feed herself and her son? You’ve got to be kidding. And now you put another person there in the mix? It is seems a horrible twist of fate for that poor woman and her son.

And what about the picture of our Gospel reading? A widow who can only put in two small coins as an offering? Why does she even bother? How is a church supposed to be run on such measly amounts of money? What she put in the offering won’t make a difference at all in the on-going upkeep of the church.

But what does our Old Testament reading begin with? With the Word of the Lord. God tells Elijah to go out of his comfort zone into Sidon, a place where people aren’t accustomed to others telling them about God. And though God has told Elijah that He’s commanded a widow to feed him, it’s news to her. Or at least she’s not hip on the idea. How can I feed you if I can’t feed myself and my son? “I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

No offense of course. And I really wish I could help. Especially since you are a prophet of God. But facts are facts. And if all I have is flour even you can see that it isn’t going to happen. Sound familiar? We let the facts stand in the way.

Oh, but you say, things were different then. God performed miracles back then. Sure, all she had was flour, but God miraculously caused it to not run out. I don’t see Him performing spectacular performances like that today. So spare me the righteous sermonizing on relying on God when we need to be using our brains and not only going on faith. God didn’t give us our brains just to check them at the door of the church.

Maybe the only response to that is, who says God doesn’t still perform miracles today? Just because they may not take the form of what you might expect doesn’t mean God does not engage in every day lives with supernatural actions. We’re far too caught up in the thinking of the world that says you have to go on what you can see and not trust in things you can’t see or prove.

What is Elijah’s request? Water so that he may drink. And bread. He is a prophet of God, he feeds people with spiritual food. The bread of life. The water of life. God’s Gospel and His promises of salvation and grace. What is one of the things God provides for His Church that this ministry may be carried out? Food and water. He provides for His prophets. They’re very unspiritual things. Normal. Ordinary. But they are the staples, what we all need.

And that’s all well and good. Unless you don’t have those basic things you need. Of course, we all know what you need for those basic things—money. But who likes to talk about money in church? We think in terms of realism, don’t we? You’ve got to have enough money in order to keep the church going. But how many of us will give the way the woman in the Gospel reading gave—of all that she had?

What did Elijah say to the widow who explained the plain facts to the prophet of God? “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Fact are facts, yes. But the Word of the Lord is the Word of the Lord. And the providence of God is the providence of God. God is the Creator. And He is the Redeemer. As our creator and redeemer He sustains us. He provides for us what we need. We don’t always know how that’s going to be. But we know that it is. He says so in His Word.

In the spirit of the virgin Mary who said to the angel Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to your word”, this widow went and did as Elijah had said to her. And what happened? “She and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the LORD that He spoke by Elijah.”

Inconsiderate people take others captive by their actions. If you’re sleeping early in the morning and someone decides it’s a good time to do their yard work, it’s tough to sleep through that (at least for some of us). Or if you’re trying to have a nice relaxing dinner in a restaurant and a very loud person is talking on their cell phone, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Or when you’re at a very long stop light and the car next to you has their amps pumped up so you can hear the bass in the next county.

We’re held hostage by these actions. People who are not thinking of others take us captive and we feel like there’s nothing we can do about it. In a similar way we hold ourselves hostage by our own way of thinking. When we let the facts get in the way of the Word of the Lord we are captive to our sinful nature. We’re listening to the world, to our reason, and to the devil Himself. But this is not the way God meant it to be for us. Jesus said if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. The apostle Paul said that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Why are we binding ourselves to a cautionary way of thinking when God says that He will provide for us?

And provide for us He has! He has given of all that He has—His very own self, His only-begotten, beloved Son. He has provided for us not out of His majesty but His mercy. He has given out of His eternal abundance and it has taken the form of grace. He has come to us in the spirit of humility exhibited by the widow who was picking up sticks and preparing to meet her Maker. Christ carried a beam to a hill on which He gave of Himself, His very body given into death that we may live.

Just as this passage begins and ends with the Word of God so does the Word of God itself. In the beginning God spoke the world into existence. It began with His Word. At the close of the Scriptures Christ Himself speaks and we have His words of promise of His return. Today’s Old Testament reading is like a snapshot of the entire Word of God and His providence. His providing for us. His taking care of us even when circumstances would suggest otherwise.

It’s true we’re to be prudent and not take unnecessary risks. But there’s a difference between that not trusting in God. Not stepping out in faith. Not taking God at His Word. After all, He begins with His Word and ends with His Word. His Word is what we have. His Word is what we take to heart. His Word is what we depend on when all else fails. It doesn’t look like much, doesn’t sound like much, and isn’t always electrifying, but it’s the very power of God. It’s His eternal promise of our eternal well-being.

As we began with the Word of the Lord so we end with the Word of the Lord. He was faithful to His Word in little, physical sustenance. We may be assured He will be faithful in much, in spiritual sustenance. The forgiveness of our sins. The peace of God which goes beyond our understanding and all the pesky facts that get in the way. We can stare in the face of them and look right past them into the heart of God, His very own Son Jesus Christ, to see that what He delights in doing is providing for us what we need. Amen.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

For Those Who Serve

(And those still in active service) we can be grateful. Sometimes we do things for others and wonder if anyone appreciates it. I can only imagine how veterans and those presently serving our country feel at times. And yet, one of the noblest aspects of their character is that they serve not for recognition but out of duty for their country. The Marine Corps celebrated its 231st birthday the other day and that should make us pause to consider how many Marines have fought to protect our homeland, as well as the many other faithful soldiers in our Armed Forces. As Christians we rejoice in a God who gives us not only blessings of salvation but also things like governments which can maintain a force to protect us and keep us safe. What a privilege for us to continue to pray for our government and soldiers that they may continue to serve in honor and courage. It is in fact one of our duties as Christians to pray in this way as well as for their families that they may remain strong in often difficult circumstances. From a grateful country, please know that as veterans and active military personnel, you are appreciated. Freedom is never free. And though we may at times (if not often) take it for granted, we honor you for who you are and what you do.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Martin Luther’s Birthday, 1483

To honor Luther’s birthday, let’s give thanks that God has always shone His Gospel Light brightly throughout history. Even in the darkest of times. Luther was born into a life that was hammered constantly by the threat of God’s punishment upon sinners. Luther often felt like Paul who claimed he was the chief of sinners. But God’s mercy is greater than our sin.

In the midst of his darkness, Luther found the Light of God’s mercy shown clearly in His Son Jesus Christ. It is what Christ has done in the darkness of the cross that brings us true light. That brings us out of our sin-filled world into the comfort of sins forgiven and a new heart and new mind. Romans 3:23-24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

Luther is now in heaven, I don’t think he needs for us to say “Happy Birthday” to him. But in response to the Gospel that he preached and took comfort in it is very appropriate to say “Amen”.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Being in the Word

The thing I find myself finding more important than just about anything is being in the Word of God. Reading it. Studying it. Meditating on it. Praying it. Inwardly digesting it (as the Collect for the Word states it). I myself fall way short. The more important I find it the more I see how I fail to be in the Word as I should.

I have no problem eating every day. There are days I might have to skip a meal or eat in about three minutes. But rarely do I go without food, mainly because I just get really hungry after going without food for a while. But do I long for the Word of God in the same way? We need to be fed spiritually. The more we’re in the Word the stronger we will become. God will enlighten our minds and our hearts. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher and when we stay away from the Word of God, we’re staying away from the eternal wisdom and grace of God Almighty who is our Savior.

It’s good to have a set time because then we’re more likely to keep at it. But everybody’s different. With my Palm Pilot I have the Bible with me everywhere I go so that is a blessing to be able to read it anywhere if I get off my schedule or if I just want to read more. The important thing is to ask God to help you and then just get into it. Read it. Pray about it. And thank God that He has given you what He wants you to know.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

For ALL the Saints

All Saints’ Day [Observed]

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

It’ll be great when it’s all over, won’t it? On Wednesday the election will be over and with great relief the campaigning. It has almost seemed endless, but we’re almost to the end of it. The candidates start off the campaign in an almost pleasant way. They talk about themselves and their strengths, how they’re going to make things better. But it quickly devolves into mudslinging. The candidates soon have little to say about themselves and what they’ll do and much to say about how corrupt their opponent is. About how if you vote for them things will be much worse. They point out their opponents’ weaknesses, their mistakes, and their lapses.

I wonder, what would the candidates do if they were held to the same measure of accountability that they hold their opponents to? Would they be able to stand up under such severe scrutiny?

Would you want others to hold you to the standard you hold them to? It’s clear we have problems. We have trouble getting along at times. People make mistakes. They fall short of who they should be and what they should be doing. People wrong us. They don’t always meet our expectations. And there’s also all the annoyances. People do things that get on our nerves and we struggle to put up with them.

But do we hold ourselves accountable in this same way? In our impatience to find fault in others do we fail to see how we fall short also? That we also treat others shamefully? That we are often consumed with ourselves?

What if there were a standard that was outside of yourself? And for that matter, outside of others as well. Especially those you find fault with. And what if that standard weighed you in the balance and you were found wanting? What if in its assessment of you it didn’t take into account those ways you have been wronged by others? That it didn’t acknowledge the fact that there are others who have fallen short?

How would you feel? What would your response be? Would you find yourself pointing out that this really is unfair? That there are others who really should be judged in this way instead of you?

What if this standard was immovable? What if you were not given an opportunity to see at all fault in anyone else? In anything they do? No matter how severely they wrong you or cross the line? What if all you were able to see was that you are the one at fault? That no matter what happens, who does what or doesn’t do what, you are found wanting. All guilt is laid at your feet.

We’d like to think of God in terms of being loving and kind. And He is that. But it’s troubling how He at times expresses that love and kindness. How do you think you would have felt if Jesus had said to you that you are not far from the Kingdom of God? The thing that gets me is that Jesus said this to the man in the Gospel reading because he had answered wisely. So was the man in or out? Did he get the answer right? It appears so based on Jesus seeing that he answered wisely. So what more could the man do? I can’t see in anything he said where he went wrong. He saw that it is not in sacrifices that a man is justified. And he even gets the stamp of approval in Jesus seeing that he answered wisely.

But what he gets from Jesus is only “you are not far from the Kingdom of God”. This somehow seems to fall short doesn’t it? Like it’s not enough. Or not clear. It’s not a resounding statement, There you go! You’ve got it! You’re in the Kingdom of God! Maybe this is what the man was looking for. Is it what we’re looking for? After all, we’ve got the basics down like the man in the Gospel reading.

Does Jesus say the same about us? Or is the purpose of this statement of Jesus to cause us to wonder, how can we know if we’re in or not?

As we celebrate today All Saints’ Day we might especially be aware that we’re not always very saintly. So what is All Saints’ Day? A day to rejoice in the blessing God has given His Church in the many people that have gone before us who have stood firm in the faith, carrying it on to successive generations? Yes, it is definitely that.

But it is also much more. It is also about who we are. We’re saints. That doesn’t mean we have a halo over our head. It means we are holy. It means that we are righteous in the sight of God. And yet we’re often right at home in the ways of the world in our dealings with each other.

How do we keep this ship afloat then, this Christian Church that is made up of people who are saints but remain in the sinful flesh we were born in? Maybe, just maybe, the man in the Gospel reading was concerned about himself. He got the right answers. But what was his intent? Was he wanting to get straight in his relationship with God? That’s all good and well, but was he in the midst of all that missing the main point that the Word of God he was asking Jesus about was really for the purpose of us being outwardly focused? Toward God. Toward others.

Don’t we react defensively when there’s conflict between us? Isn’t our first reaction often one of justifying ourselves? Seeking to find where the other person is at fault? Shouldn’t we rather be seeing the true purpose of the Law of God and that is to put as at peace with one another? We may have it all straight on paper, but in word and deed we’re not quite there. We’re “not far” from the Kingdom of God. And yet, we have a long way to go.

Because we saints are so often miserable sinners in the way we deal with each other. You know why we have so many problems? Because we are miserable sinners who love to live according to the Law. We love to abide by it and hold each other to the impossible standard it has set up. And you know what happens when we do that? We fail. But what we so often love to do is revel in the fact that our brothers and sisters in Christ are falling short. Look how they made a mistake. Look how they sinned. Look how they’re not up to snuff.

And we’ll be right of course. That’s exactly what they are. But we have become the court of arbitration. We have set ourselves up as the judges. And we have totally missed the boat that the Law of God has a few things to say about us as well. We love to live according to the Law of God because we can twist it to fit our own desires and notions.

But we can’t do that with grace. With grace it’s all out of our hands. God is the one who takes everything out of our hands in grace and says: It’s not up to you. It’s not about you. It’s not by you or according to you. It’s Me. I’m the one who does it. I’m the one who brings it about. I’m the one who has the final say.

We miss that in the whole giving of the Law by God. We jump right to the Law because that’s what we want to hear. We want to hear it so that we can convince ourselves that we’re in good shape and we’d better get the others who are falling short into ship-shape. With grace we don’t get the satisfaction of holding others to an impossible standard. Because in grace we act as God acts toward us. Namely, in grace.

Love covers a multitude of sins. When someone repents of their sin, do we rejoice and delight in forgiving them? Or do we still hold a grudge and keep tabs on them because they might do it again? We don’t want to live according to grace. That means we have to accept people where they are. That means we have to love them no matter what. That we actually have to see them how God sees them—as saints of God.

This is really tough. It’s hard because we’ve become accustomed to not getting along. It’s almost like we’re on the lookout for somebody to mess up so we can pounce. If all the commands in the Old Testament reading and that Jesus directly quotes in the Gospel reading seem to be heavily Law-oriented, focused on what God wants us to do, then that’s because we’re not wanting to see the grace that makes it possible for us to live the way God desires for us to live.

The Old Testament reading appears to be all about what God wants His people to do. But it is really about how He has saved them and made good on His promises to bless them. Sinful people saved by a merciful God. Ordinary people who are declared holy. We’re like the bread and the wine sitting on the altar: ordinary, yet made holy by Christ’s declaration. “Holy things for holy people.” As God declares of Himself, He is the one God, and He calls to Himself one holy people in His Son Jesus Christ, the holy sacrifice. The impossible standard of God’s Law was placed upon Christ in His sacrifice on the cross. We are declared holy and given opportunities every day to rejoice in His grace in living together with fellow sinner/saints. Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

The Blessing of Brother Christians

I have set up this blog as a place to talk theology, just as Paul loved to do so much as he traveled around the world. Because he loved to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a world very much in need of Good News. As he was being transported to Rome to stand before Caesar Luke gives this detail in Acts 28:14-15 "And so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage."

We, too, can thank God for the blessing of brother Christians all around the world. When we talk theology together, may we do it in the spirit of Paul, who resolved to know nothing among his fellow Christians but Christ and Him crucified.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Stop On In

Here is a place to rest for a while and if talking theology is your thing, then you might just enjoy this place. There's no substitute for the Word of God, of course. But the theology here will be discussed in light of the Word of God. The wonderful thing about theology and the Word of God is the more you learn theology and the more you get into the Word of God, the more you see there is to learn.

And that's why I'm blogging. Welcome to my tavern. And, as I suppose is always the case on the internet, YMMV.