Sunday, May 25, 2008


Second Sunday after Pentecost
Bede the Venerable, Theologian
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Matthew 6:24-34

There’s a word in today’s liturgy that might be foreign to our modern and American ears: meditate. It’s from the Gradual, which we spoke after the Old Testament reading. Meditating might seem out of place in our busy world. It might seem a bit mystical for us, maybe even anti-Christian. But we would do well to meditate. In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us not to worry. Those of us who do, know how difficult it is to do something like meditating. But we would do well to take those words of the Gradual to heart and actually do what they say: meditate on the wondrous works of God.

Another reason we may be hesitant to meditate is, how do you meditate? How does one take the wondrous works of God and meditate on them? Jesus directs our attention to this matter in the Gospel reading. I would like to use another word: concentrate. Concentration sounds more familiar than meditation. We know what it means to concentrate.

This is what Jesus is getting at in the Gospel reading. You can’t serve two masters. You will be devoted to one and end up despising the other. If you do not concentrate on your master you will end up dedicating yourself to something else, which will become your master.

What do we so often end up devoting ourselves to? The things of this world. They are not bad. They are, in fact, good. God created them for our use and benefit. But if we concentrate our lives—our time, our efforts, our desires—toward the accumulation of things, then we are devoted to a master that is not the One Master, the Triune God.

Don’t think that if you’re not rich this doesn’t apply to you. If you are rich, you might think that it doesn’t apply to either, because there’s a lot of other people in this world who are a lot wealthier than you and so it really applies to them. What Jesus is telling us He is telling each and every one of us. Rich or poor, we all spend too much time devoted to things other than Him.

Why are we anxious about our lives, what we will eat or drink? Why are we anxious about our bodies, what we will wear? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Jesus says, look at the birds. They don’t spend their time worrying about how they’ll get along. They spend their time being who they are. Jesus is saying: that’s what we need to do. We need to be who we are. We are the children of God. He takes care of us. We are His people, He gives to us what we need. If He takes care of the birds, how much more will He take care of us!

Will worrying about the things of this life that are so important to us lengthen our life? On the contrary, God is the one who provides us with life and sustains us in our life. It is not for us to worry about. He gives and He takes away. It those who do not believe in God who put their stock into the things of this life. God knows we need what we need. He provides for us in what we need.

He directs our focus on something greater. Something that is lasting. The things of this life are momentary. His Kingdom lasts forever. His righteousness is eternal. While we are busy seeking after and worrying about the things of this world, we are losing the Kingdom. We must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the things we need will be added unto us.

Since our lives revolve so much around the things of this life, how do we go about seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness? By meditating on the wondrous works of God. But how do we meditate on the wondrous works of God? Concentration.

How do you begin your day? In the hymn we just sang we are given guidance in meditating on the wondrous works of God. “Ev’ry morn with Jesus rise, And when day is ended, In His name then close your eyes; Be to Him commended.” In a very literal way, seeking first the Kingdom of God, means beginning the day in prayer. Putting it first in your day takes concentration. There are so many things to do when we first get up. Before we know it, the day gets away from us. Or we may just simply want a day where we can go into the day slowly and casually. It takes concentration to change this, especially if it means getting up earlier. Especially when that means that you may have to start getting ready for this the night before, whether that’s going to bed earlier or getting some things done the night before that you’d normally do in the morning. Concentration means you are putting God and His Kingdom truly first. That you’re not just giving lip service to Him. You’re putting your money where your mouth is. The hymn goes on to say: “Let each day begin with prayer, Praise, and adoration. On the Lord cast ev’ry care; He is your salvation.”

Another way to think about this is what is so important in the military: discipline. On this weekend when we remember and honor those who have served our country even to death, we see the value in discipline. Because there are those who are willing even to give their lives so that we may have a free country, we may also give honor to them by realizing that the concentration they exhibit in their service we may also take to heart in the many ways we serve others.

Be who you are. The birds, the flowers, they don’t need to concentrate. They simply are who they are; call it instinct, or whatever. We, however, it doesn’t come so easily to us. We need to concentrate. We need to keep our eyes focused on Christ. Whether it is our thinking that we need things, like a good job that pays well, so that we don’t have to worry, or whether it is because things are really tight and we worry if we’re going to make it. We always find a way to concentrate on mammon, the things of this world. Jesus never says to renounce them—He says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

How do we do that? Christ. We focus on Christ. We concentrate on the things of the Kingdom, His Word, prayer. The righteousness of Christ. That means remembering your Baptism. Not just now and then. First. Daily. Often. Concentrate on who you are. You are the child of God. You are who He made you. Seek the things of the Kingdom. The Body and Blood of Christ. The very righteousness of Christ delivered straight into your mouth and directly into your heart, soul, and life.

Concentration is hard. That’s why we need to be challenged to do it. It’s hard to eliminate distractions. It may mean adjusting your schedule. It may mean waking up earlier in order to find time when there’s not a lot of noise and things going on. Concentrating on prayer and reading the Scriptures is tough work.

How do you wholly devote everything who you are to one particular thing? Christ gives you His righteousness. It’s complete, you have His entire righteousness given to you. We end up spending our time concentrating on other things, how do we spend our time concentrating on God and His righteousness? Concentration comes so easily to us with the things of this world, we’re drawn to them. Meditating on the wondrous works of God is concentrating—spending our time, our energy—dedicating our mind toward the things of God.

It is hard. It doesn’t come easily to us. We’re not like birds or flowers. But this, too, is what Christ has experienced. If anyone has ever had reason to be distracted from accomplishing His mission, it was Christ. On the cross all the sins, all the guilt of the world was laid on Him. The torment of God’s wrath was pressing upon Him. But He concentrated on one thing: forgiveness. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. We do not know what we do when we worry. We have no idea how unbelieving we are when we put our trust in the things of this world rather than the one true and gracious God. But we are nevertheless who we are, the children of God. We can learn from the birds and the flowers that as we are much valuable than they, that God will so much more take care of us here in time and even into eternity. Amen.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Practice of Prayer: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments teach us the life of repentance. The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

You shall have no other gods.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What is that work of the Holy Spirit of bringing us to repentance? It is the Law. The Law is that Word of God which points out our sin to us. It convicts us of our sin. It shows us that we deserve judgment for our sin. When we pray the Commandments we are praying in repentance. The practice of prayer means that we will be praying these Words of God as a prayer of repentance. That we have fallen short of God’s will for us and wish for Him to guide us to live according to His will.

The Ten Commandments encompass all of life. We have fallen short of God’s will in our lives, thus our continual need for repentance. In our prayers, we ask for forgiveness and look to the One who lived a life fully in accord with the Ten Commandments. Jesus did not fall short but did pay the penalty the Law demands of us. Ultimately, that is the work of the Holy Spirit—in driving us to repentance, He points us to Christ and His perfect life and sacrifice for our salvation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Do You Want to Hear?

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 11, 2008
John 7:37-39

What do you want to hear? You want to hear what makes you feel good. Something that points within yourself or about yourself that makes you feel good about yourself. Rock stars know this. The lead singer will get the crowd all excited: “San Diego! We love you! You guys are the best audience we’ve played to!” But they’ve said the same thing to a whole bunch of other audiences they play to. At the Comic Con here in San Diego a while back they were promoting several blockbuster movies due out this summer to all the teens that were there. They had Steven Spielberg live on video from the set of the new Indiana Jones movie and he said to the teens, “I’m making this movie largely with you in mind.” There’s no doubt those kids got excited to hear the legendary director Steven Spielberg tell them that he’s performing his movie magic to a large degree for them.

What do you want to hear? You want to hear that the economy is going to rebound. You want to hear that your job is safe even when many are losing their jobs. You want to hear that we’ll one day be talking again about gas for $2.95 rather than $3.95. When there’s so much bad news in the world, you want to hear some good news for your personal world. You want to hear someone tell you that they appreciate you. All you moms want your children to call you and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and tell you how much they love you and are grateful to you for all you’ve done for them.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling people what they want to hear. If you go around lying to people because you want them to hear what they want to hear, then you have a problem. We can find things that are true and say them in order to make them feel good.

But is there a place for telling people things they don’t want to hear? I’m sure there are those who revel in telling people things they don’t want to hear, but most of us bristle at the prospect of having to tell people things they don’t want to hear. While we like to hear what we want to hear, if that’s all we hear then ultimately we won’t feel very good. If you withhold from people what they need to hear you are really causing them harm though you may be making them feel good.

Jesus tells us what we need to hear. He doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear. He doesn’t even just tell us the Good News. He tells us, in fact, things we don’t want to hear. He does it in today’s Gospel reading. You may hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading and wonder how it is He is telling you what you don’t want to hear. It all sounds pretty good. It all sounds like pure Gospel. And it is good. It is Gospel. We do want to hear these gracious words from our Savior.

But—and it’s always dangerous to follow the Gospel with a “but”—underlying the Gospel is a fact that precedes the Gospel. It is the reason for the Gospel. While the Gospel is good news to hear, what underlies the Gospel, you might say, is what we don’t want to hear.

These are the words of our Lord: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” This is the purest Gospel there is. So how could we possibly find something in here that we wouldn’t want to hear? That which presupposes the Good News He is speaking to us with these words. When He says that “out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water,” it is presupposed that out of our hearts flow filth and muck, something more than wastewater. There are living things in the sewers, but not the kind of animals and organisms we normally want around. To live you need clean refreshing water, not wastewater. It is not what goes into us that defiles us but what flows out of our hearts.

If we drink of our own filth we will die eternally. If we drink of the Living Water of Christ we will live eternally. The Good News is only Good News because the Law has done its work.

On the day we celebrate the Gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, we learn what we need to hear. The people in Jerusalem that day were from many different places and spoke many different languages, but each of them heard the same thing in their own language.

Maybe they were expecting to hear what they wanted to hear. Isn’t that the way it is with us at times when we come to church? If you’re a mother, what you want to hear is that today is all about you. I know when it’s my birthday, or Father’s Day, I love the day and have the attitude that it’s all about me. And we do need times where our loved ones show us appreciation. But days like Mother’s Day also provide us an opportunity to simply give thanks. Give thanks for the gift of being able to be a mother, or to have a mother. Let others be the ones to decide what you will hear in appreciation, rather than seeking to hear what you want to hear. Our loved ones do sometimes fall short in showing the kind of appreciation God commands in the Fourth Commandment, honor your father and your mother. But compare this with what God wants you to hear. Compare this to the vocation God has given you of mother, of loving your children in a way no one else can. Compare this to the opportunity God gives you to raise your children in the very love and nurture of Jesus.

For the rest of us, today is an opportunity to remind ourselves that every day we are blessed with the gift of a loving mother. As the Fourth Commandment reminds us, we honor our mothers because God has given them to us.

You know what they heard on Pentecost Day? They heard what they needed to hear. They heard the proclamation of Jesus. The Holy Spirit may have been the star of the show that day, but the people weren’t there to hear about Him. They were there to receive the very One the Holy Spirit delivers. Hear what they heard. Hear the Good News that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. Hear also what you may not want to hear: it was your very sins that put Jesus on the cross. But in hearing this you will see even greater the love Jesus loved you with in dying in your place, with your sins, for your guilt. He, in His death and resurrection, has taken it all away. He has given you new life to live whether it is in the vocation of mother, father, son, or daughter, to hear anew often that Jesus is forever your Lord and Savior. Amen.


Monday, May 5, 2008

The Practice of Prayer: Praying the Scriptures

God has given us His Word so that we may know what He wishes to say to us regarding His salvation for us.

What is our response? A simple definition of prayer is talking to God. It certainly is that, but it’s so much more. Paul says “pray constantly.” We can’t do that unless there’s much more to prayer than “talking to God.” The entire life of the Christian is prayer to the Heavenly Father.

So how do we pray? A “new” (or at least new to many of us) way is to pray the Scriptures. We don’t just read them. We don’t just study them. We read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them—and pray them. If we want to know what it is that we are to say to God, well, He tells us in His Word. There is nothing better we can respond to God with than what He has already given us in His Word.

We certainly should engage in the discipline of reading the entire Word of God over and over through our lives. But we should also learn to pray the Scriptures. An invaluable way of doing this is by learning by heart the core of the Scriptures: the Catechism. The Catechism is our guide for the practice of prayer; for praying the Scriptures.

The Catechism itself is texts of Scripture which give us the summation of the entire Word of God: The Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Luther’s Catechism gives “meanings” (the parts he wrote in which he says “What does this mean?” and then gives an “explanation” of each part of the Catechism) to the Catechism. These meanings help us see how the Catechism isn’t just something we memorize, but truly learn by heart, actually praying it, and thereby learning what it means to live life in Christ.

We’ll begin (within the next few days) with the Ten Commandments. Join me in the practice of prayer and praying the Scriptures.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How to Pray for Yourself

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 4, 2008
John 17:1-11

Even those among us who are very unselfish have a selfish streak. This will even show up in what we pray for. How often do you find yourself praying mostly about yourself and what you need? Or maybe you don’t even notice it because it’s second-nature to you to pray for all the concerns in your life. We know our needs and wants better than anyone and we’re inclined to bring those to God. He invites us to bring our needs to Him, but it’s difficult to pray for yourself. Our thoughts revolve around ourselves so much. Prayer can be difficult, and even more so when it comes to praying for ourselves. But if it were easy we really wouldn’t need it. In fact, why did God give us prayer? It’s not for His benefit, but for ours. One thing the Christian learns is that the things God gives are not easy. They always come at a cost.

The seventeenth chapter of John is a prayer. This prayer is by Jesus. And in this prayer we learn how to pray. With Jesus’ first words of the prayer we especially learn how to pray for ourselves. Jesus begins His prayer by praying for Himself. But it’s how He prays for Himself that shows us how we ought to pray for ourselves. He’s not so much praying for Himself as that He is praying that God’s will would be done in Him. Think about that. Jesus is God, so He doesn’t need anything. His prayer is that God would accomplish salvation for the world through Him, through His becoming a man.

Praying for ourselves isn’t so much praying for what we want or even what we need. We learn from Jesus to pray that God’s will would be done through us in Jesus. It is always about Jesus. It is not about us. It is never about us. Our prayers for ourselves are not that our will would be done but that His will would be done.

This might sound like our prayers for ourselves aren’t about us. That they are really about Jesus. And that would be correct. They really are about Him. They really are not about us. So, in a way, our prayers for ourselves are not really about us. Logically, you’d have to conclude from this that your prayers for yourself are not really prayers for yourself.

So do we get to pray for ourselves? Absolutely—just not in the way we’d normally think to pray for ourselves. The key is to pray for ourselves for the things we really need. That is what Christ shows us. When we pray for ourselves according to what we think we need or what we want, aren’t we just giving God a wish list and hoping He agrees with us?

Can you imagine the state of a child if their parents gave them everything they wanted? That would probably amount to child abuse. We don’t give children just what they want, we give them what they need. We give them what’s best for them. That’s what God does for us in Christ.

And suddenly we’re back to Christ again. Where we always need to go back to. Because our needs are truly met in Him. The reason we know we can and should pray for ourselves? Because that’s why Christ came. For us it’s always about Christ, but for Him it’s always about us. So if we really want it to be about us then we should look to Him and not to ourselves. We should seek His will not our own. We should pray God’s will be done through Jesus Christ, not that our will be done.

When you pray for yourself you will be praying that God accomplishes the fullness of His salvation in you through Jesus Christ. We Christians have it made, but we take it for granted. We have all the blessings of glory and heaven and salvation available to us but when we pray we tend to pray for things that are lesser than that. Not that we shouldn’t, it’s just that we often get so caught up in those things that we forget that God has so much more in store for us than we could ever imagine.

When we pray for ourselves, we should get off of ourselves. We should get on to Christ. Do you have problems? Welcome to the club. Are you battling illness? Very few people go through life without that struggle. Some are hit harder than others, but you’re not alone. Do you feel like you’re being squeezed from all the pressures at work? Inside the calm exterior of many people that you see is the aching to be released from that same kind of pressure. Are you hurting in your most cherished relationship? Maybe the love has gone cold. Or there’s bitterness welling up. You feel like there’s more pain that you share than love. We don’t always love as we should.

We all have enough problems that our prayers could be filled up with just our own problems, let alone having time to pray for others. But since we do have the invitation from God to pray for ourselves, we shouldn’t let the opportunity pass by. All those problems and hurts are prime material for our own prayers. Don’t know how to pray for them? You can start with that. God is a good listener. He’ll listen even to your cry that you don’t know how to pray as you ought. He’s been there before. For three years He listened to the twelve disciples, and they rarely were on target in their communication with Him. And yet, He listened. He patiently stuck with them. He’s patient with us also.

Why should we be glad if prayer is difficult for us? If it were easy we wouldn’t see our need for God’s salvation. Our need for God’s salvation is greater every day, with all the problems we face and our constant struggle with sin. He gave us prayer for us. When we see that the things God gives are not easy, that they always come at a cost, we see our problems in perspective. The difficulty has been endured by Jesus Christ Himself. His prayer here in John 17 is beautiful and eloquent. His prayer on the cross was a cry of suffering: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Our salvation has come at the cost of His very own Son.

And with that cost has been purchased our salvation. With His very own Son we have an eternal hope and a very present help in time of trouble. Amen.