Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
The Lord Will Prepare a Feast - October 15, 2017 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Isaiah 25:6-9
Have you ever noticed how true it is that “time flies when you’re having fun?” The church year is winding down. Advent is fast approaching. We have not yet celebrated Reformation Day and this year it is the big one, the 500th anniversary of the reformation. We have not yet celebrated Thanksgiving Day and the stores are already being decorated for Christmas. Our text for today is one which reminds us that there is a reason for our lives and that our lives are not just “here today and gone tomorrow.” As Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, we live our lives looking forward to tomorrow, especially the tomorrow of heaven where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forevermore. Our text for today gives us a picture of the eternal feast with the Lord, a heavenly banquet.
Our text begins with a partial description of the banquet of heaven. We begin at verse six, “6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (v. 6). The mountain on which the Lord Almighty will prepare His feast is heaven. In the Bible, heaven is often depicted as a mountain, high above the earth, where the Lord reigns and watches over us.
To help us get a better idea of what will be served at this feast, I want to read verse six from the Revised Standard Version. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” From the Revised Standard Version we see that fat and cholesterol will apparently not be a concern on this mountain, at this feast, in heaven. This feast will consisted of the richest of foods, the fat things. The best, prime cuts of meat are those with lots of fat called marbling which makes the meat tender and good to eat. It is from the richness of the marrow that our blood cells get their start. The rich bone marrow is what builds and sustains life. And there will be the best wine. “Wine on the lees,” was that wine that was at the bottom of the barrel. When it was strained, it was the strongest, clearest, and most flavorful. What an awesome feast the Lord has prepared for us. Well, what should we expect at a banquet the Lord is giving, only the best!
This is a banquet given by the Lord. This banquet shows us that the Lord always gives the best. Usually these best parts, these fat parts were saved and sacrificed to the Lord. But, here at His banquet, He gives the best, the best parts, the fat parts, for us to eat. He gives the best wine, the strongest, the clearest, the most flavorful, for us to drink. It is interesting, we may talk about what we give to the Lord, we may think well of ourselves that we give our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings, and even what we may believe to be our best to God, but when we think about it and admit it, it is God who is always giving His best to us. And it is God who always gives first.
Our text continues with more of God’s giving. Picking up at verse seven we read, “7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations” (v. 7). The word that is translated as “covering” is literally, “the covering of the face” which comes from the word for secrecy. And the word “veil” literally comes over into the English as “mask.”
The shroud, as some translations give us this word, was used to cover the face of a person who had died. Truthfully we should admit that the shroud was used not so much to cover the face of the dead person, so much as it was used to cover the face so as to hide us from death. We do not like to see death. We do not like to talk about death. Death reminds us of our sin, perhaps that is why so many churches only talk about a theology of glory, only talk about what good Christians they can be, how God wants them to be well off and so forth. Not too many people want to talk about a theology of the cross, that is about death and especially about Jesus’ death because that reminds us that it was because of us, because of our sins that Jesus had to die, that death is in the world. So, how do you keep from seeing death? You cover the face of death.
This is also the shroud that hides God. This is the shroud of sin and unbelief. Sin separates us from God. While we are in our sin we do not want to be seen by God. Why do we speak in secret? Why do we try to cover our sins? Why do we try to hide from God? For some reason we believe we can actually hide our sins from God as if there is someplace He cannot see or hear. When we are in unbelief we cannot see God, because of our own spiritual blindness. Fortunately for us, our Lord destroys this shroud.
This verse and the next verse serve well to remind us that the fear of death, the fear of our being eternally separated from God, is removed by Christ. The “veil that is spread over all nations” brings to mind the splitting of the curtain in the temple at Jesus’ death. It was Jesus’ death that brought us back into a right relationship with God the Father in heaven. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, before the curtain in the temple was split in two, a person could not go directly to God, but had to go through a priest, a representative of God. Now, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the way has been cleared. Now we can go directly to God and pray to Him and He will hear and answer our prayers.
The greatest victory is the swallowing of death, physical death and most especially, eternal spiritual death, hell. We pick up at verse eight, “8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (v. 8). Here we see that this banquet will be an eternal banquet, because in heaven there will be no more physical death. Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated death. The greatest victory is that death is swallowed up forever.
There will be only joy in heaven. There will be no more sorrow in heaven, for the Lord will wipe away every tear. But, not only will our tears be wiped away, so will whatever causes our tears. To wipe away a tear is one thing, but there is always the chance that some bit of sadness might bring it back. With God, He does not just tend to the symptom, He goes right to the heart of the problem. He wipes out the cause of the tear. With nothing to cause tears, sorrow will be eternally wiped away.
In heaven it will be a joy and it will not be a disgrace to be a Christian. We will not have to worry about persecution, even little persecutions, for letting our lights shine, for letting our faith show forth in our lives. Instead heaven will be a place of perfect joy and happiness.
In verse nine we hear the voice of faith “9It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (v. 9).
We are bold to say, “This is our God.” Knowing that God chose us, that He put His name on us at our baptism, that He put faith in our hearts, that He forgives our sins, that He has written our name in the book of life, that He continually strengthens our faith and keeps us in faith, that He tells us that He is our God and we are His people. Knowing all this it is easy for us, in heaven to say, “This is our God.”
We say, “we waited for Him.” Knowing that God does all things according to what He knows is best, according to His perfect knowledge and timing. Knowing that at just the right time, Christ died and rose for us, we say, “we waited for Him.”
We say, “He saved us.” Knowing that God sent His one and only Son, Jesus to be born as a human being (one of us), to live perfectly for us, in our place, to take all our sins upon Himself, to suffer and die for our sins. Knowing that it was by the blood of Jesus that all our sins have been forgiven we say, “He saved us.” We cannot and we do not save ourselves. Our salvation does not come from inside, it does not come from our works or actions. Our salvation comes from outside of us, it comes from God alone. He saved us!
We say, “Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Literally it is the Lord’s salvation. He has done everything, He has given everything and we have been given everything. Think about what we have been saying. God gave us all life at the creation of the world. Adam and Eve fell into sin, destroying the very life God gave. God gives each one of us life, personally, at our conception. God gives us new life at our baptism. God gives the world new life through the gift of the blood His one and only Son, on the cross. Now we understand that God gives us life in heaven. He prepares and invites us to His banqueting table. He is there serving us the finest and best of meats and wines. And to top it all off, He allows for us to be glad and to rejoice in His salvation.
Even our Gospel reading for this morning gives us this image of the heavenly banquet as well. In our Gospel reading we are encouraged in our faith-life, that is in the fact that it is by God’s grace, through faith that we have a share in His eternal kingdom and in His eternal banquet. God’s will is that all people are given faith, yet He knows that there are those who refuse the gifts He has to give. His gifts are given out of His grace and love for His people, yet to all those who refuse and reject the gifts He has to give, they are excluded from His gifts and His kingdom. They are cast out into the outer darkness of eternal spiritual death in hell. Jesus’ words are a stern warning to us to not refuse the good gifts and blessings He has to give, rather they are words encouraging us to make regular and diligent use, that is encouraging us to be given the gifts He has to give at every opportunity we have of being given the gifts through the means of grace, the means through which He gives us His gifts.
What a great God we have. We have a God who gives and gives and gives. He has given since the beginning of creation. He has given throughout history. He continues to give to us today. He will continue to give to us even into eternity, where He prepares, invites us to attend and serves us at His eternal banqueting table. It is the fact that we live our lives, rushing from day to day, rushing through each day, anxiously awaiting something, and all that rushing makes our lives seem like they are rushing to the end, to our physical death. And yet, as we keep our eyes focused on the end, that is on heaven, on our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then our days become days of declaring that the Lord “is our God, we trusted in him and he saved us . . . let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
He Gave His All - October 8, 2017 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
You may have noticed that Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel Lesson both use the imagery of the vineyard. The vineyard was important because it supplied the grapes used for making wine which was an important staple for the people. Jesus makes good use of the vineyard as an example to show how God works with us. We are like the vineyard, we do nothing, instead we are continually tended to. Whereas, God is the Vinedresser, He is the one who comes to tend us, giving us everything we need. God is the one who gets us ready for planting. He clears our lives of the stumbling stones that get in the way of our coming to faith. He plows us and gets us ready for the planting of His seed of faith. He waters that seed and works it until the fruit of our faith appears. Let us get to our text and see what God says.
Our text begins with the beloved speaking. We read beginning at verse one, “1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (v.1-2).
These first two verses reveal to us that the prophet is singing to the Lord, concerning the Lord, and at the same time expressing the thoughts of the Lord. He says, “My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.” The Lord did not take any old vineyard, rather He searched and found the choicest of vineyards, one that was just right.
After finding the choicest vineyard He put a lot of work into His vineyard. He dug and cleared the land of any stones that might hamper the vines from growing to their full potential. And he planted His vineyard with the choicest of vines. Just any old vine would not do. His had to be the best.
Next, in order to assure the protection of His vines against anything that might happen to them, He built a watchtower to overlook His vineyard. In the next verse we will find that He also built a hedge, and a wall around His vineyard in order to protect the good grapes He was growing. His vineyard became somewhat of a fortified city.
Finally He built a winepress in His vineyard. The winepress shows with what confidence He did all His work. He did not plan to labor in vain, rather He labored with a confident expectation of harvesting good grapes in which to make good wine.
Continuing on in our text we have the Lord speaking picking up at verse three, “3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (v. 3-6).
Evidently the vineyard did not fulfill the Lord’s expectations. So the Lord comes to ask for the people to be the judge between He and His vineyard. Did the Lord do everything He could for the vineyard or was there more that He could have done? Was it the Vinedresser’s fault, or was it the vineyards fault that it did not bear good grapes?
The Lord asks, “what more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” As a good Vinedresser He knows that He has done everything that could do for His vineyard. All that He did was laid out in verses one and two.
Because He has done all that He believes He could do for the vineyard and because He believes the vineyard is at fault, He decides what He will do to the vineyard. He will judge His vineyard. He says that he will take away the hedge and break down the wall. This action is tantamount to saying that He will destroy the vineyard. With no hedge and no wall the vineyard will be subject to any and all invasions. People, animals, anything and anyone can come in and trample the vineyard.
But there is more. He will not prune the vineyard, and He will command the rain not to water it. He will give the vineyard its own way. It can grow wherever it wants to grow, if it can grow, because He will also stop the rain from watering it. As we can see, this is a pretty harsh judgement on the vineyard.
We go to the last verse of our text for the interpretation. We read verse seven, “7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (v.7).
Isaiah tells us that the vineyard is the house of Israel. God chose the children of Israel from all the other nations of the earth, not because they were special, but simply because He chose them. He cleared their lives of stumbling stones. He wiped out the nations in the promised land for them. He did this many times during their lineage as His people. He did everything He could, everything imaginable for His people. He called them back to repentance time and time again. He saved them time and time again.
The vineyard owner is the Lord. He is the perfect Vinedresser. He knew when to cultivate, when to plow, when to sow, when to reap. He knew when to guide them to Egypt, when to deliver them from slavery, when to bring them into the promised land. God, on His part did everything as He knew to do and He did His part perfectly.
The Lord built the vineyard. He did everything He could for it. And yet, the vineyard grew only sour, wild grapes. It is as if the vines had a mind of their own. The fruit did not produce as expected, rather it rebelled against the Vinedresser to become sour and wild.
Our text has an obvious connection to the children of Israel. Today we are living in New Testament times, and by faith in Jesus, we are the new children of Israel. So, we might ask ourselves, how are we doing compared to the children of Israel of the Old Testament? Does this text speak to us? Can, or should we compared ourselves to the vineyard?
We begin in the same place Isaiah did, reminding ourselves that God gives us everything. God is the initiator. God chose us, even before He began creation He chose us. He gave us physical life at conception. He recreated us at our Baptism. He put His name on us. He gave us forgiveness of sins. He made us His own. God gives us everything we need to support our body and life. Take a look at the explanations of the articles of the Apostles’ creed and you can get a list of the many blessings that God gives to us. Very much like God gave the children of Israel everything, so God gives us everything. And very much like the children of Israel, we too often refuse God’s good gifts and blessings.
And yet we say, “how do we refuse God’s good gifts and blessings?” We refuse God’s good gifts and blessings in many and various ways. We refuse what God gives by not being given His gifts, that is by staying away from where He gives His gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by failing to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, (and by regular and diligent use, God means every opportunity that He gives us to do so), by not reading our Bibles, by not regularly coming to divine service, by not confessing our sins and by staying away from His sacraments, not remembering our baptism and not partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, how can God pour out His blessings on us when we stay away from the very place He gives out His blessings.
There is more. We refuse God’s gifts by not acknowledging them, that is, by not giving thanks. Whenever we think that there is anything that we have because of something we have done, we forget to give God the glory. When we forget to thank Him and to acknowledge that He is the giver of all, in so doing we refuse what He gives as a gift.
And we refuse God’s gifts by not responding to His giving them, that is, by not giving back to God. When we hear God’s word and neglect to let that word shine forth in our lives, we have refused His Word. When we have the ability to work, a job to work and get a paycheck and refuse to acknowledge that all that comes from God, we are refusing to accept what He has given as a gift. Instead it becomes something we think we have earned or we think we deserve.
Yes, when it comes to producing good fruit in our lives, we are very much like the children of Israel. Very often, more often than not, we fail. We produce sour and wild grapes. Perhaps you know some sour or wild grapes. Perhaps you know someone who thinks they are in control of their own life, who is angry or upset with what they think they do not have in life or are angry and upset because they believe they have not gotten what they believe they deserve. Perhaps you know someone who blames all the bad that happens to them on others or who simply do not want to take any responsibility for themselves or someone who is angry and bitter because life is not going the way they believe it should go. Of course, we always have God’s warning that it is better that we do not have it our way, because our way is the way of sin. Rather, we would do well to always ask for God’s will and way to be done. Yes, our problem is that we are conceived and born in sin and every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. Yes, we are sour grapes.
But there is good news. Even though we fail; even though we do not bear good fruit, the Lord is still there, ready to forgive us and give us another chance.
The Gospel reminds us that God gives, and gives, and gives and He even gives some more. And even when we are negligent in our faith life, He continues to give us everything again. God’s giving does not depend on us. We may refuse God’s gifts time and time again, but He is there, always ready to give to us some more.
God’s greatest gift is His gift of forgiveness. Of course, although this gift may cost us nothing, which is why it is a gift, it cost His Son His very life. Jesus came to do for Israel what she could not do for herself, even as a nation. Jesus came to do for us what we cannot do, even as His people. Jesus lived perfectly, not getting angry or upset because He never got His own way. As a matter of fact, Jesus came, not to get His way, but to give His life according to His Father’s way. He was born with nothing and He never owned anything. Jesus lived perfectly. Jesus obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. Jesus obeyed all God’s commands perfectly. Jesus did all things perfectly and then He took all our sins on Himself, our sins of wanting our own way, our sins of being sour grapes. Jesus paid the price for all our sins with His very life, suffering the eternal death penalty for us in our place. Yes, God has given us everything and done everything for us.
We are like the vineyard, we do nothing, instead we are continually tended to we are continually done to. God is the Vinedresser, He is the one who comes to tend to us, giving us everything we need. God is the one who gets us ready for planting. He clears our lives of the stumbling stones that get in the way of our coming to faith. He plows us and gets us ready for the planting of His seed of faith. He waters that seed and works it until the fruit of our faith appears. God does, God gives and we are done to and we are given to and we say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Repent and Live - October 1, 2017 - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Is God just or is God merciful? That is the question that is often asked, as if God can either be just or merciful and not both. The “logic” is that if God were merciful then there would be no suffering in the world, so He must be just. Or, if God were just then bad things would not happen to good people, as we define good people. Unfortunately, those who wish to impose their own human logic on God fail to realize that their logic is tainted by sin and so really is not very logical. And really, God is not logical as we think of being logical in human terms. Remember last week we were reminded that God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than our own thoughts and ways so that we really cannot completely understand God. This human logic often feeds that human understanding that we so often hear which is that religion is a personal matter; that my faith is a “me and Jesus” thing. God’s word reminds us that although God may hold each of us accountable for our own lives, our own sins, our faith is not just a “me and Jesus” thing, but is a corporate thing, that is, we are to be Christians in community. Our faith is matter of eternal life or eternal spiritual death. Our faith is not something we keep to ourselves, but as the Lord fills us with His good gifts and blessings, through His Word and Sacraments, we cannot help but overflow and share those good gifts and blessings with others. We might truly surmise, if we are not sharing our faith, do we really have faith. Our text for this morning talks about our lives of repentance and forgiveness.
Our text begins with Ezekiel telling us that the word of the LORD came to him. We read beginning at verse one, “1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (v.1-4).
The word of the Lord that came to Ezekiel was a word in response to the people who were saying that they should not be held responsible for their sins. The proverb to which they are referring is in Exodus 20, what we have often referred to as the close of the commandments. God says, “I the LORD you God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” The people were complaining that God had no right to punish them for the sins of their parents. At least this was the perception of the people.
God’s response through Ezekiel begins with the reminder that every living soul belongs to the Lord. And because every living soul belongs to the Lord it is God’s will that all people come to faith. God’s will is not that He wants to punish people. His will is that He wants to give His good gifts and blessings to His people. His will is that His people do not refuse the gifts that He has to give. Here we see, as always, that God is the initiator. God first comes to us. God gives and we are given to and indeed all we really can do is refuse and reject what God gives.
God comes to us, but that does not mean that He just lets us off the hook for our sins. Since Jesus has paid the price for our sins does that mean we are not to be held accountable? Ezekiel tells us that God will hold us accountable, responsible for our sins. He tells us that the soul that sins, and remains in his sin, will die, and the death he will die will be an eternal spiritual death, hell. However, He will not hold us accountable for another person’s sin, unless we have had something to do with that other person’s sin. He will hold us accountable for our own sin.
Our text continues with the complaint that the Lord is being unjust. We pick up at verse twenty-five, “25“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (v. 25-28).
Ezekiel begins by showing that God is just because He holds each person responsible for their own sins. And although God does call the corporate body to recognize and call individuals out for their sin He does not hold the corporate body responsible for one person’s sin. The words of the text are very clear, “if a person sins, he will die for his own sin.” These words of God are the Law and God will act justly, according to the Law.
On the other hand, the Gospel in our text says that “if a person turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right,” in other words, if a person repents, “he will be forgiven.” These words of God are the Gospel and so too, God will act accordingly.
Ezekiel is quite clear on God’s justice and fairness. God acts rightly according to His Law and His Gospel. God’s Law shows us our sin and reminds us of our need to repent. God’s Gospel shows us our Savior, and reminds us what Christ has done for us on the cross.
Our text continues with a second complaint of the Lord being unjust. We pick up at verse twenty-nine, “29Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 30‘Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live’” (v. 29 - 32).
It would appear that the people were not convinced by Ezekiel’s words, so he comes to them again. He restates the Law which says that a person will be judge for his own sin. God says, “I will judge every one according to his ways.”
With God’s Word of Law spoken, Ezekiel goes on to give words of exhortation to repent. God is going to hold each person accountable for their sins, thus it is imperative that each person take account of their sins and repent of their sins.
And again the reminder is given that it is God’s will that people repent and live. God’s will is not that He is out to get people as in to condemn people. He is not out to get us. God’s will is not that He is out to destroy humanity. God’s will is that He loves the people. He wants all people to come to a knowledge of the truth, to hear His words of salvation, and be saved. Thus, it is God’s will that people repent and live.
Our text sounds a lot like the people of our own world today. How often are we confronted with people who do not want to be held responsible for their own actions, let alone the actions of others. We live in a world in which we do not want to be held responsible for our actions. A person sues and wins, because she spilled hot coffee on herself. A person sues and wins, because he was hurt while trying to rob your house. A person is put in jail and declares that it is societies fault that he is going to jail. We believe that we should be able to do whatever we want, as long as we are not hurting anyone else, and sometimes even if we are hurting someone else, and we do not want to be held responsible for our actions, and yet we believe that we are entitled to all the benefits that come from being a citizen of this country. We expect someone else and especially the government to be responsible for us. How we got to this point is really rather simple, but that is for another time.
Amazingly enough, we are like the children of Israel. They wanted to do whatever they wanted to do and they did not want to be held responsible for their sins. They wanted God to take care of them as if they were, for some reason, entitled for God to do everything for them. Yes, we are very much like the children of Israel. And so God comes to us to tell us that we are responsible and He holds each one of us personally accountable for our own sins, that is the Law. But there is more, and that more is the Gospel. For you see, when we do repent, God no longer holds us accountable, instead He holds Jesus accountable for our sins. Our sins, the penalty for our sins has to be paid. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sins will die.” The death that these verse talk about is eternal spiritual death. That eternal spiritual death penalty was placed on Jesus who suffered our penalty on the cross, for us, in our place.
It is not God’s will that people should perish. It was never God’s intent that He should have to punish us. Rather, God would have us repent and live. As in the past few Sundays, we are reminded again of how important are the words we speak on Sunday mornings, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us from all unrighteousness.”
God’s will is that no one should perish. Rather, God wants all people to be saved. We may think that God is not fair and we are right. God is not fair. If He were fair, He would give us what we deserve, what we are entitled to, and that would mean that we would all be damned, we would all spend eternity in hell. Because we were conceived and born in sin, because every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, we are entitled only to death, eternal spiritual death and hell. But our God who we think is unfair, unfairly places all our sins on His Son, Jesus who was perfect and holy, who was perfectly obedient, who never sinned. Jesus bears the punishment, the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. Now that is unfair indeed.
Paul speaks of this unfairness in our Epistle reading for today reminding us of God’s great love for us in Jesus. He encourages us to have the mind or attitude of Jesus who humbled Himself because of His love for us. He reminds us of Jesus being born as a human, being obedient even to death on the cross. He reminds us that the victory is ours by faith in Jesus as in the end every knee, believer and unbeliever will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Here again we are reminded that God is the prime mover. God acts. God stirs in us to believe, to repent and confess, to be given the gifts and blessings He has to give; forgiveness, faith, life and salvation.
Today we celebrate that we are God’s people, we are God’s children, made so in Christ. God created us, giving us life at conception. He recreated us at our baptism, putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins, forgiveness for our original inborn sin as well as our actual sin. He stirs in us to repent and to not refuse His forgiveness. He stirs in us a desire to make regular and diligent us of His means of grace, reading and hearing His Word, especially in divine service; remembering our baptism; confessing our sins and hearing His most beautiful words of forgiveness; coming to His Table to partake of His body and His blood in His holy meal. And He stirs in us to respond to all that He does and gives to us by offering our lives as living sacrifices for Him. What is left except to give Him thanks and praise. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
To You I Have Committed My Cause - September 24, 2017 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Isaiah 55:6-9
Our text for today is another one that reminds us of what a great God we do have. We have a God who is omnipotent as we learned in confirmation that is He is almighty, He created all things out of nothing; He is omniscient, again as we learned in confirmation, that is He is all knowing, He knows all things. He knew how to create human beings that are so complex that doctors and scientist are still trying to figure out how everything works. We have a God that does not need anything from us, as if He would be so wimpy as to need anything from us, rather, He gives us all things. We are born with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. Everything we have and use while we live in this world is given to us by God to use and to use to His glory. And He even puts up with us when we think we are so wonderful as to come and worship Him once a week, if that. Our text for today reminds us that we have a God who’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways but His thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and ways. How small of a God would we have if we could fit Him into our little minds. Our God is as big and as great as the universe He created.
Our text begins at verse six where we are told to, 6“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (v.6). You have heard me say many times that we do not go looking for the Lord, yet, our text tells us to seek for the Lord and to do so while He is near. So, how can it be that we seek the Lord. When we put our text into its proper context, and that is the key to this text and all texts of Scripture, never to take one verse out og context, but when we put it into its context we see that Isaiah is speaking to the people of God. He is not speaking to people who have never known God, which is what many people view as “seeking” the Lord. As a matter of fact, Scripture is quite clear that, according to our sinful, unbelieving nature we do not seek the Lord. Thus we see that this text is speaking to believers and so this text is a text of sanctification, that is this text is speaking about our growing in our Christian faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has already redeemed us, now He wants to continue to strengthen our faith in Him by encouraging us to seek for Him in His Word and Sacraments. This “seeking” the Lord is so important because the second part of this verse reminds us that there will come a time when the Lord will no longer be near, when we will no longer be able to seek for Him and that time is judgement day. Very often in a sermon you will hear me say to you that our desire as Christians is that we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, those means through which our Lord comes to give, strengthen and keep us in faith, until Christ comes again. This making regular and diligent use of the means of grace is how we seek the Lord.
Our text reminds us of our need to remember our baptism. We are to daily remember our baptism, daily to take up our crosses, daily to follow Jesus. We are to daily live our lives in such a way that we show forth our faith in Jesus as our Savior through our thoughts, our words and our actions. It is our baptism that reminds us that we belong to the Lord, that He has recreated us, that He has put faith in our hearts, that we wake up every day knowing that our sins have been forgiven and we have a new day to start from scratch. This is how we are to live out our vocations as a part of the priesthood of all believers.
Our text is very much reflected in Paul’s attitude in our Epistle lesson. Paul’s desire was to be in heaven with the Lord, but because the Lord had more work yet for him to do on this earth, he will remain and do what God wants him to do. Normally we would not think so lightly of this life and this world, but Paul has the right attitude. Paul’s words remind us that the important things of this world are not the things of this world, but are a right relationship with the Lord. Indeed, in eternity this world and the things of this world will be a mere blip on the screen, a mere snap of the fingers. It is the Lord’s salvation, made ours through faith in Jesus Christ which makes heaven ours which is the most important thing in this world. Again, it is our spiritual well being which is much more important than our worldly well being.
God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. We read verse seven, “7let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v.7). What are the thoughts and the ways of the wicked? They are the thoughts and ways of this world. They are the thoughts and ways of fortune and fame, of accolades from this world. They are very often the thoughts and ways of doing what is contrary to God’s will and Word. Our thoughts on what to do with the wicked would be to condemn them. We would stick to the letter of the Law. We would want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
On the other hand, when the wicked repent and turn from their evil thoughts and ways, the Lord is ready to abundantly pardon them. We may want an eye for an eye, but the Lord, in His infinite mercy, which far out weighs His harsh justice, is always ready, willing, and able to forgive, because of the death of His only Son, Jesus. We especially see this difference, between God’s thoughts and ways and our thoughts and ways in our Gospel lesson. We would begrudge new Christians of the gifts God has to give, especially if we have been a Christian for a long time even all our life. This is not God’s way.
God’s mercy is shown to us in that “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10a). While we live our lives in direct opposition to God, He is there, giving the life of His Son for our forgiveness. This shows us how God’s thoughts and ways definitely are not our thoughts and ways.
What are God’s thoughts and ways? We read verse eight and nine, “8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (v.8,9). God’s thoughts and ways are heavenly thoughts and ways. God’s thoughts and ways are the thoughts and ways of paying for our sin. Thus, God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son humbly, born poor and in a manger. God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son humbly, riding on a donkey. God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son to be disowned by His own family and friends.
God’s thoughts and ways are to take ours sins and to put them upon His one and only Son. God put our sins on Jesus, who was innocent, who was perfect and holy, who was perfectly obedient for us in our place because we cannot be perfect and obedient. God’s thoughts and ways were to put our sins on Jesus who deserved none of what he got. God put our sins on Jesus and then looks at Jesus as if He were the only one to ever sin against Him and sin to such a degree that He takes all His fury and righteous judgement out on Jesus. God’s thoughts and ways are to punish His Son for our sins. And the punishment with which Jesus is punished is total absence from God’s love, which is eternal spiritual death, hell.
God’s thoughts and ways are to make Jesus suffer and die the most cruel and horrid death for us, in our place. God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and way. If it were us, we would probably want to make every individual person responsible for their own sin. According to our human thinking, that would only be fair. And that would mean that we would make each person responsible for suffering the eternal punishment which each of us deserves.
God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. Last week we learned that God’s thoughts and ways were such that in all things, the good and especially the evil, God works out the best for us. We were reminded of passages like Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rather than allowing us to suffer the eternal consequences for our sins, and rather than let us always suffer all of the temporal consequences for our sins, the Lord works through any and all situations to bring out the best for us.
This working out the best for us is now being seen in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria and the earthquakes in Mexico. As I said last week, hurricanes, natural disasters and the like are not God’s will, they were not a part of God’s plan, but they are a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Because of their sin in Eden, the earth has been cursed, such that thorns and thistles grow in our gardens, the earth groans with earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Thanks be to God that because of His great love for us, His children, He works out the best for us, even through what might appear to be the worst. What that best is, I cannot tell you, but God knows and He will work out the best and that is where our faith is strengthened. Here again we see that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.
Looking again at the Gospel lesson for today, did you notice that even those hired late received the same wages. Jesus told this parable to make a point that it does not matter when you come to faith, as long as it is before judgement day. Here we are pushed back to verse six of our text, which reminds us that there is a time when it will be too late to come to faith.
We are glad that God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and our ways. It is God’s thoughts and ways that have rescued us from death and the devil, from sin and temptation, from everlasting life in hell. It is Gods’ thoughts and ways that have rescued us from some torment that we might have concocted for us to suffer.
Our text for today is one which reminds us that it is our Lord who comes looking for us, who searches and finds us. It is our Lord who puts His name on us at our baptism. He puts faith in our hearts, He makes us His very own. It is our Lord who continues to work through His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments to draw us closer to Him so that He might strengthen us in our faith, again through His Word and sacraments. It is the Lord who is the initiator. It is the Lord who continues to be a part of our lives, working through all that happens, the good and the bad to bring out the best for us. It is the Lord who knows what is best for us, according to His infinite wisdom. It is the Lord who comes to us to give us all things according to what He knows we need, according to His omniscient wisdom. It is the Lord whose thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and ways, that moves Him to give the life of His only Son to pay the price for our sins so that we might have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness, eternal life with Him in heaven. It is the Lord who initiates in us, moves in us, so that we respond to all that He does for us. And even when we decide that we have responded enough, He continues to give out His good gifts and blessings. What He gives does not depend on how we respond. In other words, just because we do not respond, or because we respond poorly to all that He does for us and gives to us, does not determine how much more He does for us and gives to us.
God has given us faith. In our text He comes to us to stir us to exercise that faith. We exercise our faith by our thoughts, words and actions, by making regular and diligent use of His means of grace, by reading and hearing God’s Words, by remembering our baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing his most beautiful words of forgiveness, and by receiving His sacraments. We exercise our faith by responding with works of service as the Holy Spirit moves us. And to think, even in all that we do, God is still the prime mover. What a great and awesome God we do have. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.