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, July 23, 2017

Apart from Me There Is No God - July 23, 2017 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Isaiah 44:6-8

We’re number one! We’re number one! Every team and everyone on the team likes to shout, we’re number one! It is a great feeling to be number one. In a couple months, Lord willing as we say, we will more than likely hear the chant, Astros, Astros, as the baseball season winds down and moves into the playoffs. And there is nothing wrong with following your favorite sports team, rooting for them to win. Sports are a great pastime. Unfortunately, it is when we put too much emphasis on sports, when sports become all consuming, that is when we forget what really matters. There was an article in one of the papers a while back giving a little background on sports and on the Olympics in particular and reminding us that the Olympics were originally a time to show off ones military might and to honor one or more of the Greek gods. Again, do not get me wrong, I like watching sports and the Olympics. I think that sports, watching sporting events and more particular participating for the exercise is a great idea, but I really do not like the glorification of athletes, no matter how good they are, nor the idea of a person being so tied to the winning or losing of a team that it affects their mood. When it comes to the Olympics, which now we see every other year, last year being the Summer games and next year being the Winter games, I am not so keen on the idea of the Greek gods being pushed on me, as if the Greek society was something special for being so open minded as having not one, but several gods. The upshot of this introduction being, according to some in our society, what a terrible, intolerant person I am for espousing only one God and saying there is only one way to heaven. And that is what are text is talking about today.
Our text begins by telling us that the LORD is the only God, as we read in verse six, “6Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god’” (v. 6). The LORD is Israel’s King and Redeemer. The LORD Almighty is the only one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. The LORD is the ruler over Israel, and not just the Israel of old, but of the new Israel. He is the ruler of the new Kingdom. He is ruler over all believers. The LORD is Israel’s Redeemer, again, not just Israel of old, but He is the Redeemer of all people. In other words, the LORD is Jesus and Jesus is the LORD.
The LORD is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The LORD is eternal. He has no beginning and He has no end. He always was and always will be. He lives in the eternal present so for Him there is no yesterday, today and tomorrow there is only the present, the now, the eternal now. The LORD is God and God is the LORD. Jesus is God and God is Jesus. The LORD is Jesus and Jesus is the LORD.
The LORD is the only God, apart from Him there is no God. This belief flies smack in the face of those who say there is more than one way to heaven. I know you have heard the opinions of others, such statements as, “We need to be more open minded and tolerant of other religions.” “It does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe enough or are sincere in your faith, in what you believe.” If that were the case, that it does not matter in what or in whom you believe or that you simply are sincere or believe enough, then why did Jesus bother dying on the cross? If there are many ways to heaven, if sincerity of faith were the issue, then Jesus died on the cross for nothing. The LORD, God, says, that apart from Him there is no God and apart from Him there is no salvation. So, which is it? Are there many ways to the same place? or is there only one way?
Who knows the answer to that question? That question is best answered by someone who has been around for a long time and knows the answer. And who knows as the LORD knows. We read verse seven, “7Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen” (v. 7). Only the LORD knows what has happened since the beginning of the world, because He is the one who created the world and He is the only One who was there when He created the world. Darwin does not know what has happened since the beginning of the world, because he was not there. Scientific theories do not know what has happened since the beginning of the world, because they were not there, and that is why they are  only theories because they cannot be proven. God alone knows what happened at creation and what has happened since the beginning of our time because He alone was there and He alone tells us what happened in His Word.
The LORD has established His ancient people. That does not mean the children of Israel, but it means all the peoples that He has created. The LORD has established His ancient people that is all believers in Jesus. It is God’s will that all people hear His Word and come to faith. It is God’s will that all people hear His Word and are saved. That all people come to faith and are saved is God’s will, even though He also gives us the will to refuse and resists His salvation. And since the fall into sin, since we are all conceived and born in sin, and since our will has been tainted by sin, our only option, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, is to refuse, resist and reject His salvation and we see people do just that, refuse, resist and reject His salvation week in and week out, day in and day out.
So, how do we know who is right and who is not? As we learned a couple weeks ago, we know that a true prophet is known by the truth of his prophecy. If his prophecies come true, all his prophecies, then he is a true prophet. If any one of his prophecies does not come true, then he is a false prophet. God challenges all prophets, especially those false prophets to whom He has not revealed the truth. He challenges the psychic friends hotline. He challenges fortune tellers. He challenges palm readers. He challenges them all to proclaim what has happened since the beginning of time and what will happen in the future. He challenges them because He knows they do not know what they are talking about, because only He knows what was, what is, and what will be.
God says to us, “do not be afraid, the Lord is on your side.” We read verse eight, “8Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (v. 8). These words are a reminder that we do not need to be afraid on two counts. First, we do not need to be afraid of those who will persecute us because of our lack of open mindedness, our intolerance, especially our intolerance of sin. We do not need to be afraid of those who would persecute us for saying there is only one God and that God is the LORD. We do not need not be afraid of those who would persecute us for saying that there is only one way to heaven. For the Bible tells us there are false gods and idols, but there is no true God besides the LORD.
Second, we do not need to be afraid of divine retribution, that is we do not need to be afraid because we have been sinful and we continue to sin. We do not need to be afraid because we have been saved. We do not need to fear eternal spiritual death, which would be the result of our sin, because Jesus has given His life, He has shed His blood for us on the cross. Jesus has suffered the eternal punishment, which should have been ours, for us, in our place. It has already been accomplished.
Isaiah reminds us that God is our Rock, our fortress. In the New Testament, in first Corinthians we are even told that the Rock is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Where do we go when the persecutions of this world are upon us? We go to the Rock, to Christ, who is our fortress and protection. Where do we go when our sinful nature is closing in on us, accusing us of a multitude of sin? We go to the Rock. It is this same Rock that becomes a crushing bolder on those who do not believe. The Rock is Christ the Lord, the King of all, the Judge of all, and the Redeemer of all.
Our text for today is one that can best be summarized by three times answering the question, “how is this done?” And we will answer that question with some catechism review. So, if you would like to follow along, you can open your hymnal to pages 322-323. How is this done? How does God know what has happened since the beginning of the world? This is done by God the Father who has created all things and still preserves them. Dr. Martin Luther expressed it best in his explanation to the First Article. I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
How is this done? How is it that the LORD is our Redeemer? Again, going back to Dr. Martin Luther. He expressed it best in his explanation to the Second Article. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
And, how is this done? How is it that we have been established as the people of God? And one more time, going back to Dr. Martin Luther. He expressed it best in his explanation to the Third Article. I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
The world would have us believe that there are many ways to heaven. Actually, the many ways can be summed up in just two, because what seems to be the way of many ways, is just a variation of just the one way and that one way is through self. In reality then, there are basically only two religions in our world. All religions will fit into these two basic religion groups. All religions, except the Christian faith, can be summarized by saying that a person is saved by the good works they do that is by the character of the person. In other words, we become our own savior, our own god. The other way is the way of the Bible, the Christian church, which teaches that salvation comes from outside ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and His saving work of living the perfect life for us, taking our sins and dying on the cross for us. So you can depend on yourself and the uncertainty of your life, or you can depend on the Lord and the certainty of Him, His Word and the giving of His life for yours. Praise the Lord that He has made us His own, by His grace through faith which He has given to us through the waters of Holy Baptism, which He strengthens in us through His Word and His Holy Supper, and He keeps us in faith so that we live under Him in His kingdom. And He stirs in us our response of faith to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Word Will Not Return Empty - July 16, 2017 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Isaiah 55:10-13

Have you ever tried to talk to someone, but the whole while it seems like their mind is somewhere else? If you are a parent, have you ever spoken to your child and felt as if the words you were saying were going in one ear and coming out the other? I suppose that even children feel that way, at times, about speaking to their parents. Have you ever sat watching a television show or the news, or gone to a movie, or read a book and when it was all over you thought to yourself, “What did I just see, read, hear, or whatever?” Our minds are remarkable things, but unless our attention is on whatever we are doing we may miss out. Although we live in a world that speaks of multitasking, that is doing more than one thing at a time, a wise pastor once told me, when we multitask, we are doing more than one thing half-heartedly and not giving one hundred percent to any task thus all the things we are doing while multi-tasking are not done with our best effort. This is especially true when it comes to God’s Word, to our lives and the priorities of our lives. Today our lessons focus our attention on the importance of God’s Word.
    Before we get to our text it is necessary to do a little background study. First, let us go back a couple of chapters and look at Isaiah chapter fifty-three. This is the chapter which prophecies the coming of the Messiah. In this chapter, chapter fifty-three Isaiah, describes the Messiah as a Suffering Servant Messiah. He tells us that the Messiah will come as a human being, that He will take all our sins on Himself, that He will suffer and die on the cross for us, in our place. He will suffer the suffering and death, the eternal spiritual death penalty pronounced in Eden, that is He will suffer hell, which should be ours to suffer, for us in our place so that we might be given forgiveness of sins, and with forgiveness we will be given life and salvation.
From Isaiah fifty-three we move to the next chapter, Isaiah fifty-four  in which we are given words of our future glory in heaven. These words are given to us only because of the work accomplished by the Messiah, the work prophesied in the previous chapter, chapter fifty-three. Next we move to the first part of chapter fifty-five, the verses right before our text. These verses invite us to take part in the salvation which is ours, gained for us by the Messiah.
All of this brings us to our text. The first verse of our text, verse ten reminds us that it is God who gives rain and snow. He gives the rain and the snow which, “come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread for the eater” (v. 10). These words are both literal and figurative. Our Great God gives us rain and snow to water the earth so that the plants bud and flourish. Our Great God also gives us His Word and sacraments which water us spiritually so that we may grow and flourish in our faith.
How do we respond to God’s gifts of His Word and sacraments? Are we joyfully given His gifts? Or do we neglect to be given, even refusing and rejecting by absenting ourselves from the very place His gifts are given out? Do we even refuse and neglect to believe His Word and promises? We neglect to be given God’s Word and promises when we are unfaithful in our worship attendance as well as our daily reading of God’s Word. To be honest, we can go so far as to say that we despise God’s Word and promises when we neglect to be in His Word. We are offered ample opportunity here at St. Matthew to be in the Word. We are offered the Word in the divine worship service every Sunday. We are offered Sunday morning Bible classes. We are offered other Bible studies during the week, a Wednesday study, a Thursday evening study a Saturday men’s and a Saturday women’s study. We make available the devotional book The Portals of Prayer for home personal and family devotions. The Sunday sermon is available online to read. All of these are ways in which we are given the opportunity to hear God’s Words and promises. If we are not taking part in these, then we might truly say we are despising God’s Word and refusing and rejecting His gifts.
Continuing in verse eleven of our text God tells us about the word that goes out from His mouth. He says, “it will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (v. 11). As we have said many times, God’s Word is a word with power, power to give and do what it say. God’s Words and promises do what they say. God gives us His Word and Sacraments to give to us and to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness, earned for us and given to us by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and His Word and Sacraments remind us of the gift and promise of eternal salvation with Him in heaven.
As we journey through this life, we may see what we think are set backs and failures, but God’s Word never fails. God knows what is best for us in our life even when it might not look like that is so because we cannot see it. There may be times when we think we know what is best for ourselves and when God allows things to go not the way we want or think they should go, then at those times of difficulty we may think God’s Word has failed. It is at these times that we need to remind ourselves of God’s Word immediately preceding our text, verses eight and nine, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9). God has promised and He accomplishes the fact that His Word never fails. We might not see what good God has in mind, and this lack of vision may be especially true when we are in the middle of a difficult situation, but we can know for certain that God will work all things out for the best, for those who are called according to His purposes.
The last two verses of our text invite us to believe the truth of God’s Word and to look forward to the joy that will be ours in heaven, the joy of paradise restored. Just as Adam and Eve destroyed the perfection of Eden, so Jesus came and restores all things so that heaven is a place of eternal perfection.
Our Gospel reading for this morning is a beautiful application of Isaiah’s prophecy in our text. In Jesus’ parable of the Sower and seed we see that God is the sower and that what He sows is His Word. When His Word is not listened to or read, but is neglected, refused and rejected, it eventually dies off. In the same way, when we neglect, refuse and reject God’s Word we can eventually lose our faith.
When God’s Word is sown on fertile soil, that is when we listen to and strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live according to God’s Word, then His Word takes root, springs up and bears abundant fruit in our hearts and lives. This listening, taking root, springing up and bearing abundant fruit is our prayer each and every Sunday as well as each and every day, that is that the Lord will work through His Word so that His Word might take root in your lives, spring up, and bear abundant fruit. And we add that this work might be done to the praise and glory of Jesus name.
For whatever reason, God has chosen to come to us today through means. He comes to us through the means of grace, that is through the means of His Word as well as through the means of confession and absolution as well as His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God has chosen to come to us through these ordinary earthly means, water, wine, bread and word and through these ordinary means He has given to come to us to give to us and bring us to faith, to strengthen us in that faith which He gives, to remind us that we have already been forgiven, to remind us that we have the gift of heaven, that we have the promise of eternal life and salvation. God comes to us in His Word and Sacraments on a daily basis to give us His good gifts and blessings. The usual way we are given His good gifts and blessings is through the means which He has chosen to give them, His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments.
When we neglect to be given God’s many good gifts and blessings, when we refuse, reject and resist His Word and His sacraments, He cannot give us His gifts. Without His gifts we are lost and condemned creatures. Without His gifts we have no future, we have nothing for which to hope.  Without His gifts we have only ourselves in which to hope and if you have ever tried to hope in yourself you know that is not much for which to hope. When we depend on ourselves we fail. We even fall into despair. God is not just an answer to all that goes on in life, He is the only answer to make sense out of life.
God tells us that His Word never fails. His Word never fails because He is the one who has given us His Word. We fail, but God never fails. The exciting news is that even when we fail, even when we neglect God’s Word, even when we have fallen as far away from our Lord as far as we think we can fall, He is always right there, looking for us, working to bring us back into His fold. What has God done for you lately? He has given you each new day, because without Him you would not have any new days. He daily rains down His gifts of health and strength and daily food. He daily gives us all that we need to support this body and life, including clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children and all that we need to support this body and life. He gives us gifts talents and abilities as well us our jobs and the ability to work to make a living. He gives us our most important needs, our spiritual blessings, forgiveness of sins, faith, strengthening of faith, life, eternal life and salvation. He gives us His Word and Sacraments through which He comes to us with His good gifts and blessings. And the list can go on and on. God gives and gives and gives and we are given to. So to simplify matters we might just say, everything that we have spiritually as well as physically, emotionally and mentally, everything we have is a gift from God.
Daily we carry on a conversation with God. God speaks to us each and every day of our lives. He speaks to us through His Word. We speak back to Him in prayer. It is when we are in the Word and the Word, Jesus Christ, is in us that we know that God’s Word will accomplish what He sent it to do, give, strengthen and keep us in faith. I pray that the Lord will continue to open your hearts and minds so that you will hear His Word and so that Word might take root, spring up, and bear abundant fruit in your lives, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. And as always our response then is, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

May the Lord Do So - July 2, 2017 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Jeremiah 28:5-9

Day after tomorrow, Tuesday, we celebrate our nations independence from other ruling authorities and what a wonderful thing to celebrate. Living outside the Houston city limits and not having any restrictions on shooting fireworks, I know how wonderful it is to celebrate the Fourth of July as every year people are still celebrating and shooting off fireworks at 1:00 in the morning. As I have said before, we do celebrate our independence from other forms of government, but we must never forget our dependency on our Lord. It is when we begin to forget our dependency on our Lord and begin to believe we can be independent of the Lord that what really happens is we begin placing our dependency on our human inventions that is when we begin to get into trouble.
When we listen to the people of our world we hear two distinct messages. The first message we hear are words of destruction. You know the people I am talking about, they will tell you that the world is going to end tomorrow. They tell you that things are as bad as they have ever been and that they will get worse. They will tell you how bad the economy is, how our oil supply is running out, and how the earth is heating up from man made global warming, or rather now global climate change. You might remember back in the 1980s it was said that we were going to have a global ice age. There are those who will tell you that there will be tomorrow. They will go so far as to tell you that things are so bad that the Lord will come soon to destroy this world. Just a word to the wise, don’t believe half of what they tell you. God is still in charge.
On the other hand we have the people of our world who only tell us words of peace. These are the people who tell you that nothing is wrong with our world. They may even tell you that it is all in how you look at things. They may tell you all we need is love and then we can have a peaceful existence. They will tell you we just need to be tolerant of others and accepting. They are the people who always find the silver lining in the clouds. Neither of these types of people are new and neither are completely right or completely wrong. As we look at our text we will see that Jeremiah was prophesying destruction and the professional prophets were prophesying peace, but in this case one was right and one was wrong as we shall see.
In order to better understand what is going on in our text, let us look at what was going on before we get to the words of the text. The chapter immediately preceding our text, chapter twenty-seven, is filled with Jeremiah’s words of destruction. Jeremiah received special revelation from the Lord to speak to the people. He knew that the words which he was speaking were true, because he had received them from the Lord. And as we were reminded last week, God’s Word does what it says. So, Jeremiah knew what he said would happen, not because he said it, but because God said it. His Words were God’s words.
At the beginning of chapter twenty-eight we read the words of the prophet Hananiah. His words are words of peace and prosperity. His words are words which the people wanted to hear. We read beginning at verses one, “1In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 2“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” 5Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 28:1-5).
The next verses are our text and they are Jeremiah’s response to all the good things which Hananiah prophesied. Jeremiah begins by saying that he does indeed hope that Hananiah’s prophecy will come true. He is no dummy. He too hopes for peace and prosperity, but Jeremiah knows the Word of the Lord. He knows that Hananiah’s prophecy will not come true because he is an ungodly prophet, he is not speaking from what God has said, and because the true Lord had already revealed to him what He would do.
In response to Hananiah’s prophecy, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and instructed him to speak to Hananiah. We pick up reading at verse twelve, “12Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13“Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. 14For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” 15And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’” 17In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:12-17).
Jeremiah truly wanted Hananiah’s words to come true, but he knew the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet as he told the people in verse eight and nine, “8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet” (28:8,9).
We are very much like the people of Jeremiah’s day. I would like to say that we do not like to hear about destruction and while that is true I do believe that we still like to hear good juicy gossip. We like to hear about the pain, problems and destruction of others. But, for the most part I believe that we would rather hear about peace and how things are getting better. I believe that we are at the point in our own nation of wanting peace at any cost and even at all cost. The big deal today is to be politically correct meaning that you go out of your way so as to not offend anyone, whether you agree with them or not. It is almost to the point that you cannot disagree with anyone and if you do, then it is you who has the problem.
The problem is that this position, peace at all cost, costs all things, including and especially peace, true peace. I believe our Gospel lesson from Matthew speaks loudly to this issue. Jesus tells us that He did not come to bring peace to earth, but to bring a sword. Hey folks, it may still be okay and fairly easy to be a Christian in Westfield, Spring, Humble, or Houston, but it is getting harder and harder to be a Christian in the rest of the United States and in the rest of the world.
But let us get back to being a Christian right here in our own neighborhood. I believe that it is getting harder to be a Christian in our own neighborhood. I believe that we have already let the our society tainted by our media influence our attitude toward how we are to be as Christians. I continually hear how Christians and especially Lutherans are seen as people who think we are better than others. This is especially true when it comes to discussing things like our practice of closed communion, our practice of excluding members of lodges, our practice of not having joint worship with other churches, and especially in our practice of preaching against the sins of abortion, homosexuality, living together, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on. As I have said before, the world hates Christians especially Christians who believe the exclusive claims of God’s Word, that is that there is only one way to eternal life and that only one way is through Jesus.
Unfortunately I also hear some our own members wanting peace and harmony at all cost. I keep hearing our own members talk about not wanting to offend anyone. Folks, the gospel is offensive. If we are not offending people with our message then I would wonder if we were truly proclaiming God’s Word. As we just heard in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said He came, not to bring peace but a sword. It is only when we are in the Word and the Word is in us that we can have true peace and harmony. The reverse is not true, that is that we can have true peace and harmony and then we are in the Word. That does not work. I have actually had people tell me, “Pastor, once I get my life straightened out, then I will be back in church.” It simply does not work that way. The only way to get our life straight is by being in the word and letting the Word have His way with us. It is the Word alone which brings true peace and harmony.
I believe I am beginning to understand the way Jeremiah felt when the Lord told him to proclaim His Word. In the same way that the people of his day were giving more credence to words other than to God’s Word, so too today. People actually listen to and believe the news media and the politicians more than and over God’s Word. It is frightening. I am all for peace and harmony. As Jeremiah says, “Amen!” to peace and harmony, “May the LORD do so!” At the same time we must not forget Jesus’ Words in Matthew, that Jesus came, not to bring peace, at least not a fake worldly peace, but rather He came to bring a sword. Nor must we forget His words that, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, we must never forget the need to give up this world and our life in this world knowing that our Lord has a better place prepared for us.
How do we know what is true, what is God’s Word? Our Epistle lesson from Romans helps us out with that point. We know what is true and what is from God when what we hear speaks about our need to recognize and confess our sin and our Lord’s work to forgive us and save us. When we are spoken of as being able only to be given the gifts of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and our Lord being the one to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give, with no effort on our part, this speaking is how we know what is truly from God. Remember, faith plus anything means it is not faith but the anything that saves. Faith plus nothing. Faith that is given. Faith that is the instrument which is given which reaches out and takes hold of all the other gifts and blessings, this is saving faith. The direction of salvation is always from heaven to earth, from Jesus to us.
We may want to always hear good news, news about peace and prosperity in the land. Wanting to hear such news is good. The best news, the most trust worthy news is the news which our Lord gives to us in His Word, the news that He is our Savior. If you want true peace, true peace does not come from within. True peace is not simply a worldly peace. That peace, a worldly peace only lasts for a short while. True peace, peace which lasts, which transcends time is peace that comes from sins forgiven. With sins forgiven, with guilt washed away, that is true peace, peace which passes all understanding. I pray that the Lord will always give you a yearning to hear His Good News, the best news of all, that your sins are forgiven, and with sins forgiven you may respond and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

He Rescues - June 25, 2017 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Jeremiah 20:7-13

The preacher in Ecclesiastes was right, there is nothing new under the sun. All these seeming new sins we have in our world today are nothing more than warmed over sins and some with new names. And today we do not even call it sin, we call it a mistake or an error in judgement, or a lapse in judgement, anything except sin. As we get into our text for this morning, if we did not know that it was written between 626 and 586 BC, we might think it was something being written today, here in the good old USA. I must confess, that especially as a pastor, I can relate to this text, but as a Christian who exercises your faith, I am sure that you also will relate to this text as well.
The context of our text is that Jeremiah was prophesying God’s truth, especially the truth of violence and destruction, of gloom and doom, and the other prophets, the king, and the people did not like it. We might liken what Jeremiah was doing to the pastor who continually preaches the truth of God’s Word, rightly dividing law and Gospel, no matter how politically incorrect, or against public opinion his proclamation might be. As we will see, Jeremiah was proclaiming what the Lord had given him to proclaim. Unfortunately, because of the sin of the children of Israel and because of their refusal to acknowledge and repent of their sin, the only thing the Lord was giving Jeremiah to proclaim was violence and destruction, or as we might say today, gloom and doom.
In particular, Jeremiah faces off against the temple-warden, Pashur, who holds him in contempt. Notice how everyone is against the messenger, as if the message does not mean anything, only a way to accuse the messenger. How often do we get mad at the Pastor for what he says, when he is only saying what God has given him to say?
Getting into our text, we begin with what I call “the Word,” that is, Jeremiah’s complaint. We begin at verses seven, “7O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (7-8). Jeremiah says that he was deceived by God into being a prophet. He thought that he would be able to prophecy good things, but now he has only violence and destruction, gloom and doom to prophecy. If he had only known that he was only going to be prophesying gloom and doom then he would not have signed up, or so he thinks.
He complains because he is ridiculed. He is ridiculed because he never prophecies good. All the other prophets are prophesying good things and he has to keep prophesying the bad. If only he could be like the other prophets then he would not be ridiculed, then he would be able to get along better, again, or so he thinks.
Notice how he turns to blame God for his troubles. It is God’s Word that has made him an insult and a reproach. It is all God’s fault that he is having so much trouble. Even Jeremiah has a hard time seeing that it is the people who have brought this violence and destruction on themselves. God is merely keeping His promises. He is merely dispensing justice. God is giving the people what they want. He is giving them their own way. Which suggests to us to be careful of wanting our own way, lest God would give us our own way, which leads to the road of violence and destruction.
At this point in our text we might ask ourselves, “are we more like Jeremiah, or the people?” Do we proclaim God’s Word as truth and have others complain of our “close mindedness,” or do we complain because the pastor proclaim’s God’s Word as truth and we complain to him about his “close mindedness?” Do we listen to the message, or do we blame God and miss the message all together?
Getting back to our text, we read what I call “the plan.” We pick up at verse nine, “9If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! ‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him’” (9-10). Jeremiah has a plan. He knows how he will get out of always being in trouble with everyone. He knows how he can be politically correct and not offend anyone. His plan is that he will just be quiet and say nothing. If he does not say anything, then no one can accuse him of anything. That sounds like a good plan. Perhaps we have felt that way before. And certainly this would be in line with what we have always been told as children, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” If only it were that easy.
There is just one minor flaw to his plan. He cannot do this. He cannot be quiet, because God’s Word is like an all consuming fire within him. He just has to say something. He just has to say what God tells him to say. He just has to, otherwise he will burn up.
He has to say what God gives him to say and, yet, the whole while his friends are waiting for him to get something wrong so they can accuse him of being a false prophet. Nice friends, right. His friends are watching his every move. They are writing down and documenting everything he has to say, looking, searching, waiting for him to say or do something wrong so they can say, “gotcha.”
At this point we might again ask ourselves, “are we more like Jeremiah? Do we try to hide God’s Word, do we just not say anything and not have others complain of our “close mindedness,” or does this merely apply to the pastor?” Do you stand out as being different in your workplace? Or do you say what everyone else is saying, not trying to rock the boat? Does your faith show, or do you try to hide it for fear of being set out as different? Please understand, I am not trying to make this a belittling issue. This is a tough thing and we believe the words of Jeremiah, he was ready to quit, or at least to try to quit.
The last section of our text is a word of good news and encouragement, what I call the “promise and praise.” We pick up at verse eleven, “11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. 13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers” (11-13). After all is said and done, Jeremiah knows that God’s Word does what it says. He knows that God is on his side and that the word which he prophesied, the Word of the Lord which he proclaimed, will happen, not because he proclaimed it, not because the words came out of his mouth, but because they are the Lord’s Words and the Lord does what He says.
Jeremiah knows that he holds the trump card. He knows that God will bring vengeance on his enemies. He knows that no matter how much his enemies watch him, how much they record, how much they wait, how long they wait for him to slip, their waiting and watching are in vane, because God will do what His Word says.
All of  this thinking, this inner struggle we hear Jeremiah doing ends up with his giving praise to the Lord because, as he says, “He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” Jeremiah puts his trust in the Lord knowing that the Lord will rescue him from the wicked.
The final upshot of all this is the fact that God’s Word does what it says. No matter what we might do, say, or think, no matter whether we confess God’s Word or not, no matter what we do, God’s Word will do what it says. No matter how much we do not say, or how quiet we try to be, God’s Word cannot be quieted. We have the advantage of looking back in time and seeing that God’s Word has accomplished what it says. The giver of peace, true peace has come. Jesus has already given His life on the cross for us. The violence and destruction, the gloom and doom that should have been ours has been dealt to Jesus. Jesus is the one who has rescued us from the hands of the wicked, from the devil. As the Lord examines our hearts and minds, by faith in Jesus, He sees Christ’s righteousness as ours. And God receives His just praise and glory.
The first question we might ask ourselves is, do we proclaim God’s Word, through our thoughts, words, and actions, or do we not want to cause any conflicts with our differences? The second question we might ask ourselves is, do we want a pastor who will preach God’s Word, whether we like it or not, or one who will preach what we want to hear, whether that leads to heaven or to hell? These questions are not new questions. This is not a new problem, this is an old problem, it just has a new name, political and religious correctness. The answer to how we deal with this problem is the answer of Jeremiah, the Lord’s Word will do what it says, “sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” If these problems only affected this life then we might have a different course of action or result. But the answer to these problems affects our more important life to come, our eternal spiritual life. Do we deny God, or proclaim Him no matter what happens in this world. Praise be the name of the Lord, because He is the one, the only one who can help us to profess, and confess our faith in Him through our thoughts, words and actions. And He does. By Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, He forgives us when we doubt, when we try to be quiet, when we try to hide and even more, He stirs in us to show forth His love for us.
By God’s grace, He has given us life, from the moment of conception. He has given us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives us forgiveness through confession and absolution. He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word and through His Holy Supper. All that we have is a gift from our great gift giving God. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, although all of this is freely given to us, none of this came without a price. The price for all that our Lord gives is the life of His Son on the cross. Yes, our Lord gives us all things and He even stirs in us a response of faith, that is that we do not hide our faith, nor do we keep our faith quiet, but rather that we rejoice and give thanks for our faith, that we share our faith with others, sometimes with our words, often with our thoughts and most often in our actions, and that we give glory to our Lord for all His good gifts and blessings saying, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.