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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!

Disclaimer

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, February 19, 2017

Because, “I Am the Lord” - February 19, 2017 - Seventh Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Although a Law motivation works more quickly and efficiently than a Gospel motivation,  God’s desire is to motivate us through the Gospel. We all know it is easier to get people to do something when we threaten them. This Law motivation is especially true when we think about how we get our children to do their chores. Either do it or you do not get your reward or you get punished. However, God’s desire is that we are motivated by the Gospel, by the fact that He loves us, rather than by His threats of the Law. What parent among us would not like for our children to voluntarily do what they are supposed to do without our asking, because we love them and because they love us? This morning we are reminded of the Laws of God and at the same time we are also reminded that the heart of the Law of God is love.
 
As we get to our text we hear Moses speak God’s command and demand of His people Israel, that they shall be holy. The word “holy” means sacred, separate, set apart and without sin. Indeed, quite a demand from the Lord. And in case they did not understand what God’s words meant, Moses continues laying out what God means by being holy.
 
Being holy means caring for the poor. More specifically, being holy means leaving some of the harvest in the fields so that the poor might gather what is left and have something to eat. Interestingly enough, notice that it is very much implied that the poor are not simply given something to eat, but they too must actually go out and gather in order to eat.
 
Being holy means not stealing nor dealing falsely with others, in other words it means having honest weights and measures in your trade. It means an honest days work for an honest days wages. And as we learn in the explanation to the seventh commandment it also means helping our neighbor to improve and protect his property and business. It means being holy both in what is done as well as in what is not done.
 
Being holy means not lying, nor swearing falsely. Today we might add that it means telling the whole truth. As we might imagine, telling the truth, yet not telling the whole truth can be a way of lying, for sometimes just some of the truth, while true paints quite a different picture than the whole truth.
 
Being holy means not profaning God’s name. As we are reminded in confirmation class, profaning God’s name includes despising preaching and God’s Word, which also includes any teaching and living contrary to God’s Word. In other words, profaning God’s name means refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give by absenting ourselves from where those gifts are given out, Divine Service and Bible Class, and living a life contrary to His Word, putting something before God.
 
Being holy means not robbing, nor keeping from the one who is owed. Here again, as with stealing and dealing falsely, we are reminded that an honest days work means an honest days wage and one should not be remiss in honoring one’s debts. Indeed, as Paul reminds us we should owe now one except to love our neighbor as ourselves.
 
Being holy means not cursing the deaf, nor tripping the blind, in other words it means not being cruel to those who are handicapped. It means not taking advantage of those, as we would say today, that are less fortunate than we are. It means caring for those who need care.
 
Being holy means not doing injustice in court by being partial. In other words it means being impartial and fair and treating everyone the same. Indeed, when we look at others perhaps we might remind ourselves that God loves them so much that He gave His life for them, who are we to love them any less.
 
Being holy means not slandering others. As we are reminded in the eight commandment, so we are reminded here that one’s reputation is a gift from God and God’s desire is that we do not hurt nor harm anyone’s reputation. Here also we are reminded of the words of gossip that so often flow from our lips, as we tear others down in order to make ourselves look better.
 
Being holy means letting vengeance be the Lord’s. Ours is not a life of vengeance nor revenge. The Lord will take care of carrying out the threats of the Law, that is not for us to do.
 
In summary however, we are told that the way we keep the Law is not so much the fact that we do or do not do what has been commanded, but that we love our neighbor as our self. Indeed, if we could love our neighbor as our self then we would not break all those commandments which God commands concerning our brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
Now, we might be thinking that our text from Leviticus has to do with the Children of Israel and that is true. However, God’s command and demand of us, His people, is the same that is that we are to be holy. As we heard last week and as we have heard before, by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, indeed we are the true Israel. With that fact in mind, then we might recognize that God’s commands and demands for us are the same as that of Israel, to keep the commandments.
 
Again, as we heard last week, just as Israel was unable to be God’s people, just like Israel continually disobeyed, went after other gods and were chastened by the Lord, so we too are unable to keep God’s commandments. We too go running after other gods and idols, those things that are not God. Indeed, every Sunday morning we see too many people go running after another god as they put something other than the one true God in first place by absenting themselves from Divine Service. But even more, as we heard God’s demand for holiness from Israel, so His demand on us is the same and yet how often do we find ourselves not caring for those in need, not being honest in our dealings with others, profaning God’s name by cursing and swearing, speaking ill of others and the like.
 
God’s Word to us through Moses is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” God’s desire is that we live lives of faith, not from threats of the Law but from the Gospel of His love for us, a Gospel seen most clearly in Jesus. Because Israel was unable to be holy and because we are unable to be holy, God sent Jesus to be holy for us. Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus had to be God in order to be holy. Jesus is God in flesh and He had to be human in order to be our substitute.
 
Jesus is true Israel. Jesus was born from the line of King David, from the line of Judah as promised of the Messiah. And Jesus lived as the true Israel. All that was commanded of Israel and all they could not do, Jesus did, perfectly so that He could trade Himself, His perfection for all of Israel.
 
Jesus is true us. All that Jesus did He did perfectly for us in our place so that He could trade His perfection for our imperfection. And as we were reminded earlier, that by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, indeed as we are the true Israel, so Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place. Having done all things perfectly, and next week as we will see Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration meeting with Moses and Elijah, confirming His fulfilling of all the law and prophets, so He took our sins and paid the price for our sins and gives to us His perfection so that when we stand before God we stand in His presence in the perfection and holiness that He demands of us.
 
What does this mean? Even though God knows we cannot accomplish His demands, yet they remain the same. Just as we have the civil laws of our land, laws meant for the sake of good order in our country, city and neighborhoods, so our Lord gives us His Law to keep us safe as His children. Without laws there would be anarchy and chaos, but with the laws, as with all governments which are gifts from God, even pagan governments, for the purpose of government is for order, peace and harmony. And so the law continues not simply as a threat, but is for the sake of good order.
 
Because we cannot keep the law perfectly, which is God’s demand on us as His children, He sent Jesus. Jesus fulfilled God’s demands for us in our place, for us, for Israel, for all. But, just because the demands of the law have been fulfilled in Jesus, that did not do away with the law for the law continues in its purpose, to bring order, peace and harmony.
 
And so the law continues and we continue to fail in keeping the law. Thanks be to God that when we fail, God forgives. God forgives and stirs in us and moves in us so that we might try again. However, our attempt at keeping the law is not an attempt from fear of punishment, indeed our attempts at keeping the law flow not for the sake of thinking we might offer our perfection to God and say “See, I am perfect as you commanded.” Rather our attempts to keep the law flow from love, from God’s love for us and our reflection of the love back to Him and others.
 
So, when we do right, when we keep the law, even if only a little, it is because God stirs in us to do right. Indeed, when we do what the law demands it is not we who are acting, but it is God acting in and through us.
 
So, we are reminded as we usually are, that we get it right when we point to Jesus. Jesus loves me. Jesus helps me to love others. Jesus helps me to do what is mete, right and salutary. Jesus helps me to be the person He would have me to be. Jesus does it through me, for me, in my place. Thanks be to Jesus for His grace and righteousness.
 
As you have read, hopefully in my newsletter articles and as you have heard me say, hopefully, one of the reasons I am a Lutheran is because we get it right when it comes to a proper understanding of justification and sanctification. Indeed, as we Lutherans say, the church stands or falls on the article of justification and getting it right. As you have heard time and again, justification is all done for us by Jesus. We stand before God just and holy, righteous and without sin only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Anytime we add or attempt to add anything to what Christ has done as if we need to add anything, then we lose everything. Jesus has done it all.
 
Sanctification on the other hand is all worked in and through us by Jesus. Here again, we get it right when we point to Jesus. As St. Paul reminds us the good that we would do we do not do, but the evil that is before us that is what we do. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit works in and through us to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.
 
Love is a summary of the commandments. We love because He first loves us. We do because He first loves us and shines His love in and through us. We do, not because of some threat, not because we have to, but we do because we cannot help but do those things He moves and stirs in us to do.
 
God’s demand is perfection. Because we cannot meet His demand He sends Jesus to be perfect for us. Jesus lives for us. Jesus takes our sins and gives us His perfection. Jesus suffers and dies and pays the price for our sins. Jesus rises from the dead defeating sin, death and the Devil. Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit who works in us to do the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do. Jesus love us. He loves you. And so we live our lives reflecting His love back to Him and to others so that our lives do say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Choice - February 12, 2017 - Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

God gives and we are given to. God gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Through the water and Word of Holy Baptism God puts His name on us claiming us as His own. Through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism God gives us faith. Through the confession and absolution God forgives our sins. Through the Holy Word of Scripture and the Lord’s Supper God strengthens and keeps us in faith. These are all works of God. This work is God’s work of justifying us, that is making us just and right in His eyes. This morning our text brings us to Moses speaking to God’s people, a people already belonging to the Lord. Moses’ words are words we call words of sanctification, that is the response of those already belonging to God. Indeed, once we have been given faith, we can and do make decisions concerning our faith life. We make bad decisions by ourselves and good decisions as the Lord leads us to do so. It is important as we look at our text for this morning to understand that our text is not speaking about the justification of God’s people and their making a decision to be God’s people. These are God’s people as He has made them His own. As His people, Moses addresses the Children of Israel and encourages them to remain faithful to the God who has chosen them and made them His own. So, let us get to our text.
 
God chose Israel to be His people and He made His covenant with them. A part of the covenant God made with Israel, beginning with Abraham, was that He would make them into a great nation, that He would give them a land, that He would guard and defend them, that they would be His people and He would be their God and that all nations would be blessed through them. These blessings, however were conditional blessings. These blessings would be theirs if they walked in His ways and kept His commandments, statutes and rules. In other words, these were the blessings God had promised and the only thing the Children of Israel could do would be to refuse and reject those blessings by not remaining faithful to the Lord.
 
God chose Israel to be His people and He made His covenant with them and along with the blessings already mentioned God also promised eternal spiritual blessings, that is God promised salvation through a Savior. God’s covenant was always first and foremost a covenant of salvation. God’s covenant was first made in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve before there was a Jew or a Gentile. God’s covenant was that He would send a Savior for all people. When God chose Abraham He narrowed the family line through which He would fulfill His covenant to send a Savior, namely that through Abraham, through the Children of Israel, the Savior of the world would be born. This part of God’s covenant had no conditions, as a matter of fact, even though Israel continually broke the conditions of the covenant, God still kept His part, that of sending the Savior of the world though the family of Israel.
 
Our text comes at the end of Moses time of leading the Children of Israel. Moses was getting old and because of an earlier sin, when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. After wandering in the desert for forty years, after those who were twenty years and older had passed, now was the time to enter the promised land. Our text brings us to the point where Israel is ready at this time to enter the promised land and so Moses is getting ready to depart.
 
As Moses gets ready to depart, and go to heaven, so it is not so bad with him, but as he is getting ready to depart he now address the Children of Israel and encourages them as they enter the promised land. He encourages them to remain faithful to the covenant God has made with them. Moses knows these people, that they are a stiff necked, rebellious group. He knows the land and the people in the land they are about to enter and thus he knows the Children of Israel need all the encouragement he can give because the temptations to not remain faithful will be great as the land is full of idolatrous nations ready to lead Israel astray.
 
And even with all of Moses’ encouragement we know what happened. Time and again the Children of Israel broke their covenant with God, God allowed for them to be disciplined, they would cry out and God would deliver them. The history of the Children of Israel quite easily reflects the lives of many in our world today as we continue to suffer and fall into temptation and sin, then repent, are forgiven and continue to sin, after all, sinning is our nature. Unfortunately, in the last, for Israel, at the rejection of the Savior, at the rejection of Jesus we see the Children of Israel losing the conditional part of God’s covenant, the earthly blessings.
 
Although Israel broke their covenant with God and lost the conditional parts of the covenant, the earthly blessings, yet God remains faithful to His promise of spiritual blessings for all who believe. God’s promises are sure and certain and He is faithful and never goes back on His promises. God’s promise was the promise of a Savior for all nations and He has kept and continues to keep His promise. Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died and rose for all people, of all places of all times, not just for one group of people.
 
Fast forward to today. Today God’s covenant is with us. God has chosen us in Jesus and promises eternal spiritual blessings to us. Indeed, by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, we are the true Israel of God. Although God does not make a covenant with us for the sake of earthly blessings, for the sake of making us a great nation, a multitude of people, giving us a promised land and the like, He does covenant with us to give us greater blessings.
 
God gives and we are given to. God gives life at conception. God gives new life that is He gives faith through the waters of Holy Baptism and through His Holy Word. God gives forgiveness of sins through His Word as well as through confession and absolution and His Holy Supper. God gives faith, forgiveness and life even and especially eternal salvation. God gives and we are given to and God gives unconditionally.
 
At the same time God’s desire is that we continue being given His blessings. God’s desire is that we continue steadfast in His Word and Sacraments, that we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, those means through which He comes to pour out on us and lavish us with His many good gifts and blessings. God’s desire is that we do not neglect, nor refuse and reject the gifts He has to give. Indeed, God’s desire is that we not be like the Children of Israel.
 
And so, as your pastor I encourage you to remain faithful. I encourage you to be in the Word, to have personal and family devotions, to read God’s Word. It is our reading of God’s Word and our going to Him in prayer that make for a conversation with Him. He speaks to us through His Word and we speak to Him in prayer. It is as we are in this daily conversation that we are able with His help to fend off the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh which would lead us to falling away from faith and eternal salvation.
 
And yet, what happens. Very much like the Children of Israel, we too sin. We too break our relationship with God. We too fall away at times. Because we are conceived and born in sin our natural inclination is to sin, to refuse and reject the gifts of God and too often we fall into a bad habit of doing just that, fall into temptation and sin. We put other things before God. We refuse and reject His gifts as we absent ourselves from reading God’s Word, having devotion and prayer time, skipping Divine Service and the like. Indeed, we put something other than God first when we absent ourselves, refusing and rejecting His good gifts and blessings.
 
Thanks be to God that He is continually calling us to repentance. God’s desire is that we repent and be given His greatest gift of forgiveness of sins. Yes, forgiveness is God’s greatest gift because as we know, with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
God loves us so much. God loves you so much. He has so much, so many gifts and blessings He desires to pour out on us and lavish on us. His love is seen in His giving us life, faith, forgiveness and eternal life. His love is seen in His desire to give even more to us through His means of grace.
 
What does this mean? Again we are reminded and we can never be reminded too much, God gives and we are given to. God gives us His first and best. God gives us and He gives us even more. We get it right and we know we get it right when we point to Jesus, not to ourselves. God gives and we are given to.
 
Because of our inborn sinful nature, we sin and fall away. We point to ourselves. We look inside ourselves. We think we can do it ourselves. We think we must do something, anything in order to make ourselves just and right in God’s eyes. We fail. We fall for temptation and we sin. We refuse and reject the gifts of God. We put other things before God. Left to ourselves we would be eternally lost, thus we are continually pointed outside ourselves and the need for regular and diligent use of His means of grace.
 
We sin. God disciplines us. We repent and God forgives. Sounds an awful lot like the Children of Israel. Thanks be to God that in the same manner He continually keeps His promises. Even when we fail, even when we sin, He is always there, ready to forgive and restore us.
 
And thanks be to God that He is always there ready to help us to remain faithful in our sanctified lives. It is not as if we are on our own in this world, but we have a God who is near to us and is there to help us in any and every need. Truly His desire is to pour out on us and lavish us with His many good gifts and blessings.
 
Moses’ words to Israel in our text for today are God’s Word to us. God has set before us, life and good, death and evil. God’s desire is that we obey His commandments, that we keep His statutes and rules, that we walk in His ways. The temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh continually strive to lead us to worship other gods and idols that are not the Lord. We are continually tempted and lead into disbelief, despair and other great shame and vice. And yet, on our side is the valiant one, Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus has already done everything for us. He was born for us as one of us, a human being. He lived for us, a perfect life for us in our place because we cannot. He was tempted and never sinned, indeed He was tempted with more and greater sins than we might ever think or imagine and never sinned. He obeyed all of God’s commands and lived under His statutes and rules perfectly for us. He took our sins and suffered the price, eternal spiritual death for us in our place and He rose for us. He defeated sin, death and the devil. He rose showing us that death and the grave have no power overs us. He did all this because of His great love for us undeserved as we are. And He gives this to us. Even more, as we hear Moses’s words of encouragement, so we are encouraged in our own life of sanctification He is there to help us, because we cannot do it on our own. So, with God’s help we choose life and good and we rejoice in His good gifts and blessings and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Explaining the End Times (Eschatology)

First things first, as always, when it comes to understanding the Bible we know we get it right when we are pointing to Jesus and Jesus alone. Indeed, all of Holy Scripture, even all of time (B.C. and A.D.) point to Jesus. Thus, when we have varying understandings (misinterpretations) of Scripture, we look to see if the understanding (explanation) points us to Jesus or not, which would usually mean it points to self. This explanation is another way of saying, does one explanation of Scripture speak of the fact that we are made just and right in God’s eyes by Jesus, or by some activity on our part?
 
The whole idea of dispensational theology (that the Bible is divided into different periods in which God offers salvation to mankind differently during each period), as it is called, is a rather new idea just over a hundred years old dating to the printing of the Darby and Scofield translations of the Bible. Prior to this publication and new teaching, the Christian Church has always believed that Christ’s return would be with trumpets and all would be judged, and that would be the end. There was no belief in any pre- or post-tribulation “secret” rapture, no time of tribulation, no two-stages of Christ’s coming, and quite frankly, there is no Biblical evidence of such occurrences.
 
Simple logic and following the words of Scripture taking them as God’s Word and letting God speak for Himself, we begin “in the beginning.” In Genesis we have the historic account of the creation of the world and the first humans, Adam and Eve. In chapter three we have the account of the fall into sin, the curse and God’s first promise to send a Savior. You may have noticed that God’s promise to send a Savior was made to Adam and Eve which means the promise of a Savior was made to all nations because in their DNA laid the genetic foundation of all nations. God’s promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
 
Moving on in Genesis we get to God’s call and promise to Abraham, “1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). Notice that God’s covenant with Abraham was not a covenant that excluded anyone, rather He stated that “all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
 
Interestingly enough as one reads and rereads the covenant made with Abraham and his sons and their sons and on down the line, the covenant was a two part covenant. One part of the covenant was for earthly blessings and these blessings were usually conditional, that is if the people continued to follow God’s laws, then His promises would ensue. The second part was the main part and was a covenant of salvation of an eternal kingdom in heaven with Him. This second part was conditioned on Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection and faith in Jesus given by God.
 
As the history of Israel well demonstrates, Israel constantly disobeyed God, left the faith, were chastened by God, forgiven and then disobeyed again. Those who ultimately rejected Jesus rejected the covenant and forfeited the earthly promises, and yet by God’s grace there continues to be the possibility of their being given faith and being included in God’s eternal kingdom.
 
Even the prophet Isaiah continually made note of the fact that God’s promise of an eternal kingdom was not a promise or covenant of DNA, not a promise made to only a select group of people (Israel) but a covenant and promise of faith. By the time we get to Jesus we have Him explaining to the Pharisees that God can raise children of Abraham from stones. In other words, just because they were of the genetic line of Abraham did not mean they were saved, just as those not from the genetic line of Abraham (stones) would not be saved.
 
As for the false hope in some type of rapture with the idea that one is taken from earth in order to not suffer years of tribulation, we respond that first there is no rapture mentioned in the Bible. There is a reference to one being taken and one remaining, but the reference in context is that the one taken was not taken to heaven, see Noah and the flood. The quote is often: “36But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:36-41). Again, notice the one left was saved in the Ark while the one taken drowned in the flood.
 
Also note commenting on 2 Thessalonians4:17, the Lutheran Study Bible says: “Cf 2Th 1:5–10. who are left. Believers who remain alive on the earth. caught up together with them. Greek harpazo carries with it the sense of a sudden and violent action. The point is that we will be gathered together at the resurrection, the dead as well as the living, when Christ returns. (The Vulgate used the term raptus, from which the modern false doctrine of a “rapture” gets its name. Paul’s teaching is about the resurrection and not a secret return of Christ.) Chrys: “When they see the earth agitated, the dust mingling, the bodies rising perchance on every side, no one [causing] this, but the ‘shout’ being sufficient … when they see so great a tumult upon the earth,—then they shall know.… What fear will possess those that remain upon the earth” (NPNF 1 13:356). meet the Lord in the air. In the ancient world, dignitaries were welcomed officially by people who escorted them. The focus is the coming together of the Lord and His people. The air is considered to be the abode of evil spirits (Eph 2:2), who will yield the place to Him who has all authority in the heavens and on earth. always be with the Lord. In heaven after the resurrection” (The Lutheran Study Bible).
 
Concerning the misunderstanding of the time of tribulation, in his revelation, John is questioned by one of the elders. The elder asks, “These in the white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” ( Rev. 7:12-17) John rightly answers, “Sir, you know.” John does not know and so he turns the question back to the man who asked so that he might get an answer. The answer is that they are those who have suffered for their faith. The word that is used for tribulation is the same word that Jesus used when He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart, because He has overcome the world. This trouble, this tribulation that we suffer is not some new thousand year reign of trouble as some would suppose. No, this tribulation is what we have suffered since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. To be a Christian means that you inevitably suffer trials and tribulations.
 
When it comes to discussing these end times issues with those who have a misunderstanding, it might be helpful to remind them that God’s plan and promise from even before He began creation was the salvation of all people. Also, God has never promised anyone more than one chance for salvation which in essence is what is promised to those who are “left behind,” a false hope in a second chance. The Christian Church since the time of Christ has always believed in one final day of judgement preceded by a great trumpet sound, the dead being raised, the ascension of all to be judged, then the eternity of heaven or hell.

Resources:
    A Lutheran Response to the Left Behind Series, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, April 2004.
    REVELATION The Distant Triumph Song, Siegbert W. Becker, Northwestern Publishing House, ©1985.
    The End Times A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, September 1989.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Your Righteousness Will Go Before You - February 5, 2017 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Isaiah 58:3-9a

“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” (Psalms 122:1). You have no doubt heard these words before. These words declare our excitement and our joy at the prospect of being able to come into the house of the Lord to worship Him and to give Him praise. This morning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will discuss our “gladness” at the prospect of worshiping in the house of the Lord. More specifically we will discuss our worship, especially as we consider our worship compared to that worship described in our Old Testament lesson.
 
Our text actually begins with a bit of a misunderstanding of worship, that is that worship is some outward show. I would suggest this misunderstanding has some cultural ties that is thinking that worship is something we are doing for God, a show of our sincerity or obedience or whatever, as if God needs something from us. Isaiah begins, “3‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (v. 3-4). God through Isaiah reminds the children of Israel and us that our pious activity, fasting and the like, is not something we are to use as a great show, especially as a show to others of how religious we are. That type of outward show leads to all kinds of one-upmanship, quarreling and fighting. An outward pious show truly is not something that is pleasing to God.
 
We continue with verse five, “5Is such the fast that I choose,  a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (v. 5)  The kind of worship Isaiah is describing is one that has a great outward appearance of true worship. Our first reaction to this verse might be to compare the children of Israel to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and even to some people in our world today. The attitude behind their worship was one of, “look at me, see what good works I do.” Rather than worship being a time to hear God’s Word and even to praise the Lord it had become a time to show off the good things one has done, to show how pious one is and to receive the praise of people for being such a good worshiper.
 
Continuing along these same lines verse six talks about the “bonds of wickedness” and the “straps of the yoke.” These terms bring with it the idea of the person who wants to be praised for their so called “persecution for the Lord,” persecution which is more often than not, persecution which they have brought on themselves in order to say, “look at me, see how I am persecuted.” In other words, a person acts in such a way that brings ridicule by others so they might think and declare they are being persecuted for their outward show. Again, the heart of the matter is not one of praise to the Lord, but is one of look at me, praise me for being such a good Christian.
 
We may remember from catechism class that “fasting and bodily preparation are indeed fine outward training,” but these are not the heart of worship. The heart of true worship is worship that is motivated by our faith. The Lord’s desire is that we worship with a sincere heart. And while true worship is to worship with a sincere heart, we need to remember that it is not sincerity which motivates God to accept our worship, rather He is motivated by His love for us, in Jesus Christ. In other words, because He first loved us, we are motivated to respond to that love and to worship Him as a response to His love.
 
In verses six and seven Isaiah gives us a hint of what the Lord considers as sincere worship, or better stated, how we live our lives as sincere worship to the Lord.  He says, “6Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him,  and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (v. 6, 7). These things are outward evidences of the genuine faith that is in a person. Yes, fasting is one outward sign of repentance, but showing mercy toward others is more of a sign of true repentance. In other words, all outward evidences of repentance and sorrowing and mourning in repentance, mean nothing if the heart and mind are not affected by this repentance.
 
When our true repentance, when our faith shows forth by our actions, then our light will break forth. In simple terms, people can see through one’s facade of being a Christian or simply acting as a Christian. Isaiah describes these events in verse eight and the first part of verse nine, “8Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (v. 8,9a).
 
As sinful human beings we are often described as the people who walk in darkness. In contrast to our darkness shall a “light break forth like the dawn.” The light is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is that light that will break forth like dawn, the light like the Sun that rises in the morning to bring light to the world after the night is gone. Jesus is the light who will bring healing. Jesus is the light that will bring forgiveness and restoration to His people.
 
Jesus, the light of the world, is also our righteousness who will go before us. Satan is alive and well. He is there to tempt us, daily. The good news is that the Light of the world, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ has already gone before us. He has already suffered the temptations of Satan, and has overcome his temptations. Jesus has gone before us and has shown us that with His help we can resist the temptations of the devil.
 
Jesus, the light of the world will bring the glory of the Lord to be your guard. More than likely, Isaiah is here referring to the pillar of cloud and fire in the desert which lead the children of Israel by day and night out of Egypt. In the same way that the Lord was with and was the guardian of the Israelites, He is also with us and is our guardian through life.
 
“9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” (v. 9a).  Isaiah tells us, “then.” When is this then? This then is when we respond to the working of faith in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This then is when Jesus work of salvation becomes our work of salvation. This then is when we worship the Lord in sincerity, truth, and purity.
 
And so we worship. Our desire is to be in worship. As I have said before the desire of one having faith is to be in worship where one might be strengthened and kept in faith. And so we come and we worship. We worship the Lord in sincerity, truth, and purity, not just in church on Sunday morning but everyday. We worship the Lord in sincerity, truth and purity when we live our lives, at work and at home, as a worship to the Lord. We worship the Lord when His love for us produces in us a response to love Him in return. We worship the Lord when His love moves us to live our lives according to His good and gracious will.
 
We worship the Lord when we join others in cooperate worship, which again, is our desire as faithful Christians. Cooperate worship is the gathering of believers to sing praises to God, to hear His Word, and to be strengthening in our faith through the sacraments. Cooperate worship is the gathering of believers to passively be given the good gifts and blessing our Lord has to give to us. Cooperate worship is God doing the acting and believers being given the benefits of those actions.
 
The word “worship” has come to mean many different things in our world and society today and that is so unfortunate. Perhaps as you have been listening this morning you may have had different images come to mind when you heard the word “worship.” Hopefully over the past number of years you have heard from me a more distinct and Biblical understanding of what is true worship.
 
What we believe, teach and confess is that true worship is God work. Our Lutheran Service Book, takes us back to Dr. Luther’s day and reminds us what true worship is by not calling it the “Order of Morning Service, with or without Communion,” but by calling the worship service orders, “Divine Service.” This is translated from the German “Gottesdienft” meaning “God service,” and reminds us that worship is not our service, but is first and foremost God’s work. Worship is God’s work of giving us forgiveness through confession and absolution and His work of strengthening us in our faith through the means of grace, through the Word and the sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thus, we worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say and as you look at our liturgy what you see is that it is permeated with the Word of God that we say back to Him. Just as a side note, I have done some reading on the history of Christian liturgy and the liturgies we use in Divine Service can be traced back to many parts of the world since the first century. Also, as I read through the book of Leviticus and the giving of the ceremonial laws, by God, what I have read seems to indicate that the liturgies we use today have their roots in these ceremonial laws, except that today we have them in their fulfilled form. All this study makes me wonder why people think we have the right to change what has been handed down to us, a divine service that transcends time, language, and culture.
 
Paul gives us a good example of what is worship in our epistle lesson when he explains that he came, not in eloquence or superior wisdom, but when he came proclaiming the testimony of God. True worship lies below the outward trappings, the vestments, the liturgy, the formality. True worship is knowing only Christ. True worship is hearing God’s Word. It is the reading of the lessons, the receiving of the sacraments, and as far as the Word is properly proclaimed, the preaching of the sermon.
 
In our Gospel lesson we have another example of worship, this time from Matthew. True worship is more than merely hearing the Word. True worship is living our lives as a worship to the Lord. Indeed, true worship is living our lives, in our vocations, letting our light shine so that all who see might know that we are Christians because God has made us so, not that we do so only in a showy manner, but in humbleness and always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ.
 
Thus, we worship our Lord privately and publicly, and so I would encourage you to do the same, to worship the Lord both privately and publicly. I would encourage you in your own private worship to daily remember your baptism, to daily read the Word, to daily have private and family devotions, and to daily go to the Lord in prayer. Pray for yourself as well as for the needs of our church, community and nation.
 
I would encourage you in your public or corporate worship as well and perhaps even more so. I would encourage you to continue in your faithful every Sunday attendance as well as in your attendance of the Lord’s Supper. Your faithful every Sunday attendance speaks loudly to others of the faith that is in you. Most especially, most especially, I would encourage you, reminding you that with the Lord’s help, when you call, the Lord will answer and He will say, “Here am I.” “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD (Psalms 122:1).” Praise the name of the Lord and to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.