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, August 21, 2016
Struggle, Strive, Live - August 21, 2016 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Hebrews 12:4-24 (25-29)
Over the past two weeks we have been given encouragement by the writer to the Hebrews. He has encouraged us in our own faith life and in our own faith walk by giving us example after example of other people of faith who have gone on before us. He has reminded us that we are not alone and that the struggles we face are not unique to us. There are others who have struggled with the same trials and temptations, with the same struggles we face each and every day and they have survived and they have even been strengthened through their struggles.
We live in a world where support groups thrive. We have a support group for everything, for medical difficulties, for emotional difficulties, for mental difficulties. You name it and there is probably a support group for it. The writer to the Hebrews has laid out for us the greatest support group, the fact that others have gone on before us; others have suffered for their faith; others have struggled through life, and they have become stronger through the trials and tribulations they faced. With their example before us, we too may stand ready to face whatever is before us.
The writer to the Hebrews begins by explaining discipline. Concerning discipline he says, “4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). He also says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (v. 5b-6). And he says, “9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (v. 9-11).
Notice that he begins by pointing us to the cross. Our struggle against sin has not brought us to the point of shedding our own blood, rather it was Jesus who shed His own blood for us, because of our sins. He goes on to make a comparison between the love and discipline of an earthly father to that of our Heavenly Father. He tell us that an earthly father’s discipline is for a while, but the Lord’s discipline is for eternity. Yes, while we live in our father’s house here on this earth, while we live under his roof we are under his authority and responsibility. It is his responsibility to take care of us including disciplining us when we sin. Yet, even greater than being under our earthly father’s roof is the fact that while we live in this world we are indeed under the authority, the responsibility, the care of our Heavenly Father who created the world and who reigns over the world.
As children, when we do wrong, when we sin and our father disciplines us, that discipline may seem harsh, at least at the time. Really, none of us wants to be disciplined. None of us wants to be told what we can and cannot do. None of us wants our sins to be pointed out to us, we would rather be allowed to go on doing whatever it is we are doing, even if it is something that might hurt ourselves or others. Thus, we are reminded that this discipline is not meant for evil, but is meant for our training, that is it is meant to help us to learn right and wrong so that we do not harm ourselves or others. If our earthly father’s discipline us because of their love for us, then, just think how much our Heavenly Father loves us as He too cares for us enough to discipline us as well. Yes, although we may not see it, or feel it at the time, the Lord’s discipline is because of His love for us and His discipline is always for our good.
And so, as we grow older, although we might never say it aloud or to our father, we do give thanks for a father’s discipline because that is what keeps us on the straight and narrow road. As Christians, as we grow in our Christian faith and life, we also rejoice in the Lord’s discipline and we do give Him thanks for His discipline, yes, we do give Him thanks for the struggles we face in life because that is what prepares us for eternity. And it is this giving thanks for the times of difficulty that is the mark of one who is truly mature in faith.
What is the result of Godly discipline? The result is that we are strengthened in our faith, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (v. 12-13). Yes, the result of Godly discipline is a strengthening of faith. And we do need a strengthening of faith and we do need as much strength of faith as possible for our walk through this life and this world, because Jesus tells us, as we heard in the Gospel reading for this morning, the path to heaven is through a narrow door.
Not only are do we need strengthening for our own faith walk, we need strengthening because we are to help our brothers and sisters in Christ in their faith walk. The writer to the Hebrews says, “15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (v. 15-16). Yes, we are our brothers keeper, we are our sisters keeper and we are to help them in times of need. Now, here again, doesn’t this sound a lot like a support group?
And the result is peace, a true peace and a walking together, which is what fellowship means and this can only happen with a common faith in Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews says, “14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). Very often we talk or hear talk about fellowshipping with others. True fellowship, that is true Christian fellowship can only happen when there is a common faith and I do not simply mean that we all agree on Jesus, but that we agree on who He is, what He came to do, what He accomplished and so forth, otherwise there really is no agreement and with no agreement there is no fellowship and when there is no fellowship there is no peace and no walking together.
The writer to the Hebrews continues by reminding us of the importance of our faith and our faith life, of our walking together because this world is only temporary. This world will end. Our lives in this world will end, either on the day of Judgement, when Jesus returns, or on our own day of passing, when we will return to Him. Either way, it will happen and so it is important, it is imperative that we are ready at all times. He likens this coming to that of the Children of Israel standing at the foot of the mountain waiting on Moses to come down with the law of God. They waited with fear and love.
The day of judgement will come and it will be a day of fear, that is for the unbeliever it will be a day of fear because the unbeliever will be found not ready and not believing in Jesus and so the unbeliever will be condemned to eternal judgement, eternal spiritual death in hell with Satan and all his evil angels.
For the believer, for us Christians it will be a day of joy, excitement, and anticipation as we will be welcomed into our eternal home with our Lord. We have nothing to fear because our lot is secure in our Mediator, Christ the Lord. He is the One who called us to faith, giving us faith through the means of His Word and Holy Baptism. He is the One who has kept us in faith, through the means of His Word, Confession and Absolution, and His Holy Supper. He is the One who has strengthened and kept us in faith through our walk of life and so we are not afraid, but we rejoice and give thanks.
Finally, we are reminded that all this is inevitable. There is no escape. It will happen. The day will come and we will meet the Lord. It will happen. It will happen either on the last day, the day of Judgement, or on our last day, the day we die and pass away from this world. And I would suggest it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. At that moment, when Jesus returns or when we go to Him, we will see Him. We will meet Him. We will stand before Him.
Until then, we live, not in fear, but in lives of faith. It always makes me nervous when people say something like, “I sure hope I go to heaven,” because we need to know that we will go to heaven. So let me reassure you, of the fact, that by faith in Jesus, heaven is yours right now.
Our lot is secure. The reason Jesus came to earth, the reason God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, was so that He might live for us, so that He might take our sins upon Himself and suffer and die to pay the price for our sins, and so that He might rise again, conquering sin, death and the devil, and making our eternal inheritance an eternal reality.
So, what does this mean? The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that God never promises us an easy life. We might be reminded of the parable of the sower and the seeds and the fact that some seeds fell on the side of the road and were eaten by the birds, some fell on shallow ground sprang up immediately, but were scorched by the heat, some seeds fell among the thorns and thistles and were chocked and some seed fell on good ground. Our lives as Christians include times of being on the side of the road, being in shallow soil and being in the thorns and thistles. All these are trying times. All these are struggles and are meant to be times of strengthening.
The good news is that we have God’s promise. His promise is that He will always be with us to protect and forgive us. When America was attacked on 9/11/2001, the question was often asked, where was God? The answer is that God was there and this is seen in the fact that so many people were not where they were supposed to be or normally would have been because God had changed the lives of so many people that day. What we fail to see, especially in times of discipline, is God’s loving hand. We get so wrapped up in ourselves, we get so wrapped up in what we think God should be doing that we loose sight of the fact that God is always with us and that He is watching over us and that He does know what we are going through. And through it all He is there to strengthen and keep us in faith.
If we think God does not understand, perhaps we might remind ourselves that it was God, in the person of Jesus, who gave up all the glory that was His, rightfully His, in heaven, who was born lowly, even humbly in a manger. It was God in the person of Jesus who lived for us, struggling against all the same and even greater temptations that we suffer while here on this earth. It was Jesus who, after living perfectly, freely took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price, eternal spiritual death, for our sins. It was God the Father who watched as His own Son was mocked, beaten, and spat upon. It was God the Father who watch as His own Son was nailed to a cross, because of our sins, not for anything He had done. Yes, God knows the struggles we have in life because He has experienced them and He has overcome them for us, in our place.
And even more, because of His great love for us, God gives to us. He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. What a great God, what a loving God we have. And, like a loving Father, He also is our loving Heavenly Father who gently nudges us, reminds us, and works in us our response of faith, that is to say, thanks be to God.
I mentioned earlier about one’s maturity of faith. I would suggest that as we face difficulties in life we may not be happy with such difficulties, and yet we may, with God’s help make it through. Yet, the greatest measure of our faith is in this, that not only do we give thanks to God for all His good gifts and blessings, but that we find someway to give Him thanks for the trials and tribulations we face as well. My prayer is that the Lord will give us such faith, as you make regular and diligent use of the means He has of giving you such faith, His means of grace. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.