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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, November 10, 2019

God’s Call - November 10, 2019 - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: Exodus 3:1-15

After today there are only two Sundays left in our current Church Year Calendar. In previous years this Sunday was known as the Third-last Sunday of the Church Year. As we move toward the end of one Church Year and the beginning of another our readings direct our attention, once again and as always, to the fact that our life in this world is short, especially compared to our eternal life in heaven. Thus, what is important is making sure we are ready for our real life in heaven. In the Epistle reading we have Paul’s encouragement to stand firm in our faith. In the Gospel reading we have Jesus being questioned concerning heaven and His response giving proof of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life.
 
Our text is God’s call to Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of their bondage of slavery in Egypt. We begin at verse one, “1Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (v. 1-6). You might remember that this Moses is the same Moses that was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, that he had killed an Egyptian and that he fled to Midian. Moses had spent the first 40 years of his life in Egypt being raised as an Egyptian. He knew what it was like in Egypt, the customs and the like. Certainly if there was a man for the job of delivering the Israelites from Egypt it was Moses.
 
At this time, Moses had now been in Midian for 40 years. He was a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro’s sheep. So, not only did he know the ways of the Egyptians, he also knew the ways of the desert, of raising sheep. Again, these life experiences made him well qualified for the job God was about to call him to accomplish.
 
As Moses was out keeping watch over the flock, the Lord appeared to Him in a burning bush. We are told that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. I would think it would be kind of like a fireplace with fake logs, except that this was a real bush with a real fire. This fire might be perceived as a sign of God’s judgement, fire being a symbol of purification and the justice of God.
    As Moses drew near to investigate the sight he saw, God spoke to him telling him that God is in this place and the He has made this place holy ground. Certainly God is holy and where God is He makes that place holy. Moses response, his reaction is the same as how we might react to such a situation, that is that he hid his face. Moses knew that to look on God could mean death.
 
After God gets Moses’ attention He moves on to the specifics of His calling, “7Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Periz-zites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (v. 7-13). God has seen the affliction of His people Israel. And this does not in anyway mean that God did not know what was going on with His people, the Israelites. Certainly God is omniscient, He is all knowing and He always knows what is happening. Here we are simply reminded that He is about ready to do something for His people. God tells Moses that He will rescue His people and He will do this with Moses as their leader.
 
God lays out His plan to Moses. God will send and use Moses to bring the Children of Israel into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will bring them into a land that is inhabited by others, but those presently living in the land will be rooted out making room for God’s people.
 
Upon hearing such great and wonderful news Moses response is a question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (V. 11). Moses throws up his first excuse as to why God picked the wrong man for the job. As are all our excuses, before God we have no excuse. God tells Moses that He, God Himself with be with Moses. Moses is simply to be God’s instrument.
 
But Moses is not done with his excuses and God is not done giving him His credentials including His name, “13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (v. 13-15). What Moses is asking for is a way to distinguish the Lord God, Yahweh, from the gods of Egypt. In other words, Moses is asking God, or telling God, if I go to the people and say that God has sent me, they will want to know what god. And so God gives Moses His name, “I AM”
 
God’s name is I AM. He is not I was. He is not I will be. He is I AM. God’s name is an indication of who He is, that He is a God who is outside of time. He is in the present and as a matter of fact He is in the eternal present. For God there is no yesterday nor tomorrow. For God that He is in the eternal present indicates His eternal being. God is from creation. He was there at the creation of the world where He spoke all things into being.
 
God’s name  is I AM meaning He is from everlasting. Even before the world was created God is. We might think He was, but since His name is I AM, since He is in the eternal present, indeed He is before the world began. With God there is no beginning and no end. No one created God, because if someone created Him, then that One who created Him would be God. God was not created but He is the Creator of all. God is God because He is, was and always will be. He is the prime mover.
 
And God’s name, I AM means that He  is the unchangeable, eternal God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, speaking in human chronological ordering terms. Indeed, we find comfort in God’s name, I AM as we can rest assured that He is the One True God from everlasting to everlasting.
 
In speaking to Moses and in giving him His name, God testifies that He is the God of Israel.  God is the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These three father’s of Israel, patriarchs of the nation all Israelites knew. That God is the Father of them all means that He is the One True God. As the One True God, as the One who chose them, placed His Name on them, covenanted with them, He is the One who can and will deliver them.
 
So, what does this mean? As we come to our text we might be wondering, what was Moses relationship with God. Certainly, having been raised in Pharaoh’s home he was educated about the gods of Egypt, yet, having his mother as his nurse mother for some years and knowing his Hebrew background, certainly he knew of the God of Israel. Perhaps Jethro, his father-in-law may have educated him as well. Yet, as we get to our text we see that the first thing that happens is that God calls Moses. This calling may be God’s calling him to faith. God is the prime mover. Moses did not approach God nor call Him. God called Moses. In somewhat the same way, but not with a burning bush, God calls us to faith. For many of us God called us to faith through the means of Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were spoken on us, God called us to and gave us faith. For others God called us to faith through His Holy Word. As we hear God’s Word the Holy Spirit works through that Word to give faith. And God continually strengthens us and keeps us in faith through His means of grace as well, remembering our Baptism, hearing His Word, confessing our sins and hearing His Word of forgiveness, partaking of His body and blood in His Holy Supper.
 
God calls Moses to faith and God gives Moses His authority to lead His people. We might surely understand, especially in our world that there are those who grasp and grab for power, but God is the One who gives authority. God gives Moses His authority and we see that authority as God is with Moses as He leads the Children of Israel. In much the same way God gives us authority. At His ascension, as Jesus was ready to depart this world He gave His authority to go out and share the good news with all nations. When someone asks us by what right we have to speak God’s word, we can tell them by God’s authority.
 
And God gives Moses a promise, to be with Him. God does not call Moses, give him His authority and send him out by himself. No, God’s promise is that He will be with Moses every step of the way. Even through Moses’ excuses and balking, God continues to dismantle his excuses and assures him of His presence with him. Again, in like manner, God gives us a promise, to be with us,  always, even to the end of the world. God does not send us out to make disciples by ourselves. Certainly we know that we cannot make someone believe. God’s promise is that He is with us, and that He will send the Holy Spirit to work through the Word He gives us to speak to make disciples of all nation.
 
This morning we are reminded of what a privilege it is to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with others. God calls us to faith. God strengthens and keep us in faith. God gives us His authority. God gives us His Word. God gives us the very words to speak. God stirs in others to ask us about our faith as we live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers. God gives us the courage to speak and He gives faith to those who hear. Thanks be to God.
 
Yes, we tend to be like Moses. We tend to have excuses for not sharing the good news with others. Thanks be to God that He forgives us for such excuses and that He works through us in spite of our excuses. Thanks be to God that He loves us enough to use us in spite of ourselves. And above all thanks be to God for all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

We Are God’s Children Now - November 3, 2019 - All Saints Day - Text: 1 John 3:1-3

Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Now I know that All Saint’s Day is not that big a deal, not that big of a celebration for us in the Lutheran Church, but perhaps we should rethink this matter and make a bigger deal of this day, after all, our hope and future are not a hope and future for this world, but for the world to come. Our hope and confidence is that one day we will be saints in heaven and that one day may be sooner than we know and even sooner than we might expect.
 
And let me briefly remind you, in case you have forgotten, that by faith in Jesus, especially by faith given through His means of grace, either through His Word or at our own baptism, we are saints. Yes, while we are on this earth we will continue to be sinners as well, but we are saints and we will speak more on this again a little later.
 
In our first lesson appointed for reading on All Saint’s Day, we have John’s vision of our salvation. John describes what we call the number of completion, that is, all believers. John speaks of the 144,000 which is 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. His lists of 12,000 from each tribe differs from the lists of the number in each tribe in the Old Testament because John’s listing is a symbolic listing of the tribes of the true Israel as described by Paul in Romans nine. The true Israel is the Israel of faith not DNA. Thus the total number of believers that will be in heaven is given in the number of 144,000, not a specific number, but a number of completion, all believers in Jesus, as he says in verse nine, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . . ”
 
John also tells us about the joy of all believers around the throne of the Lamb forever. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat. Instead, there will be springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Quite a comforting picture John paints for believers in Jesus.
 
In the Gospel lesson appointed for this day of celebration we have Jesus’ words of blessing and His Words of Gospel. We are described as blessed who recognize and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit so that we do hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, in other words, we are blessed who hunger and thirst after making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, every Sunday and every day. We are blessed because it is through these means that our Lord feeds us, comforts us, purifies us and gives us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and life. And this continues to be my concern for this congregation as well as our nation, that is that so many refuse these gifts on a weekly basis. God has so many gifts He wants to give and yet, every Sunday many people refuse those gifts by not being in Divine Service here and around the world. So, let me continue to encourage you, let me continue to exhort you, ladies and gentlemen, come and be given the gifts and encourage and exhort your brothers and sisters who refuse the gifts to come and be given the gifts.
 
As Jesus says, again in our Gospel lesson, especially blessed are those who believe and are persecuted, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although we may not suffer the persecution some of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in other parts of the world, I might suggest that we do suffer more subtle forms of persecution. The question is, do we stand up and confess our faith, or do we simply allow others to think as they will, even that we do not have faith?
 
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s Love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
 
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And how does He make us His children? Every year on Good Friday we remember and we even celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross. We give thanks for His suffering the punishment for our sins. And then, every year on the following Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through the means of His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
 
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for, at least not the Savior for which some were looking. Jesus was not a social/political savior. Jesus did not come to over throw the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted overthrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
 
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting. And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
 
John says we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not on this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect again. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
 
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loved us. Here I like the image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus, when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
 
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through outward, external means of Grace, the Bible, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith and life and He delivers these gifts through the means of grace.
 
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christlike, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ, and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and through us.
 
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
 
As we celebrate All Saint’s day, then we celebrate the fact that we are saints. And we are reminded as Dr. Luther so well reminded us and as John reminds us, even though we are saints, we are and while we remain on this earth we will also continue to be at the same times sinners. So we are saint/sinners. Our life on this earth is a life of sanctification in that our Lord continues to work on us through His means of grace to be strengthened in our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. Certainly, while we are here on this earth, we will have times when we will fail. We will fall for temptation and we will sin, yet we are not to be discouraged because we are given forgiveness and the Holy Spirit continues working on us to be the people God would have us to be.
 
Our ultimate hope and certainty is indeed described in the Revelation of John that upon our passing from this earth, either through our own death or through the Lord’s return, we will be united with all the saints, all those who have gone on before us and all those who will go on after us so that we will all gather at the Lord’s throne to be feed and comforted, to give glory to the Lord, to live with Him forever in heaven. To Him alone be all glory. And we might well end by saying as John does, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Justified by Faith - October 27, 2019 - Reformation Sunday - Text: Romans 3:19-28

Happy Reformation Day! And so again, this year, as last year and as I will continue to do every year, I greet you with what I consider to be wonderful words of greeting. And again I confess, right from the start, that Reformation Day continues to be one of my favorite holidays. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the re-forming of the church, and specifically, the church of Luther’s day. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the work of God through the man, Dr. Martin Luther. Notice, we do not worship Martin Luther. We do celebrate that God the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, moved Dr. Martin Luther to recognize the false and misleading teachings of the church of his day. God worked through Dr. Luther to show us that a person is not saved by works of the Law, rather a person is saved by grace, through faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. That alone makes this a most precious day to remember.
 
In our text for this morning, the Epistle lesson, Paul gives us a lesson to help us get a fuller understanding of the proper distinction between the Law and its purpose and the Gospel and its purpose. Paul begins with the Law and its purpose, we read, “19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”(v. 19-20). According to Paul the Law serves the following purposes. One of the purposes of the Law is to silence us. The Law is to keep us from bragging or boasting about our good works, or what we think are our good works. After all, it is hard to brag when all you have to brag about is how you are responsible for the death of someone, an innocent someone, especially when that someone is your own God.
 
Another purpose of the Law is to show us that we are accountable. Through the Law we understand the we are responsible for ourselves. Does this fact ever smack right in the face of our society today?! How often do we read or hear about people who have won lawsuits for their own negligence, if not out right stating or at least implying that they are not responsible for themselves. The most famous case was from a few years back and I am sure you remember the lady who spilled the hot coffee on herself and sued the fast food company. Other examples include the guy who road his bicycle at night wearing dark clothes and without any lights and sued because he was hit by a car. Of late we have hard about the young man who wanted to sue the fast food industry because he was obese. We could spend a lot of time discussing how we do not like to be held accountable for our actions in this country, yet, we do not want anyone telling us we cannot do whatever we want to do. In our text, Paul tells us that God, through the Law, reminds us the we are accountable, He will hold us, each one of us,  personally responsible for breaking the Law.
 
Which brings us to one more stated purpose of the Law, that is that the Law is given to show us our sins. One quick check of our lives against the ten commandments will suffice. I will be quick and brief, but I just want you to get the idea. Have you ever placed your hope in yourself or the things of this world, misused God’s name, neglected not only to be in church, but to hear and do according to what God says in His Word? Have you ever disobeyed anyone in authority over you, thought hateful thoughts, called someone a name or hurt them in any way, lusted after another person, thought about stealing, borrowed without returning, committed vandalism, said anything bad about someone, even if it was true, thought you wanted something so bad you would steal for it. Have you ever been discontent with your circumstances or possessions? If you have done any one of these things, then you have broken, not one but, all the commandments. Ouch! And our punishment was to be death, eternal death, hell.
 
Thanks be to God that Paul did not stop with the Law. Our text continues with the Gospel and its purpose, we continue reading, “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”(v. 21-22a). Here I must say we do not count the number of purposes of the Gospel. When it comes to God’s gifts, especially His gift of the Gospel, we are reminded that God gives the whole lot of His gifts and He gives a whole lot more. I know I have said this before, at least I have mentioned it in Bible Class, but the fact of the matter is that God does not do fractions, that is God does not do math. God does not give us some of His gifts now and some later. He gives us all His gifts now and even more of them later. One of the purposes of the Gospel, then, is to bring us righteousness, which comes from God. Our righteousness, our right standing before God, does not come from within ourselves, it is not a self-righteousness, rather it comes from outside of us, it comes from God. Think about it this way, would you rather be self-righteous according to your standard of righteousness which might not cut it before God, or would you rather be righteous according to the standard of the person who is judging your righteousness?
 
Another purpose of the Gospel is to make our righteousness known to us and that is done through the Law and the Prophets. Here the Law and the Prophets are the whole Bible and it is through the whole Bible that God makes His righteousness known to us. We might say it this way, the Bible is one of the means that God has of giving us His righteousness.
 
Another purpose of the Gospel is to show us that our righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Here we are reminded of the importance of our faith. But let us not misunderstand faith. We must recognize that faith is not something we do. Although the Gospel continually speaks of the necessity of faith, it does not do so in the sense of demanding faith as a good work, rather it does so in the sense of an invitation extended to all people to be given the promises of God. To say that we “are given to” by God takes all the onus off of us and puts it entirely on God as the giver and makes us the passive ones who are being given to. Remember, the whole value of faith lies not in who has faith, but in the object or basis of faith. Faith in self earns hell. Faith in Jesus and His work on the cross alone earns heaven.
 
Moving on in our text Paul tells us how the Law and Gospel work together, we read, “For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”(v. 22b-26). The Law shows how we have completely failed, that we have fallen short of the glory of God. The Law shows us our complete damnation. The Law does not save, it does not move us to anything but despair, or it leads to self-righteousness, which is why we never preach the Law by itself. This misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform in the church of his day. There was a confusion of Law and Gospel, such that one was taught that forgiveness could be earned and even must be earned, or it could be purchased for a price, namely for a certain amount of money. Anytime it is stated or even implied that there is anything we need to do or even can do to pay for some or any of our sins, we are simply saying that Jesus’ work on the cross was not sufficient for our sins. Again, this misunderstanding is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform.
 
The Gospel shows how God freely lifts us up and makes us one with Himself. The Gospel shows us our complete salvation. The Gospel saves and moves us to do good works to the glory of God. However, the Gospel must never be preached by itself either, for if we preach the Gospel without the Law then it becomes worthless. Think about it this way, if we do not hear the Law, if we do not know that we sin, then why would we need a Savior, thus the Gospel is worthless. If we are taught and told over and over again how we are good people and how we can be good people, then why would we need a Savior. Our preaching, which expounds the Word of God, must reflect that Word which proclaims Law and Gospel. It must also reflect God’s Word, such as the words of the Close of the Commandments, which show us that God’s Law is but for three or four generations, whereas His Gospel is for thousands of generations. Always the greater emphasis on the Gospel.
 
The Law and the Gospel work together to show us the importance of Jesus’ atonement, or at-one-ment sacrifice. Jesus died for all sins of all people of all time. Our text calls them those sins committed beforehand unpunished. This reference is to the sins of the people before Jesus came. Their sins were literally unpunished until Jesus came to the cross.  Their sins were punished in Jesus on the cross, as were our sins and the sins of all people of all times and all places.
 
All of this, the Law and the Gospel are meant to show God’s justice. When we talk about the word justice we do mean a legal act on the part of God, by which He places in us, makes us possessors of, a righteousness which was not ours, which we did not earn, which we do not deserve, which we did not merit. In other words, we do not receive what we deserve, eternal damnation in hell, rather we are given what Christ has deserved for us. In our world today we might just say, praise the Lord that we do not get what we are entitled, hell. Rather we get what Christ is entitled, life in heaven.
 
Finally, Paul tells us how we are to respond to God’s gift of Law and Gospel. Yes, even Paul, in good Lutheran fashion, answers the question, “What does this mean?” we read,“27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 27-28). Paul begins by reminding us that we are to respond to the Law and Gospel by humbly being given the gifts God has to give to us. We are not to boast which includes holding anything back from the Lord as if we have any part in obtaining the gifts that He has to give to us, in other words, thinking we are doing God a favor by coming to worship and Bible class, thinking we are doing God a favor by putting some of our earnings into the offering plate, thinking we are somebody because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran church, especially if we are members in name only and do not take part in the whole life of the church, or simply thinking more highly of ourselves rather than thinking of ourselves as servants of the Lord.
 
Paul reminds us that we are to recognize that we cannot save ourselves. All of our offerings, all of our good deeds, all of our prayers, all of our time, all of our anything will not save us. Only all of Jesus’ work on the cross will save us. How true and how humbling.
 
Paul, then, reminds us that our response to the Law and the Gospel is to humbly give thanks to God with our fruits of the spirit. We are given God’s gifts and show that we have been given His gifts by our actions, by our living in peace, in joy, in patience, and so on. We are given the gifts from God by boasting only in the cross of Christ, recognizing that we are justified, are made right before God and have access to heaven by faith apart from our observing the law.
 
Reformation Day is an important day, not because of some man named Dr. Martin Luther, but because of God’s work through this man and because of His work through the means of grace, through the Word and the Sacraments, through which He daily and richly works to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness and to remind us of our salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Your God Shall be My God - October 13, 2019 - Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Ruth 1:1-19

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Today’s text is a perfect example of Paul’s words of encouragement. And in the Gospel of John we have Jesus own words of encouragement, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In our Epistle lesson we are reminded that Jesus’ suffering brings us salvation. In the Gospel lesson we see the healing of the ten lepers and God’s continual mercy on us His people.
 
Our text is the account of Ruth the Moabite who is the great grand mother of King David. The account begins, “1In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband” (v. 1-5).
 
As this historical event begins we are told that there was a famine in the land. This famine was God’s judgement against Israel for their apostasy, for their idolatry. You might recall that when God gave Israel the land they were to wipe out the pagans living in the land as His judgement against them and not to have any relations with them. However, since the Israelites failed to carry out God’s just judgement and in stead let the people live, they soon were influenced by them and began to fall into idolatry as well. God’s judgement on Israel and the rain god baal was a famine.
 
The solution, at least for Elimelech, to care for his family was to move to Moab. We are told that there was food in Moab and so in order to continue to feed his family Elimelech moved his wife and two sons to Moab.
 
While they were living in Moab Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons marry Moabite women, but they too soon die. So we have the summary statement of verse five that Naomi is now a widow and is childless. Certainly we can understand the difficulty of Naomi’s life and she might certainly be wondering where is the good in what has happened to her.
 
Continuing on in our historic account we have the return of Naomi to Israel. “6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (v. 6-14).
 
As Noami decides to move back to her home country she encourages her daughters-in-law to remain with their families who might be better able to provide for them both physically and with new spouses. Although it may sound strange to us, the Mosaic law stated that son’s wives, the daughters-in-law of Naomi were to have children by the brother so the husband would have descendants to inherit. In other words, both Orpah and Ruth were to have a child by the brother of Mahlon and Chilion. However, there were no more brothers, no more sons of Naomi, and she knew that she would not be having any more children, at least not soon enough. So, she encourages the two widowed daughters-in-law to stay and seek provisions from their families in Moab.
 
At first both daughters-in-law resists saying they will stay with Naomi, after all they understood their duty as family. After the shedding of tears Orpah relents, kisses her mother-in-law and returns to her family. However, Ruth is not so easily convinced. Ruth, we are told, clings to Naomi.
 
About this clinging, the historical account continues, “15And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. 19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem” (v. 15-19a).
 
Naomi attempts a second time to convince Ruth to go back to her family, pointing to Orpah’s decision, but Ruth is not convinced. Instead, Ruth makes a pledge, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth clung to the faith of Naomi. Ruth recognized that the God of Naomi is the one true God and she would not be persuaded to give up her faith in the Lord and return to the pagan idols of her own country and family.
 
Okay, spoiler alert, ultimately, at the end of the book of Ruth we are told that the son of Ruth and Boaz whose name was Obed would give birth to a son whose name is Jesse and he would have a son whose name is David. This David would become the second king of Israel. Thus Ruth would become the great grand mother of David who would ultimately be an ancestor of Jesus.
 
So, what does this mean? As we began so we see the truth in Paul’s words and in Jesus’ words. Indeed, God does work out the best in any and all situations for those of faith and Jesus has overcome the tribulations of this world. How true it is that God works in mysterious ways and in this historic account of the Children of Israel He even works through times of famine. As we have heard said many times, there is no such thing as a coincidence. It was not a coincidence that there was a famine in the land. It was not a coincidence that Elemelech decided to move to Moab. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s sons married Moabite women. It was not a coincidence that Naomi’s husband and two sons died. And it was not a coincidence that Ruth clung to her mother-in-law.
 
In Genesis, God’s promise to send a Savior was made to Adam and Eve who were neither Jew nor Gentile, or rather they had all cultures in their DNA. God’s call and promise to Abraham never excluded anyone. Even as the children of Israel entered the promised land and were given God’s just judgement to wipe out those pagans living in the land, God never negated His desire that they should be His people and a beacon to the world. So, it should not surprise us that God calls Ruth to faith as He calls all whom He wills to call. Remember, God’s desire is that all people are saved.
 
As we review this account of the history of Israel and the family tree of King David and ultimately the earthly family tree of Jesus we find that Jesus was not of pure Jewish descent. Here we have a Moabite in the family tree. Earlier you might remember we had Rahab from Jericho in the family tree. Rahab the prostitute that is. This fact that there are other cultures in the family tree of Jesus should convince us even more that Jesus was and is the Savior of all people.
 
This good news that Jesus is the Savior of all people is good news to us as well. Indeed, we are a part of God’s kingdom, a part of Jesus’ family, by grace, through faith, given through the means of grace. How important are God’s means of grace? He calls us to faith and gives us faith through the waters of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He calls us to, gives us and strengthens us in faith through His Holy Word. He forgives our sins through His Holy Absolution. He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith through the gift of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. He has given us these means as the very instrument through which He blesses, preserves and strengthens us. Certainly as Ruth was given faith through hearing the Word of God while being married to one of Naomi’s sons, while the ten lepers in the Gospel reading most certainly had heard the Word of God and had heard of Jesus and believed and as Paul encourages Timothy in our Epistle lesson, our desire might be even more to make use of the means of grace so that God can pour out on us even more the gifts and blessings He has to give. And then, even more we may with all patience and endurance wait and see how God works out the best for us through the trials and tribulations of this world as He Himself has overcome for us.
 
Once again, God is the prime mover. God moves, acts and gives first. God is love and He created us to love us. He is running the show. He is giving the gifts and we are being given to. Jesus lived for us, fulfilling God’s demand of perfection. Jesus took our sin and paid the price for our sins, giving us the forgiveness He earned. Jesus died and rose defeating sin, death and the devil. Jesus gives us faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life. Our response of faith might be that of Ruth, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God,” that is Jesus is our Savior, Lord, and King.
 
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) We have seen this work out in our text for today. And we have seen Jesus’ own words fulfilled, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). May we be encouraged in our own faith life especially as we face times of tribulations to know that God is with us, that Jesus has overcome and the God always works out the best for us His people, those He has given faith so that ultimately we might all together rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.