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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, July 14, 2019

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself - July 14, 2019 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Leviticus (18:1-5), 19:9-18

The context of our text for this morning is the fact that God is the prime mover. It all beings with the Lord. We love, because He first loved us. We cannot love, except that He first loves us. As a matter of fact, we have no love, except that He first loves us. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but merely reflects the light of the Sun, so we have no love of our own, we merely reflect the love of the Son of God. It is important that we keep this fact in mind as we hear words of law and words of encouragement, especially as those words of law or encouragement expect something from us.
 
In the Gospel reading for this morning we have the account that we call the Good Samaritan. This parable was told by Jesus to a man who wanted to test Jesus to see if He would give a right answer. The man’s original question and response implied that he believed that he was saved by his good character, by his doing something to save himself. Interestingly enough, this man’s question and response shows how his is not any different from many in our world today who believe they too are saved by their own good character, by their doing something to save themself, by being obedient, by their pointing to themselves instead of Jesus for their own salvation. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to help the man to see that he was not as good as he thought he was because he did not know what it truly meant to love his neighbor. Interestingly enough, because of the man’s prejudices, he so despised the Samaritan that he could not even say that the Samaritan was the man who showed mercy, but simply answered that it was the “one” who showed mercy.
 
In the Epistle reading for this morning, we hear Paul’s words of encouragement to bear good fruit, which is the fruit of faith. And of course, Paul speaks these words because he knows that the Lord has given them faith and it is the Lord that works these good works, these fruits of faith in and through them. Here Paul gives us a proper understanding of the third use of the Law, that is that we are obedient, not because we can be by ourselves, but that any obedience we demonstrate flows from God loving us and working obedience, even if it is imperfect obedience, in and through us. Here again, notice we get it right when we point to Jesus.
 
Now, getting to our text for this morning. In the first half of our text we have words of encouragement to the children of Israel that they are to live in the world but not be of the world. We begin at chapter eighteen, verse one, “18:1And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 3You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. 5You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord’” (18:1-5). God is giving His people the promised land, yet He is giving it to them with a warning, they are not to live either as the Egyptians, the people of the land they left, nor as the people of the land of Canaan, the land they are entering and inheriting. Instead they are to follow the rules and statutes of the Lord.
 
The second half of our text is speaking specifically of loving one’s neighbor. We pick up at verse nine of chapter nineteen, “19:9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. 11“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord: (19:9-18).
 
The words of the Lord flow out of His love, care and compassion for His people. As we listen to the Lord’s words of love here in our text, in Leviticus, certainly His words are appropriate for us today and show His continued love for us even today. The Lord knows that we will always have the poor among us and in caring for the poor, He tells His people that during the harvest they are to leave some for those who have nothing. Even today we know that there are those who will go out after a harvest and glean the fields.
 
The Lord summarizes several of the commandments when He tells His people they are not to steal, deal falsely, lie, swear or profane God’s name. Here commandments one, two, three, seven, eight, nine and ten are brought to mind.
 
The Lord reiterates His care and the care of His people for their neighbor as He tells them they are not to oppress their neighbor. Again, this deals with commandments four through ten as all these last commandments deal with our relationships with one another.
 
The Lord warns against frivolous accusations and lawsuits, as He speaks words of warning to bear no injustice in court. Certainly, as Christians, we are to use the courts as needed and as necessary, especially since we do live in this secular world, however, we are to remember that if at all possible it would be better to settle our differences outside the courthouse, if for no other reason than we would not want to clean our dirty laundry in public as the saying goes.
 
And the Lord warns against seeking vengeance, and says that rather we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And this brings us back to the fact that we cannot love expect that God first loves us.
 
So, what does this mean? God is not giving any new commands. God had already given His people the Ten Commandments which cover everything from our relationship with Him to our relationships with all other people. God’s commands are perfect and with ten being the number of perfection and completion, certainly the Ten Commandments are perfect and complete. The first three commandments help us in getting our relationship with the Lord right. The last seven commandments help us in our relationships with each other. God did not give us these commandments in order to stifle us, nor to take away any freedoms from us, but He gave us these commandments because of His love for us, in order to give us boundaries, in order to keep us safe, in order to give us order so that we might have peace.
 
It is in particular, when we are being disobedient to the commandments, which is ninety-nine percent of the time, that they seem like a burden to us. And I always like the way we sinful human being attempt to find some gray area in the commandments in order to justify ourselves and our actions, instead of simply letting the commandments do what they were intended to do, show our sin so that we see our need for a Savior, our need to repent and be given forgiveness so that we might have life and salvation. And so the summary of the Law is Love. If we could love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind, we would never break any of the first three commandments and for that matter if we could keep the first three commandments then we could keep them all. The problem is we cannot even keep the first. And the rest of the summary of the commandments is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, which, if we could love our neighbor as ourselves, we would not break any of the last seven commandments. Here again, in and of ourselves we cannot keep even one commandment.
 
So, how is this done? As always, it starts, flows from and ends with God. God is the prime mover. God loves us. God shows His love in the fact that He created us and He created us in order to love us. God needs nothing from us and truly He expects nothing from us. What we consider to be the demands of the law are only demands because of our sinful nature and the fact that we cannot live as the people God would have us to be. If we could live as God would have us to live, then the demands of the law would simply be a response of faith and something we would rejoice in doing.
 
Again, it all starts with God. God loves us. God showed His love for us in the fact that immediately after Adam and Eve sinned God promised to send a Savior. Because God demands perfection and because we cannot be perfect, God sent Jesus to be perfect for us. Jesus lived as one of us under the law, obeying the law perfectly, because we cannot. The fulness of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus lived for us, in our place, doing everything we cannot do for us. And after living in perfection, after fulfilling all God’s promises and prophecies perfectly, Jesus took all our sins and all the sins of all people of all places of all times on Himself and suffered the eternal death penalty, eternal death in hell for us in our place. And He died and rose.
 
It all starts with God even for us today. God gives and we are given to. God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. He gives us faith through the means of Holy Baptism as well as through the means of His Holy Word. And God strengthens and keeps us in faith, again, through the means He has given to strengthen and keep us in faith, through our Baptism, through confession and absolution, through His Holy Word and through His Holy Supper. Through these very means He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith, He gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
 
But God is not through giving. He also stirs in us a response of faith, that is He moves in us to live lives of faith, to live out our vocation, serving Him by serving others. As we live as priests in the priesthood of all believers, as we live lives as living sacrifices, so we are giving glory to His Holy Name.
 
And so, God gives to us so that we reflect His love to others. How can we not love as He first loves us? How can we not reflect His love that He shines on us? God is not a demanding God, but He is a gift giving God. God needs nothing from us as if we would have anything we could give to Him anyway, at least that we would have anything that would be ours without having first been given to us by Him. We simply offer to Him a portion of what He has first given to us.
 
Too often we fail to realize that by being given the gifts God has to give, we are indeed giving glory to His Holy Name. Remember, God created us to love us and so He delights in lavishing us with all the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
 
This morning I would continue to exhort and encourage you. First, I would encourage and exhort you to be given to. And second, as you are filled with all the good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give, I would encourage and exhort you to love your neighbor as yourself, as that love flows out of the Lord first loving you. In so doing, we rejoice as our lives say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

True Godly Comfort - July 7, 2019 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 09) - Text: Isaiah 66:10-14

“Are you comfortable?” “Make yourself comfortable.” “Make yourself at home.” “What can we do to make your stay more comfortable?” Perhaps you have heard these statements and questions before and maybe they are statements and questions you have asked. Of course, we might understand that when it comes to human earthly comfort our personal definitions may be different than what God has in mind when He seeks to give us comfort. In our text, God speaking to His people, the children of Israel, gives us a bit of a foretaste of the comfort He desires to give to us.
 
Before we get to our text let us look at the other two lessons. In our Gospel reading for today we have the account of Jesus sending out the seventy-two with His authority, promise and power. Unlike Jesus’ sending of the apostles on the night of His betrayal when He explicitly tells them to take a knapsack and a sword, in our text Jesus sends them out with no knapsack, no sandals and to greet no one on the road. They are instructed to bring peace, “Peace be on this house,” and yet if it is not a house of peace their peace will return to them. They are to stay in one place while sharing the Gospel and not to move around looking for the best accommodations. And if their message is refused they are to shake the dust off their feet as a sign against that place. Finally, even more than rejoicing in the signs and wonders they might perform they are to rejoice that their names are written in the book of heaven. Indeed, Jesus reminds them as He reminds us, our time in this world is nothing compared to our time in heaven and so more important than investing in this world is investing in heaven.
 
In our Epistle reading, Paul encourages us to bear with one another, to build up one another. We are to recognize sin and call sinners to repentance, lest they remain in their sin and are eternally condemned, yet as we call sinners to repent we are to recognize our own sin as well. Thus, we are to bear one another’s burdens. We are encouraged to not grow weary in doing good, reminding us that although good works do not merit eternal life, they are a response, a reflection, a result of our faith. Finally, we are encouraged to boast only in the cross of Christ, which is folly to those who are perishing, but salvation to all who believe.
 
In our text God gives the prophet Isaiah a look into heaven as he speaks words of comfort, delight, peace and rejoicing. Isaiah begins by saying, 10“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her” (v. 10). Isaiah is speaking words encouraging rejoicing to a people who have been disciplined by God and scattered throughout the world. They are to rejoice because God has not forgotten His people and His promise, but in due time will restore them so that He may fulfill His ultimate promise of sending a Savior, the promise we see being fulfilled in our Gospel reading.
 
Isaiah continues, “11that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance” (v. 11). Jerusalem is the place where God’s temple was built. It is the place where Jesus will be crucified for the sins of all people. It is the place where Jesus will show Himself to be alive. Indeed, God’s desire of the nation of Israel was that Jerusalem would be light to the world shining and attracting others to come and hear the Gospel news of salvation.
 
Isaiah continues, “12For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees’” (v. 12). As we understand peace, true peace is knowing our sins have been forgiven, so as Jesus took our sins to the cross in Jerusalem and paid the price for our sins, we know we have forgiveness and with forgiveness is life and salvation. This knowledge of sins forgiven, life and salvation bring true unending peace and joy.
 
Isaiah continues, “13As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (v. 13). Isaiah speaks of what he knows to be most comforting that is of a mother who comforts her child. Certainly after being carried in our mother’s womb for nine month the strongest desire and most comfort an infant has is the comfort from its mother, hearing her voice, being held by her, being loved by her. God’s promise is that He will bring even greater comfort the comfort of peace and sins forgiven.
 
Isaiah continues, “14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies” (v. 14). Even while the children of Israel are in exile they are encouraged to not look elsewhere for lasting satisfaction, peace and comfort, rather they are to look to the Lord. Just as a child’s mother brings such comfort so our Father in heaven meets all our needs most especially forgiveness of sins.
 
What does this mean? God’s word to His people Israel, through the prophet Isaiah were spoken as words of encouragement while they were being disciplined for their apostasy, while they were in exile, before they were restored to the promised land. While we may not be in exile and while God may not discipline us in the same way as He did the children of Israel, the fact is that our situation is that we are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our heart is evil all the time. We are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. God might well discipline us in the same way He did Israel. He might well allow us to be exiled for our unfaithfulness and idolatry. Yet, that is not what He does.
 
As you have heard me say many times, we get it right when we point to Jesus. The Old Testament points us to Jesus. The New Testament points us to Jesus. All of history, the way we measure time and years, B.C. and A.D. point us to Jesus. Because we live in New Testament, A.D. time we know the rest of the story. We know what God has done, that He has sent Jesus, God in flesh to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus was born to live perfectly for us in our place, take our sins on Himself and suffer and die paying the eternal death penalty for us. Yet, we know the whole history, He did not stay dead but rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. Indeed, we know that God has recreated us.
 
And now, as we live in these New Testament times God gives us His authority and promise to go out and share His love, His message of salvation, His good news with others so they to might be a part of His kingdom. Very much like the Children of Israel were to be God’s people in the promised land, a light to the world, so we are to be God’s people, a light to the world we live in today, which is what Paul is encouraging us to do in our Epistle reading for today.
 
God calls us to life at conception, giving us an eternal soul. God calls us to faith through His Word and the waters of Holy Baptism. And God calls us to our various vocations to live lives of faith always bearing witness of the faith He has given to us. And so God stirs in us to live lives of faith, to live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers, offering our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord.
 
    The children of Israel were in exile when God spoke His word to them through the prophet Isaiah. We are not in exile, yet we do still live in a world filled with sin and unbelief. Isaiah spoke words of consolation and comfort the promise of a return to the promised land. Today God’s word through Isaiah speaks to us of looking forward, giving us hope and comfort. Just as God kept His first promise and Jesus paid the price for our sins, so we look forward to God keeping His second promise that is that Jesus will return to gather us and all the saints and take us to the promised land of heaven.
 
Indeed, we can rest assured that as God kept His first promise to send a Savior and the fact that Jesus is that Savior, that God will keep His second promise and will return to take us to heaven. Although as we might rightly admit that we have difficulty in keeping our promises God is faithful and just and He keeps all His promise even in spite and despite our unfaithfulness.
 
From creation God’s desire has always been to have perfect fellowship with His creation and His creatures, with us. Although that desire was disrupted by Adam and Eve and although all humanity has suffered from their sin and God’s curse, His desire and His promises to care for us, His people has never abated. Our desire as His children is to be with Him in heaven. Our desire for heaven is grounded in our understanding that heaven is a wonderful place, and as Isaiah speaks in our text we know that heaven is filled with rejoicing, delighting, peace, and comfort.
 
Today we too are encouraged and we rejoice. We rejoice because God is faithful and true to His word. Yes, we may not always keep our promises, but that never negates God’s Word and promises. He is always faithful and true and always does what He says, which is why we are able to rejoice.
 
Although our image of comfort might be a nice soft or hard bed, depending on our own personal preference, or a nice easy chair, that is not God’s image of comfort. As we have stated time and again, peace, true peace is not simply a short time of calm and serenity in our chaotic world, rather true peace is the peace of having our sins forgiven and our guilt removed. Thus, true comfort is not simply some physical attribute of softness or hardness, rather true comfort is that comfort of knowing that God’s loves us, that He gives to us, that He desires to lavish us with all the good gifts and blessing He has to give. No greater comfort can we have in this world, truly, is the comfort of knowing that our sins have been forgiven, recognizing that God has given us life at conception, that He has given us new life, even eternal life through giving us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism, that God forgives us our sins as we hear each Sunday in the absolution, that our sins are forgiven, and the God forgives us and strengthens us through His Holy Supper, so that as we eat His body and drink His blood He becomes a part of us so that His perfect life becomes our perfect life, His perfect death becomes our perfect death and His perfect eternal life becomes our perfect eternal life. And finally, as we are comforted our desire, the result of such comfort, our response of faith is that we simply cannot help ourselves as we live lives of faith, bearing witness of the gifts of God, even sharing His gifts and love with others so they too might be a apart of His kingdom. We rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Sound of a Low Whisper - June 30, 2019 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: 1 Kings 19:9b-21

Wise King Solomon, by inspiration of God relates these words from God in one of his proverbs, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Proverbs 46:10). How difficult it is for us in our fast paced world today to “be still.” Most of us believe we simply do not have enough time to “be still.” Anyone who has ever been laid up for medical reasons understands how difficult it is to “be still.” But, let me tell you this, if you take the time, if you make the time, if you will “be still,” you might be amazed at what you might see and hear and what might happen.
 
In order to best understand our text for this morning, we will need to make sure we hear it in its context, so let us go back a bit and review what had happened before we get to our text. In the  chapter before our text we have Elijah’s challenge and defeat of the prophets of Baal. Now, personally, I believe this history is a very instructing history, both for us as individual Christians and as a church body. We live in a world that espouses what we call an ecumenical movement, that is a movement that would bring all the various denominations and even religions together suggesting that we all worship the same god, but call him different names. I believe Elijah’s response to the prophets of Baal is a good example of what should be our response to this movement. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a sacrifice “throw down.” They, the prophets of Baal, would offer a bull as a sacrifice and so would Elijah, but neither would light their offering. The “winner” would be the one whose sacrifice the Lord God would light and consume. Now, notice that in the account, Elijah did not join the prophets of Baal in prayer, instead, he stood off and mocked them. He made fun of them. At no time did he even imply that the one true God was even close to being on the same level as the false god of Baal. Likewise, I believe as Christians, as worshipers and followers of the Only One True God, never should we give any indication that we believe that our God is the same as or equal to the false gods of the world.
 
After the prophets of Baal were unable to get their god, small “g,” or idol to wake up and accept their offering, Elijah made his offering, even pouring water on his offering and as the history goes, the Lord God, the one true God, took his offering and the water in the trenches. And notice that after he won the sacrifice “throw down,” Elijah did not evangelize the prophets of Baal, but he put them to death. God never wants us to put Him on an even par with any other false god or idol, but always to make sure that He is the exclusive God of all, which is why we Christians are hated, as we have said before.
 
So, after his victory, Jezebel threatens Elijah and he runs away. At this point, Elijah believes that he and he alone is the only person left in Israel who is faithful to the Lord. Elijah did not run away because he was afraid of Jezebel, because we know he was a great man of faith, look at what he had just accomplished, but he ran away because he believes that he has noone left in Israel to befriend and thus he has no reason to stay.
 
So, now we pick up at our text for today. God appears to Elijah, not to chastise him, but to ask him what is on his mind. We pick up at the second part of verse nine, “9bAnd behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (v. 9b-10). Elijah laments to the Lord that he believes that there are no longer any faithful believers left in Israel.
 
Which brings us to my words of introduction and how God speaks to us. As our text continues, God speaks to Elijah and notice how He speaks to Elijah, picking up at verse eleven, “11And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (v. 11-14). Notice that God did not speak to Elijah in the loud rumble of the “great and strong wind,” nor in the earthquake or fire, but instead He spoke to Elijah in a still small voice, “the sound of a low whisper.”
 
And the Lord instructs Elijah in what to do, including naming and anointing his predecessor, Elisha, naming and anointing a new king over Syria, Hazael, and naming and anointing a new king over Israel, Jehu. Notice that God is still in control. God is still in charge. God continues to guide and work with His people, even His sinful fallen people, to work out the best for them. God is still with Elijah, guiding and directing him.
 
So, what does this mean? And what are we to do? First, I believe this narrative serves well to remind us that God’s desire is that we do not compromise our doctrine and faith. There are many in our world today who would suggest that we all believe in the same God, we simply call Him by different names. The problem with that suggestion is that these same people do not believe in a God who would die and rise again, instead, they believe in a god who insists that one is saved by one’s character, that is by how good a person can be. It all goes back to who is running the show, who is doing what. Do we worship a god who needs us to do for him, if we are, then we are worshiping a false god and an idol. Or, are we worshiping a God who does everything for us and gives everything to us, if we are, then we are worshiping the one true God.
 
It is God who gives us the victory. God created a perfect world into which man, namely Adam and Eve, brought sin, corruption and death. Yet, it was God who immediately promised to take care of their sin and the sin of all people, of all places, of all times. It was God who sent His Son, truly Himself in human flesh to live perfectly for us in our place because we cannot. It was God, in Jesus who took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins. It was God in Jesus who suffered the eternal death penalty for us and died and rose so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Notice how the one true God is the one who does for us, His people, not one who demands that we do for Him.
 
And our God continues to care for us so that we may lay our burdens on Him. Just as Elijah had his own down time and lamented to the Lord, so we may come to our Lord and lay on Him our troubles, our hardships, our heart aches and the like and He will lift us up and take care of us.
 
Just as Elijah was in conversation with the Lord, so today, we continue to be in conversation to the Lord. We speak to Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. Very often, the reason we fail to hear God speak to us, is because we fail to make use of His Word, we fail to “be still” and listen to “the sound of a low whisper” through His Word. Or, if we do take the time to read and hear His Word, we fail to hear the Lord in His low whisper because we fail to believe His Word. Either way, the problem is not with the Lord, but with us.
 
The Lord our God is a jealous God, desiring that we have faith in and worship Him alone. It is through His Word that He instructs us, reminding us of the authority He has given us and the promise to be with us even to the end of the world.
 
So, what are we to do? First and foremost we are to be given to. We are to be still and know that the Lord is God. We are to be still and be given the gifts He has to give, and in particular to be loved by God. God created us to love us. God created us to lavish us with all the good gifts and blessing He has to give.
 
And so our Lord does love us and lavish us and He does so through the means He has given us to lavish us, His means of grace, His Holy Word, the Bible and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, along with Confession and Absolution. As we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace, our Lord comes to us through these means to give, strength and keep us in faith, to give us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Which reminds us that the opposite is also true, as we neglect to make use of the means of grace, so then we are refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give, in essence we are rejecting His love and the gifts He desires to lavish on us.
 
As Christians, making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being given to and lavished on by God, the good gifts and blessings He has to give, so He stirs in us and moves in us to live lives of faith, that is we live as priests in the priesthood of believers. As we work in the various vocations the Lord has given us so that we offer our lives through these vocations as living sacrifices for the Lord.
 
And ultimately, as God lives in us, lavishes us with all His good gifts and blessings, and stirs in us to live lives of faith, our lives bear witness of the faith that God has given to us and in so doing, give glory to the Lord. Notice, God is the prime mover. We love because He first loved us. And we know His love and we hear Him speak to us especially as we are still and as we listen to the whisper of His voice.
 
God never promised that life would be easy, as a matter of fact, a beautiful rose has painful thorns. God has promised that He will be with us, even to the end of the world. God has promised that He gives us His authority to boldly proclaim His Word and the exclusive nature that He is the Way, the only Way, the Truth, the only Truth, and the Life, the only Life so that no one can come to the Father, no one has eternal life except those He has called and given faith, forgiveness and life. So, I encourage and exhort you yet today, make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, be given the good gifts and blessings the Lord desires to lavish on you. And rejoice and give praise to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy does endure for ever. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

I Will Do For My Servants Sake - June 23, 2019 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Isaiah 65:1-9

Today we begin what is called the non-festival part of our church year. We have just completed the festival part of our church year which began at Advent and through which we celebrated the feasts of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost and ended last Sunday with Holy Trinity Sunday. For the next twenty-four Sundays we will be in the Pentecost season, our liturgical color will be green reminding us that this is the time of the church year that we are to grow in our Christian faith and life, which we do through our being in Divine Service and Bible Class.
 
Stephen R. Covey who wrote the best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” This morning, the main thing of our text is the first two verses, “1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation that was not called by my name.  2I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices” (v. 1-2).
 
In our text, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, seeks to set the record straight. God’s promise of salvation was, is and always will be to all people. Beginning in the Garden of Eden before there was a Jew and Gentile, God’s promise was to all people and here in Isaiah, God’s promise continues to be to all people, and even to us today, God’s promise continues to be to all people. Certainly we rejoice because God’s promise of salvation is for us even today.
 
In our text, Isaiah speaks of “those who did not ask.” “Those who do not ask,” are the Gentiles. By the time we get to our text, the Jews have established themselves as God’s chosen people, yet they have done so in such a way that they have excluded the rest of the people of the world and the Gentiles know this, that is they know that they are not included in the Jewish world, let alone the Jewish faith or religion. In other words, the Gentiles simply have come to believe that they have no part in the Jewish Savior and so they do not even ask.
 
As for the Jews, God’s chosen people, the nation through whom the Savior of the world was promised to be born, they have become a rebellious people. Although God chose Abraham and his people to be the nation through which the Messiah would be born, they have rebelled against the Lord, against His commands, against His good gifts and blessings and have followed after their own devices. At this point we might say that God is not happy with either the Jews or the Gentiles and so His words are words of warning and a call to repentance and faith.
 
Let us look a little closer at these people, the Gentiles. The Gentiles were any people who were not of Jewish descent. Up until the call of Abraham, there really was no distinction, at least Biblically speaking, between any of the nation groups on the earth. Certainly there were the various culture groups which spoke different languages that spread out after the confusion of the languages at the tower of Babel, which we talked about a couple weeks ago, but Biblically speaking, all people were the same. It was at the call of Abraham that a Biblical distinction began to be made, and this distinction was not a distinction concerning who would be saved and who would not be saved.
 
As for the Gentiles, the Savior of the world was not promised to be born through their offspring. In essences, the Jews, the nation through whom the Savior was promised, became first class citizens, at least that is what they thought of themselves, and they regulated the rest of the world, the Gentiles to second class citizen status. I believe there is a cliche that says, “Pride goes before the fall.” With the Jews, perhaps it was their proud nature, thinking themselves as first class citizens and regulating the rest of the world as second class citizens which began their own fall as we will see.
 
As for the Gentiles, they knew God, not as the chosen nation, not from the great blessings the Lord bestowed on them compared to the Jews, but they knew God, through natural knowledge as well as through revealed knowledge proclaimed to them. Remember, God’s promise to send a Savior was never a promise to just a certain group of people, but was always a promise to all people of all places of all times.
 
And so, the Gentiles, not having the special status of the Jews, rejoiced in the good news. It is no wonder that when the Apostles finally recognized God’s favor on the Gentiles as well that the Gospel so easily took hold in the Gentile community.
 
As for the Jews, they were God’s chosen people, but not necessarily the way they believed themselves to be. The Jews were the people of the family line of Abraham. It was Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, who was chosen by God. Abraham did not choose God, but God chose him. And God chose him, not because of any deserving reason on his own part, simply God chose him.
 
God chose Abraham and made a promise, a covenant with him. God’s covenant with Abraham was that He would bless him, that He would make him a great nation and that the Savior of the world, of all people, of all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike would be born through his offspring. And God made Abraham a great nation.
 
As the nation of Abraham grew, as they became the nation of Israel, as they were forced into slavery and then delivered from slavery in Egypt, as they were brought into and given the promised land, you would think that with all that God had done for them they would be His loyal people. However, instead, they disobeyed God and went after other gods and idols. That is what the rest of our text for this morning is about, the fact that they were not and did not act like the people of God, the people God called and through whom God promised to send the Savior of the world.
 
As a matter of fact, as we look at the history of the children of Israel, we see that they were constantly disciplined by the Lord. Their history was rather a roller coaster ride of sin and rebellion, discipline and punishment, repentance and forgiveness, and then moving back and starting again with sin and rebellion, discipline and punishment, repentance and forgiveness. And this ride went round and round for many years, until the birth of the Messiah.
 
So, what does this mean? And what does this mean for us today? As I have said, time and time again, God’s promise to send a Savior was given in Eden, before there was a Jew or a Gentile and His promise was made to all people of all places of all times. If only those who continue to misread the book of Revelation would only go back to the beginning of the Book, they would see quite clearly that the Lord made one covenant with all people, not two covenants, one with one group and one with another group. And the covenant the Lord made was not a covenant of birth or genetics, but was a covenant of grace, of God’s doing, of God’s giving and our being done to and given to. It always, all begins with the Lord.
 
Again, if one would take the time to read God’s Word, from the beginning, and let God speak and actually listen to and believe what God says, one would realize that the fulfillment of God’s promise was narrowed so that His promise would be fulfilled through the line of Abraham. This narrowing of the line of fulfillment in no way took away from the fact that the Savior would be the Savior of all people of all places of all times, simply that the family line through which the Savior would be born would be through the family of Abraham.
 
From our text for this morning we are reminded of the misuses, the abuses, the misunderstandings, of those who imposed or attempted to impose their own will onto God and His covenant, gifts and promises. And certainly, as I have reminded you from time to time, we are no different today than the children of Israel of old. How often does God find us running after other God’s and idols who are not the Lord? How often does God find us breaking, not one, not two, but all His commandments? How often does God find us “interpreting” His Word according to our own sinful desires? If we actually read God’s Word and took His Word as His Word and took His Word seriously, our world would be a different world. Unfortunately, because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, where it all began, we live in a sinful world filled with sin and that will be the way it is until the Lord returns and recreates everything anew.
 
The key, how do we know we are getting it right? How do we know we are right and others, other religions, cults and sects are getting it wrong? Simple! All the religions, cults and sects can be classified under two headings: those who must do for their god, in order to appease him, please him or manipulate him, which is idolatry; and those who believe the God of Holy Scripture who runs the show, who does for us, who gives to us, who made His promise and fulfilled His promise to take care of our sin and be our Savior. Remember, it is a matter of who is running the verbs, who is running the show. And if God is running the show, if Jesus is the Savior for all people of all places of all times, then we are indeed children of God and children of the promise, not by birth, not by genetics, but by God’s grace, through faith, given to us, in Jesus Christ alone. Which is why we as Christian are so hated by the rest of the world, because of the exclusive claim of God that there is only one way to be saved and that is through Jesus Christ alone.
 
The best way I can summarize the Lord’s Word and the key to His Word is the fact that God gives and we are given to, God does and we are done to. It all begins with God. He created us. He gave us life at conception. He gave us new life through Holy Baptism. He paid the price for our forgiveness. He strengthens and keeps us in faith through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments. And we rejoice as He stirs in us a response of faith, to give glory to His Holy Name.
 
As we begin this non-festival part of our church year calendar, although we are about six months from again celebrating the feasts of our church, we do continue to gather each and every Sunday and we do celebrate each and every Sunday. Remember, for us Christians, we worship on Sunday because each Sunday is for us a miniature Easter celebration. We celebrate the fact that we get it right and we know we get it right by pointing to Jesus, who is God, who is the prime mover. We are reminded that none of us chose to be born and none of us chooses for God to give us faith, forgiveness and life, rather we celebrate that as the prime mover it is God who chose to give us life and new life through Holy Baptism. Indeed, as we said earlier, we want to keep the main thing the main thing and the main thing is that it is all about Jesus, just Jesus. God gives to us according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious will. God loves you so much and He has so much He has given to you and so much more He wants to give to you. Rejoice and be given the gifts God has to give to you for Jesus’ sake. Amen.