Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Struggle, Strive, Live - August 21, 2016 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16) - Text: Hebrews 12:4-24 (25-29)
Over the past two weeks we have been given encouragement by the writer to the Hebrews. He has encouraged us in our own faith life and in our own faith walk by giving us example after example of other people of faith who have gone on before us. He has reminded us that we are not alone and that the struggles we face are not unique to us. There are others who have struggled with the same trials and temptations, with the same struggles we face each and every day and they have survived and they have even been strengthened through their struggles.
We live in a world where support groups thrive. We have a support group for everything, for medical difficulties, for emotional difficulties, for mental difficulties. You name it and there is probably a support group for it. The writer to the Hebrews has laid out for us the greatest support group, the fact that others have gone on before us; others have suffered for their faith; others have struggled through life, and they have become stronger through the trials and tribulations they faced. With their example before us, we too may stand ready to face whatever is before us.
The writer to the Hebrews begins by explaining discipline. Concerning discipline he says, “4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4). He also says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (v. 5b-6). And he says, “9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (v. 9-11).
Notice that he begins by pointing us to the cross. Our struggle against sin has not brought us to the point of shedding our own blood, rather it was Jesus who shed His own blood for us, because of our sins. He goes on to make a comparison between the love and discipline of an earthly father to that of our Heavenly Father. He tell us that an earthly father’s discipline is for a while, but the Lord’s discipline is for eternity. Yes, while we live in our father’s house here on this earth, while we live under his roof we are under his authority and responsibility. It is his responsibility to take care of us including disciplining us when we sin. Yet, even greater than being under our earthly father’s roof is the fact that while we live in this world we are indeed under the authority, the responsibility, the care of our Heavenly Father who created the world and who reigns over the world.
As children, when we do wrong, when we sin and our father disciplines us, that discipline may seem harsh, at least at the time. Really, none of us wants to be disciplined. None of us wants to be told what we can and cannot do. None of us wants our sins to be pointed out to us, we would rather be allowed to go on doing whatever it is we are doing, even if it is something that might hurt ourselves or others. Thus, we are reminded that this discipline is not meant for evil, but is meant for our training, that is it is meant to help us to learn right and wrong so that we do not harm ourselves or others. If our earthly father’s discipline us because of their love for us, then, just think how much our Heavenly Father loves us as He too cares for us enough to discipline us as well. Yes, although we may not see it, or feel it at the time, the Lord’s discipline is because of His love for us and His discipline is always for our good.
And so, as we grow older, although we might never say it aloud or to our father, we do give thanks for a father’s discipline because that is what keeps us on the straight and narrow road. As Christians, as we grow in our Christian faith and life, we also rejoice in the Lord’s discipline and we do give Him thanks for His discipline, yes, we do give Him thanks for the struggles we face in life because that is what prepares us for eternity. And it is this giving thanks for the times of difficulty that is the mark of one who is truly mature in faith.
What is the result of Godly discipline? The result is that we are strengthened in our faith, or as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (v. 12-13). Yes, the result of Godly discipline is a strengthening of faith. And we do need a strengthening of faith and we do need as much strength of faith as possible for our walk through this life and this world, because Jesus tells us, as we heard in the Gospel reading for this morning, the path to heaven is through a narrow door.
Not only are do we need strengthening for our own faith walk, we need strengthening because we are to help our brothers and sisters in Christ in their faith walk. The writer to the Hebrews says, “15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (v. 15-16). Yes, we are our brothers keeper, we are our sisters keeper and we are to help them in times of need. Now, here again, doesn’t this sound a lot like a support group?
And the result is peace, a true peace and a walking together, which is what fellowship means and this can only happen with a common faith in Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews says, “14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). Very often we talk or hear talk about fellowshipping with others. True fellowship, that is true Christian fellowship can only happen when there is a common faith and I do not simply mean that we all agree on Jesus, but that we agree on who He is, what He came to do, what He accomplished and so forth, otherwise there really is no agreement and with no agreement there is no fellowship and when there is no fellowship there is no peace and no walking together.
The writer to the Hebrews continues by reminding us of the importance of our faith and our faith life, of our walking together because this world is only temporary. This world will end. Our lives in this world will end, either on the day of Judgement, when Jesus returns, or on our own day of passing, when we will return to Him. Either way, it will happen and so it is important, it is imperative that we are ready at all times. He likens this coming to that of the Children of Israel standing at the foot of the mountain waiting on Moses to come down with the law of God. They waited with fear and love.
The day of judgement will come and it will be a day of fear, that is for the unbeliever it will be a day of fear because the unbeliever will be found not ready and not believing in Jesus and so the unbeliever will be condemned to eternal judgement, eternal spiritual death in hell with Satan and all his evil angels.
For the believer, for us Christians it will be a day of joy, excitement, and anticipation as we will be welcomed into our eternal home with our Lord. We have nothing to fear because our lot is secure in our Mediator, Christ the Lord. He is the One who called us to faith, giving us faith through the means of His Word and Holy Baptism. He is the One who has kept us in faith, through the means of His Word, Confession and Absolution, and His Holy Supper. He is the One who has strengthened and kept us in faith through our walk of life and so we are not afraid, but we rejoice and give thanks.
Finally, we are reminded that all this is inevitable. There is no escape. It will happen. The day will come and we will meet the Lord. It will happen. It will happen either on the last day, the day of Judgement, or on our last day, the day we die and pass away from this world. And I would suggest it will happen sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. At that moment, when Jesus returns or when we go to Him, we will see Him. We will meet Him. We will stand before Him.
Until then, we live, not in fear, but in lives of faith. It always makes me nervous when people say something like, “I sure hope I go to heaven,” because we need to know that we will go to heaven. So let me reassure you, of the fact, that by faith in Jesus, heaven is yours right now.
Our lot is secure. The reason Jesus came to earth, the reason God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, was so that He might live for us, so that He might take our sins upon Himself and suffer and die to pay the price for our sins, and so that He might rise again, conquering sin, death and the devil, and making our eternal inheritance an eternal reality.
So, what does this mean? The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that God never promises us an easy life. We might be reminded of the parable of the sower and the seeds and the fact that some seeds fell on the side of the road and were eaten by the birds, some fell on shallow ground sprang up immediately, but were scorched by the heat, some seeds fell among the thorns and thistles and were chocked and some seed fell on good ground. Our lives as Christians include times of being on the side of the road, being in shallow soil and being in the thorns and thistles. All these are trying times. All these are struggles and are meant to be times of strengthening.
The good news is that we have God’s promise. His promise is that He will always be with us to protect and forgive us. When America was attacked on 9/11/2001, the question was often asked, where was God? The answer is that God was there and this is seen in the fact that so many people were not where they were supposed to be or normally would have been because God had changed the lives of so many people that day. What we fail to see, especially in times of discipline, is God’s loving hand. We get so wrapped up in ourselves, we get so wrapped up in what we think God should be doing that we loose sight of the fact that God is always with us and that He is watching over us and that He does know what we are going through. And through it all He is there to strengthen and keep us in faith.
If we think God does not understand, perhaps we might remind ourselves that it was God, in the person of Jesus, who gave up all the glory that was His, rightfully His, in heaven, who was born lowly, even humbly in a manger. It was God in the person of Jesus who lived for us, struggling against all the same and even greater temptations that we suffer while here on this earth. It was Jesus who, after living perfectly, freely took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price, eternal spiritual death, for our sins. It was God the Father who watched as His own Son was mocked, beaten, and spat upon. It was God the Father who watch as His own Son was nailed to a cross, because of our sins, not for anything He had done. Yes, God knows the struggles we have in life because He has experienced them and He has overcome them for us, in our place.
And even more, because of His great love for us, God gives to us. He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. What a great God, what a loving God we have. And, like a loving Father, He also is our loving Heavenly Father who gently nudges us, reminds us, and works in us our response of faith, that is to say, thanks be to God.
I mentioned earlier about one’s maturity of faith. I would suggest that as we face difficulties in life we may not be happy with such difficulties, and yet we may, with God’s help make it through. Yet, the greatest measure of our faith is in this, that not only do we give thanks to God for all His good gifts and blessings, but that we find someway to give Him thanks for the trials and tribulations we face as well. My prayer is that the Lord will give us such faith, as you make regular and diligent use of the means He has of giving you such faith, His means of grace. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
By Faith - August 14, 2016 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - Text: Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40); 12:1-3
Last week the writer to the Hebrews spoke of the men of faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Hopefully our Epistle reading from last week reminded us that faith is important. It reminded us about the fact that faith is a gift, given to us by God. It reminded us that faith was given through means, namely through the means of grace, God’s Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution, in other words that it is through these very means that God gives us the gifts He has to give. We were also reminded that faith is an instrument which means that faith must have an object, in other words, in order for faith to be saving faith, the object of faith must be and can only be Jesus Christ. You have heard me use the illustration of a bowl of ice cream and a spoon. The bowl of ice cream are the good gifts and blessings God has to give. The spoon is the means or instruments that God uses to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. The fact is that the Bible is God’s Word and so it is a Word with power, the power to do what it says. This week we continue as the writer to the Hebrews gives us even more examples of faith.
Last week the writer to the Hebrews talked about the faith of Abraham. We pick up this morning with more of the examples of Abraham’s faith. “11:17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’ (11:17-19). Notice how Abraham’s faith was an example of faith as the instrument that believed in the object of the resurrection. Abraham believed God’s promise and although Isaac was his only son, he believed that God could raise him from the dead so that he might be able to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham to make him a great nation. Faith was the instrument that Abraham used to believe the object of God’s power to resurrect his son.
After touching on the example of Jacob and Joseph, the writer to the Hebrews continues with the example of the faith of Moses. “23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned” (v. 23-29). By faith in God’s promises, Moses’ parents defied the king who issued a decree that all male babies were to be killed. Even the Egyptian mid-wives disobeyed the king’s order.
Even more, by faith Moses gave up the riches of the throne and family of Egypt because he knew he was one of the Children of Israel. Moses left Egypt for a time in order to live in the desert regions, only to return as he was called by God to deliver his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
By faith, and by instruction of God, Moses instituted the Passover celebration. This celebration was a celebration of blood, shed for the people of God. The lamb was slaughtered, his blood was shed, so that the doors of the houses might be covered so the angel of death would pass over. This celebration foreshadowed the shedding of blood by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ Himself, on the cross for our forgiveness, that is so that the angel of eternal spiritual death, even Satan himself, may have no power over us.
And in faith Moses lead the Children of Israel through the Red Sea while the walls of water loomed on both sides and the Egyptian army was on their heels.
The writer to the Hebrews also mentions others of great faith, including, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David and Samuel the prophet. It was through faith that these and others “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (v. 33b-38). It was not that any of these people did anything of their own accord, rather it was by the means and instrument of faith in God and the power of God, that they did these things, it was God working in and through them to do the great deeds He had done.
The writer to the Hebrews gives all these examples of people of great faith and then he turns his attention toward us. He uses all these examples as an encouragement to us in our own faith life and faith walk. To us he says, “12:1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (v. 1-3).
The writer to the Hebrews does not sugar coat his encouragement nor his expectations. Just as others have suffered before us and others will suffer after us, so too, we may very well expect to suffer for our faith. Certainly we may suffer for our own sins, that is one weight which we carry through life, as we live as sinner/saints. But even more, we may also suffer simply because we are Christians. Even today, there are many in our world who suffer pain and even death for their faith. We may not have it too bad, at least not yet here in America, but as our country moves more and more away from God, as the deviant behavior of our society gets worse and worse and becomes more and more acceptable, it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian, especially in the name of tolerance.
The Key for us, in this “race” of life is in keeping our eyes on the goal, namely eternal life in heaven. We keep our eyes on the goal as we look to the One who is the author and perfecter, the giver and the finisher, of our faith, namely, Jesus. Jesus is the author of our faith. He is the One who writes faith in our hearts. He does this, as we have said before, through means, namely through the means or instrument of His Word, the Bible, which does what it says, as well as through the means of Holy Baptism, that is, through simple water and God’s Word, again, which we said, does what it says. Jesus is also the perfecter, the finisher of our faith as He strengthens and keeps us in faith, again through means and in particular through the means of His Word, as well as through the Lord’s Supper, that is through simple bread and wine connected with His Word, which does and gives what it says, and through confession and absolution.
And the writer to the Hebrews sets Jesus’ example before us, the example of His suffering and dying, giving of Himself and His life for ours. He does this, gives us Jesus as an example, but not just as an example. Jesus is never just an example, He is always more. Jesus did what needed to be done, for us, because of His great love for us. He is an example, but even more He is the fulfillment of His very example.
So, what does this mean? This means that our desire is to have Jesus alone as the object of faith. And Jesus gives us this desire through the means and instruments He has to give us this desire, His means of grace. Jesus is the author and perfect of our faith. He is the prime mover, the first to act and He does give and He does act. He gives and acts through His means of grace.
So, our desire is to be given the gifts that God has to give. And the gifts that God has to give are faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. Remembering that faith is an instrument and faith must have an object, the object of faith is Jesus Christ and with Jesus as the object of faith, then faith brings the gifts God gives, the gifts of forgiveness of sins and as we know with forgiveness there is life and salvation. Forgiveness is the greatest gift because without forgiveness there is only eternal destruction, but with forgiveness is life and salvation.
Our desire is forgiveness and life. More than anything, this is our desire, because apart from forgiveness and life is to remain in our sin which would mean only death, even eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness is life and salvation. And again, these are our gifts, given through the means that God gives them, namely the means of grace.
Thus, our desire is to be where the gifts of given, where the means are present, namely our desire is to be in divine service and Bible class, our desire it to have personal and family devotions, to read the Word on our own. Our desire is to be wherever and whenever the gifts are delivered. How do we know we have faith, by our desire to be given even more of God’s gifts. Indeed, as Luther pointed out, if we have no desire to be given the gifts of God, perhaps we might reach inside ourselves to see if we are still in the world.
As we grow up and move out of our parents’ house and begin a life of our own, we are often reminded that we are still a part of our original family. I suppose that is what family reunions are all about, the fact that we have a history. As parents our desire is that our children will continue, in some fashion, to be a part of our family, to come and visit. We are disappointed when they stay away for too long, or for what we believe to be too long. Certainly we believe we have a lot to offer our children, even as we grow older. In very much the same way, but even more so, our Heavenly Father is the one who has everything to offer and He is the one who gives everything to us. His desire is that we not stay away, but that we come to be given the gifts He has to give whenever and wherever those gifts are offered, in other words, His desire is that we are in Bible Class every Sunday morning and in divine service whenever we have divine service. Because His desire it to pour out on us and lavish us with His good gifts and blessings, indeed His desire is to give us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will put this desire in your heart, especially as you are given this encouragement through these people of great faith, “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,” but remain steadfast in the one true faith, even to eternal life. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.