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, July 30, 2017

The Lord Set His Love on You and Chose You - July 30, 2017 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - Text: Deuteronomy 7:6-9

How odd? One of the laws of nature, as it were, is that very often the littlest or the runt of a litter is left to die. Unless the newborn can take care of itself, fight its way to the mother for nourishment, it is left to die. How odd? We are conceived and born in sin. Our nature is to sin. Our nature is to disobey God, to refuse and reject the gifts He has to give. Our nature is to actually fight against God as His enemy. How odd? Even though our spiritual condition is at odds with our Lord, He loves us and cares for us. Rather than leave us to die, rather than fight with us or against us, He chooses us, He calls us, by name. He calls us to faith. He gives us faith. He redeems us, buying us back, purchasing us, not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. How odd indeed?
As the cliche goes, let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with God’s first promise. After creating a perfect world, a world that God declared as good, even very good, God created and placed two people, Adam and Eve into the perfect world and the perfect garden He had created just for them. Because they had nothing of their own, God also gave them the ability to give to back to Him, that is He gave them a free will so that they could freely obey Him and in this way they could respond to all that He had given to them. At this point in history, before their fall into sin they did have perfect free will. They could freely decide to do what was good. Unfortunately they did not obey the Lord. Unfortunately they disobeyed and they sinned. This sin brought the punishment of death, physical death, but worse, apart from God’s intervention it would be eternal spiritual death, hell in other words. Fortunately, because God is love, He immediately stepped in and  made a promise. God’s promise was to Adam and Eve and to all people without regard to culture. God’s promise was that He would take care of Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience. He would provide someone who would pay the price for their sin.
As time went on, God narrowed the fulfillment of His promise to the line of Abraham, that is God promised that the Savior to be born would be born through the narrow family line of Abraham. Notice, Abraham did not choose God, God chose Him. There was nothing innately special about Abraham, as a matter of fact we are told about Abraham’s idols. Again, there was nothing innately special about Abraham simply that God chose Him. God promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation, that He would make him a prosperous people and most importantly that the Savior of all nations, the Savior of all people, the Savior of all cultures, the Savior of the world would be from His descendants.
And finally, at just the right time. At just the right time in history, at just the right time in the world, God fulfilled His promise. He fulfilled His promise in the birth of a child, the Christ child. This child whose birth we celebrate every Christmas was born for a purpose, to die. And that is what He did. After living a perfect life, which is the fullness of the Gospel, not simply that Jesus died, but that He lived perfectly for us in our place because we could not be perfect as God demands, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” After obeying all God’s commands perfectly. After fulfilling all the law perfectly, for us, in our place, He took all our sins and imperfection on Himself. He freely gave His life, exchanging His perfection for our imperfection, exchanging our sins for His life and He suffered and died, paying the price for our sins.
But let’s rewind and get back to our text. God through Moses tells us in our text for this morning that we are a treasure to God. We read verse six and seven, “6For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (v. 6-7). The children of Israel were God’s people, descendants of Abraham. They had a rather roller coaster existence. In our text, Moses reminded the children of Israel that they were a treasure to God, His chosen people.
Moses reminds them that God chose them. God chose them, not because of their size. They were not a great nation when God chose them, as a matter of fact, God chose them before they became a great nation and it was only because of the Lord that they would become a great nation. As we look back at their history we see that under the rule of King David and King Solomon they had their glory years as a nation, enjoying many blessings from the Lord. This was after many ups and downs and before many more ups and downs that followed in their history.
Moses reminds the people that it was not they who chose the Lord, but it was God who chose them and set His love on them. It was the Lord who promised that they would be His people and He would be their God. It was the Lord who delivered them time and again and it was the Lord who allowed for them to be disciplined time and again, because of His love for them.
Continuing on in our text Moses reminds the people that it was God who acted first. We read picking up at verse eight, “8but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” )v. 8-9( God remembered the oath, the promise He made. Actually we might say the Lord continually remembered the oath, the covenant, the promise He made. Even better, the Lord never forgot His oath, covenant and promise. The children of Israel constantly forgot, refused, and reject the Lord’s gifts and promises, but the Lord never did and He never does.
Moses reminds the people how the Lord had previously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It was the Lord who had called them to be His people. It was the Lord who had made them a great nation, at least at the time that they were in Egypt they were becoming a great nation as in have a great number of people. It was because of the gifts and blessing and because of the Lord’s favor that they were the nation they were.
Mostly, Moses’ words remind us that God is faithful and His steadfast love and covenant last to a thousand generations. God never forgets nor does He ever go back on His promises. God’s Word is sure and true and God always does what He says. Even more than depending on the most dependable person we may imagine, we can depend on the Lord. Although we may struggle to keep our word and promises, the Lord’s Word never fails.
What Does This Mean? And what does this mean for us today? Today Moses’ words remind us that before God even began creating the world, He had us, you and me in mind. Before He began creation He chose us to love us. He looked through time to this very day and saw us. Now, that might be difficult for us to imagine, but as we said last week, God does not live in time as you and I do. God created time for us. God lives in the eternal present, so that everything that is happening to us through time is happening all at once for the Lord. Thus, it was and is easy for Him to have us in mind at the time of creation.
On our part, our condition is terminal, at least our physical condition is terminal. We are all dying. We will die. Our bodies will wear out. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin in thought, word and deed. We sin sins of omission, not doing what we should be doing and we sin sins of commission, doing what we should not be doing. We sin and the result is that we are dying. We are dying a physical death as our bodies age and are infected with sin. Remember, the judgement on sin is physical death. Yet even worse, we are dying a spiritual death, the result which, left to ourselves, would be a judgement of eternal spiritual death. Our need, our real need is forgiveness of sins. We cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot earn our forgiveness. Our forgiveness must come from outside of us. Our forgives has been purchased and won for us by Jesus. We need and we get help from outside ourselves.
So, we revel in, we delight in, we respond to all that our Lord does for us and gives to us. We revel in, we delight in, we respond to the fact that we love because He first loved us. We revel in, we delight in, we respond to the fact that, as Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” and “]nothing[ in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our Lord has taken care of our spiritual condition. Jesus has paid the price for our sin. The judgement we face will not be eternal spiritual death, but will be eternal life. His life for ours. Yes, we may have to suffer physical death, unless the Lord returns first, and that is a possibility. Either way, we will soon meet and be with the Lord and I would suggest that day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect. Thanks be to God that we are ready and we remain ready and in confidence we look forward to that day.
I believe the key to this morning’s text is the key to all of Holy Scripture. As I have said before, the direction of salvation is always top down, from heaven to earth, from God to man. Those who would espouse what we call decision theology, encouraging you to make a decision for Jesus, to choose Jesus as you personal Savior, reject original sin. In other words, they do not believe we are conceived and born in sin, nor that one’s will is tainted by sin, so we are able to choose Jesus. As we read our Bible, from the Old Testament though the New Testament, what we read is not an attempt on God’s part to get us to choose Him. Rather what we read time and again, like our text for this morning is the reminder that God chose us. I like the illustration and I know I have used it before, but it goes like this. Remember when you were in school. At recess time you would choose two people to pick teams to play a game. Suppose one of the captains was your best friend. Suppose you knew, you chose in your heart to be on your best friend’s team. Did that matter, your choosing? No, what mattered was that your friend chose you. It does not matter if we choose Jesus, which we cannot do because our will has been tainted by sin. What matters most is that He has already chosen us, you and me. He has chosen us. He gives us faith through the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins through His Word, through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. He keeps us in faith through His Word and His Holy Supper. He has so many gifts and blessing He wants to give to us. My prayer is that you will continue to be given the gifts He has to give so that he may continue to stir in us our response of praise saying, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Apart from Me There Is No God - July 23, 2017 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - Text: Isaiah 44:6-8

We’re number one! We’re number one! Every team and everyone on the team likes to shout, we’re number one! It is a great feeling to be number one. In a couple months, Lord willing as we say, we will more than likely hear the chant, Astros, Astros, as the baseball season winds down and moves into the playoffs. And there is nothing wrong with following your favorite sports team, rooting for them to win. Sports are a great pastime. Unfortunately, it is when we put too much emphasis on sports, when sports become all consuming, that is when we forget what really matters. There was an article in one of the papers a while back giving a little background on sports and on the Olympics in particular and reminding us that the Olympics were originally a time to show off ones military might and to honor one or more of the Greek gods. Again, do not get me wrong, I like watching sports and the Olympics. I think that sports, watching sporting events and more particular participating for the exercise is a great idea, but I really do not like the glorification of athletes, no matter how good they are, nor the idea of a person being so tied to the winning or losing of a team that it affects their mood. When it comes to the Olympics, which now we see every other year, last year being the Summer games and next year being the Winter games, I am not so keen on the idea of the Greek gods being pushed on me, as if the Greek society was something special for being so open minded as having not one, but several gods. The upshot of this introduction being, according to some in our society, what a terrible, intolerant person I am for espousing only one God and saying there is only one way to heaven. And that is what are text is talking about today.
Our text begins by telling us that the LORD is the only God, as we read in verse six, “6Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god’” (v. 6). The LORD is Israel’s King and Redeemer. The LORD Almighty is the only one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. The LORD is the ruler over Israel, and not just the Israel of old, but of the new Israel. He is the ruler of the new Kingdom. He is ruler over all believers. The LORD is Israel’s Redeemer, again, not just Israel of old, but He is the Redeemer of all people. In other words, the LORD is Jesus and Jesus is the LORD.
The LORD is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The LORD is eternal. He has no beginning and He has no end. He always was and always will be. He lives in the eternal present so for Him there is no yesterday, today and tomorrow there is only the present, the now, the eternal now. The LORD is God and God is the LORD. Jesus is God and God is Jesus. The LORD is Jesus and Jesus is the LORD.
The LORD is the only God, apart from Him there is no God. This belief flies smack in the face of those who say there is more than one way to heaven. I know you have heard the opinions of others, such statements as, “We need to be more open minded and tolerant of other religions.” “It does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe enough or are sincere in your faith, in what you believe.” If that were the case, that it does not matter in what or in whom you believe or that you simply are sincere or believe enough, then why did Jesus bother dying on the cross? If there are many ways to heaven, if sincerity of faith were the issue, then Jesus died on the cross for nothing. The LORD, God, says, that apart from Him there is no God and apart from Him there is no salvation. So, which is it? Are there many ways to the same place? or is there only one way?
Who knows the answer to that question? That question is best answered by someone who has been around for a long time and knows the answer. And who knows as the LORD knows. We read verse seven, “7Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen” (v. 7). Only the LORD knows what has happened since the beginning of the world, because He is the one who created the world and He is the only One who was there when He created the world. Darwin does not know what has happened since the beginning of the world, because he was not there. Scientific theories do not know what has happened since the beginning of the world, because they were not there, and that is why they are  only theories because they cannot be proven. God alone knows what happened at creation and what has happened since the beginning of our time because He alone was there and He alone tells us what happened in His Word.
The LORD has established His ancient people. That does not mean the children of Israel, but it means all the peoples that He has created. The LORD has established His ancient people that is all believers in Jesus. It is God’s will that all people hear His Word and come to faith. It is God’s will that all people hear His Word and are saved. That all people come to faith and are saved is God’s will, even though He also gives us the will to refuse and resists His salvation. And since the fall into sin, since we are all conceived and born in sin, and since our will has been tainted by sin, our only option, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit, is to refuse, resist and reject His salvation and we see people do just that, refuse, resist and reject His salvation week in and week out, day in and day out.
So, how do we know who is right and who is not? As we learned a couple weeks ago, we know that a true prophet is known by the truth of his prophecy. If his prophecies come true, all his prophecies, then he is a true prophet. If any one of his prophecies does not come true, then he is a false prophet. God challenges all prophets, especially those false prophets to whom He has not revealed the truth. He challenges the psychic friends hotline. He challenges fortune tellers. He challenges palm readers. He challenges them all to proclaim what has happened since the beginning of time and what will happen in the future. He challenges them because He knows they do not know what they are talking about, because only He knows what was, what is, and what will be.
God says to us, “do not be afraid, the Lord is on your side.” We read verse eight, “8Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (v. 8). These words are a reminder that we do not need to be afraid on two counts. First, we do not need to be afraid of those who will persecute us because of our lack of open mindedness, our intolerance, especially our intolerance of sin. We do not need to be afraid of those who would persecute us for saying there is only one God and that God is the LORD. We do not need not be afraid of those who would persecute us for saying that there is only one way to heaven. For the Bible tells us there are false gods and idols, but there is no true God besides the LORD.
Second, we do not need to be afraid of divine retribution, that is we do not need to be afraid because we have been sinful and we continue to sin. We do not need to be afraid because we have been saved. We do not need to fear eternal spiritual death, which would be the result of our sin, because Jesus has given His life, He has shed His blood for us on the cross. Jesus has suffered the eternal punishment, which should have been ours, for us, in our place. It has already been accomplished.
Isaiah reminds us that God is our Rock, our fortress. In the New Testament, in first Corinthians we are even told that the Rock is Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Where do we go when the persecutions of this world are upon us? We go to the Rock, to Christ, who is our fortress and protection. Where do we go when our sinful nature is closing in on us, accusing us of a multitude of sin? We go to the Rock. It is this same Rock that becomes a crushing bolder on those who do not believe. The Rock is Christ the Lord, the King of all, the Judge of all, and the Redeemer of all.
Our text for today is one that can best be summarized by three times answering the question, “how is this done?” And we will answer that question with some catechism review. So, if you would like to follow along, you can open your hymnal to pages 322-323. How is this done? How does God know what has happened since the beginning of the world? This is done by God the Father who has created all things and still preserves them. Dr. Martin Luther expressed it best in his explanation to the First Article. I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
How is this done? How is it that the LORD is our Redeemer? Again, going back to Dr. Martin Luther. He expressed it best in his explanation to the Second Article. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
And, how is this done? How is it that we have been established as the people of God? And one more time, going back to Dr. Martin Luther. He expressed it best in his explanation to the Third Article. I believe that I cannot by my own reason our strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
The world would have us believe that there are many ways to heaven. Actually, the many ways can be summed up in just two, because what seems to be the way of many ways, is just a variation of just the one way and that one way is through self. In reality then, there are basically only two religions in our world. All religions will fit into these two basic religion groups. All religions, except the Christian faith, can be summarized by saying that a person is saved by the good works they do that is by the character of the person. In other words, we become our own savior, our own god. The other way is the way of the Bible, the Christian church, which teaches that salvation comes from outside ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and His saving work of living the perfect life for us, taking our sins and dying on the cross for us. So you can depend on yourself and the uncertainty of your life, or you can depend on the Lord and the certainty of Him, His Word and the giving of His life for yours. Praise the Lord that He has made us His own, by His grace through faith which He has given to us through the waters of Holy Baptism, which He strengthens in us through His Word and His Holy Supper, and He keeps us in faith so that we live under Him in His kingdom. And He stirs in us our response of faith to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Word Will Not Return Empty - July 16, 2017 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - Text: Isaiah 55:10-13

Have you ever tried to talk to someone, but the whole while it seems like their mind is somewhere else? If you are a parent, have you ever spoken to your child and felt as if the words you were saying were going in one ear and coming out the other? I suppose that even children feel that way, at times, about speaking to their parents. Have you ever sat watching a television show or the news, or gone to a movie, or read a book and when it was all over you thought to yourself, “What did I just see, read, hear, or whatever?” Our minds are remarkable things, but unless our attention is on whatever we are doing we may miss out. Although we live in a world that speaks of multitasking, that is doing more than one thing at a time, a wise pastor once told me, when we multitask, we are doing more than one thing half-heartedly and not giving one hundred percent to any task thus all the things we are doing while multi-tasking are not done with our best effort. This is especially true when it comes to God’s Word, to our lives and the priorities of our lives. Today our lessons focus our attention on the importance of God’s Word.
    Before we get to our text it is necessary to do a little background study. First, let us go back a couple of chapters and look at Isaiah chapter fifty-three. This is the chapter which prophecies the coming of the Messiah. In this chapter, chapter fifty-three Isaiah, describes the Messiah as a Suffering Servant Messiah. He tells us that the Messiah will come as a human being, that He will take all our sins on Himself, that He will suffer and die on the cross for us, in our place. He will suffer the suffering and death, the eternal spiritual death penalty pronounced in Eden, that is He will suffer hell, which should be ours to suffer, for us in our place so that we might be given forgiveness of sins, and with forgiveness we will be given life and salvation.
From Isaiah fifty-three we move to the next chapter, Isaiah fifty-four  in which we are given words of our future glory in heaven. These words are given to us only because of the work accomplished by the Messiah, the work prophesied in the previous chapter, chapter fifty-three. Next we move to the first part of chapter fifty-five, the verses right before our text. These verses invite us to take part in the salvation which is ours, gained for us by the Messiah.
All of this brings us to our text. The first verse of our text, verse ten reminds us that it is God who gives rain and snow. He gives the rain and the snow which, “come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread for the eater” (v. 10). These words are both literal and figurative. Our Great God gives us rain and snow to water the earth so that the plants bud and flourish. Our Great God also gives us His Word and sacraments which water us spiritually so that we may grow and flourish in our faith.
How do we respond to God’s gifts of His Word and sacraments? Are we joyfully given His gifts? Or do we neglect to be given, even refusing and rejecting by absenting ourselves from the very place His gifts are given out? Do we even refuse and neglect to believe His Word and promises? We neglect to be given God’s Word and promises when we are unfaithful in our worship attendance as well as our daily reading of God’s Word. To be honest, we can go so far as to say that we despise God’s Word and promises when we neglect to be in His Word. We are offered ample opportunity here at St. Matthew to be in the Word. We are offered the Word in the divine worship service every Sunday. We are offered Sunday morning Bible classes. We are offered other Bible studies during the week, a Wednesday study, a Thursday evening study a Saturday men’s and a Saturday women’s study. We make available the devotional book The Portals of Prayer for home personal and family devotions. The Sunday sermon is available online to read. All of these are ways in which we are given the opportunity to hear God’s Words and promises. If we are not taking part in these, then we might truly say we are despising God’s Word and refusing and rejecting His gifts.
Continuing in verse eleven of our text God tells us about the word that goes out from His mouth. He says, “it will not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (v. 11). As we have said many times, God’s Word is a word with power, power to give and do what it say. God’s Words and promises do what they say. God gives us His Word and Sacraments to give to us and to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness, earned for us and given to us by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and His Word and Sacraments remind us of the gift and promise of eternal salvation with Him in heaven.
As we journey through this life, we may see what we think are set backs and failures, but God’s Word never fails. God knows what is best for us in our life even when it might not look like that is so because we cannot see it. There may be times when we think we know what is best for ourselves and when God allows things to go not the way we want or think they should go, then at those times of difficulty we may think God’s Word has failed. It is at these times that we need to remind ourselves of God’s Word immediately preceding our text, verses eight and nine, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9). God has promised and He accomplishes the fact that His Word never fails. We might not see what good God has in mind, and this lack of vision may be especially true when we are in the middle of a difficult situation, but we can know for certain that God will work all things out for the best, for those who are called according to His purposes.
The last two verses of our text invite us to believe the truth of God’s Word and to look forward to the joy that will be ours in heaven, the joy of paradise restored. Just as Adam and Eve destroyed the perfection of Eden, so Jesus came and restores all things so that heaven is a place of eternal perfection.
Our Gospel reading for this morning is a beautiful application of Isaiah’s prophecy in our text. In Jesus’ parable of the Sower and seed we see that God is the sower and that what He sows is His Word. When His Word is not listened to or read, but is neglected, refused and rejected, it eventually dies off. In the same way, when we neglect, refuse and reject God’s Word we can eventually lose our faith.
When God’s Word is sown on fertile soil, that is when we listen to and strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live according to God’s Word, then His Word takes root, springs up and bears abundant fruit in our hearts and lives. This listening, taking root, springing up and bearing abundant fruit is our prayer each and every Sunday as well as each and every day, that is that the Lord will work through His Word so that His Word might take root in your lives, spring up, and bear abundant fruit. And we add that this work might be done to the praise and glory of Jesus name.
For whatever reason, God has chosen to come to us today through means. He comes to us through the means of grace, that is through the means of His Word as well as through the means of confession and absolution as well as His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God has chosen to come to us through these ordinary earthly means, water, wine, bread and word and through these ordinary means He has given to come to us to give to us and bring us to faith, to strengthen us in that faith which He gives, to remind us that we have already been forgiven, to remind us that we have the gift of heaven, that we have the promise of eternal life and salvation. God comes to us in His Word and Sacraments on a daily basis to give us His good gifts and blessings. The usual way we are given His good gifts and blessings is through the means which He has chosen to give them, His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments.
When we neglect to be given God’s many good gifts and blessings, when we refuse, reject and resist His Word and His sacraments, He cannot give us His gifts. Without His gifts we are lost and condemned creatures. Without His gifts we have no future, we have nothing for which to hope.  Without His gifts we have only ourselves in which to hope and if you have ever tried to hope in yourself you know that is not much for which to hope. When we depend on ourselves we fail. We even fall into despair. God is not just an answer to all that goes on in life, He is the only answer to make sense out of life.
God tells us that His Word never fails. His Word never fails because He is the one who has given us His Word. We fail, but God never fails. The exciting news is that even when we fail, even when we neglect God’s Word, even when we have fallen as far away from our Lord as far as we think we can fall, He is always right there, looking for us, working to bring us back into His fold. What has God done for you lately? He has given you each new day, because without Him you would not have any new days. He daily rains down His gifts of health and strength and daily food. He daily gives us all that we need to support this body and life, including clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children and all that we need to support this body and life. He gives us gifts talents and abilities as well us our jobs and the ability to work to make a living. He gives us our most important needs, our spiritual blessings, forgiveness of sins, faith, strengthening of faith, life, eternal life and salvation. He gives us His Word and Sacraments through which He comes to us with His good gifts and blessings. And the list can go on and on. God gives and gives and gives and we are given to. So to simplify matters we might just say, everything that we have spiritually as well as physically, emotionally and mentally, everything we have is a gift from God.
Daily we carry on a conversation with God. God speaks to us each and every day of our lives. He speaks to us through His Word. We speak back to Him in prayer. It is when we are in the Word and the Word, Jesus Christ, is in us that we know that God’s Word will accomplish what He sent it to do, give, strengthen and keep us in faith. I pray that the Lord will continue to open your hearts and minds so that you will hear His Word and so that Word might take root, spring up, and bear abundant fruit in your lives, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name. And as always our response then is, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

May the Lord Do So - July 2, 2017 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Jeremiah 28:5-9

Day after tomorrow, Tuesday, we celebrate our nations independence from other ruling authorities and what a wonderful thing to celebrate. Living outside the Houston city limits and not having any restrictions on shooting fireworks, I know how wonderful it is to celebrate the Fourth of July as every year people are still celebrating and shooting off fireworks at 1:00 in the morning. As I have said before, we do celebrate our independence from other forms of government, but we must never forget our dependency on our Lord. It is when we begin to forget our dependency on our Lord and begin to believe we can be independent of the Lord that what really happens is we begin placing our dependency on our human inventions that is when we begin to get into trouble.
When we listen to the people of our world we hear two distinct messages. The first message we hear are words of destruction. You know the people I am talking about, they will tell you that the world is going to end tomorrow. They tell you that things are as bad as they have ever been and that they will get worse. They will tell you how bad the economy is, how our oil supply is running out, and how the earth is heating up from man made global warming, or rather now global climate change. You might remember back in the 1980s it was said that we were going to have a global ice age. There are those who will tell you that there will be tomorrow. They will go so far as to tell you that things are so bad that the Lord will come soon to destroy this world. Just a word to the wise, don’t believe half of what they tell you. God is still in charge.
On the other hand we have the people of our world who only tell us words of peace. These are the people who tell you that nothing is wrong with our world. They may even tell you that it is all in how you look at things. They may tell you all we need is love and then we can have a peaceful existence. They will tell you we just need to be tolerant of others and accepting. They are the people who always find the silver lining in the clouds. Neither of these types of people are new and neither are completely right or completely wrong. As we look at our text we will see that Jeremiah was prophesying destruction and the professional prophets were prophesying peace, but in this case one was right and one was wrong as we shall see.
In order to better understand what is going on in our text, let us look at what was going on before we get to the words of the text. The chapter immediately preceding our text, chapter twenty-seven, is filled with Jeremiah’s words of destruction. Jeremiah received special revelation from the Lord to speak to the people. He knew that the words which he was speaking were true, because he had received them from the Lord. And as we were reminded last week, God’s Word does what it says. So, Jeremiah knew what he said would happen, not because he said it, but because God said it. His Words were God’s words.
At the beginning of chapter twenty-eight we read the words of the prophet Hananiah. His words are words of peace and prosperity. His words are words which the people wanted to hear. We read beginning at verses one, “1In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, 2“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” 5Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 28:1-5).
The next verses are our text and they are Jeremiah’s response to all the good things which Hananiah prophesied. Jeremiah begins by saying that he does indeed hope that Hananiah’s prophecy will come true. He is no dummy. He too hopes for peace and prosperity, but Jeremiah knows the Word of the Lord. He knows that Hananiah’s prophecy will not come true because he is an ungodly prophet, he is not speaking from what God has said, and because the true Lord had already revealed to him what He would do.
In response to Hananiah’s prophecy, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah and instructed him to speak to Hananiah. We pick up reading at verse twelve, “12Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13“Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. 14For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” 15And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. 16Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’” 17In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:12-17).
Jeremiah truly wanted Hananiah’s words to come true, but he knew the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet as he told the people in verse eight and nine, “8The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet” (28:8,9).
We are very much like the people of Jeremiah’s day. I would like to say that we do not like to hear about destruction and while that is true I do believe that we still like to hear good juicy gossip. We like to hear about the pain, problems and destruction of others. But, for the most part I believe that we would rather hear about peace and how things are getting better. I believe that we are at the point in our own nation of wanting peace at any cost and even at all cost. The big deal today is to be politically correct meaning that you go out of your way so as to not offend anyone, whether you agree with them or not. It is almost to the point that you cannot disagree with anyone and if you do, then it is you who has the problem.
The problem is that this position, peace at all cost, costs all things, including and especially peace, true peace. I believe our Gospel lesson from Matthew speaks loudly to this issue. Jesus tells us that He did not come to bring peace to earth, but to bring a sword. Hey folks, it may still be okay and fairly easy to be a Christian in Westfield, Spring, Humble, or Houston, but it is getting harder and harder to be a Christian in the rest of the United States and in the rest of the world.
But let us get back to being a Christian right here in our own neighborhood. I believe that it is getting harder to be a Christian in our own neighborhood. I believe that we have already let the our society tainted by our media influence our attitude toward how we are to be as Christians. I continually hear how Christians and especially Lutherans are seen as people who think we are better than others. This is especially true when it comes to discussing things like our practice of closed communion, our practice of excluding members of lodges, our practice of not having joint worship with other churches, and especially in our practice of preaching against the sins of abortion, homosexuality, living together, drug and alcohol abuse, and so on. As I have said before, the world hates Christians especially Christians who believe the exclusive claims of God’s Word, that is that there is only one way to eternal life and that only one way is through Jesus.
Unfortunately I also hear some our own members wanting peace and harmony at all cost. I keep hearing our own members talk about not wanting to offend anyone. Folks, the gospel is offensive. If we are not offending people with our message then I would wonder if we were truly proclaiming God’s Word. As we just heard in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said He came, not to bring peace but a sword. It is only when we are in the Word and the Word is in us that we can have true peace and harmony. The reverse is not true, that is that we can have true peace and harmony and then we are in the Word. That does not work. I have actually had people tell me, “Pastor, once I get my life straightened out, then I will be back in church.” It simply does not work that way. The only way to get our life straight is by being in the word and letting the Word have His way with us. It is the Word alone which brings true peace and harmony.
I believe I am beginning to understand the way Jeremiah felt when the Lord told him to proclaim His Word. In the same way that the people of his day were giving more credence to words other than to God’s Word, so too today. People actually listen to and believe the news media and the politicians more than and over God’s Word. It is frightening. I am all for peace and harmony. As Jeremiah says, “Amen!” to peace and harmony, “May the LORD do so!” At the same time we must not forget Jesus’ Words in Matthew, that Jesus came, not to bring peace, at least not a fake worldly peace, but rather He came to bring a sword. Nor must we forget His words that, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, we must never forget the need to give up this world and our life in this world knowing that our Lord has a better place prepared for us.
How do we know what is true, what is God’s Word? Our Epistle lesson from Romans helps us out with that point. We know what is true and what is from God when what we hear speaks about our need to recognize and confess our sin and our Lord’s work to forgive us and save us. When we are spoken of as being able only to be given the gifts of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and our Lord being the one to give us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give, with no effort on our part, this speaking is how we know what is truly from God. Remember, faith plus anything means it is not faith but the anything that saves. Faith plus nothing. Faith that is given. Faith that is the instrument which is given which reaches out and takes hold of all the other gifts and blessings, this is saving faith. The direction of salvation is always from heaven to earth, from Jesus to us.
We may want to always hear good news, news about peace and prosperity in the land. Wanting to hear such news is good. The best news, the most trust worthy news is the news which our Lord gives to us in His Word, the news that He is our Savior. If you want true peace, true peace does not come from within. True peace is not simply a worldly peace. That peace, a worldly peace only lasts for a short while. True peace, peace which lasts, which transcends time is peace that comes from sins forgiven. With sins forgiven, with guilt washed away, that is true peace, peace which passes all understanding. I pray that the Lord will always give you a yearning to hear His Good News, the best news of all, that your sins are forgiven, and with sins forgiven you may respond and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.